Totleigh Barton – Arvon Writing Course. Part 3


I awaken abruptly at 6am the next morning, this is typical for me. i potter around for a while reading Utopia (Lincoln Child) and head to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Breakfast is help yourself, but I have a Salmon and Cucumber sandwich with me that I didn’t eat on the drive down so I have that and not let it go to waste.

A bit more reading and it’s time to freshen up and get dressed. Back for another cup of tea I join a few of the others in the dining room briefly before heading over to the snug where I curl up on one of the 6 sofas and read some more. It’s 8am now and our first workshop is not until 9.30am. Other than journaling my time here I am saving the writing for later hoping to gain inspiration in the workshops.

First Workshop

William Fiennes is up first to lead the workshop, the focus on memory. We start by sharing memories from when we were 10 years old. The touch, taste, smell, sounds and sights of being 10. Wasp stings, Nelson the one-eyed parrot, winkle sandwiches, the Holland vs Argentina World Cup, a creaky step… It is a fun exercise that helps us all recall things we might not have thought about without the prompts.

Next we are asked to write about an encounter with an animal. Even at this early stage of the week our tutors are encouraging us to read our work out to the rest of the group. I know I feel really anxious about this, I don’t feel that my writing is good enough. I wonder how many (if any) of the others feel this way? I read my piece about meeting our new dog Lucky for the first time. The feedback is good and the advice from William is to leave out the psychoanalytic approach (my knowledge of not getting attached) and expand the descriptions, losing Sam (first dog) and arrival home from school in more detail. I find this all very helpful.

Quote from William focus on “The Richness of the small”

A short tea break, then it will be Mark Haddon‘s turn to inspire us. It is cool outside but dry, bright and clear skies, bird song fills the air as we bumble around getting tea, biscuits and chatting. I have discovered I am the only smoker this week, which can be a bit lonely when everyone else is sat inside, but that’s my curse to contend with! I take a few minutes to finish my chapter and eat a packet of bacon sizzler McCoys, not being much of a biscuit girl.

I am carrying around two notebooks, the first my old one in which I journal and make random notes in regularly, the second my ‘Arvon’ pad (as I have called it) which is specifically for writing in the workshops and anything following from those sessions.

Teabreak over we reconvene in the snug and await Mark starting.

Mark hands out postcards to each of us, face down. Before we can turn them over we are given a prompt.

Imagine you are reading a book, a page in the middle has been torn out and all the text replaced by the image on this postcard. Write that page…

However, to make things more interesting we are also given a ‘rule’ to stick to as we write, each person gets a different one (although they are repeated when the list is used up) the rules are…

Only 4 words in every sentence.
1 syllable words only
No form of the verb ‘to be’
Each sentence must start with the letters A-Z
No letter A (which was my rule)
No letter E
Every sentence in the negative
Every sentence in the future
Every sentence 2nd person singular
Every sentence 1st person ‘We’

This turns into a fun but difficult exercise that challenges us all. not being able to use the letter A was very difficult, but I think E would have been much worse! Again we read out or work and receive feedback, then we repeat the exercise with another postcard and rule, this time I get 4 words per sentence, which makes the writing quite poetic in style.

Lunchtime, a cold buffet with freshly made pasties is laid out for us to help ourselves, so we do and sit around chatting until people start drifting off to make the most of the free time for the afternoon or go to their 0ne-to-one tutorial.

I am one of those with a tutorial today. At 2.30pm I head up to the poetry room to meet William with my laptop. I want to show him the writing I have been doing for my autobiography. He confirms what I already figured out from the workshops, I am ‘telling’ too much but only scratching the surface on ‘showing’. My work so far is more like the backbone, the outline that needs filling in with the details that put the reader ‘there’. It is like my blogger voice, chatty, dipping in. I have a lot to think about and ideas how to develop my writing after our meeting. I plan to work on this later after I’ve been on around the centre with my camera.

I stroll around the grounds snapping a few pictures of the outside of the buildings, than the inside. Wondering how far it is to get a phone signal I cross the cow grate and head up the track. True to what we have been told just past the second grate I get a signal. Emails fill my inbox but without the extra 3G I can’t read them. I wait a minute in case I have any texts or missed calls. When it is clear there are none I go back to my room.

I spend the next hour writing a scene elaboration as suggested by Will – focussing on my group of friends in infant school, who were they? I fill in the details until the pen is making my hand ache. I then take a rest and read for a while so my hand can recover. Next I type up and print off the opening scene from my fiction novel to give to Mark to read before my tutorial with him tomorrow.

Finally it is dinner time, I join the others in the dining room for salmon with fennel, green beans and new potatoes cooked by the first team of us. We have rhubarb crumble for pudding. The food is great, considering how much of a fussy eater I am I eat it all. I am on washing up duty with the rest of my team who will be cooking tomorrow.

Washing up done and we meet in the snug for Mark to read to us from his new book The Red House which is released tomorrow. It sounds like a fun read, with eight different points of view, so I will be adding it to my collection soon! After the reading there is a question and answer session. Mark is asked about his inspiration and writing style. We learn that generally mark is more of a panster than a plotter although he does use flow charts. Many things inspire him and he brings a lot of medical content to his books. He gives tips on sentence structure, character voice and much more.

Quote from Mark

Listen to the inner voice, a good writer already has it, the voice that as son as you hand over your work for someone else to read you already know what is wrong with it.

We could have gone on talking all night but slowly we begin to break off. Back in my room I spend a few minutes noting down an idea related to my fiction piece, read a couple of chapters of my book before finally going to sleep…


13 comments on “Totleigh Barton – Arvon Writing Course. Part 3

  1. Great stuff Sharon, its so great you’ve documented all of this so we can look back and remember all the details!

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