Away with Words – Devon Creative Writing Retreat
Over half term some of our Year 7-10 students returned to Totleigh Barton, a 16th-century manor house in one of the most peaceful and idyllic parts of Devon, for the Arvon Creating Writing Retreat.
Here’s how Adeline G (Year 9) found the creative experience:
One Monday morning at the end of October, a group of writers from years 7-10 arrived at school to begin our literary adventure. After a long journey, we were immediately met by the charming Devon countryside. Our home for three days, Totleigh Barton, had retained much of its original 16th century architecture; it was very picturesque and felt like a window to another time. We were then taken to the dining room to enjoy homemade scones, a quick talk through the history of the house and the activities for the coming week; after this, we settled into our rooms then regrouped for a delicious dinner. The day ended with a workshop where we met our tutors, Chris (a playwright and author) and Theresa (a poet). In this workshop, we got to know one another, through various writing exercises and group discussions.
On the second day, we had another workshop after breakfast, where Chris took one half and Theresa took another. In Chris’s session, we did some different character creating exercises, which was incredibly useful, including creating a personality and story for a Kinder Egg toy! When we had Theresa’s session shortly afterwards, we did some poetry writing, one where we took a random page of a random book and hovered our fingers until told to stop. The word we landed on would be part of the first line of a poem, beginning with either “my room is” or “my world is”. This exercise created some very interesting poems, and we had to be very creative for these to make sense! In the afternoon, we had free time where we explored the grounds at our will and had time for plenty of reading and writing (and of course there were many books all around the house of all genres and authors). This afternoon was also one when we had a chance for a one-to-one session with each of the tutors, where we could talk to them about whatever we wanted, whether it was a piece of writing we were working on or just on writing in general. This was a very rare experience that we were all very lucky to have. We concluded with a poetry reading from Theresa, where we heard some beautiful poems which found the poetry in some of the simplest everyday things.
The third day began with another workshop (led by Theresa), offering us a valuable insight into poetry about the objects we encounter every day and how to describe these in a poetic way. On this day, a group of us (myself included!) went on a walk where we were approached by a group of aggressive-looking cows! Thankfully, the crisis was quickly averted by calmly walking away. In the evening, a guest speaker came in, a poet who enthralled us with her passionately spoken poetry. This was an excellent way to further immerse ourselves in poetry, and undoubtedly offered inspiration for our own.
For the final workshop we temporarily transformed the estate into a small museum having been instructed to bring an object “nobody else on the trip will have brought”. We spent the first half of the session looking through everyone’s objects and reading through the objects’ captions. The second half was focused on creating more realistic-seeming dialogue. We had another reading that evening, this time with Chris, where he shared with us some of his short stories; these were great and appropriately rather spooky.
Before heading home, we had a small reading in which we all read some of the work we produced in the week. I was truly impressed by everyone’s work and creativity, and it was really enjoyable to hear everyone’s unique perspectives through writing. There was a somewhat delayed 6 hour journey back.
I’m so glad I got an opportunity to be part of this unforgettable week, and I feel I have learned a lot about writing and also got to know a very nice group of people. Thank you to everyone involved who made this such an amazing experience!