Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ty Newydd - and the importance of place

The view from the garden, Ty Newydd, North Wales

Last week I completed the final assignment of my creative writing degree. It marked the end of an nine year journey that began when I noticed my sketch books were more full with words than drawings. In that time I've progressed from the vague idea that I might have something to say, to well... what you're reading now.

It was appropriate that I put down my pen - or more accurately, clicked the save key - in the garden of Ty Newydd, the last home of Lloyd George and now of the National Writing Centre, Wales. I first came here shortly after I started writing, having enrolled on a course with the Open College of the Arts but looking for additional support and, in truth, some validation that I had the latent ability to make it worth carrying on.

What I found would have a profound effect, not just on my immediate work but on my confidence and sense of worth as a writer. For Ty Newydd is that sort of place. I remember my first visit, a 'tutored retreat' facilitated by the poet Janice Moore Fuller. I'd sneaked a last minute place and felt entirely out of my depth, especially when she said, 'we'll come together each evening so we can share what we've been working on'. I wasn't sure what I was going to write never mind read it aloud.

But I loved it. I worked from seven till seven, barely stopping to eat; the atmosphere was inspiring, the feedback supportive, the evening get togethers, intelligent, creative and boozy. I was gutted when I learned the centre would soon be closing for a full year's renovation - in fact I squeezed in another course just before it did.

And over the years I've returned time and again. I've attended courses on landscape, short fiction, science and writing, journeys and journals, nature writing; a host of retreats too. I try to come whenever my work is at the stage it needs some real focus and the creative input that a shared commitment seems to bring.  In parallel with my degree tutors, it is the support from Ty Newydd that has shaped my writing and brought me to where I am now.

Last week I not only completed my last assignment, I went to visit my soon to be publisher, Cinnamon Press (I can hardly believe I just wrote that). That too has a connection with Ty Newyyd, for the introduction was made by Jim Perrin, a tutor on an early course and whose mentoring and friendship, has encouraged me more than any other.

Other tutors and readers too: John Latham, Mark Cocker, David Constantine, Celia Brayfield, Ruth Padel, Niall Griffiths, Carol Anne Duffy, Christine Evans - where else could I have worked with and learned from writers like these?  To be fair, the Arvon Foundation runs similar courses and I've attended a few, but it's Ty Newydd I come back to. Partly that's preference; more objectively I'd argue Ty Newydd is a genuinely special place - the house itself, its connections to Wales and the landscape, history and culture.  It's no coincidence that these are recurring themes of my writing.

Places like Ty Newydd need our support. At time when arts funding is tight it's understandable that questions are asked, that the value and efficacy of its output is reviewed. But how do we measure the success of a national writing centre? Should we look the hundreds of school children who come here and measure the difference it makes to their exam results? Should we count the number of published writers, or review the course anthologies and assess the quality of work produced?

Or should we, as in my case, consider too the friends I've made, the help I've received, the wider impact on my motivation, my degree, my book, my blog... and indeed my life.


Post Script - completing the circle, I'll be tutoring a course on Blogging for Writers at Ty Newydd this autumn. My co tutor is the acclaimed travel writer Rory Maclean, and the guest reader, prolific blogger and author, Fiona Robyn.


  1. Many congratulations on finishing your degree and also finding a publisher, Mark. Two really significant achievements you can be very proud of. It's obvious Ty Newydd is very special to you. I must try to get there one day.

  2. Big congratulations on completing the course and the imminent publication - worthy achievements. I am truly envious - but in the best possible way.

  3. Congratulations Mark, it must feel wonderful.

  4. Well done you! Lovely photo, what an idyllic place to live.

  5. as you know ty newydd means " new houe"

    a new door opening to you too!!!

  6. You seriously tempt me with Ty Newydd. I don't have the time or the money or the reason. I wouldn't dare to call myself a writer other than in the most functional way. But it sounds good.

  7. I honestly have Publishers!!! Yes you did say that...yes you did and be darn proud to say it too!!

    You know how I feel about your writing, so I'll be looking for that book when it's hot off the press!

    Congratulations and big wow!

  8. The warmest congratulations on all of your creative accomplishment, Mark!

  9. Many Congrats on the Publisher part as well as the completion of your degree Mark. Let’s hope the future sales recover a good deal more than all the course fees. My Mother wrote for about five or six years before securing a publisher for her first of five published novels. Just hope you end up with a better agent than she had.

  10. You make me want to go on a course. Thank you.

    (End of today's barrage of comments on your blog! Thanks for provoking so much thought!)

  11. I always read your posts with some degree of fascination. I am glad you are finished with your course and that it has turned out so well. As I once said, my stories fill up hard drive space now but they also fill up file cabinets with the typed stories of long ago, when i fancied myself as a paid writer.

    The, of course, I began selling some stories, first to newspapers, later to magazines, and finally into books. I don't count myself a tutored writer but I do confess I learned how to write from a subscription to Reader's Digest.

    I figured they only published what they considered perfect English in their stories and it would be a good place to see how right or wrong my stuff was.

    I no longer subscribe to the magazine but my wife does. Sometimes I read a story but no longer look to see where the author puts the colon and what follows.

  12. As someone who always wanted to be a writer, who achieved a modicum of success in the late 90s and early years of this century, and who has now realised that was it.... I admire you for keeping going, sort of envy you that inner strength and conviction, not to mention the talent you obviously have for writing. I am sure you will make the course fun and interesting, and look forward to reading about it later, when it's all over.
    PS I don't know if Time Team is your thing, but my other half just won a couple of huge paperbacks, brand new, from the series and we are going to put them on eBay, but I wondered if you would be interested. They will go on separately, but I am also going to try offering them as a pair for £20 inc P&P (the latter costing almost a tenner so it's a bargain really as they cost about £18 brand new.) No pressure here, but of all the commentors on my blog, you are probably the only one who would be interested so no point putting them on the blog.

  13. Lovely, lovely. It looks idyllic. You tempt me mightily. I would so love to do both Ty Newedd and your course in October. Logistics, logistics, logistics - the barrier to all my freedom! How wonderful to be able to write 'my publisher' - it's all our dreams, isn't it? Can't wait to read your book...

    Ps: just picked up your comment on my 'long time coming' post today and so frustrated that your visit to the Peaks has crept up on me. I thought it could be a real chance to meet you and Jane...I shall send you a quick email.