Poets and writers have been visiting Tŷ Newydd since 1990 to develop their craft in creative writing. Questionnaires sent out to recent participants tell us about successes. But it often takes years, even decades, to write books and to develop as a writer.
We’ve been asking some of our past participants what they’ve been up to since leaving Tŷ Newydd, and how did their time here impact their work as a writer. Here are some of their stories:
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.
– James Rice. His debut novel Alice and the Fly – the first chapter of which won the Writing On The Wall Festival’s novel-writing competition ‘Pulp Idol’ – was published in January 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton. He also writes short stories, several of which have been published.
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.
– Naomi Crosby
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.
– Julia Forster. She is the author of two books – a non-fiction book called Muses: Revealing the Nature of Inspiration and a coming-of-age novel set in 1988, What a Way to Go (Atlantic Books). Julia has worked in publishing for twenty years and she currently works freelance in PR for independent publishers.
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.
– Kate Noakes. Read more here. Kate’s most recent publications include Tattoo on Crow Street (Parthian, 2015) and Paris, Stage Left (Eyewear Publishing, 2017). Her forthcoming The Filthy Quiet will be published by Parthian in 2018.
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.
– Marianne Burton. Her poems have been widely published in top literary journals including Poetry Wales, Poetry London, and the Times Literary Supplement. Her pamphlet, The Devils’ Cut, was a Poetry Book Society choice in 2007. She has won and been placed in a number of competitions including Mslexia, TLS, Edwin Morgan, Bridport, Cardiff International.
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.
– Ken Evans. His pamphlet The Opposite of Defeat (Eyewear), was published in 2016. Ken’s work was longlisted in the UK Poetry Society’s National Competition; highly-commended in the Bridport Prize and shortlisted in the Troubadour Competition, all in 2015. Individual poems have featured in The Interpreter’s House, Obsessed with Pipework, Envoi, and Ink. Sweat & Tears.
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.
– Jane Clarke. Jane Clarke’s first collection, The River, is published by Bloodaxe Books. Jane lives in Co. Wicklow. In 2016 she won the Hennessy Literary Award for Emerging Poetry with three poems from The River. She also won the inaugural Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. The Riverwas shortlisted for the Royal Society for Literature Ondaatje Award, given for a distinguished work of fiction or non-fiction evoking the spirit of a place.
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.
– Kim Moore. Her first full length collection The Art of Falling was published by Seren in April 2015. She won a New Writing North Award in 2014, an Eric Gregory Award in 2011 and the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2012. Kim’s first pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in The Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition, judged by Carol Ann Duffy. If We Could Speak Like Wolves was chosen as an Independent Book of the Year in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Pamphlet Award and the Lakeland Book of the Year Award.