Milford Report 2006
by Kari Sperring
Standing, left to right: Chris Butler, Jacey Bedford (front), Cherith Baldry, Alistair Rennie, Liz Williams, Kari Sperring and Stuart Falconer (front). Kneeling: Sue Thomason and Ruth Nestvold.
Being a Report of Writerly Proceedings and Other Miscellanea Relating to the Annual Milford Writers' Workshop Week
Expeditions of any kind must, of necessary, entail preparations. Thus it was that on Saturday 9th September, I set out for Milford, armed with paper, pens, walking boots, bottle, several works by P. G. Wodehouse, and a small shark. While reports of earlier such expeditions augured well, in terms of bucolic surroundings and superior catering, hearsay had it, nevertheless, that those venturing to attend this famed event must weather the uncertain climes of detailed critique, gusts of feedback and outbursts of review, albeit relieved by chocolatey intervals and the occasion rain of sweets. I was due to collect fellow newbie Ruth Nestvold at Rhyl station on my way, a rendezvous for which I was, in the event, late, due to unsociable roadworks and other impedimentia on the A14. Fortunately, it was a sunny day, and the youth of Rhyl had obligingly laid on demonstrations of teenage male greeting rituals, skateboard etiquette, and novel ways of attracting the attention of taxi drivers, and, as a result, Ruth had contrived to keep herself tolerably amused. We managed to make our way to Trigonos thereafter with considerable efficiency, marred only by the driver (me) failing to spot the entrance to its driveway and having to resort to a three-point turn, watched by two men in caps propping up a bus shelter, who almost seemed to be waiting for something of this sort to occur. On arrival, we were shown our rooms, told mealtimes and left to unpack and find the other participants. Much to my relief, no-one breathed fire, nor was anyone armed with a brazier for the eradication of sub-standard fiction, although there was a lot of red wine. The bad journey award was made to Stuart Falconer, whose sat-nav system had sent him to the wrong mountain.
Trigonos itself is a 19th century house, with associated outbuildings converted for use as meeting rooms, an office, a studio, and quite astonishing views. (I can safely say I have never before had a view of Snowdon from my bathroom.) Sunday morning dawned a little greyer than Saturday, but both sides of the lake were clearly visible when I ventured downstairs, only to meet utter defeat at the hands (grids?) of a toaster. "Oh," Sue Thomason told me, "We usually remember how it works on about Wednesday." Not being mechanically gifted, I retreated, and resorted to breakfast cereal. After breakfast, I set out to explore: Trigonos has substantial grounds leading down to the lake, in a mixture of formal garden, fields (vegetables and sheep, usually kept separate) and woodland. The sheep were not pleased to see me, despite my completely benign intentions, and used some highly inappropriate language, but with perseverance and wet feet, I found the lake and did not fall in it (despite having form on this front dating back to school trips).
Critique sessions were held in a meeting room with a long window over the garden and looking towards Snowdon, and a beautiful knitted hanging occupying one wall. And chocolate, although that wasn't actually on the wall. Baulked by new flying restrictions, Ruth had been unable to bring alcohol from Germany, so had substituted chocolate of a highly superior kind. Having been in several writers' workshops over the years, and having heard tales of the Legendary Milford Inferno, I arrived for this first session with some anxiety. It is Not, after all, for the Likes of Me to raise our eyes to the words of such luminaries as were present. Or something. Rules of procedure having been explained by the estimable secretary, Liz Williams, critiquing commenced. The present writer will observe at this point that the courtesy, respect and intelligence displayed was of the highest level, and the comment made fair, insightful, helpful and (on occasion) silly. The range of styles and material was both impressive and fascinating (and I'm still glad that I don't have Alistair Rennie's imagination. He's a genius. A Very Scary Genius). The sessions were certainly hard work, but extremely productive, and at a much more advanced level than anything in my previous experience. I really enjoyed the works under discussion too.
Evenings were largely passed in the library, which held an eclectic mixture of books, ranging from botany to some of the odder corners of Arthurian interpretation via comparative religion and geology. At some point, for reasons I cannot recall, I invented the Treacle FLT drive, ably assisted by the lovely Rory, Sue's partner, who was present for the walking opportunities. I suspect beer may also have played a part in this. On another evening Jacey Bedford treated us to a musical entertainment, with lyrics by Cherith Baldry, which was warmly appreciated. Trevor, Liz's partner, showed us some of his beautiful hand-made jewellery (which led to shopping), while on Wednesday, a discussion of markets revealed that Jacey is extremely organised, producing an astonishing database of magazines and websites. I managed to persuade both Rory and Chris Butler to try cherry beer, but was not brave enough to sample Sue's special Alistair brand spirits.
And nobody jumped in the lake. Not once. Not even any of the sheep.
Unfortunately, I had to leave on Thursday before dinner, as I had to be at a wedding on Friday. As a result, I missed the expedition on Friday to Conwy Castle (which, as I would doubtless have explained whether or not I was asked, was placed in such a way by Edward I to oblige the pre-existing native Welsh monastery of Aberconwy to move several miles inland. The site had strategic significance, but, more importantly, Aberconwy was the favoured church centre of the royal line of North Wales, and its graves might have become a cult centre. It lacks the landscape-dominating tendencies of Harlech or Caernarfon, but is just as psychologically significant in terms of the Edwardian Conquest. All of which goes to show that one can't take a Welsh historian anywhere, and even if one doesn't take her, she'll get a lecture in anyway).
And Jacey Bedford adds a few notes on the final Friday
We always try to get our critting finished by the end of Thursday so that the Friday of the Milford week can be a social day when we can kick back and be tourists for a while. Of course the SF-ness lingers and we tend to see everything as having relevance to stories, past or future.
Our 2006 trip was to Conwy. We all piled into three cars and set off in convoy, managing to find a restaurant that spotted the opportunity for nine lunches and opened up its top floor for us.
The highlight of the trip was Conwy Castle. It's not huge in terms of ground covered, but it's hugely impressive, built on a rocky outcrop as a defensive measure. Here are Liz and Sue being impressed.
Anyone writing Medieval-ish fantasy couldn't fail to find something to use in writerly world-building.
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