Thursday, 20 November 2008

Meet the Totleigh 16

My first day of the Arvon Course does not start well.
Once shown to home for the next six days I locked the door of my room and waited nervously for the right time to come out. Half an hour later the main door opened and in burst a profusion of accents and raucous laughter, possibly a group of friends judging by the noise. What if they don’t like me? What if they all have English degrees? What if they already have a book published?
“Is someone in there?” A soft Irish Accent asked the group. Cue me. Maybe not. Better had. Cue time to pop out of my little hole, introduce myself, look them all up and down then scurry back into my room. They all look glam and ‘arty.’ What if they are journalists? What if I’m out of my depth?
I have turned into a mouse. It is time to circulate or I won’t last the day.

Into the great barn, our class and common room for the duration and everyone is younger than me. And more cosmopolitan-there are two Australians, a Brazilian, one of the two freelance journalists has come from Oslo, two girls from publishing, students studying English or creative writing-one is a model and dating a famous Aussie Rock Star. Our tutors arrive -Louise Dean is beautiful and boho chic. Patrick Neate, his quietness hinting at his eccentricity, was wearing a woolly hat and nervously pulling it down over his head constantly trying to cover his face. The last of our group joins us.
“Hey, that looks like Gilbert O’Sullivan!” I said to the girl next to me who looked at me like I was her Grandma.

It was not Gilbert O’Sullivan. It was Donovan ,the Donovan. The British Bob Dylan.
They do say that truth is stranger than fiction.
Here was the Totleigh 16.

The intros helped me relax a little. Everyone was nervous, self deprecating, humble about their writing to date and their expectations of the course. I was the only one with 90,000 words of my novel in hand. Contrary to what I thought, none of them knew each other prior to the course. We all felt much the same and that, along with the promise of tea and biscuits, stopped me from fleeing there and then.

And so to work. Exercises, one after the other, I could not do any of them. Every ounce of confidence escaped from my pores. Panic set in-totally unreasonable panic and self deformation.
“Take ten minutes to come up with.....”
Blank paper. Blank brain. The more I heard the others pens scribbling on their notepads the worse it got. Don’t cry. The mouse disappeared back into her hole by 10.30pm and barely slept a wink.

It was time to give myself a good talking to. I won’t give in. I have been looking forward to this course so long. It is good to have some time to myself. I paid £550 for this.

Progress as I actually enjoyed the dialogue work reading it aloud to the group. Everyone was charming and kind which helped.
My safe room still pulls and gets the better of me by 11pm but not wishing to be beaten, I try to do the exercises I struggled with yesterday.

Work about plots, building characters, weaving the magic in. This is when the light bulbs started to go on. This is what I am missing in my writing. The lack of self belief kicked in again as I sat down to my scheduled one to one tuition with Louise Dean, fully expecting to see huge swathes of red crossings out all the first three chapters of The Orange Man which I dared to let her read.
“There are some lovely touches. There are times when you really ‘see’ people and we have a taste of their pain. It is as if you know what they are thinking. I love your characters.”
You don’t know the half I wanted to say.
“Take out the tortured stuff. Lighten it up. Use more humour. You are funny.”
"Trust in your dialogue. Use more-especially your use of the vernacular-it is magic! Show don’t tell. That is what you do best. The little pictures you paint are wonderful!”
Did she say wonderful?
“Cut every sentence that does not progress the plot.”
Hmmm. I’m not good at paring down words.
“Be brutal.”
Ok. I get the idea. Some things will just take me time.

Louise Dean, winner of the Betty Trasker Prize for her first Novel told me that I should stop being so hard on myself. (Ok, ok. I know.) The basics are there in my manuscript. It is time now to start the crafting of it...Nuts and bolts can be learnt-from the course, books, internet, courses, I can read someone else’s book that is in the same genre as mine and learn from how they do it.

Lots of character work. I made a promise to myself to not freeze up-must ‘have a go’ at everything and read it out, even the rubbish. Our guest speaker in the evening was Bidisha. Crikey to have a book published at 16. Wow.
At least I have her enthusiasm.
All I want to do is get out my lap top and start the re-write.

Now I am starting to really enjoy it. A wonderful day. At first I was nervous about tutorial with Patrick especially when he tells me he’s not sure about the story-
“It is an archetypal love story. Therefore you must do something different if it is going to get you a book deal. Make it funny-you are really funny. You do tell a very good story and the way you paint the scenes is very vivid. ‘Show don’t tell’-that must be your mantra.”
How strange-the the second person to tell me that in two days. I don’t do funny.
Maybe Milla could ‘ghost write’ for me?

In the evening we are treated to Donovan and his ‘friend’ Kelly, (his beautiful green guitar) doing a 'minstrel' act. Amazing. I am in heaven with the music until 1.30am.
Still on a high, my laptop winks at me when I get back to the room and I stay up writing until nearly 3am.

“Let’s talk about getting published.” Patrick says to the class. We hear about book deals and ‘another world’ of publicity and bidding, launch parties and how Waterstones have the stranglehold on publishers. We do the synopsis of our novel that we will send to an agent. This is in fact more difficult than the 90,000 words of the novel done this far.
Setting free your imagination.... Patrick has never been to New Orleans. How on earth could he have writtenTwelve Bar Blues?
"Use your imagination" says the winner of the Whitbread Prize like it is easy.
"Look up the facts on Wikipedia and make the rest up, but convincingly of course."

Last night we discovered one of the girls in our group has a wonderful voice-she has sung Les Miserables. So we set her and Donovan to sing Yesterday for our last night. Amazing. Jen McDerra.Remember her name. She is looking for a band. I am sure we will hear her or read her works in years to come.
We all joined in Mellow Yellow, Monster Mash and lots more of Donovan’s hits which we knew verbatim by now. I was so happy I could have burst. Instead of that I started harmonising. Before I knew it I was scatting with Donovan. And everyone was cheering me, and Donovan, of course. The word legend is over used except in this case, it applies. How surreal...Or some might Mellow Yellow. (and take a look at the Totleigh 16.)

A bit like Purple Coo, it was a pleasure and an honour to be with a group of people where you could be ‘yourself’ for a whole week without anyone thinking you are bonkers.

So until another day

Bye for now

LittleBrownDog said...
Oh, Angel, I lapped up every word of that - it sounds completely wonderful. Would love to go on an Arvon course, but have always made excuses for not going this year, maybe next? I'm so glad it was everything you hoped it would be, and more. That confidence is so important. Looking forward to seeing your name on the shelves of Waterstones one day.

Thursday, November 20, 2008
ChrisH said...
WELL DONE! It's sounds as if it was a real ordeal for you at first so you were very brave to stick with it. Writing from cold like that is hard - I hate doing it! - especially when you have to read it out to other people but at least everyone was in the same boat. Take confidence from the praise you've been given - the tutors wouldn't say it if it wasn't true. Good luck with the rewrite.

Thursday, November 20, 2008
Milla said...
what a fantastic sounding time. SO exciting and reinvigorating - and, believe me, that sense of positivity DOES last, so build on it and go, girl, go (wrote go, gril, go first!)

Thursday, November 20, 2008
Pipany said...
Lord thoe idea of reading something out makes me go cold all over Angel. Well done you, feel proud and go for it! xx

Thursday, November 20, 2008
elizabethm said...
I am just so pleased it was all worthwhile and fascinated by the sound of it. I have always fancied going and never done it - it feels as if you are saying you should be taken seriously as a writer and that makes me feel uncomfortable, but you will know all about that!
Great, just great and I know all that positivity will stay with you.

Go for it!

Thursday, November 20, 2008
lampworkbeader said...
Oooh! Angel. One day I'll be able to say, 'I knew here when she first started writing on Coo.'
(Cut out every sentence that doesn't advance the plot. I''ll remember that. Though it makes for a very short novella)

Thursday, November 20, 2008
lampworkbeader said...
Oops! meant her not here,

Thursday, November 20, 2008
snailbeachshepherdess said...
there is a new animated Angel bursting out of the page - go girl go!

Thursday, November 20, 2008
mountainear said...
It sounds so exhilarating - hope you keep up the momentum and write, write, write. You've got it in you - now do it.

What a fantastic week.

Thursday, November 20, 2008
Tattie Weasle said...
Oh it sounds wonderful and you are SO brave! Some mouse though...fantastic!!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008
bodran... said...
What a brilliant time you had . i can so understand the hideing away i would have done the same .
As for donovan you lucky thing i love his see you soon .

Friday, November 21, 2008
muddyboots said...
wow, angel, this sounds sooooooo cool!


Friday, November 21, 2008
Arcadian Advocate said...
In the 90's I looked at Arvon courses many times, but have not done so for a while as I have been so busy. Perhaps one day, after all, I will be brave enough to go.
Good Luck and thanks for sharing your experience, you brought the week alive for us all, and yes many of us can remember Donovan!

Friday, November 21, 2008
pinkfairygran said...
Congratulations Angel on actually doing the course, seeing it through. I know how nervous you were, but you did it, and aside from what you got out of it, you must be so proud of yourself for going.

You sound so fired up from it all, well done and more power tol your writing. And of course, I remember Donovan. What an extra treat for you!

Friday, November 21, 2008
Cait O'Connor said...
Comgratulations Angel. That was a great piece of writing in itself and good luck with your present and any future work. I am so glad it was money well spent.

Saturday, November 22, 2008
Frances said...
Please forgive me for being so late in leaving you a comment. Your experience at arvon seems to have been quite enriching.

Don't lose a bit of the energy, confidence, enthusiasm that you took home with you.

Write, rewrite, share what you've written with more folks (even those whom you fear might be critical, because they just might be excellent readers.)

I did check out the Utube segments, and those were also so much fun. First there is a mountain then there is no mountain then there is. Etc. Create!

Sunday, November 23, 2008
Exmoorjane said...
I am so so thrilled that you loved it (would have beaten self with a wooden stick over the head if you hadn't). Ah yes, show not tell.....those words echoed through our week too. But your bunch sound much younger and trendier and go-getting that our lot (who had a penchant for running away and crying -but that could have been the Philip Hensher effect!).
You go girl indeed or even gril go.....we all know you have it in you.

Monday, November 24, 2008
CAMILLA said...
Well done to you Angel, for sticking it out, if it was me I probably would have run.

Definately money worth spent though Angel, and the very best of luck with the writing for the future.

Ooh, meeting Donovan, how wonderful is that, I adore his music.


Saturday, November 29, 2008
Fennie said...
They are wonderful those courses. I went on one years and years ago - on writing comedy - Ha! (or even HaHa!) but they are hard work. Great camaraderie. Certainly it's an experience you will remember for a very long time. And meeting Donavan as well!

Sunday, November 30, 2008
Tessa said...
OMG - you are so brave. I would have run away the very first night. What an absolutely wonderful experience it turned out to be - I'm so thrilled...and excited...for you. Bravo!

Friday, December 05, 2008
blogthatmama said...
Angel I'm so glad I found this post, I'm in such a muddle these days I couldn't remember who was going on the course until I went on purplecoo today. It sounds absolutely brilliant but very scary, well done for being so brave, I think I would have pretended to be the cleaner. I would really love to go one day, when life calms down a bit! Mellow Yellow! Haven't thought about that song in ages

Friday, December 05, 2008
Marianne said...
I am so impressed that you did this. Well done for being so creative and so brave. Loved your description of your stay and good luck with the novel!