Literature plays a large part in the past and present of Wales as a nation. The oldest surviving Welsh book, Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin (The Black Book of Carmarthen) c.1250, is kept at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. But how can I create my own masterpiece that might one day grace the shelves of our National Library? I decided to seek help from experts at Tŷ Newydd, the National Writing Centre of Wales.
Finding inspiration on site
Tŷ Newydd is a Grade II listed building located between Criccieth and Llanystumdwy on the beautiful Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales. The house was once home to the only Welsh former British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and it sits in the middle of peaceful countryside; ideal for focusing your mind on the creative task at hand.
I signed up for a Novel Writing course, keen to stretch my artistic muscles. But when the time arrived, I was nervous - I headed to Tŷ Newydd with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I was one of 16 budding writers on the course, which was led by two outstanding writers: Alys Conran and Louis de Bernières. Mild panic set in when I realised that some people had brought samples of their writing, and some had even brought complete manuscripts. Predictably, I hadn’t brought anything with me; I was hoping for inspiration to start a project.
Tŷ Newydd offers an annual programme of varied writing courses in both Welsh and English, including day courses, week and weekend courses. They cover poetry, songwriting, writing and yoga, writing for children, storytelling, and they even hold writing retreats (for those times when you need a bit of peace to get on with your work).
My mild panic soon subsided as I realised that the format of the course was very relaxed and informal, as indeed was the atmosphere in Tŷ Newydd as a whole."
We were split into two smaller groups, and our mornings consisted of separate tutorials with Alys and Louis. My initial panic soon subsided, as I realised that the format of the course was very relaxed and informal, as was the overall atmosphere in Tŷ Newydd. In the morning tutorials we were given writing tips and hints, as well as plenty of encouragement, and quick fire exercises to focus on different aspects of writing style and skills. After a hearty lunch, the afternoons were reserved for one-to-one meetings with the tutors to discuss our work, as well as time to write, read, or to explore the surrounding area. As an added treat, we were joined one evening by writer Rebecca F. John, who gave us a reading and answered our many questions.
I spent most of my afternoons trying to write something to show Alys and Louis for my sessions with them. There are plenty of places in the house itself where you can sit quietly and write. There are two wonderful libraries, a dining room with a large wooden table that is perfect for writing as well as for evening feasts, a conservatory, and there’s seating out in the garden too, not to mention a desk in your room.
Exploring the area
On the last afternoon of the course, I gave the writing a rest and ventured out for a walk. There are so many great places to explore around Tŷ Newydd. In the nearby village of Llanystumdwy is the Lloyd George Memorial Museum, which is located in his childhood home. The house is still furnished as it was during the time he lived there, and you can see some of the unique objects he was given during his time as Prime Minister, including medals, and a copy of the Treaty of Versailles.
If you go out of the gate at the bottom of Tŷ Newydd’s lush back garden you can follow a muddy track down to the beach, but instead I opted for a walk through beautiful leafy country lanes towards the town of Criccieth. Without doubt, the stand out attraction is the impressive Criccieth Castle, which you will find on a clifftop between two beaches. The foundations for the castle were laid in 1230 by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great), and the castle offers great views over the town.
Food for the soul
I feel at this point that I need to give a special mention to Tony the chef, and his wonderful food - we were very well fed for the duration of the course. Tony provided us with delicious meals (including dessert) every lunch and dinner time, with both vegetarian and vegan options available, including the most amazing vegan sausage meat. He also prepared cakes or biscuits every afternoon to maintain our creative energies.
My week at Tŷ Newydd was one of the best weeks I’ve had for a long time. Not only did I manage to put some words on paper, I spent a restorative and relaxing week in the company of lovely people in truly wonderful surroundings. I will continue to write, and I'll definitely be back, which is the highest commendation I can give. Either as a treat for yourself or a gift for one you love, a writing course at Tŷ Newydd is an experience of a lifetime.
To find out more about Tŷ Newydd: