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Milford Report 2011 by Tiffani Angus

Milford Group 2011

Left to Right: Jim Anderson, Mark Tompkins, Liz Williams, Kari Sperring, Alys Sterling, Heather Lindsley, Jacey Bedford, Chris Butler, Tiffani Angus, Terie Garrison, Deirdre Counihan, Mark Bilsborough, Terry Jackman, Pauline Dungate, John Moran


Jim Anderson, Tiffani Angus, Jacey Bedford, Mark Bilsborough, Chris Butler, Deirdre Counihan, Pauline Dungate, Terie Garrison, Terry Jackman, Heather Lindsley, John Moran, Kari Sperring, Alys Sterling, Mark Tompkins, Liz Williams.

My grandfather told stories. I never met him, so the stories I’ve heard about his early years have come to me from my mom, who heard them when she was a kid. About being brought to America with his older brothers when he was seven. About his father abandoning all of them in New York City. About his mother dying in childbirth in Swansea after his father’s return home.

From what I’ve been able to learn from ship manifests, census records and birth certificates, it’s all bullshit.

Then again, my grandfather was from Wales, a place known for its legends and tales. It’s taken nearly 100 years for one of his descendents to return to our ‘fatherland’. Figures it would be me, someone who tells stories for fun and profit, when she can get it.

I came to Milford with a couple other writing workshops under my belt, so I knew what to expect as far as the critiquing method, etc. But Milford was different from the other workshops—and different for me in particular—for many reasons. First of all, it was quiet, situated out in the countryside at the north eastern corner of the Snowdonia National Park, which was perfect as when I arrived I was at the tail end of a 3-week bout of pneumonia and needed to finish recovering. The quiet, the fresh air, the mostly vegetarian and organic menu: all of it was just what the doctor ordered. Also, one of my submissions to the group was the first part of the novel I’m working on for my Creative Writing PhD—what might end up being the most important piece of writing I ever end up doing. It needs help, lots of it, and I hoped that this would be the week—and the crew—to help point me in the right direction.

Saturday night was the meet-and-greet, always a fun time at workshops. We gathered in the Trigonos centre’s dining room and promptly took it over. I felt sorry the rest of the week when a smaller party of guests would eat in the dining room at the same time as us. I doubt they could hear each other over our half-dozen simultaneous conversations.

Unfortunately, because of my illness and lack of preparation, I didn’t get to spend much time those first few days hanging out in the library with everyone else in the evenings. But the camaraderie at Milford was another difference from other workshops I’ve attended. Because Milford allows repeat visits, several of the attendees had been friends for years, giving the gathering the feeling of Old Home Week. Newbies, however, were welcomed just as warmly.

Critiques (crits) took place from Sunday to Thursday. They were by turns hilarious, serious, and intense, but always full of good humour and a real concern for the story. One thing workshops will teach writers is that it’s the story that comes first, not the personalities of the writers. We crit stories, not people. We want the stories to be right and good and true. So we don’t pull any punches. And we didn’t at Milford, spending four minutes each critting one another’s stories and novel excerpts, which meant a full hour, usually, spent per piece. Another difference was the time spent after the official crits just talking about issues we encountered in the stories. The author had time to respond, but then we all spent ten or fifteen minutes hashing things out. It reminded me that writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

One of the biggest differences, though, was the tradition of softening the blow when giving a rather cutting critique. It happens rarely, but when someone hands you a specially purchased chocolate bar or bottle of beer, you know that you’re in for it. Luckily I wasn’t the recipient of any chocolate (other than the kilo worth I ate from the pile of sweeties that the attendees brought for the group), but even so the few times it happened this year it was both given and accepted with grace and the knowledge that it was about the story and nothing else.

As the week came to a close and I caught up with reading—and stopped coughing!—I got to join the others late into the evenings, talking and playing games (Bananagrams is a must for future parties!). On Friday, our final full day, we took a field trip to Beaumaris Castle and enjoyed the beautiful early fall weather, which was lucky as the final morning dawned grey and wet with constant rain. We gathered for breakfast, last-minute travel plans, and said good-bye with promises to keep in touch and meet up soon. As an American living in the UK, I have no idea what the future holds, but I hope that, soon, I can be one of the old crew and join my new friends at Milford again.

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