Q&A with Arvon’s Livia Filotico

By   Jantien Abma 3 min read

Livia Filotico works for Arvon, the UK’s largest residential writing course organisation. She is Arvon’s communications administrator by day and a live literature programmer by night. Over the years Livia has worked with literary and cultural organisations, bookshops, universities and publishers to promote ideas of enchantment, diversity, and cultural understanding within the arts and cultural sector, both in the UK and internationally. Follow her on Twitter here.

1. Arvon is quite a hefty operation, offering dozens of short writing courses from three idyllic locations, with a host of esteemed authors as coaches to boot. Has Arvon always been of this size and scope, or were its beginnings more humble?

Arvon has changed dramatically since its beginnings in 1968, when John Moat and John Fairfax got together with the original aim to give young people an alternative to formal education, through which they could fall in love with words and poetry. Over the years we have broadened our remit, offering courses for adults as well as writers’ development schemes, but at the core of what we do there still is a deep belief that creative writing can change people’s lives for the best. That said, a third of our residential weeks still are with schools.

2. What are the most popular courses currently on offer?

We are well known for our fiction and our poetry courses so they tend to sell out really quickly. Our Starting to Write courses are also very popular, which we are very excited about, as each year we are given the wonderful opportunity to meet and tutor a host of emerging writers. Then sometimes there is the odd course in some really niche area that attracts huge numbers as well. So I guess it depends – every year is full of surprises!

3. Have students from the course gone on to publication and/or renown?

Yes, that happens quite a lot and it’s all thanks to the generosity and warmth of our tutors. Forward Poetry Prize-winner Kate Clanchy, for example, was taught by Jackie Kay and Carol Ann Duffy, Costa Book Award-shortlisted Sathnam Sanghera, and journalist/novelist Lottie Moggach were on the same course, taught by Jim Friel; playwright Nick Stimson came on the first ever Arvon course as a 16-year-old student. And we’re delighted to announce Man Booker’s longlist candidate Wyl Muir is also an Arvon alumni.

That said, some of the writers attending our residential weeks don’t do so with the goal of being published but rather to find their creative voice and to express intimate and private emotions. Needless to say, we love and encourage this aspect of creative writing as much as fame.

4. What is Arvon’s stance on self-publishing? Do you think indie writers are heading towards being appreciated at the same level as indie musicians and filmmakers?

We are all about the craft of writing to improve lives, explore possibilities and imagine new futures. Whether writers decide to use a pen or a keyboard, to be published by trade or to put out their work by themselves, falls outside of our remit. Wherever words and language flow, in whatever shape they might take, we are happy.

5. How does Arvon make itself available to those with less access to writer-development resources?

We fundraise and then we fundraise some more. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, every year we are able to provide up to 200 grants for our Open programme, for teachers and for our work with schools. We work closely with many partners and organisations to bring those who might not otherwise be able to afford our week courses to Arvon. We also have a Friends scheme through which writers get access to tips and exercises from professional authors. The scheme supports our work with schools.

6. What are your three favourite books?

They’ve got to be Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and Octavia Butler’s Patternist series.