• Picture:  Kristina Banholzer
Armed With Pen and Paper
Wed 18 July 2018 / / Written by Esyllt Calley

My Tŷ Newydd Experience

This blogpost was written by Esyllt, who came on the Emerging Writers course at Tŷ Newydd in June 2018. You can read more about Esyllt by visiting her blog. This post was originally written on her own blog, and has been edited for the Tŷ Newydd website. You can read the original unedited blog here.


Having known about Tŷ Newydd through my family, its rich history, the grand design and its most famous resident, I am ashamed to say that even though this marvellous corner of heaven is only a 40 minute drive away from my home, I have previously only visited the place once. It was several years ago when I was dropping my mother off. She was writing I think her 3rd or 4th novel and wanted an escape from her normal surroundings, with no temptation of going back by having her own car there, therefore I volunteered to drive her there and dump her by the front door before making my escape back to civilisation. This feeling was based upon her description of the writing centre. No internet (we are talking at least 10 years ago), no shops close by, and no mobile phone signal. That was it for me, as soon as I heard that, I had made my mind up that this was no place I wanted to visit. How wrong I was.

10 years later, I was making the same journey to this historic place that is Wales’ only Writing Centre. This time, my mother is driving me, and I must admit, as I sit in the car I feel terrified, it’s not only my mother’s driving that scares me (sorry Mam) it’s the thought that for the next 5 days I will be surrounded by talented people who have most likely all been to University, earned their degrees and gone on to do marvellous things. And here’s me, someone who never got past GCSE’s (although I did get an A* in my Welsh Literature exam), who has gone from job to job and never done anything serious with my writing. Would I be accepted here? Will my tutors take my writing seriously? Will I have any confidence in myself at the end of it all, or will I still believe that I don’t have what it takes to become a writer?

I am so happy to say that Tŷ Newydd answered all my questions. I was accepted by everyone, the staff, the tutors, my fellow students on the course, even Tony the chef’s cat accepted me. They all made me feel welcome, they made me feel that I belonged there and that to me was invaluable.

Our tutors for the week would be the talented authors Tristan Hughes and Tiffany Murray. Both such talented authors, each with their own style of writing that I was very much looking forward to hear about.

As all the participants arrived one by one and we were each given a tour by Leusa Llewelyn, the Head of Tŷ Newydd. We gathered by the swing chair on the upper patio with our cups of tea and coffee and made our introductions. My fellow ’emerging writers’ came from all over, some from Cardiff, London, Borth and even Canada. It was wonderful to see such a diverse group of people come together to discuss their passion for writing and to hear the stories we all had to share about our writing journey so far. We all had different life experiences, and in some sense I feel that each person there had their own battle that they wished to find a way through; whether it was a personal battle like mine hoping to find the right channel in which to discuss my past life experiences and how I struggle to cope with mental health issues, or they had begun writing their novels or collections of poetry and were looking for the best avenue to take next, or if they simply needed guidance by tutors who had experienced all of this themselves and were ready and willing to share with us their journeys, imparting their wisdom upon us in order to guide us all in our journey to become ’emerged’ as it were.

I could go on and on for hours about the whole experience, it was so liberating to be in the company of others who had a genuine passion for writing, and to spend that time in such a beautiful part of the country was an added bonus. Every single workshop that were held by Tiffany and Tristan was full of excellent ideas and suggestions, brilliant techniques to help with the many different aspects involved in writing, I came back with more plans for writing my novel after each workshop.

It wasn’t like we were short of places to go sit down with our notepads or computers to get our ideas out there either. Tŷ Newydd is rich in its land and little corners to sit in peace, armed with your pen and paper and your own imagination. The ideas seem to flow when you’re surrounded by such natural beauty and historic landscapes, here you are free to write as much or as little as you want, it’s as though all the barriers you struggle with when trying to write have all been pushed down, the moment you step through that historic front door.

Our evenings were spent eating the most delicious food prepared by the talented Tony, Tŷ Newydd’s answer to Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, Heston…. Well you get the idea, and of course a bottle or 2 (or 5 or 6) of wine, then gathering either in the Library or outside for a few more cheeky glasses of wine, a bit of light-hearted banter, and one night we were treated to a reading of a ballad written by one of our fellow course attendees. . As the weather was so glorious every day, we enjoyed a trip down to the beach, a nice walk to Criccieth and even a swim in the river which was delightful on such a hot day.

As I reflect upon my time at Tŷ Newydd it always brings a smile to my face. Not just because of the amazing tutors, guest speakers and welcoming staff. This was 5 days of my life where I met some immensely talented individuals, who each in their own way have created a lasting impression on me, and I will forever cherish the time we got to spend together. Here I was encouraged to write about my past experiences, whether it be  memoir based or a work of fiction with my life experiences put in, it was so liberating to feel accepted by everyone, and to receive feedback on my work. But on a personal level,  I was deeply moved by certain members of our group. A young lady who felt that she was able to talk to me about her own feelings and some fears she had, said that I was an inspiration, which completely took me by surprise, but made me feel so glad that she was comfortable enough to share with me, and to listen to me as I discussed my fears and doubts with her. A wonderful lady who’s birthday we got to celebrate whilst there, was such an inspiration, she would speak her mind proudly, her confidence and belief in herself as well as her work is something that gives me hope in the way I will be able to develop in the future. She’s such a talented and bubbly gift to the world, and I certainly hope that our paths will cross once again. But surprisingly (to myself anyway) the person who moved me the most was a young man who, on Friday afternoon, whilst some were still recovering from the evening of shenanigans we had enjoyed down the pub the night before, I was sat downstairs in the dining room when all of a sudden my faithful computer decided to crash on me, and I lost everything I had been working on since 7am. I was absolutely devastated, all I wanted to do was burst into tears – when he walked up to me and presented me with a poem that he had written many years ago about a friend he had. He wanted me to have it as he felt that my past, my tattoos (I have a few), my struggle, and my inability to see the good in myself sometimes, was exactly the same as the person he had written the poem about. I was shocked and deeply moved, that I almost burst out in tears. Not only was it a stunning piece of poetry, but someone had genuinely believed that it would help me see that I would not be defined by the pain that others had inflicted upon me. I was strong and more importantly, I was a survivor. This is one of the kindest gifts I have ever received, and will stay with me forever.

When it came to departing, I must admit that I was a tad emotional. It had been a truly wonderful experience, my mind was full of creative and new ideas for my next writing project, and the next one after that, and the one after that. The first, a fiction novel, and the second, my blog. Two things that I would not have had the courage to go ahead with had it not have been for Tŷ Newydd and the warm, friendly staff, the brilliant tutorage of Tiffany Murray and Tristan Hughes, and of course, my new friends. Special people with extraordinary talents, that will always have a special place in my heart.

Thank you Tŷ Newydd for the inspiration, thank you Tiffany Murray for your guidance, support and advice, thank you Tristan Hughes for your thoroughly enjoyable workshops and discussions. And to my fellow course attendees, thank you for making me feel as though I belong, thank you for your kind words of support, and thank you for the memories.