Truly Madly Tote-lee

I’ll be in Devon next week. The village of Sheepwash, to be precise. I’ll be looking after a very old and charismatic house which I love very much. The house is called Totleigh Barton (pronounced Tote-lee Barton by locals) which is now the oldest of three houses owned by The Arvon Foundation. Totleigh is made from cob, oak and thatch. The walls are three feet thick in places, very cool in summer, very snug in winter. Totleigh’s beams were cut from forests nearby. It is a an ancient eco-house, made from whatever lay to hand a thousand years ago, a house thrust up from the ground on which it stands. It is rustic and stately – and a little eerie sometimes, too, for many, (including the poet Mimi Khalvati) have seen the ghost of a servant girl who haunts the house, who once maybe lived in the servant’s quarters by the stairs, the tiny cupboard now used to store loo rolls.

Sheepwash in the spring. Lambs in the rolling green fields, frisky bullocks in the fields too, red deer and badgers foraging about, house martins swooping in and out under the eaves of the old house, red campion and buttercups and primroses in the lanes. All this and  I get to spend a week with Arvon’s Queen, Julia Wheadon, who I also love very much. Julia was my friend and colleague for four years when I was a co-centre director at Totleigh from 2002-2006. I really can’t wait to be there. Good people now run Tote-lee, Claire Berliner and Oliver Meek. I will be assisting Oliver with an Arvon Friends week.

In many ways, I was born at Totleigh, as a writer, I mean. I came as a student in July of 1999, on a Fiction course with Andrew Miller and Emily Perkins. It was Andrew Miller who solved my problem of not being able to write more than a scene of 2000 words. “How on earth will I ever write  a novel?” I wailed. “Simple”, he replied. “Just write about a hundred of those scenes”. Cool guy. Top writer. One of the best writers around today. Andrew Miller was also a student at Arvon. He came on a course when he was eighteen and his then tutor was Angela Carter. Totleigh Barton is mentioned in his first novel Ingenious Pain. He loves Totleigh too. And in some romantic way I like to think there has been a chain of generosity come through Arvon when it comes to established writers mentoring new writers: Angela Carter mentored Andrew Miller who in turn mentored me. That’s why Arvon is such an amazing organisation – for it has, over four decades, fostered many of these literary lineages of writers and poets. My friend the poet Kate Clanchy came on a course taught by Carol-Anne Duffy and was ‘discovered’ at Tote-lee too. Esther Freud wrote the first pages of Hideous Kinky in the garden at Tote-lee. The list of these connections is long.

Ahh, I,am  rambling? Oh, dear.

I can’t wait to be there. Between jobs, I will smoke and drink outside the kitchen wndow and avoid having the house martins drop bird-shit in my pinot grigio. I will go tramping across the fields, up onto the lane which winds along the Torridge and I will go for a pint in the Half Moon with my mate the journalist Deborah Dooley – and I will be very happy.


~ by moniqueroffey on April 15, 2010.

4 Responses to “Truly Madly Tote-lee”

  1. Smoke?

  2. Yes, I smoke now and then these days. Settles the asthma.

  3. Helps the phlegm to move, I always say. Have a lovely lovely week, and send my love to all.

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