Tŷ Newydd and That Report

Last week, I saw via a post on Facebook that an Independent Review of Support for Publishing and Literature in Wales had been published.  Within those pages the Tŷ Newydd Creative Writing Centre had received damaging criticism, which is so at odds with my experience of Tŷ Newydd that I feel obliged to write this in support of Tŷ Newydd

You can find the report here

The paragraph below is taken directly from the report.

Tŷ Newydd seems to be mainly aimed at ‘retired hobbyists’ but it was unclear who Tŷ Newydd caters for and why it is receiving public subsidy. It was also unclear how many individuals, who have attended a course at Tŷ Newydd, have gone on to publish a book. This kind of residential literary course is viewed by many to be outdated in the current creative writing boom in the digital age . Tŷ Newydd offers little for professional writers or disadvantaged areas  [despite being located in a convergence area where GDP is low which should provide opportunities for it to do so]

Where do I start with this? It seems strange to me that in a comprehensive report, the writers didn’t bother to find out from Tŷ Newydd who they cater for – surely this question would have been answered with a simple conversation? I’ve since found out that nobody visited Tŷ Newydd, prior to publishing the report, which perhaps explains this.

I first went to Tŷ Newydd in 2007.  Back then I was 25 years old and working as a full time Peripatetic Brass Teacher for Cumbria Music Service.  Hardly a ‘retired hobbyist’ then, but I take umbrage with that rather offensive term anyway – do they want retired people to stay at home and not engage in creative activities, despite the widely recognised health benefits?

However, I was definitely a ‘hobbyist’ – I had not published anything anywhere or even thought about publishing.  I hadn’t read a poetry magazine, or even many poetry collections.  I had a career as a music teacher and I was performing on and off in orchestras and shows. I was also extremely unhappy. Teaching was (and is) a difficult and stressful job.  I’d always wanted to be a professional musician, but anxiety and low self-esteem were making any professional work I did get as a trumpet player extremely painful.  I joined a poetry group, Fourth Monday Poets and one of the poets there, Jennifer Copley, gave me a brochure for Tŷ Newydd and told me I’d enjoy it.  So I booked a week’s residential with Sarah Kennedy and Nigel Jenkins in the summer holidays of 2007.

I was also quite poor after years of being a student, and the staff at Tŷ Newydd let me pay for my course monthly which was a huge help.  That week at Tŷ Newydd completely changed my life.  I’ve written before about the impact of the tutors, Nigel and Sarah, and how their encouragement and enthusiasm and kindness made a huge difference to me.  But Tŷ Newydd is a magical place, it has the same magic that Lumb Bank has that I wrote about last week.  That magic is hard to explain, but there is something special about going to a place that is dedicated to writers and writing and being creative.

So when I first went to Tŷ Newydd I was a ‘hobbyist’.  I remained a hobbyist for another five years or so, except I was an obsessive hobbyist, and poetry became this huge and important thing in my life.  Over the years I carried on going to Tŷ Newydd on other residentials and each one was the catalyst for other events.  I went on the Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy.  After this week, I decided to take the plunge and apply for a place on the MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University which I was accepted on to.  I went on a course with Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel and wrote many of the poems which made it into my first collection, published in 2015.  I went on a residential with Alan Jenkins and Fiona Sampson, which again, was a life-changing week which pushed my poetry further and gave me the confidence to raise my ambitions for my own work.

So in answer to the sentence in the report that asks how many individuals went on to publish a book after attending Tŷ Newydd, well I’m one of them, and surely as the writers of this report, they could find out this information fairly easily? I could put a Facebook post up and find out.   But this question kind of misses the point of Tŷ Newyddand of residential courses for me.  They are not there to make sure that all participants publish a book.  Residential courses are physical and mental spaces where like-minded people can come and escape from the stress and pressures of their everyday lives and put themselves and their own creativity first, not with the aim of publishing something, maybe not with any purpose at all except to be creative.

I didn’t go to Tŷ Newydd to become a published poet.  I went because I loved poetry and I wanted to sit and read and write and talk about it for a week.  I went because I felt like I was suffocating in my life and I needed to do something different.  Other people go to improve their writing.  Other people go because they are lonely and it is a holiday.  Other people go because once a year they like to go and write poetry and then forget about it until the next year.   Other people go because they want the chance to study with a poet they’ve always admired.  Other people go because they desperately want to be published.  Who is to say which reason is more valid, and one of the things I love about residentials is that there is a whole mix of reasons of why people are there.  If there was just a whole cohort of people desperate to be published it would make for a rather miserable week.

I’ve also met some wonderful people on these courses – call it networking if that makes it more ‘measurable’ in terms of report writing, I prefer to call it friendship.  I met one of my best friends  on a residential, who was then my bridesmaid at my wedding years later.  I met some fantastic poets who I’ve worked with and read with since then.  Living in a geographically isolated area, this is another aspect of going on a residential that is really important to me.

Fast forward ten years, and I’ve been working as a professional poet for about the last five years, gradually reducing my music teaching and building up my freelance writing career.  I’ve performed at festivals in Croatia, Ireland, Holland and all over the UK.  I’ve ran workshops and residentials.  Two years ago I went back to Tŷ Newyddand tutored with the poet Clare Shaw on a schools course. Last year I went back as a guest poet on a course run by Jonathan Edwards and Patience Agbabi.  I’ve just got back from being a guest poet at Lumb Bank on a residential week with Peter and Ann Sansom as the tutors.  It felt pretty amazing to be sitting and giving a reading, knowing that my journey as a writer really started on a residential course.

As for the sentence in the report

This kind of residential literary course is viewed by many to be outdated in the current creative writing boom in the digital age

says who? Who are the many?  This sentence made me laugh out loud.  There is no evidence that I know of to support this.  I run my own residential courses now at hotels in the Lake District and Cornwall, and I never have trouble with filling the places.  This sentence shows again, a distinct lack of understanding about the atmosphere and magic of a creative writing course, which as brilliant as digital courses are (and I tutor on those as well) cannot be replicated online, no matter how good the course is.  And online courses are not trying to replicate residential courses anyway, nor should they try to – they are fulfilling a completely different need.  In my experience, again of tutoring on online courses and taking part in them, they are great for people who can’t put their lives down and go off for a week, so it is like comparing apples with oranges as the saying goes.

I would also like to say that there was a year when I couldn’t afford to go on a residential course I really wanted to go on. My husband had finished his full time job to start his own business and we were living on my salary alone.  I  wrote to Tŷ Newydd, explained my situation and they gave me a bursary for half the amount, and again let me pay the other half off monthly.  I wouldn’t class myself as a disadvantaged writer, but when I have struggled financially they have bent over backwards to ensure I could access the courses.

Lastly, I would like to say that over the years of becoming and working as a professional poet, Tŷ Newydd has been a sustaining and enriching force in my life.  I don’t think I’ve ever told them this.  I can imagine the staff are feeling pretty devastated by the report.  I wanted to write this blog post to let them know that they and the work they do has had a huge and immeasurable effect on my life.  Everything I’ve written about changing jobs, becoming a writer, everything that has happened to me since then are measurable things.  I’m now a full time PhD student and I get to read and write and think about poetry all day.  The immeasurable things – my mental health, my happiness, my feeling of finally realising what I wanted to do, the friendships I’ve made – I can’t quantify those things.

I haven’t got many photos of Tŷ Newydd (too busy at the time having fun to take photos) but I did find these ones.

The group one is of the Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy masterclass.  I am hiding at the back. The next one I think is a course I went on with Jo Shapcott and Daljit Nagra where I was bullied into playing the trumpet in the evening.  This was 2010 – the rest are all of the CAD and Clarke course.  .

39 comments on “Tŷ Newydd and That Report

    1. I have sent it to Ty Newydd so hopefully they may want to use it. Please feel free to share far and wide – I think making people aware of the report is probably a good step as I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had wonderful experiences there.

      1. I met Kim on a Ty Newydd course. I was not an ageing hobbyist, but a published poet when I first went to Ty Newydd. In the past it was a wonderful place,magical. Not been for a while as Sally left,Olwen died and Awen retired. They made it special. I’m sure it still is.

  1. Reblogged this on The Great Fogginzo's Cobweb and commented:
    I just have to add my voice to that of a poet and teacher who has in many ways changed my life for the better.
    Two things I HAVE to say. First of all, the fact that this ‘report’ is written with the protection of anonymity. I’d say that in itself that’s an act of intellectual and moral dishonesty and cowardice. If you’re going to mislead or even lie to the public, and also write something that threatens the livelihood and wellbeing of others, do it in the open, or just button it.
    Second: my own involvement with Arvon..and Lumb Bank in particular…. started in the 80s. As an LEA English Adviser, one task I inherited was to arrange an annual residential writing course for 6th form students in my authority. Not hobbyists, not retirees…young adults whose lives in some cases were changed, as mine was, for the better. Then there were collaborations with Yorkshire Arts..courses for would-be Writers in Education in collaboration with heads of English from the secondary schools in my LEA. Most participants mainly in their 30s. Among them, Lemn Sissay. I might rest my case right there.
    And then, the residentials I’ve been on. Not Ty Newydd, as it happens, but courses run by The Poetry Business, Kim Moore, Almaserra Vella. Till I went on them I published nothing, and had no plans to do so. But since then (in the last 5 years) I’ve phad published 2 collections and four pamphlets. I’ve won competitions judged by, amomg others, three poets laureate. I’ve even come to the point when I can be asked to run a writers workshop at a Poetry Festival.
    What do places like Lumb Bank and Ty Newydd offer professional writers? Well..employment is a word that springs effortlessly to mind.
    So, to the anonymous and unprincipled jobsworth who wrote the section of this report quoted by Kim I’d say: engage brain before opening your mouth. And have the courage not to hide behind the anonymity of a damaging and inaccurate piece of misinformation.

    1. Hi John thanks for the comment. And wonderful to hear the impact residentials have had on you. If you follow the link to the full report, there are some names at the front, but I’m not sure which of them wrote this paragraph. There is more about Ty Newydd as well which talks about finance which would probably require a whole other blog post!

  2. Thank you for sharing how Ty Newydd has benefitted you as a writer, Kim. Being newly retired, I find the generic ‘retired hobbyists’ as offensive as it is ageist. It assumes that those of a certain age are merely looking for something to fill their time. It totally discounts the value of lifelong learning. If also undermines the compulsion to write and dedication to craft, for which there is a wealth of published material by writers over the mythical age of ‘retirement.’ Apologies if this comment is over-long.

      1. I attended the Poetry and Dementia course in June. All age groups were represented, some already engaged in working creatively in this area and the rest seeking a change in career path. Is the report based on oersonal opinion(s) rather than evidence gathered?

  3. Very well said. What a lovely tribute. The comment you quote from the report seems to show a very misguided and ill thought out way of evaluating what Ty Newydd offers. I have experienced only one course there, as I live rather far away, though I’d love to go back. Pascale Petit and Niall Campbell were both sensitive and helpful tutors. I was shortlisted for the Resurgence Ecopoetry prize with the poem I wrote in Niall Campbell’s workshop at Ty Newydd. Quite apart from ‘outputs’, however, my time at Ty Newydd would still have been a valuable part of my writing development even if I couldn’t make any direct links to later achievements. I agree that online courses and residential courses do very different things. Both can be really useful, but residential courses give you that personal contact with tutors and fellow poets and headspace away from your usual daily round, which is of such value.

    1. I totally agree. The most important effects are often not measurable. Congrats on the shortlisting though! Pascale and Niall are wonderful poets

      1. I wrote a long response detailing my own valuable experience of Ty Newyyd but reception dodgy here (in Scotland ) so lost it. In breif i recieved a grant to go there some years ago. Made good friends (of various ages) and the poem i wrote about the night some of us went swimming in the sea (Night swimming ) is in my new book.x

  4. What a lovely and spirited defence of a place and its intent! I’ll be going to Ty Newydd for the first time this summer and have no doubt it will benefit me greatly, for the like-minded people, the inspiration, the undivided time and attention I can give to writing, as well as what I can learn.

    1. Hope you manage to get there one day Nina – do get in touch with them if it is finances that are the problem as they are really helpful x

  5. I totally agree – Ty Newydd is a fabulous place. I’ve been twice and wish I could afford to go every year. My first Ty Newydd course made me realise how incredible it is to be among like-minded strangers who love poetry too, and I was so proud of myself for actually being courageous enough to go there on my own. The tutors on both courses were friendly, welcoming, and really made me see my writing afresh and try new things. I hope they continue to provide inspiring courses for many years to come.

    1. I know exactly what you mean about being proud of yourself for going alone! The first year I went, it was a huge thing for me. In fact I had a panic attack on the way there, and nearly turned round and drove home again because I didn’t dare walk into the house. I’m so glad I made myself do it though. And yes, it’s great to be around other people who love poetry.

  6. I have directly used all that Ty Newydd has given me in its courses in the inner city work I do in Bristol for Creative Writing for Health and Well-Being. Great place, totally relevent, generous and supportive in every way. As a writer and group facilitator, Ty Newydd has done so much for me!

    1. Thanks Rob that is lovely to hear. I know staff from Ty Newydd have read this blog so I’m sure they will see your comment and be heartened by it.

  7. As a professional writer, and creative writing tutor, running my own residential Writing Retreats for 20 years, I am really moved by your riposte to what is clearly an unfair and damaging report. Utterly unacceptable to trash a worthwhile centre doing such good work and inspiring so many.

    Kim, you exactly encapsulate the reasons, all good and valid, that attendees come on Writing Retreats. For some it can be a candle in the dark, literally life-changing. For others, a path to publication. It is a precious trust to bring people together, and to write such a report without even minimal research and an arrogant, insensitive attitude, is appalling.

    1. Hi Angela – thanks for reading and commenting. I totally agree r.e your comment ‘a precious trust to bring people together’. The atmosphere that is created when you bring 14 or 16 strangers together to write and read and eat together for a week can be truly magical and inspirational.

  8. This report has made me pretty angry. It’s superficial and dismissive. I went on a Masterclass with Carol Ann and Gillian in 2015. It literally changed my life. I had been writing for years, but could never quite accept that I was a poet…that I could actually ‘do’ this. I had no idea whether I had talent or not. Nothing published and wracked by self doubt.

    I found myself in a room with a group of poets all more accomplished than I. I learned an immense amount. I was just a sponge for the week, and the impression Carol Ann and Gillian made will – literally – stay with me forever. I got personal tuition from the Poet Laureate and the National Poet of Wales…I mean, how much better does it actually get?!

    Ty Newydd is NOT, in my view, about ‘getting people published’ – it must surely be principally about fostering and encouraging a love of and a joy in writing? But – as it happens – three on my week have had collections or pamphlets published in the last 18 months, most of us have gone on to win or to be placed in competitions and/or appear in front rank poetry magazines.

    I have had my work published and been placed in a couple of competitions. That would simply NOT have happened without Ty Newydd. I gained a self belief and confidence in my writing there that I had not gained ever before.

    1. Hi Jo thanks for commenting. Am sure Ty Newydd would love to get this feedback if you are able to email them (and haven’t already) I completely agree with what you’ve written here and it’s lovely to hear the place had such an impact on you as well

      1. Thanks Kim. Will have a further look, even if I don’t read the whole report! I’ve never been to Ty Newydd but can appreciate its value.

  9. Rwyf yn aelod o DAC (Disability Arts Wales ). Collais fy nghyrfa oherwydd cyflwr iechyd. Mae gweithdai yn Ty Newydd wedi bod yn gymorth amhrisadwy i mi cael gafael ar fy mywyd yn nol. Rhydym angen creadigrwydd yn y cyfnod economaidd yma mwy nag erioed a mae Ty Newydd yn cyflawni rol pwysig i hybu hynny.

  10. Helen Kay told me about this. I went to Ty New as a complete unknown in April 2015. I had been published in five places at the time. Since then I have hit the scales at a further 64 places. And my first collection is out next year. But the most important thing is the friends I have garnered. Three of them I now meet and we encourage each other to read and send more work off. With out Ty New I would be still at home twiddling my thumbs. I will contact them and see if they want me to write a blog in response to this bollocks. Well done for putting it up….yours, Gareth

    1. Hi Gareth – sorry about the delayed response – great to hear of your success. Please do write to Ty Newydd directly and tell them – they are gathering success stories currently!

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