(standing) l-r: Alan Farmer, Richard Cowper, Christopher Priest, Christopher Evans, Randal Flynn, Bobbie Lamming, Philippa Maddern, Tony Richards, Robert Holdstock, Patrice Duvic. (sitting) l-r: Marianne Leconte, Pamela Bulmer, Garry Kilworth, David Langford (Photo kindly sent by Christopher Priest)
From Andrew Stephenson's Archive and Dave Langford's Ansible
Sun 28 Sep 1980 - Sat 4 Oct 1980
The Milford (UK) Writers' Conference resumed this year (28 Sept – 4 Oct) after a break in 1979. This is a week-long workshop held at the Compton Hotel in Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire. Membership is by invitation, the current qualification being that a person has had a work of fiction professionally published; theoretically you could get in on the strength of a 500-word vignette bought by Scintillating Stories of Startling Science, though in practice some kind of track record is usually necessary.
Milford-on-Sea is a small, quiet coastal town set in scenic surroundings. Verdant fields interspersed with bracken and blackberry briars eventually give way to a long, shingled beach where the incoming waves fall with a delicate whisper, and there is a splendid view of the Isle of Wight across a short stretch of limpid sea which glitters under the golden light of the autumnal sun. (That last sentence courtesy of the Society for the Preservation of Purple Prose.) The Compton owners are by now used to the peculiar habits of conference attendees, whom they let have the run of the place. Manuscripts are read in the morning and discussed in the afternoon. This is not a great distraction, however, since the bar is open all day and there are numerous facilities for recreational activities (of which, more in a moment). Two hours each evening are set aside for formal discussions on aspects of sf writing or informal games such a 'Call My Bluff'.
Fourteen people attended this year's gathering, four of these (including yours truly) being newcomers. In alphabetical order, they were: Pamela Bulmer (who was at one point thrown into confusion by a spurious conference schedule posted by the devious Langford), Richard Cowper (who demonstrated a flair for blocking up the pockets of the hotel's pool table with wads of newspaper as a belated economy measure), Patrice Duvic (a French writer/bookseller whose ploy in offering free brandy to all present just before his story came up was much respected), Chris Evans (who brought a tatty story which was duly savaged), Alan Farmer (rumoured to have had a somewhat illegal substance secreted in his room), Randal Flynn (who on Saturday evening, possibly under the influence of the same illegal substance, perfected the interesting routine of dancing with a chair while still sitting on it), Rob Holdstock (a supporter of the theory that writers write with their pricks – Joanna Russ, take note), Garry Kilworth (whose quietly efficient chairmanship gets a vote of thanks here), Bobbie Lamming (whose piece left everyone deeply envious of its superbness; she is also known as Robin Douglas and R.M. Lamming), Marianne LeConte (who is as French and as womanly as a Frenchwoman can be), Dave Langford (who will doubtless have further gossip to impart elsewhere in these pages), Pip Maddern (an Australian writer presently studying at Langford's former college of Brasenose), Chris Priest (who by dint of tireless application throughout the week progressed from a novice into a practised Space Intruders [sic] player) and Tony Richards (who continues to resist Langford's attempts to get him to subscribe to Ansible and will therefore probably not read this). Hazel Langford was also there as a non-participant; she went for lots of walks and didn't seem at all bored.
Milford has something of the atmosphere of a small-scale convention; there is a tendency to get little sleep and drink too much. Among the fragmentary images which survive the week, I particularly recall an extremely drunken Langford and Evans vainly striving to practice Zen and the Art of Pool Playing (whereby the pockets of the pool table are supposed to assume the dimensions of dustbins – unfortunately we found the balls also grew larger in the mind's eye, to approximately the size of dustbin lids) against an equally drunken Holdstock and Cowper. Various arcane subjects arose out of the formal and informal discussions held throughout the week: there was talk of genetically engineered clones of Adolf Hitler; of the Zen master who scaled a sheer rock-face unaided by such encumbrances as ropes and pitons; we discovered that a 'tappen' really was a mucous plug formed in the rectum of a polar bear during hibernation; Rob Holdstock told of his ideal encounter with a (presumably) female fan, which discretion prevents me from elaborating on, except to say that it would be an oral encounter of a peculiar kind.
(Rob is fed up with people using his quotes out of context, so I should point out that all comments attributed to him in Ansible [or indeed anywhere at all – DRL] were made drunkenly and lightheartedly and are Not To Re Taken Seriously.)
By the end of the week everyone was exhausted, hungover or slightly deflated after having a prized fictional specimen delicately but uncompromisingly dissected by their colleagues. Yet everyone expressed a desire to return next year, for the feedback obtained at such gatherings is very useful. The criticism is fair and incisive, and it does every writer some good to get together occasionally with other writers and talk shop. Next year I intend to take a story so brilliant that no one will be able to find anything wrong with it. At least, not until they actually start reading the thing.... (Chris Evans)
Web pages by: Jacey Bedford