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My Arvon Experience – Louisa Rhodes

For the first week of the Easter holiday, I was lucky enough to go off on a Hive adventure with a big band of South Yorkshire young writers, not quite knowing what to expect, to the wonderful Arvon Lumb Bank centre near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. I can still feel myself stepping off the minibus back in Sheffield feeling notably changed after a week I will never forget.                             

The warm and welcoming environment is such a key part of the magic of Lumb Bank, and the hospitable staff made us feel at home immediately. Turning up somewhere with 15 other young people, many of whom you don’t know, is daunting, especially for an introvert like me. But I cannot express how close we all became by the end of the week. We started mingling from the moment we were greeted with pots of tea and cake.

When we’d settled into our rooms after the evening meal, our tutors for the week, novelist Tiffany Murray and poet Peter Sansom, told us how it would unfold. Arvon weeks for adults, I’m told, follow a similar structure – workshops in the mornings, a buffet lunch, then free time from 1 to 7pm unless you’ve got a tutorial booked with a writer or you’re on dinner duty (which you do just once with others from the group, ingredients and recipes all ready to go). After dinner, there is a happening every night for an hour or so. Tuesday, the tutors read their work, Wednesday there’s a visiting writer who reads, Thursdays are a free night (cue guitar singalongs and sporadic group yoga!) and Fridays tend to be when groups share their work in a final showcase.

On sharing some highlights from the week, honestly, I’m lost for words (oh the irony). I truly loved every moment – the writing, the workshops, cooking and eating together, the surroundings, the tutorials, the evening events. But what stays with me most is the people. We were all given ample time to write outside of workshops be it in a private corner of the house, a romantic bedroom window seat overlooking a magnificent valley, or a secluded spot in the garden watching the birds, but the feedback and conversations I had were invaluable. My writing improved hugely, but, no doubt, connecting with other people that are just as excited about words as I am, in such a wonderful environment, made all the difference to this and us as aspiring writers.

Personally, I have grown significantly as a writer and as a person; grown in creativity and maturity, grown in confidence, maybe even grown in height, though I doubt it. I’m not one for standing in front of a room full of people, and reading my own, often personal, work out makes me feel vulnerable, but there I was, on many evenings, not only the final showcase night, defying my own expectations. I think I speak for all my young writer companions when I say that you do not leave Lumb Bank the same person as when you arrived. And those valuable changes and light bulb moments that you take away, stay with you forever.

Our tutors, Tiffany and Peter, were a brilliant support throughout, with insightful tutorials, and inspiring workshops which had a very welcoming and open feel; it felt like whatever came out was something good and worth working on or coming back to. Whatever I wrote, it was something to be proud of and treasured, and that environment and attitude is something that I try to remember now whenever I write. Even when I was at my least confident, I felt comfortable in the knowledge that what I was doing was an ‘ink waster’, a term I have lovingly adopted for my own work (when you feel like you’re not really getting there, but it’s still worthwhile). Every writer’s been there!

My one to ones with Peter and Tiffany, simply talking about what I’d written, where I wanted to go with it, what could be next, were enriching. Their advice was very useful and encouraging, particularly for a new writer such as myself who is only just taking their baby steps into the literary world.

Other highlights for me included visiting Sylvia Plath’s grave up the hill in Heptonstall. This was a moving experience and really brought into perspective the significance of where we were staying and who else had been here before us. It felt as though a little of all the previous tutors and writers before us, displayed in beautiful photos up and down the house, were imbued in the essence of that wonderful place, and a little bit in us too, not to mention the influence of Plath and Hughes themselves.

The Wednesday evening reading from guest reader Hannah Lowe was also a pleasure, especially hearing such an amazing poet talk openly about their own work in such an intimate setting. I particularly liked hearing her very personal stories of her father, this mysterious and complex person, and how they brought another layer of meaning to the poems she shared. It is certainly a testament to her work and her wonderful words that we all came away from the evening wanting a copy of everything she had written!

All in all, this was a truly life-changing week for me. I wrote words I never thought I could and made friends I didn’t think I would. I implore any young person who has the opportunity to go on an Arvon residential to take it. You will never regret it, and never forget it. If I could put into words what it would be like for you, how it would change you, I would. But not even the writer in me knows how! What you will discover will be so unique and so special to you that I could never express it. Arvon has shown me that there is so much more I can do with my writing and my voice, and that there is an even wider community of writers out there. When I heard people talk about how Arvon will ‘change your life forever’, I never quite believed it. Needless to say, saying this about Arvon is no ink-waster.

With thanks to Hive South Yorkshire and Arvon for subsidising this opportunity.

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