Three writers and the Welsh places that inspire them

This weekend, you’re planning to get some writing done. You’re finally putting pen to pad, fingers to keys, and crafting the first phrases of your short story, novel, or poetry collection. But inspiration is lacking. Your kitchen table just hasn’t got the atmosphere you need to get the words flowing. It’s time for a trip to a place that will inspire creativity. Where’s best? Is it an urban, bustling city centre? Or will you find inspiration at the heights of a mountainous landscape? 

Either way, you’re certain to find it in Wales – home to Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, which celebrates its 31st year on 24 May to 3 June 2018. We’ve picked the brains of three writers who’ve performed at the festival, discovering the places that inspire them. 

Alys Conran

Alys Conran by water.
Alys Conran by Anna Milner
Alys Conran won Wales Book of the Year in 2017 for her book, ‘Pigeon’, which was also published in Welsh, ‘Pijin’, both with Parthian Books. 

“A favourite place to go to fuel up for writing is the network of paths that explore the Dinorwig quarries above Llanberis. The view from the Dinorwig quarry viewpoint must be one of the best in the UK. It brings together a strange and wonderful contrast. On one hand, there’s the magnificent timelessness of the mountain landscape: a Tolkienesque sweep of mountains, Moel Eilio to Snowdon and beyond, with Padarn and Peris lakes glinting down in the glaciated valley, and Dolbadarn Castle - built by Llewellyn the Great in the thirteenth century - perched between them as if plucked from a dream. Then, on the other hand, as you slowly turn around, you take in the darker, otherworldly landscape of this immense abandoned quarry, with its unfeasibly enormous blasted caverns, its soaring slate tips, railtracks that climb up to heaven with their rusted pulley systems still intact, and the ghostly ruins of workshops and quarrymen's barracks with their fireplaces and chimneys. You can feel the history here, imagine how men (and children) worked like ants to take huge bites of slate from the mountainside which would roof the world.

Site of the former Dinorwig slate quarry, Llanberis.

Dinorwig, Snowdonia
"A feast for the eyes and the imagination. And a feast for your stomach too, as there's the added bonus of stopping afterwards at one of my favourite cafés 'Lodge Dinorwig' for deliciousness and warmth on top of the world.”

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards profile photo

Jonathan Edwards by Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards is a poet. His first collection, ‘My Family and Other Superheroes’, won the Costa Book Award for Poetry in 2014. 

“One place that really inspires me is Newport. It might seem a little greedy to name an entire city, but I do need all of it. From the Vegasised shopping development of Friars Walk to the rickety tourist attraction of the Transporter Bridge, from the League Two football team, a two minute walk away across the river, to Friday nights at The Murenger and The Greyhound, there's something about the energy, spirit and people of the city which is great for writing. 

“Newport has so many voices for a writer to draw on, and I love it for its history – the statue of the poet W.H. Davies there in the high street, and the site of the Chartist uprising, which makes it possible to stand in the place where democracy was invented for the UK. 

Stow Hill.

Stow Hill, Newport, South Wales by @r2dee2pwp
“More recently, the city has played an important role in music history, with venues like TJs and Le Pub being important stopping-off points and breeding grounds for some of the most significant bands in the UK.

“So much of my life has been played out in Newport that I think these paving stones are in my bones, and it’s not just the chewing-gum spattered streets which hold me here. It’s also the sight of those stars, shining their little hearts out, there in the sky above Stow Hill.” 

Ifor ap Glyn 

National Poet of Wales, Ifor ap Glyn.

Ifor ap Glyn by Dewi Jones
Ifor ap Glyn is the current Bardd Cenedlaethol Cymru (or National Poet of Wales) and lives in Caernarfon. His poems have just been published in an English translation, 'Cuddle Call'.

“Some find inspiration in mountain mists - I prefer the steam of a busy cafe. And Caernarfon is blessed with a wealth of choice for those who like a good 'panad'; for instance Y Gegin Fach, with its cosy atmosphere and constantly steamed-up windows; Te a Cofi, which also provides catering training for the area's homeless youngsters; and Palas Print (it's a bookshop really, but you can savour a cappuccino as you browse!) 

“But Caffi'r Maes is the one to which I most often gravitate. I'm writing these words at one of their upstairs tables, looking out over the Maes, the open piazza at the heart of Caernarfon. At one end crouches the castle, like a bridesmaid posing for her picture - and the Maes is the train of her gown, hemmed with Georgian terraces and imposing Victorian buildings.

“From this vantage point, you can contemplate the market stalls, the patting of grandchildren's heads, the various dogs towing their owners down to the 'South of France' (the sun trap beneath the town walls.) Inside the cafe, conversations swirl around you in Welsh and English, punctuated only by the hiss of the coffee machine, the clatter of cup on saucer, the scraping of chairs. This is cuppa culture - Caernarfon style!”

Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, takes place on 24 May to 3 June 2018.  For tickets and more information, visit the festival website.