I have been attending courses at Ty Newydd for nearly fifteen years. In that time I have had the pleasure of being taught, encouraged, supported and promoted by major poets, Welsh and otherwise – Gillian Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Shapcott, Daljit Nagra, and Robert Minhinnick to name just a few. It was only after my very first course there with Gillian and Carol Ann that I had the confidence to apply to do an MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of South Wales. As part of that degree we also attended Ty Newydd for a weeklong workshop where I was taught by Sheenagh Pugh, Tony Curtis, Philip Gross, Des Barry, and others. After graduation, I attended the workshop as a fringe member, using the opportunity as a writing retreat.
In the last decade, since Carol Ann wrote “Brilliant!” on one of my poems at Ty Newydd, I have:
- published over two hundred poems in various magazines,
- had six collections of poetry published (the next one is out in 2018), one of which was reviewed in the PBS magazine, and all of which have had good reviews,
- been widely anthologised,
- read at countless festivals and poetry evenings in the UK and France,
- won poetry prizes,
- founded a literary association in Paris that runs workshops, open mic nights and publishes a magazine, Paris Lit Up, for which I edited the poetry,
- taught writing workshops for Oxford University and the Poetry School,
- been elected to the Welsh Academy of Letters, and
- had my website archived by the National Library of Wales.
Would I have had the chutzpah to do all of this without the confidence in my work and path given to me at Tŷ Newydd? Most probably and resoundingly not.
Ten years ago I attended my first residential poetry course at Tŷ Newydd. I was working full-time as a peripatetic brass teacher and all I knew was that I loved writing. That week was the catalyst for everything that came after for me – it led to me ‘reading and writing every day’, as advised by one of the tutors (Nigel Jenkins) and starting to send my work out and take myself seriously as a poet.
I went back on various courses over the years. Working as a music teacher in a demanding role, the courses were the intense boosts I needed to keep me going through the school year.
I went on to study for an MA in Creative Writing, and only had the confidence to apply after being accepted onto the Masterclass at Tŷ Newydd with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke. I went on another residential week and began many of the poems that would make up my pamphlet during this week (with Fiona Sampson and Alan Jenkins) – the pamphlet went on to win the 2011 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition.
I went on another course and wrote more poems that would go into my first collection – this was a course with Ruth Padel and Ian Duhig. Over the years, I reduced my hours as a music teacher and began to work as a freelance poet, running my own residential courses, performing at festivals in the UK, Ireland and Europe, and running workshops for young people and adults. All of the above are conventional measures of success, perhaps harder to explain is the impact that can’t be measured – the friendships I’ve made on these courses that have endured over the years, and the difference it made to my happiness and mental health as a young, struggling teacher working in a geographically isolated part of the country. Those intense residential weeks threw enough light over my normal life to keep me writing for the rest of the year.
Tŷ Newydd was a catalyst for my journey as a writer, and then it became a touchstone, somewhere I came back to regularly to reinvigorate my writing. There is something magical about the house, the garden, the path down to the sea. This year, I went back as a mid-week guest poet, and I felt very emotional, sitting in the library, remembering all the times I’d sat and listened to guest poets. It felt like I’d come full circle. In 2016, I finally gave up my job as a music teacher, after working part-time for a number of years. I was awarded a Vice-Chancellor’s scholarship to study for a PhD in Creative Writing. There is no doubt in my mind that without Tŷ Newydd I wouldn’t be doing any of this, and I’ll always be grateful for the staff and the fantastic tutors that I had the opportunity to study under and be inspired by.