I was feeling a bit bleurgh last week, partly due to feeling a little lost after deciding that I wasn't going to work at night, partly due to a couple of rejections all on the same day, and January looking like a Rejection Zone, what a way to start the year etc... etc... But then on Wednesday I headed down on the train to the Arvon Foundation's beautiful Devon writing centre, Totleigh Barton and things started looking much brighter. I didn't really know quite what I had been invited to do - I knew it was a school group, I knew I'd read and answer questions, but apart from that I wasn't sure.
I discovered when I got there that during the months they are not open to the public, Arvon run courses for many different groups which are similar in structure to the public ones: a group of 16 or so participants live in, with two writers who run a 6 day writing course, and there is a guest writer who comes half way through for one evening's reading. There are workshops in the mornings, and the participants cook dinner!
I have been on two Arvon courses in the last 8 years and it is no exaggeration to say that they were life changing. The first course, in 2002, was Writing & Science, a new topic for Arvon. When I saw it advertised I couldn't believe that there were other people who wanted to do what I wanted to do! The thing was: I didn't know how. And that 6-day course showed me how to let myself be inspired by science fact and turn it into fiction. It also showed me that I could write on demand - the tutors said, "Go off, write something, and come back and read", and what do you know? I could. Amazing. (I also met my partner J there, so it really was life-changing in all respects...)!
The second course, a few years later, was on short stories, and the tutors were Ali Smith and Toby Litt. Ali Smith was one of the reasons I wanted to write short stories in the first place. And so when we had a one-on-one tutorial and she told me to give up the day job and write full time because I was "the real thing", it blew my mind. Another milestone.
Coming back to Totleigh Barton, where this second course was held, was very moving for me. It's amazing to mark the passing of time: 2006 - me paying to come on a course; 2010 - me being invited and paid for, book in hand!
The reading went very well - I think. I say that because it was in a big barn and I didn't wear my glasses (ah, time...!) and so couldn't see the faces of the sixth-formers from 2 Bristol schools who were having a wonderful writing week with their teachers! I talked about my journey, read some flash stories and the beginning of a story from my book that I'd started writing there in 2006, and answered excellent questions, such as "How come you seem so happy?"! I liked that one. "Because I get to come here and talk about short stories," was the simple answer. The students were all very interested in writing, they are writing themselves, and I was really inspired by being with them, by answering their questions and listening to them talk about writing. And -they bought 10 books, all the copies I brought with me, that was quite a surprise too.
I also had a great time meeting the two excellent tutors, playwright Diane Samuels and Bristol-based novelist Chris Wakling, the teachers from the two schools, and Totleigh Barton centre directors Claire and Ollie. Looking forward to seeing them all again. I came back to Bristol the next day feeling re-energised and re-inspired. Hope I get to go back.
And then yesterday, just slipping in there before January left, some very lovely news. I think I mentioned that my play, Exchange Rates, which I adapted from my short story, was shortlisted for the Total Beast 6-Minute Play competition, and that all the shortlisted plays were being performed. We went to London for the performance, and I was really moved by how well the actors performed my play. It was just wonderful seeing it brought to life so well. (Of course I wanted to tweak it a little, but there you are!). After the performances, the director asked any of the writers in the audience to come onstage. I was a little freaked out by that, suddenly getting shy, but then we stood there and he announced the winner.
Yup! Big big shock. Really. Just having the play performed was a thrill. But a lovely cheque, which is greatly appreciated, as well as a critique of whatever script I choose to give her by a professional editor, which is a wonderful prize.
So now I am doubly, triply inspired! Now I want to write a play from scratch... and, after a fabulous creative brainstorming meeting with Philipa from the University's Centre for Public Engagement today, I want to write a science play, and maybe a film... and maybe something animated... and...
So, February dawns and 2010 is looking brighter. No snow this week, yet. And more inspirational events to keep my spirits up - am going to talk to undergrad Creative Writing students at Bath Spa Uni next week, where I did my MA. Don't tell anyone, but I think I might get more out of doing these events than they do. Shhhhh.