Tag Archives: Totleigh Barton

What happens on an Arvon writing course?

Last week I was co-tutoring a ‘Writing for Children’ course with Malachy Doyle at Totleigh Barton, the Arvon Foundation’s house in Devon.

Totleigh Barton
Totleigh Barton

Arvon courses run from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning and they follow a tried-and-tested format

  • a 3-hour writing workshop every morning
  • individual tutorials in the afternoons
  • talks and readings in the evenings from both the tutors, a visiting guest and on the final night, the course participants
  • free time for writing and socialising

Each participant helps with preparing a meal and washing up once during the week, using simple recipes and ingredients provided by the centre staff.

Meals at Totleigh include delicious local produce and vegetables from the garden
Meals at Totleigh include delicious local produce and vegetables from the garden

That’s the basic formula, but every course is different, depending on the group and the tutors. Ours included lots of things that weren’t in the programme, such as

  • extra tutorials, as the group was small due to people getting snowed in at home
  • long muddy walks in the beautiful surrounding countryside
  • an evening of very funny games and charades
  • a Burns supper with one of the centre’s directors reading ‘fair chieftain o’ the puddin’ race’ and Malachy regaling us at table with some of Rabbie’s songs
  • the reading to the whole group of a picture book written by two of the participants explaining what they had learnt during the week through the medium of story – the tragic, indeed shocking story of Milo the dog and Ben the chick

Malachy Doyle with his big book of Robbie Burns songs
Malachy Doyle with his big book of Robbie Burns songs

You can learn an amazing amount in a single focused week, away from the work and worries of everyday life; you can enjoy conversations about writing with people who feel as passionately about it as you do yourself. You can also have a lot of fun.

If you get a chance to go on an Arvon course, I’d say grab it with both hands. I’ve been on two myself since my first book came out, and I’d recommend it to writers at every stage from complete beginners to published authors.

Have you ever been on an Arvon Foundation course? What were the best and worst things about it?