I didn’t really want it to end. But all sweet things must, eventually, come to an end and so I had to say a sad goodbye to my charming group of students at the Arvon foundation in Totleigh Barton, Devon, and to the centre’s inspiring managers Claire and Olly. Oh, and also to Mr Doggles, a dog who’s much more than just a dog.
I spent a week at Totleigh giving a course in creative writing, alongside Peter Gordon.
Both Peter and I, we later sheepishly admitted to each other, arrived at the centre with serious trepidations. We hadn’t a clue how to teach food writing, or, for that matter, any other form of creative writing. I guess we both secretly trusted the other to get out of this one safely.
As a matter of fact, it wasn’t half as trying as we had imagined. Claire and Olly put us at ease in seconds, with their calm and naturally reassuring demeanours. The beauty of the place and its long and solid literary history also managed to calm our nerves. And Mr. Doggles, of course, with his canine lovability and persistent barking fevers.
But it was only after the first encounter with our students - all so obviously different from each other and having a vast variety of culinary and literary agendas, yet with tons of humour and big personalities – that we realised that all is safe.
The rest was pure fun: from the chicken auction in Hatherleigh to the eventful readings in the barn, from the one-on-one tutorials, where some brutal honesty was often called for, to writing restaurant reviews, from group cooking in the afternoons, where the standard continuously deteriorated, to fumed roars of laughter around the massive dinner table dissecting the organ of one infamous TV chef.
I guess that in the end it worked out so well because our week was about so much more than just creative writing. It was about self expression, changing direction and exposure; it was about courage to embellish, uncovering a voice and leaving safe grounds; and it was about simple human (and dog) interaction.