Tŷ Newydd is a special place for me. I remember my first residential there; I was still a student and had only written one chapter of my debut novel at the time. The course was an absolute joy – a week in good company, amongst beautiful surroundings, hosted by two authors I truly respected – but more importantly it was the first time I realised that being a writer was what I wanted to do with my life. There was something about that week – something indefinable. It changed me. It was a tough process, going on to write the rest of my first novel (years passing as I sat in front of the PC in my bedroom) but I’d often think back to that week at Tŷ Newydd, and the profound effect it had had on me. I still do, sometimes.
I came on a poetry course in November 2016, a last-minute decision as I realised that unless I did ‘something’ I might as well give up writing. So I tried Ty Newydd. Two Irish poets, Tony Curtis and Paula Meehan; good friends, and completely different from one another. They were a crucial part of the experience. But the other powerful input was the group. Mixed, as they always are, and mixed in how they contributed. But what was unique about this course was the importance of Welshness, Welsh as a language, as a different tradition of poetry, as a cause and method of protest and liberation.
The tutors were magnificent. As a result of that week, undertaken when I was at the point of giving up, I have been placed in a national competition, and begun an MA. I contribute to more local groups and am offering sessions to local U3A groups who write prose, to challenge them to explore poetry.
Mid-way through the Writing from Life course at Tŷ Newydd with Lavinia Greenlaw and Paul Dodgson in 2011, I had a breakthrough. At the desk in my bedroom, I wrote one page of prose after a morning workshop. That Friday evening my cohort of fellow creative writers took it in turns to read our work aloud. I was so choked by the fact that I’d written something which resonated for me that I had to ask one of the tutors to read it on my behalf. Those few hundred words became the premise for the novel I went on to publish just five years later. After attending the Tŷ Newydd course, things began to fall into place rapidly: I received a Literature Wales Writers Bursary in 2012 which gifted me the time to write the first half of the novel. Once I’d finished the first draft, I sent it out to agents in early 2014, and in the space of nine months I was picked up by a literary agent based at Curtis Brown in London and I landed a publishing deal at the end of the same year. What a Way to Go was published by Atlantic Books in 2016. My novel was born at Tŷ Newydd.
I don’t know whether I am important enough to count as a success story, but Tŷ Newydd definitely played a large part in the success I’ve had.
I came twice to courses run by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke and the first undoubtedly helped me shape my first collection, She Inserts the Key, that was accepted for publication by Seren and shortlisted for the Forward First Collection Prize. I have a second collection coming out at the start of next year, again from Seren.
Many people I met on these two courses went on to publication. But I also remember with huge affection those people who have not gone on to ‘important’ things, they supported the rest of us and were often the nicest people on the courses.
Since attending a TN Masterclass in May 2016, a poem inspired in a workshop by Gillian Clarke has won The Battered Moons Poetry Competition.
Other small scrapings gleaned from, and carefully nurtured by, the rich soils and granite of the house and gardens of Tŷ Newydd, have been worked up until I have a contract to publish a full poetry collection with Eyewear in Spring 2018.
As we all keep in touch from the course, bonded and supported by the residential experience. I know I’m not alone in benefiting from the Masterclass, as many of my colleagues on the course appear regularly in magazines, journals, readings and poetry events around the UK.
In July 2008 I took a train from Wicklow to Dun Laoghaire, the ferry to Holyhead and another train to Bangor on my way to Tŷ Newydd for a Poetry Masterclass given by Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy. I had been writing poetry for three years and was both excited and overawed at the thought of a “masterclass” with these two ground-breaking poets. It turned out to be a pivotal week in the development of my work and my identity as a poet. I came home with new poems on the boil but more importantly I felt my work was valued which encouraged me to commit myself more fully to writing.
Since then I have attended four other courses in Tŷ Newydd with Gillian Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy, Maura Dooley, Mark Cocker and Fiona Sampson. What took me back again and again was the excellence of the tutors, the time and space to concentrate on all aspects of writing for a week, the camaraderie and support of the other poets I met there as well as the opportunity to hear the tutors and guests give their readings. The friendly, relaxed atmosphere in this beautiful old house, set between the shingle beach along Cardigan Bay and the woods by the river Dwyfor, is totally conducive to the playful and serious work of writing, editing and dreaming.
I had the honour and pleasure of returning as a guest reader to a Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Imtiaz Dharker in October 2016. As I read from my first collection, The River, published by Bloodaxe Books in June 2015, I was delighted to highlight the poems that had begun or been edited while sitting in the Tŷ Newydd library, at the long dining room table or at a bench in the garden.