The annual mailshot from The Arvon Foundation dropped into the in-box of Outlook Express last Wednesday, fan-faring the exciting calendar of writing courses they’ve lined up for 2011. I flicked through the email in cursory fashion – too busy to look at it properly and too impatient to wait the six hours it takes the family computer to open each link. Besides, why torture myself? I quashed my rising interest resolutely and clicked the email shut.
The people at Arvon weren’t content to leave it there, though. On Thursday, their brochure – ‘Arvon Inspires’ – arrived in the post and as the husband chose to empty the mail box (we live in the heart of suburbia but are pretentious enough to have a mail box), it made it into my soap-sudded hands several days earlier than it would have done otherwise. ‘Oh shucks,’ I thought, ‘it can’t hurt just to look at it.’ So, abandoning domesticity for five minutes and armed with a cup of tea and a biscuit, look at it I did.
It’s not that I have an aversion to the Arvon Foundation, which from April to November runs writing courses in historic country houses in Devon, Shropshire, Yorkshire and up at the top of the UK in Inverness. These are tutored by writers of such calibre that the schedule reads like a guest list for a Booker Prize party. Indeed, I’m more than a little drawn to the idea of a kid-free week ‘sharing and exploring creative writing’ in the middle of nowhere and having a ‘life-changing experience’ such as that enjoyed by Paul Abbott of Shameless fame. It’s just that the courses cost quite a bit of money. More money, in fact, than a part time teacher can justify spending on something which, to the outside world, is A Little Hobby.
But do I see it as a hobby myself? Less and less, if truth be known; there’s been a gradual shift in how I think of myself since beginning a creative writing MA course last year. I am a Writer, with a capital W. But unfortunately, I’m not a published writer and though I diligently save all my expense receipts, as yet there are no incomings to offset such very substantial outgoings against.
Not yet, anyway. But wait a minute, there’s a course here that might help with that. At a venue I could easily get to despite my anxieties over driving, in a genre I’ve been trying to develop myself in, and tutored by an author whose work I’ve read and like very much. A week of uninterrupted writing under such expert guidance might produce something publishable and as an agent is the mid-week guest, they should be able to help with that. It’s in the summer holidays, too, so wouldn’t clash with work. In fact, the course has my name written all over it. I ran the idea past the husband to see if he was up for lone parenting for a week. “Go for it!” he said. The only obstacle to overcome, then, is the guilt I feel over the size of the fee.
So on Friday I set myself a challenge: to earn enough money in the next six months to cover the cost of an Arvon writing course in August. It’s kind of a statement of intent to myself, to show how serious I am about earning my living as a writer. If I can do it for the short term to fund what is, to all intents and purposes a luxury get-a-way, I should be able to do it for real in the future, to fund my writing life.