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Milford Report 2000
by Dayle A Dermatis

Milford 2001

Standing, l-r: David Redd, Liz Counihan, David Rain (Tom Arden) , Dayle Dermatis,
Mike Lewis
, Chris Amies, Karen Traviss, Liz Williams
Seated, l-r: Jacey Bedford, Sandra Unerman, Deirdre Counihan, Sylvie Denis


And on the sixth day, Milford created mornings.

When I awoke at 8 a.m. and decided to stay awake, the first thing I did was look out the window to see if there were a pod in the yard. For I, a hapless Night Person needing 9 hours of sleep for normality, was actually up early and choosing to start my day.

Is Milford exhausting? Yes. Is it exhilarating? Absolutely.

“I'm Just a Simple Road-Mender”
— David Redd

Milford is an intense, week-long critique session for writers of SF and fantasy. The official criterion for getting in is a fiction sale; I would suggest that the unwritten, and perhaps more crucial, criteria are a willingness to spend a week trapped with other, um, unique individuals and a willingness to work hard.

I came to Milford looking to get some of my work critiqued, to get back into a network of critiquers, and to get re-energised about the solitary and often lonely process of writing.

I left Milford re-energised, with my work critiqued, and with a network of friends across Britain who just happened to also be writers.

“Two Bees, a Couple of Flies, and a Weird Thing”
— Liz Williams

Thirteen hardy writers attended Milford 2000, although one had to leave very early due to a family emergency. Each brought up to 15,000 SF, fantasy or YA words to be read and commented upon, and somehow this worked out to exactly four pieces per day, from Sunday through Thursday.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd been in critique groups before, some more helpful than others, some more intense than others. Although I didn't expect anyone to get mean, I'd had my share of hard-hitting commentary in the past, and hoped my skin was thick enough for this.

I needn't have worried. What impressed me most about Milford was that although we got into some down-and-dirty, nit-picking comments, everything was said with such encouragement that no-one (I hope) could have felt offended or discouraged. For myself, at the end of each afternoon I was fired up to write, and managed to do so nearly every evening.

Another thing I didn't expect was the variety of done-ness to the various pieces. I had brought fairly polished work, but others brought rougher works-in-progress, wanting to ensure they were headed in the right direction before they continued writing.

“Presumably Gills are not Very Beddable”
— Deirdre Counihan

Critiques were done from 2 pm to 6 pm, Sunday through Thursday. An hour was set aside for each piece of writing, with each critiquer limited to three minutes of initial critique. After everyone had spoken, the author had the opportunity to respond, whether it be to answer questions, explain unclear things, or to ask for more information about a specific comment.

We sat in a room with tall windows that looked out to the lawn. During the afternoon, the sun would cast pathways on the carpet, occasionally broken when a bird flew by. One night, in my journal, I wrote: “Every so often, a swoop of dark movement: a bird winging by. They're large, dark, on an unspoken mission. I imagine they're snatching the loose thread of our creativity and taking it on flight with them.”

By some miracle, despite the excellent critique that every piece received, we finished early every single day. This allowed time for walks down to the sea (or at least down to the cliffs), naps, reading the next days' stories, or socialising. (As mentioned, a few of us also got some writing done, but this seemed to cause some others to growl threateningly, so all names have been removed to protect the prolific.)

“I Have a Loud Trouser Problem”
— Liz Williams

We met for drinks at the bar by 6:30 and had dinner at 7 each night.

Dinner. Now there was an interesting experience. Every night, someone would come up with a completely inappropriate topic for dinner-time conversation, which the surrounding folks would gleefully take up. The Plague, for instance, or deadly and poisonous animals in Australia (which led to a morning-after breakfast conversation that included, to the resident arachnophobic, “Dayle, would you eat a spider?”). (Answer: “Yes, if it were properly cooked and had no legs so that it didn't look like a spider.”)

After dinner was socialising time. The hotel left a book out at the bar where we could record the number and kind of drinks we had, so we were free to take what we wanted and the proprietors were free to escape. Some nights we simply chatted. One night we played Mafia, which was the closest anyone came to blows... but in a friendly, if somewhat paranoid, sort of way. We also discussed markets — focusing on the specific stories people had brought for critique — and had a Milford business meeting, during which we discussed the membership list and finances.

“I Want a Happy Ending for the Rats. Remember, I Know Where You Live”
— Karen Traviss

Unfortunately, I had a weekend commitment and had to leave Milford on Thursday evening, after the critiques were finished but before the Friday excursion and Saturday good-bye session. Any trepidations I'd had before arriving had long since vanished, and I was sorry to leave my new-found comrades so soon.

But I knew that the friendships, as well as my enthusiasm and re-energised creativity, would be with me for a long time to come.

“Do Siamese Twin Bank Robbers Wear Tights?”
— Liz Counihan

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Web pages by: Jacey Bedford