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Milford Reports 2018
By Rochita Loenen Ruiz (Bursary writer) and Anthony Francis.
Rochita Loenen Ruiz ; On Going to Milford and the Value of a Bursary
I had given up on writing.
Or at least I thought I had.
I lost my husband in 2015. After that, I lost my sister. In the same year that I lost my sister, I lost my father.
Each of these losses came at a moment when I thought to myself, let me pick up the pen and write again.
After a while, the losses overshadowed my desire to write. I looked at the words and they made no sense.
Well, I said to myself. I suppose this means writing has left me.
And I thought I should do my best to be happy without writing. And for a while, I really thought I was happy without the writing. Except I really wasn’t.
Every once in a while, I would go back to the written work. I would write. Run out of energy. Sink into despair.
‘There’ s no point in courting the muse, when she’s not ready to be courted,’ is what I told myself.
So, when the email came from Jacey Bedford telling me that there had been a unanimous vote to offer me a bursary for the Milford writers workshop. I did not know how to answer. Could I go when I felt like the world’s shittiest writer?
How would I manage that? How could I possibly leave my children and go away for a week?
I thought of my sister and the conversation we had before we parted ways that final time.
‘You must write,’ she said. ‘If you stop writing, I’ll never talk to you again.’
The funny thing is how a good friend repeated those same words to me.
‘Go,’ she said. ‘You must go or I won’t speak to you again.’
The thing about receiving a bursary when you are lost in the wasteland is how it becomes a beacon in the darkness. For the first time in a long time, I began to hope.
As the days passed and as Milford took on a more solid form inside my head. The urge to write and to write more and to write something that meant something to me began to grow.
I then decided to let go of all my previous plans for what I should write and simply write as a way of reaching out to my sister.
I wrote a lot of words that ended up getting discarded, but I was writing almost everyday.
Then, on a visit to the mountains, I felt my sister’s presence. I remembered how I used to be terrified of tumbling down the side of the mountain and of how I wouldn’t go down the mountainside to school if she didn’t come back up and hold my hand. Even when she was exasperated, she would climb back up to where I was, reach out her hand and take hold of mine. The memory of that moment is distilled in the novel excerpt I submitted to Milford.
Milford stays with me as a moment of brightness. I learned from the work of my fellow writers, and I learned from the way they looked at the various works offered for criticque.
More than the writing and the reading of the work and more than the getting to know other writers, I have become more convinced that there are more of us who would rather build bridges than walls. There is a grace in creating space where conversations and dialogues are possible without the harsh stridency we see in the world today.
I am very thankful to everyone who made my Milford week possible. I am thankful for the generosity and kindness of those who voted for me as one of the bursary recipients for 2018 and I am thankful for the individuals who made and who continue to make the bursary possible for the coming years.
On my second day in Wales, Liz Williams and Kari Sperring took me for a drive to the beach at Trefor. We walked and we talked, and on the way back we were gifted with the sight of a double rainbow stretching out over the waters. We stopped to take pictures and as we stood there, I felt very blessed. I was with beloved friends and I was writing again.
I wrote more than 10,000 words while I was at Milford and came home with close to a quarter of a novel. I am writing still.
by Anthony Francis
Are you interested in the Milford SF Writer’s Conference? A year ago, I definitely was! I was in the middle of the Taos Toolbox Writer’s Workshop and couldn’t get enough of its “Milford-Style Critique” – a collaborative process in which a dozen or so writers critique each other’s stories in a circle of peers. For each story, every attendee offers 2-3 minutes of commentary (timed) to which the writer listens (quietly), at which point they may respond, followed by open discussion.
Taos Toolbox tweaks this a little bit by having two experienced authors – Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress – moderate the critiques. They follow student critiques with free-form critiques of their own, giving the students a role model to follow. But I still wanted to be prepared, so I looked up what Milford-Style Critique was and how to do it constructively – and while I was doing my research, I was pleased to find that the Milford SF Writer’s Conference was still going after six decades!
It seemed everyone who was anyone had been through Milford – and not just the big names, but people that I in particular admired – Neil Gaiman, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delany, Anne McCaffrey, and more. Milford is open to published science fiction and fantasy authors, and it turned out that there were slots open for 2018 – so I applied. And got in. But I was still intimidated. I mean, all these BIG NAMES had been there. It was a BIG DEAL! I knew I was taking writing workshops to improve my craft, but what kind of game did I need to bring to Milford to effectively contribute?
I was so intimidated I didn’t know what to ask. Now that I’ve been to Milford, I know what to ask, or can at least attempt to pretend that I do for the length of a blogpost. So, without further ado, here’s what I wished I’d known about Milford.
Believe in yourself. If you are a published science fiction author, there’s no better time than the present to sign up for a workshop like Taos or Milford. If you’re not yet published, there are many other workshops like Clarion or Viable Paradise which can help you up your game. The longer you wait, the longer it will take you to get the feedback you need to become a better author than you already are. All you really need to bring to Milford is a completed story and a constructive attitude.
Relax. Yes, your favorite authors may have been to Milford, and it’s been running for more than half a century, but each year is new, and each year is a gathering of peers. Of course, Milford has a committee that guides it, and a staff that prepares for it, and a moderator that keeps everything running – but ultimately, the workshop succeeds because every author there is there not just to improve their work, but to help their fellow authors improve their work as well. You’ll see stories from first finished draft to hashtag #shipit, and your story will just add to the mix.
Prepare. If at all possible, attempt to not have any major work, academic or personal deadlines fall on you immediately prior to the conference. Milford involves reading approximately ~150,000 words of fiction from fourteen or so other authors. The sooner you get your story to them, the sooner they can critique it; the sooner that you read and critique all the other stories, the sooner you can take long walks in the countryside and/or join your fellow authors for drinks in the library.
On critiquing. Personally, I read a story once to gauge its impact, and then read it a second time to mark it up for critique. If I don’t ‘get it’, I read it a third time. Then I fill out a page or two of summary notes. Writing is an exercise in ego – you’re creating a pocket universe, after all – so I always start my critique with something positive about a story. I guarantee you, even in the story you like the least, the author did SOMETHING right! Then I list the issues I found – with the story, not the author. I try when I remember to say “the story didn’t do X” rather than “you didn’t do X” because critique is about improving the text, not insulting the author – and who knows, you may be mistaken. Even if you think the story is awesome as is, try to list the best parts of the story so the author will know what you liked – you don’t want them to accidentally change those things based on other feedback! Finally, many people send out detailed critique documents after the conference. Hopefully, I’ll get to that soon - after my twelfth anniversary vacation is over.
The moment of. Unlike Taos, which has instructions and critique mixed with each other, Milford has free mornings; the actual critique starts at 2, after lunch. The running order for critique is sent out before the conference, and there are roughly four each day, depending on how many stories everyone submitted. Each critique session goes roughly for an hour, starting with (as much as possible) someone who hasn’t started yet. Remember: breathe, be constructive in your comments, let everyone speak first if you’re the one being critiqued, and, if you feel the critique of your story was particularly harsh, chocolates are always provided.
Learn from all of it! The best part of Milford is not the critique of your story, but the chance to hear many different critiques of other stories you’ve read – stories you are not personally invested in. You’ll agree with some critiques and disagree with others, but more importantly, people will see things that you did not and suggest modes of improvement you’ve never tried. Pay close attention to that, and, if you can, take some of it with you as tools and principles to use in the future.
Milford is both English and global. Well, English-Welsh-Scottish-Irish, but, since Milford is in the UK, there’s a strong contingent of authors who come to Milford again and again, or who know each other from UK conferences during the year. That means that there’s no shortage of people who know the ropes to lend a helping hand – but never fear, there will be a lot of writers from all over the world there as well, so you will get exposure to a lot of stories and a lot of different perspectives.
Wales is far. The site of the conference is Trigonos, a beautiful educational center near Mount Snowdon in Wales. Trigonos has fields and streams and paths and sits on the shore of a lake, but while it is awesome, it is not really a hotel: there’s no room service and no real on-site laundry. (Awesome meals are served promptly on the clock – breakfast at eight, tea at eleven, lunch at one, cake-o-clock at four, and dinner at seven; be sure to alert them to your dietary requirements). Plan ahead: Trigonos is also a four-hour train ride from London, with multiple hops and a taxi required to complete the journey. Stock up: while your fellow authors with cars will be willing to take you, the nearest big-box grocery stores are 20-30 minutes away. Oh, and the weather is variable, so bring layers and an umbrella. Even if it’s nice and sunny at Trigonos during the week, layers and an umbrella will be useful on the last “free” day when groups of writers go visit castles or the countryside – because that’s when Wales likes to “reassert itself.”
That’s about it! There’s more to tell about Milford, but you can figure it out on your own. Just write your stories, get them published, and once you have – or if you have already – call the friendly people at Milford up and apply. You’ll learn a lot, make great friends, and have wonderful experiences; you definitely won’t regret it!
A selection of this year's sayings taken totally out of context.
Just because we can...
"Is this some kind of A.A. Milne crossover?" - Juliet Kemp
"Everyone else has had useful comments and I've written a letter to the Radio Times." - Kari Sperring
"Unleash your inner weird." - Jim Anderson
"No, no, please keep talking about my book" - Jacey Bedford
"Oh, yes, and then there's the huge zombie army." - Kari Sperring
"My parents are not my target audience." - Jim Anderson
"This may be a transparent head problem." - Juliet Kemp
"This is a Shrodinger's Sister conundrum." - Jacey Bedford
"I wonder where the story about the chickens went." - Anthony Francis
"I got the impression there was a heavy penny on each nipple, boggled and moved on." - Jacey Bedford
"I didn't know who was caressing whose breasts." Nisi Shawl
"I'm left alone in a dark room with three women, two of whom are naked and two of whom are dead, and I don't know why." - Dave Gullen
"Practising Aikido while pregnant is brilliant because Weebles wobble but they don't fall down." Juliet McKenna
"Mad Max with frogs." - Liz Williams
"What you've got here is not a workshop, it's a conspiracy to get us to read more stuff." - Nisi Shawl
"I may be coming at this from a too-human angle." Gaie Sebold
"You don't stop in the middle of a battle to editorialise. 'Oh, I remember when...' THWACK!" - Juliet McKenna
"I actually thought that it was frogs in space. I'm resisting calling it frogporn." - Jim Anderson
"Do you need chocolate or an emotional support dragon?" - Juliet McKenna
"If Leslie Howard does it, it must be fine." - Carl Allery
"If you're going to give the women male names, I'd like you to call Phillips Petunia." - Liz Williams
"I think we've reached, or maybe surpassed, peak grimdark." - Juliet McKenna
"Do they wear underwear?" - Jim Anderson
"I did think the zealots got too zealoty." - Anthony Francis
"I think this is anti war grimdark." Kari Sperring
"Commas are no substitute for a good semicolon." - Nisi Shawl
"This is Wiccan fuckwittery this time." - Liz Williams
"Minutes approved by pantomime dame." Liz Williams
"It's a bit like a literary death by chocolate." - Carl Allery
"I didn't get much of an impression of Marianna." - Dave Gullen
"That's because I forgot she was in it." - Liz Williams
"I wondered how many nudists there were." Pauline Dungate
"I think he could bring up the idea of vegetables as a sacrifice." - Nisi Shawl
"I'm wired to distrust people called Nigel." - Kari Sperring
"I may not understand this, but it's still your fault."
- Liz Williams quoting Liz Counihan (Milford alumnus)
"The missing term in the Drake Equation is the fuckwittery constant." Anthony Francis
"There's a lot of this that still isn't horse." - Liz Williams
"I like Anthony's idea of vampire and hunter sharing a lift. Two will enter, one will leave." - Jacey Bedford
"I'm used to people walking round with bags of weapons, so that didn't worry me."
- Juliet McKenna
"Apparently through the nipples, according to the website." - Carl Allery
"The pace is fine. Any faster and my brain would have been leaking out threough all my orifices." - Carl Allery
"Trust me, I'm a historian." - Kari Sperring
"I had to imagine how a kipper feels." - Gus Smith
“It would be sort of a cross between the Matrix and 101 Dalmatians.”
- Anthony Francis on whether spaniels could be used to power a battery.
“How very frog, I thought to myself.” - Liz Williams
“Space dragons can do no wrong.” - Jacey Bedford
“I don’t know – maybe they’re all snails.” - Pauline Dungate
“I felt quite sorry for your character, despite her taste in trousers.” - Jacey Bedford“It sounds like a wanking session – and I like that.” - Nisi Shawl
“Can you use mink oil on your face? Or would you just smell like a mink?”
(conversation at breakfast)
Web pages by: Jacey Bedford