I’m at the Emerging Writers course at the Ty Newydd Writer’s Centre in Gwynedd this week. Expect a write up (perhaps a little delayed) of each day, to let people know what it’s like.
Monday I drove to Ty Newydd, up through the valley, past the open cast mine in Merthyr, into the rolling roads of the Brecon Beacons—I stopped for lunch at the mountain centre—and in the blazing sun, on up to the Elan valley. As I hit the road sign for Gwynedd, I saw the country change, becoming more muscular as the rounded Beacons became mountainous in Snowdonia, and tickled the underbellies of the low, low clouds.
Then, passing through Criccieth, it came time to find the house. The website said, ‘Sat Navs tend to lead you astray at the last minute,’ like they were some tricky familiar, and I’d neglected to write down the directions that they gave in replacement. I had visions of finding myself lost in the hillside woodlands, but I turned off the sat nav and ploughed on, and it turned out that it was sign-posted all the way after Criccieth.
The house hides up on the hill above Llanystumdwy, hunkered by the sycamores and oaks, and reveals itself in a picture perfect pose as you end the long driveway. The house is white, with blue window sills, and the open front door is inviting. The front garden’s traditional flower beds, complete with red roses, flank a large pebble studded patio, (designed by Clough Williams-Ellis), and a long flat modern path of slate to make the entrances accessible.
If you’ve come across wabi-sabi, (finding beauty in imperfection) or kintsukuori, (repairing broken bowls with coloured lacquer or precious metals), that seems most, to me, to embody the house and grounds. It’s an old house, higgedley piggedly inside, and the grounds are a combination of well maintained beds and wild hedgerows, and I noticed after I’d been there a while, that of the four chimneys, one is slightly crooked.
After a tour of the house and being shown to my room—the staff were very friendly and helpful—it was time to have a wander in the grounds and explore, and it didn’t take long to meet the other writers. They are a diverse group, from people local to Ty Newydd, to people from south and mid-wales, to London, and even further afield, Canada. The experience levels varied too, from people who had been writing and completing PhDs to someone who was moving into prose from another type of writing, and people who were writing for a while, but had never studied it. This impromptu introduction took place in the garden, gathered around a swinging seat in the shade of a wisteria.
Six thirty rolled around and it was time for dinner; spaghetti bolognese and summer berry crumble. I can whole heartedly recommend the food; Tony, the chef, knows his onions. After dinner, dishes. Now some of you might be thinking, ‘hang on, I have to do the dishes?’ Yes, you do. I understand that for the most part there might be some trepidation about that, but you have to remember that Ty Newydd is not like a staffed hotel. Tony cooks, but he leaves at seven-thirty and the house is occupied solely by the quests. It’s less like going to a hotel and more like renting a country manor for the week, and that comes with some responsibility for the house itself. It works effectively to foster a sense of ownership of the house. For the week, it’s your house. There are rules, sure, as there would be for any rented accommodation, but the house is basically yours.
We rounded out the day with a short introductory workshop in the garden, getting to know each other in pairs and turning some detail of that information into a short piece. Once the midges started biting, we hid in the library, sharing more until the drooping eyes and nodding heads said, ‘time for bed’.