Arvon Food Writing Course

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There’s something about having three weeks’ off that makes you want to organise something to do. When I finally went through the hoops that got me my sabbatical from work, I looked around for something to do in September. I’d booked on an Arvon Foundation writing course before, but had to cancel, so I had a look at what courses they were running in September. The one that caught my eye was a Food Writing course. Now, Sharon and I started this blog in April, so I thought here was a chance to learn how to improve the quality of the blog – particularly the recipes and restaurant reviews. Other than that, I had no real idea about what the course was going to be like.

The atmosphere was very much like a sci-fi convention for foodies. Here was a place where you were surrounded by people who loved food, thought about food, wrote about food and nobody thought you were weird or looked bored when you talked about it.

The writing side of it was much, much more professional than I had imagined. Our tutors were Lulu Grimes (Deputy Editor of olive magazine) and Lindsey Bareham, who has years of experience in writing recipe books and food journalism. They were obviously very serious and dedicated about food writing and expected us to be as well. I certainly felt I was being told kindly, but firmly, to ‘buck my ideas up’! I hope that doesn’t make them sound stern, because they were great fun and frequently had us howling with laughter.

We had lessons on writing recipes, articles and features for magazines and newspapers; writing a synopsis and a pitch for a recipe book; how to make your writing (and recipes) stand out; and the importance of being accurate (this is a form of journalism).

The location for this course was Totleigh Barton, near Sheepwash in Devon. It’s a beautiful, thatched house, with roots going back to before the Domesday Book. It’s set in lovely grounds, surrounded by fields. Idyllic, I think, comes to mind.

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It was almost a cliche of this kind of building. Higgledy-piggedly room layout, stone-flag floors and lots of beams. We ate at a refectory table that’s probably older than a lot of countries in the UN and cooked in an amazing kitchen.

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The staff, Oliver, Claire and Eliza, were extremely friendly and helpful and cooked amazing lunches as well as helping out cooking the evening meal. Speaking of that – it’s up to the residents to cook the evening meal for themselves. We were put into teams and you cooked one night and washed up on another. I wouldn’t say things got competitive, but this was foodies cooking for other foodies, so we were on our mettle shall we say. I have not eaten so well for a long time.

I don’t know if I struck it lucky, but all the residents got on. We ranged in age from 20’s to 60’s, we came from as far apart as Canada and Singapore with wider ranges of life and experience and I can’t think of the slightest hint of an argument. Maybe it was because we all were there because of food. I do want to give a special mention to Wil, who was not only the youngest, but the only man on the course. He survived, I think.

I went on the course to do better at writing the blog. I came away with the ambition to write about food professionally (if not full-time) and with the idea for a cookbook. Eeep!

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