Milford Report 1999
by Mike Lewis
L-R: Liz Williams, David Rain (RIP) , Sandra Unerman, Mike Lewis, Ben Jeapes, Gus Smith, Karen Traviss, Jacey Bedford, Sue Thomason, Deirdre Counihan, Liz Counihan, Stuart Falconer
If there is one word that sums up Milford 1999, one word which sums up the hard work, the company and the laughter, I think that word has to be 'MRIFK!'
This year, twelve science fiction writers gathered in Devon from all over the UK — a mix of ages and experience. The old, grizzled hands who had attended numerous Milfords in the past and who had novels and umpteen short stories to their names; and then there were the newcomers like myself. I felt a bit of a fraud as someone who had just one print sale to my name, but I needn't have worried as everyone was very friendly.
Each of us brought one or two pieces of work of a maximum of 15,000 words, which gave us 134,000 words of manuscripts to read through and comment on in six days. The pieces varied from a 2000-word short story to a 15,000-word extract from a novel and covered hard SF, fantasy and children's books between them.
After the introductory meal out on the Saturday night, the real work started on Sunday and the days soon settled into a steady pattern:
The face-to-face workshop is the major reason for Milford. The opportunity to have 11 other published SF authors forced to read your prose and then comment in detail was a major incentive for me to attend. To someone else it might be a daunting experience, but all the criticism was constructive and I came away with a lot of practical ideas for improving both the stories I had taken. Analysing other people's work also gives you a good insight into your own writing and I felt the whole workshopping experience was invaluable.
- Breakfast at 9am — a very civilised hour for a hotel breakfast; Reading manuscripts in the morning, with coffee and biscuits at 11am; Lunch at 1pm — food seemed to play a fairly major role in the whole week! Workshopping of the four pieces for the day starting at 2pm; A short break for tea and cake at 3pm; Finishing the workshop at 6pm when the bar opened;
- Dinner served at 7pm.
Mind you, not all the advice in the workshop sessions was literary. While critiquing David Rain's novel extract, Gus Smith treated us to a blow-by-blow account of exactly how you immobilise a cow and then slaughter it. David took copious notes and I'm sure that the exact procedure will be appearing in his novel!
The evenings were spent in a variety of ways. One evening we tried out a storytelling boardgame that had been brought along and this soon devolved into the Milford variant, with a hard SF board and a fantasy board for two parallel stories. I don't think any of us will be using the resulting story of world domination by a wizard-scientist through the use of tea and hyperspace links, but who knows?
An extremely entertaining evening was spent with a mutual reading aloud of The Eye of Argon, which is reputedly the worst fantasy story ever written. It was certainly entertaining and made any criticism of your own work seem harmless in comparison. Certain words and phrases stayed with us through the rest of the week such as the above-mentioned 'Mrifk!' and 'yorkish clumps of hair' — a sight which was certainly seen at the breakfast table on several mornings.
The workload was heavy but bearable and I managed to keep up-to-date and still write 1000 words a day (much to the annoyance of the rest of the assembled writers when I foolishly announced this fact!). Friday was a day off and was spent at Buckfast Abbey and trekking over Dartmoor before we found a second-hand bookshop in Totnes. I think the owner was a little puzzled by this group of a dozen people who packed her shop near to closing time and then bought up most of her stock of SF!
Milford 1999 was a wonderful experience – the whole group worked extremely well together and it made a change to be able to spend the week discussing SF story lines and plot ideas and not to be considered weird. I came away feeling enthusiastic about writing again and determined to get those stories written and submitted. As Grignr, hero of The Eye of Argon, would say: "By Mrifk, I will be back next year!"
Back to reports index