Just over a week ago, I went on an Arvon Crime Fiction writing course. Although I’ve been focusing on my rom coms in the last couple of years, I have always enjoyed scribbling and reading mystery and crime stories, so I was very excited to spend a week writing on the dark side. The course took place at The Hurst in Shropshire, the former home of the playwright John Osborne.
The house was beautiful, groaning with books and surrounded by acres of beautiful gardens, definitely an environment to get the creative juices flowing. And even better, there was no phone signal, and no internet. It was rather a treat to spend a week off grid, although thinking about it, the combination of an isolated country house, a group of strangers (at first at least) and no contact with the outside world sounds exactly like the setting of a crime story in itself!
When I arrived, I was told there would be a meeting with my fellow writers and the tutors in the drawing room at 6pm…definitely something which had me expecting Poirot to turn up twirling his moustache. My nerves at meeting the rest of the group were soon proven to be unfounded as they were a lovely bunch of people, all with lots of stories to tell. We soon bonded over the cooking and washing up rota (at Arvon courses, everyone takes it in turn to cook one evening meal and to wash up after two other meals during the week.) Although I was rather apprehensive about the responsibility of cooking for a group of 11, my fellow chef and I managed not to poison anyone with our meal (phew) and I would go so far to say that it tasted rather yummy, even though I do say so myself.
The main point of the week was to learn about techniques for writing crime novels and I did indeed learn a lot, not just about mystery fiction but about novel writing in general. The marvellous tutors were Dreda Say Mitchell and Tobias Jones, and they were joined one evening by guest tutor Sophie Hannah. It was inspiring to hear about how they started their literary careers and I felt very privileged to learn from them. We had writing workshops every morning looking at areas such as plotting, characterisation and how to write an engaging first line. We also discussed what actually makes a crime novel. Every session we were given lots of writing exercises which we then read out to the rest of the group for feedback and advice. It was rather daunting at first but everyone was really supportive and I found it very helpful. We also had a couple of one to one tutorials with Dreda and Toby to discuss our work in progress in greater detail. The afternoons were free for writing and exploring the Shropshire countryside. I certainly came up with lots of ideas while meandering around the woodland, as well as filling up my phone with dozens of pictures of stunning views.
It was quite a shock to return to the real world after my time in the creative bubble of The Hurst, but I left feeling re-invigorated and eager to continue with my writing. I also gained a new group of writing buddies and I can’t wait to read the work we all produce.