Arvon attendees reunite for writing workshop

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

Last Wednesday, 14 students who attended the Arvon Creative Writing course in Shopshire over the Easter holidays attended an afternoon writing workshop. We held the workshop partly so they could collect The Lighthouse (the anthology of their writing from the course), but also to celebrate seeing their work in print and practice writing techniques they learnt on the course.

To get themselves in the writing headspace, they began by carrying out a free writing task to some serious music, which quickly led to much fast scribbling! The students then attempted some ‘Golden Shovels’, a technique devised by the American poet Terrance Hayes in honour of his fellow compatriot Gwendolyn Brooks.

The last words of each line in a Golden Shovel poem are, in order, words from a line or lines taken often from another poem; the original Golden Shovel is The Pool Players / Seven at the Golden Shovel by Brooks. The results of this technique can be quite different in subject, tone and texture from the original poem, depending on the ingenuity and imagination of the poet composing one!

In honour of the incoming Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage – who visited Bedales last September – students chose lines from his poems Poem and I Am Very Bothered, and had a lot of fun sharing the new poems that evolved from his lines. The intention is to keep the writing momentum going with monthly writing reunions next year and include new work in The Poet’s Stone.

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.