Engaging Arvon Creative Writing trip

On 15 April, English teachers Lucy Mcilwraith and Julia Bevan accompanied a group of Bedales students to the Hurst Arvon Centre in Shropshire for a five-day residential creative writing course.

Set in the former home of the late playwright John Osborne and led by tutors Malika Booker and Colin Grant, both of whom are published writers, the course saw the group take part in a series of workshops designed to “ignite a life-long love of creative writing”.

Over the course of the five days, group writing workshops saw students take part in a range of exercises, including keeping haiku diaries as a way of focussing observation skills; free writing as a means of ‘loosening up’ and increasing the flow of ideas; exploring ways of creating images to express emotions; using memoir writing as a way of recording not only facts but also atmospheres; and practising writing dialogue where each new speech had to start with the sequential letter of the alphabet.

In addition to workshops, one-to-one tutorials and readings with guest speakers, the group were given the freedom to develop their own written work and explore the beautiful remote environment.

The independent living experience formed a significant part of the retreat, and students spent time in small groups in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal and washing up – something which promoted rather than stifled creativity.

In an email to parents during the trip, Lucy and Julia wrote: “As we’re in the home of John Osborne, a writer of kitchen sink drama, I think it’s particularly appropriate that the washing up crew indulged in kitchen sink poetry. We tried one word each, then rhyming couplets, then answering each other only in rhyme. For some reason we kept coming back to ‘feet’ and ‘beef’, but it certainly made the washing up go more quickly!”

The students, who will now produce an anthology of their written work from the course, praised the way the course offered them the space to write creatively with minimal distractions.

As many of the students particularly enjoyed the writing exercises in the mornings while on the course, Julia now intends to keep the group going following their return to school, through monthly writing sessions.

Visiting Thomas Hardy’s Wessex

Last Saturday, a group of 6.2 English students visited Dorset to visit some of the key sites in Thomas Hardy’s life, to complement their study of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and some of his poetry. Here are two perspectives from the trip.

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

Thomas Hardy didn’t move far in his life; the distance from his birthplace in Lower Bockhampton to Max Gate, the house he built for himself on the outskirts of Dorchester once he had found success, is less than two miles.

First up was Hardy’s birthplace, a small cottage that has remained largely unchanged from when Hardy lived there with his parents and siblings. We were led there by National Trust volunteer Wendy, who led us through the woodland above the cottage and read to us some of the poems Hardy wrote inspired by the landscape.

The most ambitious part of the trip followed with our group walking through steady Dorset drizzle, following the River Frome across which Angel Clare had carried Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, to Stinsford Church, where Hardy’s heart is buried in the family tomb.

Further walking across boggy flood meadow took us to Max Gate, and a meeting with Andrew Leah, Vice President of the Thomas Hardy Society, who lived at Max Gate for 17 years before the National Trust opened it as a visitor attraction.

Andrew gave us a tour of each room and described movingly the creeping melancholy that coloured most of Hardy’s married life at Max Gate, followed by the guilt that consumed him after his wife’s death. We sat in the study room in which Hardy wrote Tess, and then moved next door to the room he took over when he turned his back on writing prose and wrote only poetry until his death.

By Thea Sesti, 6.2

By walking from one of Hardy’s homes to the other, we explored the landscape and the place Hardy was so tied to and served as a backdrop for so many of his works.

We were at times accompanied by a National Trust guide who read out some of Hardy’s poetry in the Dorset woodland, which clearly evidenced the sensibility and attachment to nature he had from a young age and emerged so prominently in some of his later novels, like Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Having studied the text as part of A Level English, we were able to draw comparisons between the then appropriately damp and evocative scenery we came across walking and that in the book, making us understand all the more the area’s impact on Hardy’s life as an author.

We were thus able to retrace his life’s journey as he moved from his family cottage to Max Gate, the house he built for himself and moved into with the first of two wives, following the rise of his wealth and fame.