Days before my 15th birthday, I went on a school trip that was to change my life. I didn’t know it at the time. In fact it wasn’t until 24 years later that the impact of that trip became clear. In March 1985, myself and ten school friends ( plus teachers) went on a creative writing residential at the Arvon Foundation’s centre at Totleigh Barton in Devon. We wrote poems mostly, tutored by the fabulous poet Gillian Clarke. On Wednesday night Ted Hughes was meant to visit as our ‘guest writer’. He lived nearby and was a great supporter of Arvon. But alas he had flu and couldn’t come, so he asked that our work be sent to him. A day later the work was returned- he’d singled mine out, calling it ‘dangerous’. At not-quite-15, I didn’t know what he meant, but I could tell from the tutors’ faces it was praise! Fast forward 24 years to June 2009. I was now a not-quite-40 year old English teacher who devoured books but had little time to write. I’d also survived cancer, and now I was well again, wanted to give writing another go . So I organised a school trip to- yes, you’ve guessed it- the Arvon Foundation’s centre at Totleigh Barton. Amazingly, very little about the place had changed since 1985. The writer in me was still there too. During that week, the writing bug bit, and bit hard. When I came home I couldn’t stop crying. Something wonderful had happened- from now on I simply HAD to write.
So I enrolled on the MA in Writing For Young People at Bath Spa Uni and started that September. Whilst on the course, I wrote Frost Hollow Hall. Soon afterwards, I got an agent and soon after that, my first deal with Faber. In the meantime, I kept taking students to Totleigh Barton. It became a regular fixture in our school calendar.
This year for the very first time, I was invited to speak at Totleigh as an AUTHOR. One wednesday night, I was the guest author for a brilliant school group from London. Then I was asked back as a course tutor for another school group from High Wycombe. It was the most amazing experience- so different to be there as a WRITER rather than a teacher responsible for students. All these years I’ve been coming to this wonderful place- as a pupil, a teacher and now an author.That school trip back in 1985 started something that’s stayed with me forever. I’ve a lot to thank The Arvon Foundation for.