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The Social Sandwich, Part 2

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“In my next post, I’ll be eating the top layer,” I wrote at the end of my last post. But, well you can’t really eat a sandwich like that. Or rather, you can but who would? So I’m going to bite into that delicious egg mayonnaise, wholewheat sandwich, even though this post is about the top layer.

The Arvon writing course. A five-day residential course in an old house in the heart of Devon called Totleigh Barton. The topic was: Fiction and Experience. Wow! Where do I start?

I met some lovely people. First of all, there was the couple who run the centre, Claire Berliner and Oliver Meek, and their assistant, Eliza Squire. Then the two tutors, Jean McNeil and Ben Faccini, and the guest tutor, Anjali Joseph. And also the other fourteen students on the course.

In the mornings, the tutors spoke about various topics and set us exercises, some of the results of which we read out loud.  In the afternoons, we did our homework – reading and writing, had tutorials – one each with each tutor, and made dinner when it was our turn. In the evenings, there were more sessions.

The spontaneity required for the exercises wasn’t always forthcoming from my section of the long oak table. But at other times it helped me to learn things about myself that I hadn’t thought about before. The socialising was also rather an effort, but I did my best, outside in warm sunshine on the grass, far away from noise.

Totleigh Barton from afar
Totleigh Barton from afar

I also learned a lot about writing, about some of the things writers have to think about, decisions they need to make.

Everyone involved put a lot of effort into the course and made it a wonderful experience. If that’s what all Arvon courses are like, I heartily recommend going on one – or many.

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I remained in Devon for Part 3 of the Social Sandwich, coming soon.

P.S. Today, on this special birthday, is when life begins, I’ve decided. Up to now, it was all practice.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life.

8 replies on “The Social Sandwich, Part 2”

I had an awful experience on an Arvon course. It was up in Inverness. There very few organised exercises. We were given cooking duties and told to go somewhere quiet when we weren’t cooking and get on with some writing. I had recently had a breakdown from teaching and was feeling vulnerable. When I asked if there would be more structure I was told that I was a trouble-maker. The rest of the group seemed happy to stay up late, drink and socialise but I just wanted to hone my writing skills. I sent a letter of complaint when I got home but heard nothing from the Arvon people, it took me a long time to get my writing confidence back after that. I am so pleased that you had a better experience but I would never go on one again.

What a shame. I wonder when that was and whether they’ve improved a lot. Or maybe it depends on the tutors, or the other participants. They sent me an email soon after the course asking for my impressions, and even responded to my reply.

I thought I had commented on this post already! I must have been distracted on not hit send…. The course sounds really interesting, and definitely something I would like to do at some point – not necessarily the Arvon one (I’ve heard mixed reviews) but definitely a residential. Glad you found it a good experience and the location for this one looks like a beautiful place for reflection, and writing (which is handy, considering!).

I found the course very good and helpful, and the place is beautiful. But I feel more inspired to write at home than I was in the company of others writers.

This post reminded me of the movie Tamara Drewe and also of an experience I had at one of my choir rehearsals. We were supposed to sing in opera style an unseen text portion (make up a melody while reading). I was the only one who refused participation. I think I’m too square and need structure, or at least more than others.

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