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Milford 1991

Margate - boiled tomatoes and nylon sheets

15 participants including: Alex Stewart (Chairman), Charles Stross, David Redd, Andy Lane, Ben Jeapes, Molly Brown, Chris Amies, Liz Holliday, Nicola Griffiths, Kelly Eskridge, Helen Stirling, James Wallis, Gus Smith.

1991 Milford Report by Ben Jeapes

I ducked and the laser beam splashed harmlessly on the wall above me. Through the gloom I saw the enemy approaching, humanoid shapes with flashing circles on their chests, guns held at the ready. Somewhere in the labyrinth lurked the self-styled Laser Queen in her hidey hole, little dreaming that her days were numbered ... I raised my gun and the instructor's words rang in my mind: Aim for the chest unit! My own laser lanced out and caught the enemy warrior full in the chest. Bastard, he said.

Laser tag — just one of the attractions that Margate had to offer. Alternatives were bowling, the Dreamland funfair, the arcades, whappa-snappa (no, don't ask) ... oh yes, and some kind of writing conference was going on. Milford, after its brief sojourn in Cheltenham, was back at the seaside again.

I'd expected a typical, cheapo Margate-type hotel, and since that was exactly what we got, I wasn't disappointed. But what the hell, they looked after us. And the conference? M'dear, I loved it. Fifteen attendees, working out at three stories a day to read and about three hours an afternoon of intelligent discussion, criticism and dissection, and the rest of the time simply an atmosphere of SF, an awareness of the genre that for some reason the Basingstoke Writer's Circle (great chaps, all) just can't provide. People I'd heard of and read (Alex Stewart, Charles Stross), people I'd read but not heard of (David Redd, Andy Lane — I really tickled him by approvingly citing a story he's written, not knowing he was the author), people I knew but hadn't read before (Molly Brown, Chris Amies) and total strangers (the rest). Stories of time travel, dystopias, magic, art, solipsism, and a couple of anthology ideas (to be pursued, or not). Sharing ideas, tips for markets, hints on style. And perhaps most valuable of all for we first timers, being taken seriously as writers of SF! Learning that even the established pros face unbelievably obtuse editors who wouldn't recognise Hugo material if it was served on a golden platter! Sheer bloody encouragement to keep at it! Milford is an enriching experience all round, but I think it's we new boys (and girls) who are most enriched of all.

(If anyone out there remains sceptical, let me cite the beneficial effects of the Milford experience. During that week, Andy Lane sold a book, I got a new job and the BBC started showing Thunderbirds again. Milford works!)

It doesn't seem right to pick out just some of the stories and leave the others, but I will pick out one. Editors, look out for it should it turn up in your post box. Nicola Griffith's “Touching Fire” — by almost universal acclaim the best of the bunch. Nicola, and Kelly Eskridge, sadly had to leave halfway through the week — they were missed.

Other vignettes that I'll present anonymously (the writers know who they are): the elf called Nobby, and the heavy metal band whose singer outraged an audience of Druids by biting the top off an oak sapling; the Chinese warrior riding in full armour down Shaftesbury Avenue in pursuit of the Triads; Rueben Tuesday, the time traveller in the '50s with a prescient knowledge of pop music; the Jonah who swallowed the whale; London abandoned and ruined, the population driven out by dinosaurs (and not a drained swimming pool in sight). They lodged in my mind. Good luck with the stories, people.

And, of course, the traditional silly games (hint: Doris Lessing provides great source material for titles in charades. How would you act out The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire?). Most holidays have at least a couple of boring spots, but I think I can honestly say this week in Margate didn't have one.

Hasta la vista, baby, I'll be back.

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