Totleigh Barton – Arvon Writing Course. Part 4


I’m up early again, 6.20am. I have a light breakfast of toast and a banana whilst reading, then shower and dress. I continue reading until our workshop at 0930am.

The front of Totleigh Barton Manor, Devon, one...

The front of Totleigh Barton Manor, Devon, one of the writing centres of the Arvon Foundation, a charitable organisation promoting creative writing.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The session starts with some work on details, we have to look around the room and find a detail that we think other people might not have noticed and one thing that reminds us of something else. We all notice lots of different things from nails in wood to the metal around the windows, holes that remind people of bird nests and the back of a chair that looks like a connect four game. I notice some scorch damage on one of the cross beams that suggests there may have been a fire in the barn at some point in it’s life and the way the tops of the white walls tips over reminds me of the glaciers I saw when I was on my cruise last year.

Next we do some more memory work, this is really digging into out emotions. As I read out my piece about an object in my life that has a special meaning I feel a lump in my throat. Another member is unable to read all of her piece as the tears begin to flow, yet another had barely been able to write as the memories were so intense.

After teabreak Mark takes over, we start by reading back our pieces from the day before that we had not had time for. Then Mark reads a quote and review of the book ‘Wolf Hall‘ by Hilary Mantel, and recommends we read it. He talks to us about creating authenticity in writing, even when you don’t know about the subject you are writing about, it’s not about being ‘right’ its about being plausibly hypothetical so he reader believes what you are saying. Sometimes research can be taken too far and some writers will just spill out ‘facts’, he points to Saturday by Ian Mckewan as an example, having shadowed a neurosurgeon as research for the book Ian overused the facts he learnt – I can understand his point, having read Saturday myself, it is a great book but there is excessive talk of the life of a neurosurgeon that is not required to move the story forwards.

To help us practise this skill with no research we have to write a piece of historical fiction and make it believable, but to make things harder we have to include two details provided by Mark. Examples of the details to include – vegetable and magnet, flying machine and hair, clock and seeds… I got pencil and battery. This was fun but difficult, but a great example of what you can do even if you don’t research your subject!

Time for our buffet lunch and more reading before my tutorial with Mark at 3pm.

Armed with the work I had given him yesterday mark helps me to begin rewriting my opening scene. He suggests I look at it like I am writing a film, there is too much of what is in the characters head going on which distracts from the scene, I should just write what is actually happening, what we would see on the scene if we were watching this as a film. So we start unpicking my scene in this manner, and it is clear it is much better this way.

With barely half an hour to spare before I have to be in the kitchen to help cook this evenings meal  I stop off for a quick chat in the dining room then read a little more, leaving my writing on hold for when I have more time.

4.30pm I’m in the kitchen with the other members of my team to prepare and cook Red Thai Curry (Sweet Potato for the vegetarians), with fruit salad for pudding. Cooking dinner was actually quite nerve racking, well it was the rice that we were all concerned about. Cooking for 20 we didn’t want it soggy or burnt. Thankfully it turned out perfect, Oli even said it was the best he had tasted in a while!

After serving up for the rest of the house I sit down with the authors to eat. Molly McGann arrived this afternoon for her reading tonight. Listening to their tales and gossip from the literary world and further afield is fascinating although I don’t really think I can share what I heard!! Shame as I think you would have loved to hear some of the tales!!

A short break after dinner and it’s off to the snug at 8.30 to listen to Molly. While we wait for everyone to gather Will plays the piano and I write my journal entry whilst reading at the same time – full on multitasking, I just hope I can read what I have written later! haha

Molly read from her current work in progress, “Ladies of the House” a tale about a house in London which used to be a brothel and the now old prostitutes that still live there. She has been working on the book for four years so far having no more than four hours a day to squeeze in writing when she can, due to having three young children and a husband who is away from home a lot with work. her first two books were in an American voice as Molly is American herself, but having lived in England for the last 15 years she wanted to write this book in an English voice. The question and answer session brings out a lot about Molly’s writing process and how she cut out a lot of the book after feeling that a voice and lots of the story weren’t working, her agent read her first draft and agreed with Molly. All three authors lapse into a chatty conversation with the rest of us, and share the perils of a book out if genre, such as this mis-shelving of Wills book The Snow Geese in the pet-care section of a book store amongst other strange places.

Again we could have stayed up all night talking, it is so much fun listening to Mark, William and Molly, but slowly we wind down and call it a night…


8 comments on “Totleigh Barton – Arvon Writing Course. Part 4

  1. sounds very theraputic and usefull wish you would give me tips on writing,i could do with it–but it sounds like you enjoyed been at totliegh barton
    keep it going mike

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