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Milford Report 2009 by Carl Allery

Milford 2009

Back, left to right: Susan Booth, Nick Moulton, Liz Williams, Jacey Bedford, Heather Lindsley, Una McCormac, John Moran; front, left to right: Chris Butler, Stefan Hogberg, Carl (Charlie) Allery

What Milford UK 2009 Did For Me
By Carl Allery

Milford 2009 was a bit of a last minute thing for me. I jumped in when some spaces opened up late in the day, which gave me less time to fret about submitting work and more pressure to just get on with it. I've done on-line critiquing before and I've participated in a face-to-face workshop before, but both of those were with unpublished writers of my own level. Knowing that I could be expected to critique work by, and have my stories critiqued by, established pros is a bit different and, although I thought I knew what to expect, I really wasn't sure how different the experience might be. I considered it a bonus that I actually knew three of the people I'd be spending a week with in deepest Snowdonia.

I hadn't done much writing over the previous year or so, and I used Milford as a reason to write something new and also submitted an older story that I really needed some fresh opinions on. The e-mail list was fairly quiet until a couple of weeks before the workshop, with sporadic introductions and I was relieved to find that 50% of the attendees were new to Milford, like myself. Then the list burst into life with discussions of weather forecasts and updates on submissions in progress and methods of transportation. The stories started to flood in over the week and a bit before we all set out, along with a running order for the workshop, which was really useful as I was able to get the first three days' reading under my belt before I arrived, which turned out to be a good thing.

A flurry of last minute complications meant that I had an experienced navigator for my trip into Wales and pleasant conversation for the nearly 6 hours it took from Somerset. I'll mention here that while sticking to motorways theoretically makes a journey shorter, it really is better to go up through the borderlands than face the M5/M6 interchange in the middle of the day. We crawled through that section at a snail's pace before making it onto the M54 to Shrewsbury and thence via Betws-y-coed and Snowdon and through high winds and persistent rain to Trigonos as the light was fading.

Sunday night was an enjoyable process of settling in and meeting the group as people trickled in and getting to grips with the water urn in the dining room and browsing the astonishing array of teas, coffee and chocolate stored above it. The urn is on all day and when switched off at night was accompanied by an electric kettle for anyone who required caffeine in the early hours. (The rooms in the outside complex have their own kitchen area but I usually took a drink back to my room with me and that was enough.) We were overlapping with another large group on their last day, but we settled into the cosy library-cum-sitting-room and struck up conversation with a couple of walkers who had no idea they would be sharing their scenic holiday with a group of speculative fiction writers.

Being ahead in my reading meant that I could use the mornings to read/critique a story or two from the sessions later in the week and then spend the last hour before lunch reminding myself of the stories we'd be discussing that afternoon. We could all have sat in our respective rooms to read and undoubtedly some people felt happier doing this, but I enjoyed sitting in the library surrounded by others quietly reading and scribbling notes on manuscripts. The workshop sessions themselves took place after lunch, once everyone had sorted caffeine supplies and necessary ablutions — though the chocolate intake of participants seemed completely unrelated to the volume of food consumed beforehand.

The critiquing process itself was incredibly civilised and where I'd been prepared to gain more in terms of motivation from mixing with 'my kind of people' and insight from critiquing other people's work, I found that the feedback on my own stories was both insightful and extremely useful. I gained a much better understanding of my own work and was able to see a clear way ahead for both pieces of work. I have to say that I was very impressed by the range of comments and the breadth of approaches to the stories that this revealed, which is what really helped me — to get perspectives that were outside my own restricted viewpoint.

Evenings were, well, much like mini-conventions really, with gatherings in the library fuelled by a random variety of alcohol and snacks and conversations that roamed widely and split and reconvened and weren't at all daunted by the physical location of the participants.

I also took advantage of having read ahead of the day's stories to explore for a couple of mornings that included a wander round/photo-session in Caernarvon and a trip into Porthmadog where we located the Purple Moose Brewery, purveyor of fine Welsh Ales and T-shirts. And, yes, of course there was a book shop. Alternative trips included an expedition across the road and up the footpath into the sheep field in search of mobile phone signals. How high you have to climb depends on your network, though a decent signal is available in the neighbouring village which has other useful amenities — like a co-op. Photo opportunities abounded, with the lake the house sits above and cloud-shrouded Snowdon visible in the distance from the workshop room and a slate workings above the sheep field, which requires that one climb a narrow pathway and slate stairway that feels unnervingly like the path up Mount Doom, before opening out into a classic Blake's 7 quarry set.

Friday was enjoyably spent winding down between Caernarvon castle and Beddgelert with other random stops for photo ops and ice cream before the inevitable anti-climax of departure and separation from a new group of friends on Saturday morning. Definitely an experience I'm looking forward to repeating as often as I can manage or afford. I not only boosted my flagging motivation but learnt a great deal about my own writing and how it's perceived by others — invaluable knowledge. Yes, I'm a Milford-convert.


Coffee break

Break time at Trigonos - also known as cake o'clock

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