First impressions go a long way and the driveway revealed a lush green panoramic landscape and an impressive, yet not imposing, stately building. A warm welcome before I even spoke to anyone; albeit the sheep and lambs provided a fanfare of 'baas', and birdsong heralded me to the reception desk.
The reception team were very engaging and helpful; nothing was too much trouble and although they must have heard my questions numerous times on a daily basis, they did not seem to tire of them.
The room was bright and airy, with high ceilings (and the longest curtains I've ever seen framing the window), the adjoining bathroom had a marble topped bath that I just knew I would float in once filled as it was so deep. I felt very comfortable in my home for the next couple of nights. The silence that first evening was only broken by the peal of the clock-tower or the faraway chatter of students in the courtyard.
It's always nerve-wracking (for me, anyway) to put yourself out there and walk into a room of strangers. Big girl pants on, deep breath, a smile and off I went. I need not have worried, the other students on my course (who were mainly in the same boat) were very warm and easy to talk to, and Hannah (our tutor) put us all at ease.
A delicious dinner was followed by a short first lecture, an introduction to what we would look to cover over the weekend, and we were invited to contribute to the setting of this with any of our own particular needs. Starting the weekend course in this way was very clever - enough time to get to know each other a little and find out what we would be doing, but not so much to overwhelm us.
The course itself was very inspiring. The practical exercises have already made a big difference to the way I approach writing, the use of various texts to illustrate each exercise were an excellent way to learn without being preached to. We were in a safe space and as such everyone shared their work when they felt they wanted to, with no pressure. It was a much more emotional experience than I expected, in no small part due to the courage of the group in sharing their own stories, however difficult that was. I could palpably feel my confidence as a writer growing, in no small part due to Hannah's encouragement, relentless energy and engagement with us as a group and individually. As someone new to writing I had felt a bit of an imposter, even presuming to take a course in writing seemed a little premature.
The weekend seemed to end all too soon, but I am already signed up for a Summer School course with Hannah again, enough time between the two to try and really bring on my practice. The course was a perfect springboard for me. I had an idea for a project but was floundering as to where to start and a little overwhelmed by the task. I now feel that I have sufficient tools to get cracking and even more importantly to enjoy the experience.
All the other staff on-site, whether catering or in the bar and shop, were all very friendly and interesting and I really felt part of the West Dean community. The food throughout was delicious and offered plenty of variety. I would be tempted back for a short stay, even without a course to attend.
For anyone who is nervous of putting themselves forward or attending a course on their own, I would say just do it as it may be the start of something beautiful. My West Dean experience will live with me for a long time, and I intend to be a regular visitor in the future.