Milford Report 1995
by Elizabeth Wein
Attendees: Chris Amies, Alan Dunn, Peter Garratt, Liz Holliday, Gus Smith, Jason Tanner, and Elizabeth Wein
Venue: The Haven Guest House, Rothbury, Northumberland
Milford was my birthday present. For the last year I have been in solitary exile, an American living in England and a writer working alone. You know your life is narrow when you find yourself doing the ironing as procrastination. So my fiancé sent me to Milford, where presumably I might find some fellow sufferers. I came to Milford feeling like a foreigner: I was one of only two women at the workshop, I was one of only two Americans, I was a writer of children's fiction among science fiction writers, I had never "workshopped" anything before, I had never seen Hadrian's Wall... And of course all these fears turned out to be silly and pointless. Gender was never an issue; I found myself playing translator for the British and American contingents; mine were not the only stories that wandered along the blurrily defined borders of age and genre; the group was so intimate and pleasant that the usual Milford format could be relaxed; and there was plenty of opportunity for sightseeing.
Milford '95 was held in Rothbury, Northumberland, for the second year in a row. Seven writers arrived at the Haven guest house on Sunday, 22 October, after various struggles with transportation: Chris Amies, Alan Dunn, Peter Garratt, Liz Holliday, Gus Smith, Jason Tanner, and Elizabeth Wein (yours truly). Perhaps because there were so few of us, it was a NICE group; when three of you went for a walk together, or four of you went out to lunch together, that was half the entire workshop. Where you really noticed how few of us there were was in the actual critiquing of stories. Almost everyone brought at least three pieces of writing to be workshopped, and we were able to examine everything in detail (including the first ten chapters of Gus's novel!). Because we were able to read so many different stories by each member of the group, I think we ended the week with unusual insight into one another's styles, tastes and foibles.
And when we weren't working... Because with so few in attendance there was ample time for workshop discussions, our glorious leader decreed, contrary to tradition, that we might as well start work late in the day and make the most of the unexpectedly warm and sunny weather. Alan actually went running every morning. Chris, Gus and E. Wein went hiking and visited a hill fort. As a group we ventured to the nearby village of Holystone to gawk at a holy well and eat at the Salmon (eating, in fact, was a highly enjoyable experience all week long, due to the exquisite meals provided at the Haven). E. Wein spent Friday evening visiting and ringing bells with the change ringing band at the local church. Peter went shopping. Gus acted as tour guide during our excursion up the River Coquet for a leap over the border into Scotland, so that Jason could take pictures for his friends in California, proving that Scotland and England look very much the same; and we all spent Saturday in Alnwick, an outing that was crowned with a visit to the Barter Books shop, formerly Alnwick railway station. We spent our evenings entertained by a variety of games and drinks and conversations, with a few television breaks including episodes of Cracker, Liz's current TV novelization.
Liz Holliday did a phenomenal job of keeping our interest and productivity at peak levels, while diplomatically dealing with the hotel proprietors. Milford '95 can be dubbed a success: two of us received word of story sales during the week, and everyone departed with much food for thought and revisions ahead. Now I'm back at my desk waiting for my laundry to dry, and thinking of the Haven and how delightful it was to be served breakfast and dinner each day; and how delightful, too, was the company and wisdom shared with six strangers who have become friends and colleagues.
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