Ciaran Keys

Magwyd Ciaran Keys ar draws y DU ac Iwerddon ac mae bellach yn byw yng ngogledd Cymru. Dechreuodd ei diddordeb mewn ysgrifennu a chyfryngau ffuglennol yn ystod plentyndod wrth wylio ffilmiau genre clasurol a tyrchu trwy nofelau arswyd cwbl anaddas i’w oedran mewn llyfrgelloedd a blychau eiddo coll. Ar hyn o bryd mae’n adennill / gwella o broblemau dibyniaeth gydol oes ac yn mwynhau bywyd fel person dof. Ei ddylanwadau mwyaf fel awdur yw Iain M Banks, Clive Barker ac unrhyw un sy’n llwyddo i ysgrifennu naratif hanesyddol emosiynol. Ei uchelgais yw i ysgrifennu llyfrau sy’n atseinio gyda phobl sydd hefyd wedi’u hudo a’u haflonyddu gan y pethau rhyfedd y mae dynoliaeth yn eu gwneud, tra hefyd yn archwilio ei brofiadau ei hun trwy ffuglen genre gorliwiedig.  

Darllenwch ymateb creadigol Ciaran i’w gyfnod ar raglen Cynrychioli Cymru isod.

I first heard of the Representing Wales programme through Iola, one of the panellists who assessed applications for the 2022 cohort. After attending a series of writing groups held in Bangor some months previously, I decided to submit a last-minute entry at her suggestion. If my memory isn’t exaggerating I think I submitted it exactly on the closing date. I finished the application, cringed momentarily at my attempts at humour in filling out my writer’s bio, and promptly forgot all about it. It never crossed my mind that I might be accepted. As a writer of niche genre fiction, with no qualifications or published work, I assumed my application would be quickly passed over. Mumbling something like ‘oh, right. Nice one. Thanks,’ I hung up. Then I called back to hurriedly explain I was actually thrilled.

My goal for the year was to complete the first draft of my novel, which after many attempts remained a debris field spread across several years and hard drives. Beyond that and the introductory text, I was intrigued to see what the programme would entail. Receiving a handbook detailing the year’s schedule, I was struck by the breadth of content on offer: Two residential weekend masterclasses, year-round online sessions covering both creative and professional development, and personal mentoring with a published author. I also got to see who else had been accepted, and was thoroughly intimidated. The list of achievements and qualifications seemed endless; I felt simultaneously inadequate and a little bit smug that I had been picked alongside them.

My first chance to meet the cohort was during the weekend masterclass at Ty Newydd, Literature Wales’ writers’ retreat. I arrived late and blundered into the dining room to find everyone already settled after dinner, halfway through the opening talk about the weekend’s agenda. Firmly established as ‘that guy’, I listened to the tail-end of the talk and went for a look around. Ty Newydd is everything you’d hope for in a setting purpose-made for creativity. Generally, I find that any environment billed as ‘totally relaxed’ tends to prove actually quite oppressive. It’s hard to relax when it’s expected of you. At Ty Newydd the atmosphere really is as laid-back as I was led to believe. The main house, which is beautiful, has plenty of space for everyone to spread out and work or read in peace. The guest bedrooms, situated behind a low stone doorway acting as a semi-lethal IQ test I failed several times, are peaceful and comfy. There is limitless home-made food put on by resident cook Tony. I mostly lived on the houmous, which is garlicky enough to knock birds from the sky if they fly too close to the house.

After an evening breaking the ice with the universally friendly and interesting people of the cohort, it was time for the weekend’s course; a masterclass in life writing with Cathy Rentzenbrink. It was during this that I really got a sense of just how lucky I’d been in getting onto the programme. There are books on writing which I enjoy, but not once have I finished one feeling any less clueless than when I started. There is no replacement for time spent in a room with someone who really knows what they’re talking about. Cathy taught us a lot that demystified professional writing.

The next part of the programme was to find a mentor and begin the one-to-one sessions. Literature Wales encouraged us to aim high, in terms of public profile, when choosing authors to approach. I aimed very high and was politely declined. As it turned out I was fortunate to be turned down. Kath Stansfield was suggested by Literature Wales and her experience as a mentor and MA tutor was invaluable. To discuss with someone exactly where and why my fiction was working or needed help was fascinating, and a huge boost to my confidence as a writer. It’s quite surreal to have someone with that level of technical and professional knowledge analyse things you’ve written, but very encouraging.

Over the course of a year which proved somewhat Chernobyl-like in terms of my personal life, I attended the various online seminars and classes. It was clear that a lot of thought went into giving the most rounded experience possible. The sessions on professional development and the publishing industry were totally new ground for me. On the creative side they were structured to get us out of our comfort zones as writers and explore genres we might never have thought about otherwise. My main goal of completing a first draft fell by the wayside as a gang of personal crises lined up to cheerfully kick me around month by month, but Literature Wales were very understanding and the programme kept me engaged in thinking like a writer. I felt that I’d be left with enough knowledge and confidence to get it finished when calmer times came again.

In no time at all the second masterclass came around, this time on writing fiction with Lisa Blower. Ty Newydd was again lovely, and the course was a densely-packed string of writing exercises based around finding just the right voice and point-of-view in a piece of fiction. The weekend flew by and I left feeling energised to carry on chipping away at my novel but sad that the programme was drawing to an end. While I was there I had a chance to speak with Miriam, creative manager for Literature Wales. I asked if there was anything I could do to compensate for the missed deadlines and ‘did-not-attends’ I had racked up towards the end of the year. I felt that they had invested time and money in giving me a place and I didn’t want to leave them short-changed. Her reply was that they didn’t see the programme as a transaction, and that it was genuinely about offering us as writers as many opportunities as possible. That sums up the experience as a whole for me. Having grown up an aspiring writer in economically strained areas of North Wales, I’ve come into contact before with organisations offering creative development. Like a lot of things in the area, they can sometimes seem a little like exercises in gathering funding. With Representing Wales I feel that I’ve been fortunate to work with people who really enjoy what they do.

Looking to the future, and whatever I end up doing as a writer, the programme has helped me in all sorts of ways. I have more confidence in my writing than ever before and a much clearer idea of where my strengths lie. In terms of actually creating work and breaking into the industry, I’ve had access to a wealth of expertise and experience. Even more than that though, I’ve had a chance to be around people who are making careers of what they love. Meeting other writers at all stages in their journeys has rekindled the belief that I can get there too.

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