Milford Participants 2012
Standing L-R Kari Sperring - Terie Garrison-
Bob Neilson (back) - Nick Moulton
We have a two for one offer on Milford reports this year with a writeup from both Guy Martland and Jim Gotaas.
Guy's Milford Report 2012
The Eagle, the Dragon, the Two Wet Dogs and the Skunk.
As I set off on my quest to Milford, there was more than a flicker of trepidation in my stomach. I was to become part of a legend, part of a legacy. And as my name was to be added to a long list of the famous, my manuscripts awaited dissection, to be pulled apart with scalpel and tweezers. I hoped there wouldn’t be too much blood.
The terrain of middle Earth became more barren as I approached. Night began to fall, the fading sun’s rays occasionally appearing between the mountains to scatter across stilled lakes. The roads became more tortuous and soon the Lonely Mountain was in view, wrapped in a veil of Smaug’s smoke.
After a six hour journey from the South coast, I was the last to arrive in the house of Beorn, or to finish with this extended metaphor, Trigonos. My fellow authors were already feasting around a long wooden table. A hearty plate of nourishment awaited, accompanied by a goblet of Elfin wine (sorry, I did say I’d stop…) As I tucked in, there was talk of a week of pulses and frightful sounding mackerel pies, all of which we were fortuitously spared. Some say critical thinking is best done on an empty stomach – little chance at Trigonos, with such great food!
On a quick tour of the grounds under cover of darkness, I was greeted by a large hound. She seemed pleased to meet me, jumping up with a throaty woof. Her undivided attention made me worry that my eau-de-cologne may have been made from the glands of a civet cat’s fundament. Her similarly-sized canine companion growled and prowled around, more interested in the stream that runs through the centre’s grounds, presumably where she’d seen some troll lurking.
In the library afterwards, we discussed past Milfords, folk music, SF magazines and witch shops while much wine was quaffed. Crochet and stitching continued unabashed as the conversation was led into the baser aspects of SF conventions. And an ancient Herbal was passed around, the pages of which revealed that Tobacco leaf, in addition to its more conventional uses, was also a cure for haemorrhoids. If inserted with quantities of lard.
Before the critiques, came the rain. As predicted by the clouds of dragon smoke surrounding Snowdon’s peak, it lashed it down. The lake began to creep into the field, the stream rising up the river banks. But did we mind? NO – because Milford had started!
As is custom for the critiques, we sat in a circle, the crits passing to the left like a good port. There was a fluffy skunk to stroke if the crits got too close to the mark, as well as a bountiful supply of chocolate. Being in the firing line had its moments and I felt my lip begin to quiver at one point. Although thankfully only one critter met my novel extract with a beer before they began. I survived relatively intact, with a heap of new ideas.
Having such a high calibre cohort of people read your stuff, help your scripts and who ultimately want you to succeed, is one of the unique things about Milford - a quality that I think sets it aside. Everyone has their moment in the spotlight: four minutes before the timer stops the flow of words, four minutes without interruption. Although at one point we were interrupted by a rain-soaked Lily, one of the she-hounds mentioned earlier. She barked loudly, inspiring one author to quip: “everyone’s a critic!”
The rain didn’t stop some of us heading off for a run after these heady sessions. We pounded up tracks through a deserted slate quarry to follow a rainbow down a hill, fording a river in the process. Up above, aircraft performed training manoeuvres, rumbling across the valleys like thunder. Or were they dragons, with empty bellies? In the near distance we saw the two large hounds bouncing through the sodden fields.
For the day off: archaic Caernarvon - and a castle which an old king had built, where the future king was made. The castle was conceived to remind the Welsh of their Roman heritage, but at the same time, to provide a fortress to remind them that the English were here to stay. Weatherworn eagles watch from the towers for dragons in the distance, a nod to the Romans. So the Romans had their eagles, the Welsh their dragons – but I wondered what animal mascot the Milford writers could have? The two dogs Cassie and Lily sprang to mind, and I’d imagine they’d make short work of the skunk.
The Galeri Caernarfon (flash new arts centre) provided a fitting exhibition: Adventures in Feedback (Mark Eaglen). Then after a brief stop at Indiana Jones’ slateworks, and a café proud to parade the musical talents of Wales (complete with a genuine pair of knickers scooped from the floor of a Tom Jones gig) - that was it.
Milford 2012 had been a fabulous week. For a while, we were lost in adventure. And not just the adventures of feedback - also the adventures that come with meeting gifted and interesting new people, as well as catching up with lovely old friends. For a moment, the great mountain had popped its head through the clouds to say hello, accompanying rays of sunlight spilling across the upper Nantlle lake. And you know, high up there in the mountains, I’m sure I saw a flash of dragon wing, or at least a glint of the Arkenstone.
Jim's Milford 2012 Report
I'm sure this isn't unusual, but I came to my first Milford nervous and apprehensive. The history of Milford runs back more than 50 years in the USA and UK, and the roster of previous attendees is filled with great SF writers. How could I possibly fit in? Even worse, my single qualifying sale was from 40 years ago, and I could only look back at my naive and optimistic youthful self and wonder, 'how did I have the nerve to submit stories then?'
I knew the Milford approach to critiquing work, and I could tell from reading the reports of past workshops that participants would be helpful and kind with comments. I wasn't expecting to confront critical ogres, merely 'real' writers, but there was still the fear of being uncovered as a fraud and having to accept the oh, so gentle message that I didn't really belong.
Of course, you know the ending already -- that didn't happen.
Previous year's reports give details about the actual process and surroundings at Trigonos with more skill than I can muster, so I'll concentrate on the resulting impact on me as an individual.
First, there were fourteen of us, meaning that we each had to face thirteen critiques. There were always at least thirteen different responses to a submission – in some cases, a critique would include multiple reactions positive and negative. Many comments reinforced existing concerns, but more often the insights were completely new, both in terms of weaknesses and strengths. It was especially interesting and educational to hear others critiquing pieces that I really enjoyed and found difficult to offer any suggestions for improvement. This reinforced for me the fact that no piece of writing will suit every reader – not an original thought, but it's different actually experiencing it. I still feel like a beginner at critiquing, but I think these first steps have already made me a better writer.
I'd submitted two SF stories and received many helpful comments for improving them. But even more, I found validation in the process of being critiqued by good writers: I was accepted as a writer. (Though my inner critic quickly adds, only for now!)
So if you're looking for an intense developmental experience as an SF writer, look no further. And it certainly doesn't hurt that the surroundings are lovely, the food is excellent, and that the other participants are fascinating people.
Oh, and if you're going to Milford, try to prepare as many critiques ahead of time as you can – it can be exhausting otherwise!
Random Milford Quotes
In recent years it has become our habit to write down random unguarded quotes taken totally out of context and save them to embarrass their originators. This year's batch includes:
'When the Pilgrims go into Rapture all that's left is red underpants.' - Dave Gullen
'I don't know many adolescent girls who will share their inner lives with me.' – Bob Neilson
'Six is a bit of a massacre.' Liz Sourbut
'Dragons are possibly easy to spot.' – Al Robertson
'I like Bob, unfortunately.' Jim Gotaas
'I am not your target audience, but you almost made me want to read this.' Jim Gotaas
"These are not the crits you were looking for..." Kari Sperring
"Trying to change the world one pair of underpants at a time." Jacey Bedford
"It depends whether this is a swearing or a non-swearing planet." Nick Moulton
"He can't get his eyeball out." Pauline Dungate
"In a funny way I really like this story." Bob Neilson
"A spelunker will be quite different to a campanologist." Bob Neilson
"Can we have more fun with the crazy?" Terry Jackman
"We had enough orcs to conquer Poland." Bob Neilson
"This newspaper article doesn't read true, i.e. it doesn't read as if it's been phoned in to a bored temp whose first language is not English."
"We were offerd a stn gun for twelve quid from the Turkish Secret police." Liz Williams
"Is this character Norman Wisdom in space?" Terry Jackman
"On the plus side [Crime and Punishment] invents Columbo." Al Robertson
"Would you crash through a modern shop window or bounce off it? I don't know, I haven't tried." Nick Moulton
Web pages by: Jacey Bedford