Arvon Writing Retreat

Lumb Bank

One of my resolutions for the year was to take part in a writing retreat. I looked at a few possibilities, one of which was abroad in sunnier climes. In the end, I plumped for an Arvon Foundation course. I had heard nothing but good things about them from people who attended previous retreats. 

There was a good choice of potential other courses in the brochure, some I couldn’t do because of timing and work. In the end I settled on the Starting to Write Short Stories course. It looked like an interesting one, with a wonderful setting and tutors with impressive backgrounds. It was also a good chance to develop my short story writing this is an area that I dip-in and out of when I am not writing my novel.

The course was at Lumb Bank, not far from Hebden Bridge and it’s the former home of Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. It is a beautiful and inspiring setting. Along with 15 other participants we had a number of workshops with our excellent tutors Tania Hershman and Robert Shearman throughout the week. We even had the chance to have one-to-one tutorials with them too.

As well as the formal opportunities to write there were a number of opportunities to go away and write or to socialise with the other writers. One of the good things about the week was the lack of Internet access. For someone that is distracted by constant access to the web, this was a welcome novelty. It also highlighted what can be done without being constantly tied to the web. 

Sylvia Plath's Gravestone

Also, I don’t think I have ever eaten as healthily as I did during the week. We took it in turns to work in the kitchen to prepare the evening meals for everyone, using locally sourced fresh produce. My stint was on the last night Friday. I was tasked with making two fruit trifles from scratch. This was a first for me and surprisingly they went down well.

Each evening there were a number of themed events. On Tuesday Tania and Rob read from their work, I didn’t need a second invitation to buy their books. Wednesday’s event saw Manchester writer Zoe Lambert come along to read from her work. Friday was the participants turn and we all had the chance to read a piece of work that we had produced over the course of the week. 

I read my short story ‘100 Million Light Years From Where I Want to Be’. This was something I had written in one of the workshops. This was a serious piece but I don’t think that I set the right tone for reading it by tripping over my own feet as I advance towards the spotlight. I think my piece went down reasonably well despite the comedy interlude. It was great to hear what everyone else had been working on over the course of the week. 

It was such a brilliant and rewarding week and one that I didn’t want to end. There’s talk of us all meeting up socially in the future, which would be nice. For now, I feel very inspired and I hope to put into action all that I learnt during the week. I may even have a go at making another trifle. 

Here’s something on the Arvon blog that eloquently sums up the week from Colette, one of the other participants.  

Lumb Bank

Arvon Postscript

Saturday morning was the time that we all left and headed off home. Feeling inspired by all things literary during the week, I decided to stop off in Haworth to visit the Bronte House and the surrounding village as it wasn’t that far from Lumb Bank. It was also somewhere I had never been before. While there, I wasn’t expecting to be drawn attention to works of another Haworth-based writer especially one that was working on the car park. In return for free parking I bought the author’s book. His name is Edward Evans. 

Arvon book

End of Year

It’s hard to believe that the first year of my MA in Creative Writing is now over. Apart from one or two meetings with an assigned tutor, the assignments and classes have finished for year one. My usual Tuesday nights have been something of a highlight given everything else that was going on in my life. 

It is two modules down (Contemporary Novels I and The Workshop), with four more to go – one which will include the final major project of the novel in the final year. In the meantime, the downtime in class gives me a chance to build up a portfolio of work in readiness for the workshops of next year. The aim over the summer is to try and send some work out to be published somewhere.  

The second module has been really good, it was led by the writer AJ Dalton who has worked us all hard in the allocated sessions, though they have been enjoyable too. The homework that was set has seen the group pull together a portfolio of work that includes elements that will help with the marketing of our work and ourselves as writers. There have also been numerous opportunities to get feedback on our developing novels. So much so, I feel the first two chapters of my novel are beginning to take shape. Though there are still a few teething problems with the narrator/POV, which are slowly being ironed out with each draft. 

As well during these sessions we have looked at many aspects of the writing craft as well as discussed aspects of the publishing industry. These sessions have been both inspiring and informative. 

Not only have the sessions been productive, but Adam has joined us in the pub afterwards to 

further discuss our work and that of the industry. I have to say it’s been one of the best modules that I have done during any of my studies. 

Although I am sad that it’s over, here’s to the summer, and preparation for the next academic year. 

Thirty Days Later

For the second time in two years, I have just completed the November writing challenge, NaNoWriMo. Last year was a bit of struggle, as I battled the norovirus to complete it, this year didn’t throw up (pardon the pun) any challenges of that scale but it was still quite difficult to achieve the target given my increased commitments this year. 

The reason that I wanted to do it this year, more so than usual, was for the usual challenge but it was also to get a head start for the module of the MA that will see each member of the class present samples of their work in progress. As my course is three years, I am ahead of the game as a result of the last month, given the final year is about writing up the 60,000-word novel. 

For this year I had a theme that I wanted to write about – it was always going to be something relating to my interest in music. Right up to the start of my course, I didn’t really have an idea what I was going to do but that wasn’t a problem as I had a few weeks before NaNoWriMo came around and I could knock something into shape by then. Thankfully inspiration struck me on the way driving home from the Induction event. 

The challenge now is to go back and edit what has been written so far and shape it into something approaching how a novel should look. This has sadly not been the case with what I produced last year.  I think I will have a few days off from it and get the red pen out and get to work and putting a workable draft together. So far, I would say that this is draft 0.5 because I know it is littered with typos, literals and other horrors that I would be embarrassed to publish. 

No matter what state it is in, the position I’m in now, highlights the benefits of Nanowrimo, with the fact that I am 30 days along from having a blank page, to have written over 50, 000 words that can now be deleted, extended and corrected as I see fit. 

Though I am rather tired now, I can look back on the last month with some satisfaction. Given that the time is now 1am on Friday night/Saturday morning, God knows where I found the energy to put together this blog post, I suppose it shows that with the discipline of non-stop writing for a month, makes it easy to write when you need to. 

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http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos
http://nanowrimo.org/faq
http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2013/11/22/nanowrimo-words-bust/Z19x4k3cKn6wdQtVCRCDkK/story.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10435830/NaNoWriMo-the-month-long-novelist.html

Nanowrimo is well established in the diaries of most writers.the challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel is one that many writers have accepted the task each year 

Some eventually make it the publication stage but many writers undo the good work of November by losing momentum in the months that follow. 

I have experience of that Nano attempt 1 is yet to be finished Nano 2 is being complete as aI write

Pick up in January when the nights are not too much to do. 

Thirty days later (November 2013)

MA In Creative writing

It had always been something that I had planned to do someday, September always came around and I managed to find some excuse for not doing it, usually that I was too busy at work or that I couldn’t afford it. This year I have put all excuses to one side and I have finally signed up for a creative writing MA. 

So why this year? One of the catalysts was the Pulp Idol Competition back in May where everyone who did well in the competition seemingly had done or was doing an MA in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores. This was an option as a place to apply to and I spoke to one of the lecturers about their course and he sold it to me perfectly well. 

There was only one place that I wanted to do it at and that was MMU in Manchester, given its good reputation and where it’s situated. Also what dissuaded me from doing it at Liverpool JMU was that I’d already previously studied there for my degree and masters. Though I enjoyed my time there, I wanted to experience working in a different academic establishment. 

The route that I am taking is part-time over three years, two years in class and one writing up the novel that forms part of the final project. 

For now, the first module, of the first term is Contemporary Novels, where there will not much writing to do, but we have been presented with a reading list of 10 books that we have to read in as many weeks. 

I’m genuinely pleased that from the list I have not read any of these particular books – I have read a couple of the author’s other works (Nabokov and Burgess) but this list will be a real journey of discovery.

First up is Patricia Highsmith’s, The Talented Mr Ripley followed by Anthony Burgess, Time for a Tiger. Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin. VS Naipaul, Miguel Street. Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker. Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries. Beryl Bainbridge, Master Georgie, and finally JM. Coetzee’s, Disgrace. 

NaNoWrIMo 2012

An Eighteen Year Winter Word Doc

Well, thirty days have passed and despite the last week being laid up in bed with the norovirus, I have stumbled over the line and completed NaNoWriMo. It was a good job I was ahead of the word count before the bug hit, otherwise I would be writing about another NaNoWriMo failure. I didn’t post anything at the outset as I was in two minds whether I would it again this year. I also didn’t want to herald another failure. At the last minute, I decided to do it. Thankfully I did as I have now a draft completed. 

At this moment I have a feeling of elation, tiredness, and weakness (as a result of the illness). The first draft stands at 50, 067 words, though a quick scan of the finished draft suggests that some of that will be cut from the final version. 

The story arc is complete but I now need to give it a thorough edit. Given that it has been written at speed, my pages are awash with green and red squiggles that Word kindly uses to indicate the error of your ways.    

This is a long way from being publishable which I am under no illusions at this part of the process. I see this as the something to edit stage. This is more than I had at the start of the month. Which I suppose is the point of the exercise with Nanowrimo. 

Here’s to the editing process. Which I am assured is just as painful as sitting down to writing a novel. 

No NaNoWriMo 2010

NaNoWriMo Logo

My second post on this blog mentioned NaNoWriMo and how I had set myself the task of writing 50,000 words in the month of November.

Today is the halfway point and I should now be bragging about my achievements so far…Well the dog ate it, I left it on the bus… blah blah blah! excuses ad infinitum.

This year, like last year, I was probably a little presumptuous that the work situation would have calmed down by November. That has not been the case, if anything it has become increasingly busier.  So with great reluctance, that I have decided to wave the white flag and give up. The novel that everyone supposedly has in them (so the cliché goes) will sadly have to wait for another year.

Though I have written 5000 words for an academic paper in the last few days – though I doubt that will be able to count towards the Nano word count.

NaNoWriMo 2010

NaNoWriMo Logo

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo and like last year I have tentatively signed up for it. For those that don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it is a novel writing challenge that sees you sign up to write a 50,000 novel in 30-days. Easier said than done? Well last year for me it was, as I struggled to make it over the 25,000-word barrier. This year after much delaying and dithering, I have signed up to it again. Probably expecting work to get in the way again.

Tonight, if I was on course I would be signing off with a daily total of 1667 – so far I have done everything else other than what I was supposed to be doing. Already my idea, one that I have figuratively blown the dust off for this year, is looking like it may be discarded for something else!

It’s still not too late to join in the fun/stress – you will no doubt catch up with my not be revealed paltry total so far. I can be found here on their site (I need to update this too).

If you are still undecided here’s an interesting article on the process of writing