Arvon Foundation – Writing Courses

Most aspiring writers would probably benefit from taking a writing course or two. I know I did. The one that I got the most out of, and which kick started my first novel, was the one I attended at Moniack Mhor. Although it was several years ago, the memories of my experiences on the course have remained with me. It was a happy, creative and productive week.

The Arvon Foundation is a charitable organisation dedicated to developing new writing talent. Moniack Mhor is one of four residential centres owned by the  Foundation.  The others are in Shropshire, Yorkshire and Devon. Courses last for a week and are run by published, professional  writers whose field of expertise matches the subject matter of the course. These writers are engaged as guest tutors.They are all practising, well known authors  and are not permanent employees of the foundation.  The novelist Ali Smith was one of two tutors on the course I attended and she was kind, patient and inspirational.

Course titles include – ‘Starting to Write’, Writing for Children’, Work in Progress’, ‘Writing Poetry’, ‘Advanced Fiction’, – to name a few.

Moniack Mhor is a simply furnished, large cottage. Students help themselves to breakfast and lunch and all take their turn to cook the evening meal (along with a couple of other students) – recipes and ingredients provided. Everyone then dines together, including the tutor. This was a course highlight – great ‘craic’ round the table. There is plenty of beautiful open country around the cottage so students can take walks whenever they need a break from writing. As well as group tuition, students also get one to one time with the tutor.

There are grants available to cover the course fees if you are on low/no income. And in my opinion the fees are an investment in your future as a writer.

So if you’re serious about improving your writing, do consider taking an Arvon course- I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Visit Arvon’s blog at http://arvonblog.org

The journey to publication

It’s a tale of highs and lows, of determination in the face of self doubt, of the hardest work I’ve ever done. But it’s been worth every ounce of effort. To anyone who wants to write but is terrified at the prospect I say – just do it.  How to fit it in alongside a demanding job? Give up all the non-essentials of life – watching TV was the main time-waster in my life. And I have to say that although I doubted myself, all the important people in my life never had any doubts and offered that other essential ingredient – encouragement. So surround yourself with positive souls who care about you – and take advantage of them shamelessly.

Writing has been a lifelong hobby for me. As a child I wrote stories and plays to entertain myself, my four wee sisters and my friends. As a teenager I kept a diary and this strand of my writing evolved in my student and adult years into keeping travel journals whenever I was abroad. I’m particularly proud of the writing I did recording my travels in the Middle East, Australia and South Africa.

Throughout my adult life, writing has continued to be very important to me. It is a creative outlet and has also proved to be therapeutic during challenging times. I cannot imagine my life without it.

 It was around ten years ago that I decided to make the move from amateur to professional writer and so began a long apprenticeship. The decision to take my writing was made following my diagnosis with ovarian cancer. The deal I did with myself was that if I got through it – then no more procrastinating.

 So in 2000 I attended an Arvon Foundation residential writing course at Moniack Mhor. The course tutor was Ali Smith and the seeds for Change of Life were sown while on this course. It began life as a short story that Smith said had the makings of a novel.

Between 2000 and 2004 I wrote several short stories, joined the Edinburgh Writers Club and attended more writing courses.

In 2004,  following the cancer all-clear, husband’s redundancy, relocation from Edinburgh  to the Highlands and during a subsequent year off from full-time employment, I found time to develop Change of Life (the ideas and characters for the book had never quite gone away and were now clamouring for attention).

 During 2006 and 2007 the first draft of Change of Life was completed.

 Then in 2008 I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme (NWS). I submitted the full manuscript of the book and received very useful and constructive feedback. This led to a major rewrite.  Then I joined youwriteon.com, a peer review website, funded by the Arts Council. This led to further rewrites and revisions.

 And finally, in 2009, I engaged a professional editor to polish the manuscript. Entered Change of Life in the Edinburgh Writers’ Club Novel competition, judged by novelist, David Wishart, and WON FIRST PRIZE.

Also in 2009, I submitted the newly edited version of the entire novel to the RNA NWS. It was judged as one of six – out of 250, to be of publishable standard. ‘Change of Life’ was published in December.