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Bursaries for Writers of Colour
Milford Report 1998
L-R: Jacey Bedford, Kat Patrick, Alastair Reynolds, Ben Jeapes, Chris Amies, Stephen Kilbane, Patricia Wrede, Pauline Dungate, Liz Williams, Cherith Baldry
The Mystery of Milford UK
by Dr. Kat Patrick
Lonely hotel perched atop craggy red cliffs, buffeted by wind and rain and sleet in the dark nights of October. Eleven authors checked in on the Saturday night, but by Sunday, there were only ten.
The acting chairman called everyone into the lounge, damp wood crackling and popping in the fireplace. The voice on the radio announced areas of local flooding, and everyone looked at each other in turn: who was responsible for the missing author?
Not only an author, but a consignment of Odyssey magazines had gone astray, as had two pages from a manuscript, the Sunday bus, and the sauce for the vegetarian korma.
Something was definitely awry at this year's Milford.
In years past, SF authors had come to Milford from all over the UK — indeed, from all over the world — for the purpose of exchanging manuscripts, receiving and dispensing criticism, playing literary games, and sharing drinks at the bar. The week-long workshop was a chance to meet other authors who shared a love for science fiction and fantasy, making connections, exchanging information, and spurring each other on to bigger and better things.
This year had promised to be no different. People arrived in Torquay from Holland and Minnesota, from Huddersfield and Brighton, from Rugby, Oxford, London, Reigate; hauling hundreds of pages of manuscripts in their suitcases; bringing laptops and palmtops, All Sorts and cough drops; ready to share their work and feed on others' imaginations.
But someone — or some thing — was hungrier than the travelers, devouring an author, a stack of magazines, two pieces of paper, public transport, and a creamy sauce originating from India.
Violation preyed on everyone's mind. Even the literary games couldn't ease the tension, producing Riddle of the Eighteenth Hole, Attack of the Killer Bananas, and couplets such as these:
This is a tale of piracy and death on the high seas
concerning the theft of a consignment of cheese.
By the time he'd finished laughing, his wallet had gone
along with his emergency condom which he'd kept so long.
Missing objects began to vie with those that were simply misplaced. Keeping up with the room-hopping hair drier was one. Finding enough packets of coffee was another. Pauline Dunbar was nowhere to be seen in the mornings; Patricia Wrede, nowhere to be seen at night; Cherith Baldry's sinuses had gone right out. And why did Steve Kilbane go outside every night at 10 p.m., and if he was using the pay phone, how did he know it was always ringing for him?
Misplaced objects were then joined by misplaced modifiers, by words confused and abused: Alastair Reynolds' colonists who were chosen to live randomly; Kat Patrick's sidewalks that humped and bumped; and Liz Williams' hero who wrestled with an obstinate seal.
Something must be done! Perhaps a soothing song could ease away the blues. Unfortunately, the resident folk singer, Jacey Bedford, didn't "do" blues, and especially not at the breakfast table!
Then, in a flash of inspiration, Chris Amies seemed to have an answer: anyone writing in green ink was clearly psychotic, and thus, would be the main suspect. Two green-pen writers were exposed. A conspiracy! Ben Jeapes pointed out that, according to folk wisdom, anyone wearing a red shirt would be the next victim. Curses! Those writing in green pen were also wearing red shirts.
By the end of the week, over 100,000 words had been critiqued, over 50 pints of beer consumed, over 20 miles walked along the beach; Ben had been voted Lord Emperor of the Known Universe (i.e., chair of the Milford committee); a corporate masterpiece called Quantum Emmanuelle III had been penned; and yet, we were still missing an author, a set of magazines, two pieces of paper, a bus, and korma sauce.
Is there a logical explanation? Are you kidding? This is a speculative fiction workshop!
Perhaps next year, when the Lord Emperor convenes Milford UK 1999, when the authors gather around a crackling wood fire and glance furtively at each other, when Killer Bananas meet the Zombie Red Shirts, and Space: 1999 is toasted enough times to start looking innovative and trendy — only then, perhaps, will the truth be told.
The only question now is: can you afford to miss it?
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