Being in Safe Hands
01 Nov 2017 / / Written by Karen Phillips

Karen Phillips attended Tŷ Newydd for our Dazzling Non-Fiction course in October 2017.

I wrote this as I watched Jon Gower’s car pull away at the end of our writing course, off into the dimity dawn, carefully but quickly, onward bound, minds to reach, words to write.

Last week, on a non-fiction creative writing course at Tŷ Newydd, was extraordinary; please let the effects last forever.

I had never been on a writing course before, I do what I do as a result of reading and instinct, and Tŷ Newydd gave the unformed bulk of what talent I have form and purpose. I don’t know what I expected from my time there, at the very least I expected time to write and an inspirational environment because everyone talks about how inspiring the centre is.  I didn’t expect to become so attached to my group, I didn’t expect my tutors to be so hands on and, it seems too simple a word, useful. I didn’t expect to learn so much.  I hoped, but I didn’t expect.

We can talk about the inspiration writers find at Tŷ Newydd, the atmosphere, the company of like minds setting fires in each other and access to that environment is a good enough reason to attend a course there – that and the food. We sometimes hear that students have made breakthroughs on courses but we rarely hear why or how that happened – the tutors are such quiet catalysts!

Tŷ Newydd goes to a lot of trouble to attract dynamic, varied and expert tuition and the tutors that we spent last week with were extraordinary. They gave so much; their experience, their methods, their connections and skills. I doubt Tŷ Newydd is the biggest paying gig in the world, yet still the very best have come here to teach, they deserve recognition for that.

Jon Gower, the Welshman, with his heart as big as my father’s shadow, his modesty, his fear for our language, what an example he is.  I will never forget the way he says the word “beautiful”.  He gave me permission to write beautiful words because in Wales, sometimes, that’s enough.  He tried to teach me how to read in public, to breath like I do when I am diving, with purpose and calm necessity, to relax my shoulders, to imagine the weight of my tanks and just float when I read.  With elegant show not tell he delivered production masterclasses; reading R S Thomas in the church in Aberdaron, by simple repetition turned a student’s piece from painful to profound without diluting the truth, and in off the cuff speaking he soared, like a shearwater, dived with drama like a shearwater, found his way back like a shearwater.

And whilst Jon Gower held the beat strong and steady then Horatio Clare flew above it, around it, entwined with it, embellished it, like the chough embellishes the land with its low level acrobatics.  Horatio Clare could have been written by Shakespeare.  He is the professional writer, forever open for business, who despite casually sliding by notices things, the style of your watch, the burn on your wrist and he files it away as he charms the hell out of a room before he makes off with their deepest secrets.  He is an extraordinary teacher; he pulls you into the lesson, with glorious anecdote and memorable illustration. He piles reminder on reinforcement as he builds the message until you wonder how you never knew these things before, until it feels like what he taught was an obvious thing and it was always there.  Generous to a fault with his expertise he gave above and beyond to the group.  I hope he understands for what he gave we are grateful, for the care he showed, we reciprocate.

The tutors last week taught me form and structure, renewed my joy in language, and reminded me until it became automatic muscle memory that the words are mine to define.  I could write, I knew that, but the course built heuristics into proof of what I do and in doing so made it possible for me to do it anywhere, anytime, on demand.  Tell me how and why I do what I do and I can endlessly repeat it – they gave me that surety, they build a net of safety and security under my writing, something to catch me if I fall.

If you can go on a course at Tŷ Newydd then go, jump at it, sacrifice to go there, it is worth it, you will be in safe hands.

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Addendum – I love houses, I love building them, designing them, filling them with things. I covet beautiful houses like others covet beautiful people, and Tŷ Newydd is beautiful.  But for Tŷ Newydd I felt nothing but the need for it to stay as it is, part of Wales, belonging to Wales. Please don’t let this house fall out of our care.  It is exactly where it should be and if the organisation behind it does anything well it facilitates these courses and holds this place in trust for us.  It gives the opportunity for people like me to spend time with those who can shape us.  It is an academy of opportunity, please let it remain so.