By now your New Year resolutions have been made and broken. It is the time for writers of all kinds to think about those wonderful weeks or weekends away at special places called writers’ summer schools, festivals or just plain tuition centres. I’ve had experience of 2 different residential writing courses but not the third talked about below, mainly because the structure of the week/weekend/two days here or two days there is so complicated I’ve always looked at the website and given up.
I began this form of adult education – or a week away from the wife/husband/children – by going for several years to the Swanwick Writers Summer School. I discovered the week to be not so much a school more of a holiday. However, I haven’t been for many years and I did always learn masses, enjoy it all – including the brilliant pantomime and joining in with the evening entertainment of dancing, although not do much actual writing.
Swanwick always has been and still is the best value for money if you are seeking a week away with the gloss of the ‘I’m really writing’ fantasy about it. This year the prices range from £495 – £640 depending on the size and luxury of the accommodation. The food is good without being haut cuisine. The programme is wide ranging and comprehensive. www.swanwickwriters.org.uk
I’ve also taken at least 4 courses at one of the Arvon Foundation Centres, either Lumb Bank in Yorkshire or Totleigh Barton in Devon. There is a third centre at The Hurst, Shropshire. The atmosphere during these weeks (arrive Monday tea-time, leave after breakfast on Saturday) is friendly and relaxed but the attitude towards writing is serious and work is required. Everyone has a private session with both tutors to discuss written work. Almost inevitably, you come away with the satisfaction of having advanced your writing skills. However, you do pay for this. The cost for the (effectively) 4 day week is from £500 (for retreats) – £815 for full-time courses. You are also expected to help with the cooking for one evening meal during the week. But don’t let that frighten you off. There’s a recipe to follow and help at hand. If you are serious about your writing, study the wide range of tuition offered and go if you can. www.arvon.org
This final choice, The Winchester Festival, has a programme structure so complicated with various prices for every combination of timetable, I’ve always given up trying to choose. However, I do know people who have attended in one way or another. Here is the best summary I can give based on 2019 prices:
3 day weekend – £485 Friday & Saturday – £405 Saturday & Sunday – £405.
But do go on the website and investigate for yourself. Especially if you live within driving distance of Winchester. There is no assumption you’ll stay for the evening, even for dinner. www.writersfestival.co.uk
Me? I’ve given up these weeks away in favour of a writing mentor, who offers a mark-up of my work and one and half hours of a private session with her, evaluating and discussing my work. More on this later in the year but in the meantime, if you are interested in this option, Google Emma Darwin. And of course I have to say other professional writers will offer variations on the theme.