Statue in the gardens of The Hurst
Statue in the gardens of The Hurst

Last Sunday I visited the open gardens at The Hurst, in Clun, Shropshire. The Hurst is used by Arvon for writing courses and retreats. It also happens to be the former home of playwright John Osborne, so if it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for us.

Turning off the road which snakes through a wide green valley, the 19th Century house is nestled amidst lush gardens and is surrounded by the forest-covered Shropshire Hills. If you are looking for peace and tranquillity, with the option to stroll around 26 acres of grounds and the chance to see Pine Martens, this is the place to go! Alas, on Sunday, I didn’t get the chance to explore these grounds or even to have a good nose around the house, as I was busy taking part in a taster workshop led by Manda Scott, who happens to live only a stone’s throw away from The Hurst (jealous!).

Manda Scott was absolutely lovely. She oozed calm and spoke words of wisdom. She’s been writing for over 20 years, so she knows what she’s talking about. She made all of us in the session feel so at ease and able to ask any question that came to mind. The workshop stretched beyond the designated ninety minutes because Manda wanted to share so much with us amateurs and novices, and informed us of the perils of this way of life, but also left us feeling very optimistic and excited to get stuck into our own writing projects.

So, what did I learn?

Well, a few things.

First of all, the difference between ‘Mystery’ and ‘Thriller’. These specific definitions have been illusive on internet searches, but Manda put it simply:

Mystery = Something has happened, a crime perhaps, and we want to know why. It’s a whodunit of sorts. You need to leave the reader guessing. You need to plant red herrings and clues. The end is the big reveal of who did it and why they did it.

Thriller = Something has happened and someone is in danger (usually the person the reader needs to care about). In a thriller, the question is, will the person in danger survive to the next page? We might know who the killer is at the start and why they are doing what they are doing, but what we don’t know is whether the character who we are emotionally invested in will survive or die.

Secondly, a multi-era novel (say, one that switches between 1957 and 1900) is hard and complicated. Manda suggests that these types of novels are also harder to sell and market. What kind of reader do you target - people interested in the post-war era or the Edwardian era? What kind of look does the cover have? I take her point, and seeing as the book I’m currently working on spans between 1865 and 1957, am feeling a little nervous about it. BUT, she did not say it was impossible! And some of my favourite authors write this kind of novel all the time, for instance, Eve Chase’s Black Rabbit Hall (read my review of this book here).

Thirdly, that traditional publishing might not be all it’s cracked up to be. You have to write what they tell you (most of the time), earn less than 10% royalties, and lose the freedom to market your book how you think would be best. There is also a worry that traditional publishers are not keeping up-to-date with today’s modern ways of publishing, marketing, and selling books. So, it’s food for thought about going self-published!  

I had a fabulous day and I am so glad that I got to see this beautiful house and learn so much from a brilliant historical novelist, and all for £5 entry fee! I am now really interested in booking onto one of Arvon’s courses, a list of which can be found here. If you have been on an Arvon course, I’d love to know what you made of it.



About the author

Delphine Woods - Enthusiastic, budding author