I went on an Arvon course this year. It was one of those things I have had on my Life To-Do List for years, and I was very much looking forward to it.
Arvon courses are the Holy Grail of creative writing retreats; they get booked out very quickly and they also cost a fair amount – around £545 for a four and a half day course, not including travel.
As it turned out, I wasn’t overly thrilled by the experience. Sometimes writing groups just don’t gel, and this was one of those times. We did have Lionel Shriver come and read to us, which was great (it was going to be Hilary Mantel but she won the Booker Prize and pulled out).
However, I’m sure some Arvon courses are very good. And to be fair to the organisers and everyone else who was there, I wasn’t feeling the best that week and was in no mood to be among strangers, or indeed humans of any description. And maybe my expectations were just too high.
But for anyone wanting to dabble a toe in the world of creative writing courses without leaving London, I thought I would list a few courses that I know of or have been on. The single positive side-effect of writing being so badly paid is that most writers, even really good ones, have to supplement their writing income with other work, and tutoring is one such way. London is home to many brilliant writers and writing courses and organisations, much of it generously subsidised by the Arts Council, so I would urge all aspiring writers – and by that I mean anyone who likes sentences and words and reading and listening to stories and poems, not just those advanced types who plan to write a bestseller and retire to the Bahamas – to check a few of them out.
Our very own Baroque in Hackney blogger Katy Evans Bush runs various poetry courses, which you can find out more about on her blog and her website. I haven’t been on any, but I have her book, Me and the Dead, which is published by Salt, and she’s a wonderful poet and, I suspect from reading her blog, an honest, challenging and constructively critical teacher (the best kind: save the therapy, just tell me if it’s crap.)
Spread the Word is a great London writing organisation, with frequent workshops and talks by publishing professionals – I went to one a couple of years back where the head of fiction at Faber & Faber, Hannah Griffiths, talked to us about the business of getting a book deal while calmly breastfeeding her baby; she was refreshingly down-to-earth.
The City Lit is another solid London institution – not just for writing but for anything from pottery to German classes. Mary Flanagan – who lives in Hackney – runs a very good advanced critical workshop where you simply have your work critiqued every few weeks, and do the same for others.
Nick Quentin Woolf runs a few writing workshops at Brick Lane books – he’s a friendly fellow, gives sound advice, and is a shining example of how a good workshop should be run. This is a sociable group and there’s always a drink afterwards on Brick Lane.
Anyway, this is just a starting point: please feel free to add comments on any others you’ve been on and rate. Thanks.