Sunday 2 August 2009

Arvon's Writing for Teenagers Course with Malorie and Melvin

Painting of Lumb Bank
This painting of Lumb Bank was hanging in my room

Just got back from Ted Hughes' house on Lumb Bank five days with 16 other writers interested in writing for teenagers - 16 rather GOOD writers, I hasten to add. One of my fellow students was 17 years old, still a teenager herself, possibly the next Zadie Smith if she decides this is her thing.

I thought Lumb Bank was in the Yorkshire Dales but it turned out it was just East of Manchester, up the M1 and turn left, through Halifax and up some hilly bits. Miriam drove (thanks Miri!).

Benches, Lumb Bank
We were told to look out for these benches at the top of a little lane
Candy Gourlay. Lumb Bank.
We stopped for pictures before winding our way down the hill.
Ted Hughes Centre. Lumb Bank.
This was the bit of the house looking down a hill at a magnificent view, with disused mills, woods, and a river.
Ted Hughes Centre. Lumb Bank.
I had room number one at the top of the stairs.
Our tutors for the teenage writing week were Melvin Burgess (Junk, Nicholas Dane) and Malorie Blackman (Noughts and Crosses, Double Cross)
Melvin Burgess. Lumb Bank. Malorie Blackman. Lumb Bank.
Malorie and Melvin.
Melvin and Malorie alternated mornings teaching us about plot, character, dialogue with writing exercises that started out at 10 minutes each and by the last day was reduced to three minutes each ... they didn't want to give us the chance to think, to resist, to give up. We submitted samples of our writing to M&M and had one-on-one meetings with each of them in the afternoon to discuss our work and prospects in publishing.
Lumb Bank class.
We sat around a massive table
Lumb Bank.
View outside door as we worked on a rare sunny day.

Malorie made ALL of us read, recalling one tutor's sage words in the early days when she was reluctant to share her work :
Tutor: Malorie do you want to be a writer?

Malorie: More than anything else in the world.

Tutor: Well You’ve got to shit or get off the pot.

The sunshine on the day we arrived turned out to be a red herring. The heavens poured throughout the week. On the few hours when there was no rain, some of us managed to go for walks and visit the nearby village of Heptonstall where Sylvia Plath is buried in a sad, untended plot adorned with tacky souvenirs from her fans.
Lumb Bank.
A rare sunny day.
Heptonstall Village.
The Village of Heptonstall.
Ancient tombstones in Heptonstall's churchyard.
Ancient tombstones laid out in the churchyard.
Sylvia Plath's headstone
Sylvia Plath's headstone. (my camera mysteriously switched to monochrome)

It was a heady week for me. I'd been deep in the mangle of making a living and writing had not been coming easily. Melvin and Malorie opened my rusty tap and allowed the words to flow.
It poured again on the way home.
Welcome home.
Never mind the rain, my homecoming with all the children tumbling all over the bed was fantastic.
My suitcase was several books heavier after the trip. And I take heart from these words of encouragement from Melvin.
For Candy: Nearly there? Keep on writing, Melvin.

Slushpilers go to Arvon!


  1. Love the pictures...sounds like a great course. Can you tell us any more about the content?

  2. hi keren! yup ... i thought i'd get the scenery out of the way first. there is probably a month's worth of blogging content in that course!

  3. Looks like a fantastic week. I 'm looking forward to to the future posts about it too.

  4. Looks great - I'm very jealous. Ditto looking forward to the future posts.

  5. You didn't have the same room as I had, then,

    Was very tempted by this course, until I reminded myself that I don't intend to write children's fiction.

  6. One thing I've always wondered about Arvon (not that there's a chance in hell that I could actually do a course) is how much time you get to do your own writing. Or is it all classroom/socialising?

  7. Well, this was a tutoring week and we started at 9.30 in the morning and stopped at 1pm.

    Then you had appointments with the tutors at various points in the afternoon. Supper was at 7pm ... but of course at Arvon you have to cook one of the suppers (in teams of four, to a recipe).

    your team washed the dishes the night before (no dishwasher - which i have strong objections to and not just because i went on the course to get away from mine!).

    after supper most evenings there was something on - one evening M&M read from their books and discussed them, another evening, Catherine Fisher came to read to us and talk about her writing, and on the last evening we all read out our own work.

    Many people just came for the tutors but I'd also come to try to finish my book.

    There definitely wasn't enough time to write so I took to getting up at 5 or 6 to get some writing in (I also worked late into the night). Which was cool - there was no distraction of the internet.

    It was only on the last day, when the sun came out that I managed to take those pictures of Heptonstall and the surrounding countryside!

    But the tutorials and the writing exercises they put us through unblocked my writing after a particularly turgid period of day-jobbing.


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