Live blogging from Milford writing retreat

It’s my first time at Milford’s writing retreat, but second time attending Milford altogether. My first was in 2017 when I won a bursary to attend the Milford conference. That experience was so productive and energizing that I was determined to come back.

When Milford started doing these writing retreats from 2018, I was immediately interested. But 2018 was one in freezing February so I chickened out and signed up for much milder May 2019 retreat instead.

I’ve been here a day and already I feel the writer in me taking the centre stage as rest of the life, chores, to-do lists fades away into the background.

My plan for this week is to edit (basically re-write) a short story and edit my novel. There is, of course, reading involved, because when you are done writing, you want to be inspired by good words. Hanging out with fellow Milfordians is awesome as ever. It’s amazing how close you feel to people you barely see when brought together in a right (write) setting.

It also happens to be my birthday today, and of course, whatever you do on your birthday is what you will do for the rest of the year. So this seems like a good day to be productive as a writer.

 

What makes a better writer – deliberate practice or writing for a purpose

I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. The book sucked me in. Goldberg’s voice, her passion for writing, combined with practical exercises makes this one gem of a book.

It also inspired me to read another popular writing book, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In my opinion, the popularity there is misguided. It’s about twenty pages of good stuff mixed in with a lot of waffling. So we will forget about that, and focus on Writing Down the Bones. 

Goldberg says: 

Writing practice embraces your whole life and doesn’t demand any logical form…it’s a place that you can come to wild and unbridled, mixing the dream of your grandmother’s soup with the astounding clouds outside your window. It is undirected and has to do with all of you right in your present moment. Think of writing practice as loving arms you come to illogically and incoherently. It’s our wild forest where we gather energy before going to prune our garden, write our fine books and novels. It’s a continual practice.

[Kindle Location 296]

That made me wonder about writing practice. Those of us who are writers, we write. All the time in many cases. I, for example, write blog posts, essays, work on freelance assignments, create courses and guides for Kaizen Journaling, and work on my fiction. Emails and letters too if we count those. But what about writing practice? I journal, so that includes a little bit of writing practice as Goldberg describes it, but even journaling has a purpose. 

So I don’t really practice writing any more. Not consciously anyway. Because I’m always trying to write something that has a purpose. That will contribute towards a project I want to complete. 

That is my practice. Because no matter how often we write, we have to keep doing it to improve. 

But what if we listen to Goldberg, and practice as she says. Practice for its own sake. We write, without purpose, without rigidity, without boundaries – mixing fact with fiction. Just deliberate practice. 

Would that help me become a better writer than writing practice that contributes to specific projects? I don’t know. 

Would it be different from journaling? Perhaps, but I’m not sure. 

Because I don’t know, I am going to try it. I’m going to do what Goldberg suggests, and set up regular time, just to practice writing. I will let you know how it works out for me. 

What about you? Do you think writing practice for its own sake is better?

 

Are money and comfort necessary for the writing process?

An Essay based on A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf 

I first met Virginia Woolf at Mrs Dalloway’s party. She was a stranger – an aloof, sharp, beautiful woman with whom I didn’t feel an immediate connection. Relationships with books and authors are the same as relationships with people. With some, it’s an instant connection, recognition of a kindred spirit. But with others, it takes time. Virginia and I are still growing. The more I learn about her, the more she fascinates me. 

 A Room of One’s Own seems an apt place to start, with its focus on what a writer needs to be able to write. Woolf comments upon various interconnected issues, but the undercurrent running throughout the whole book is the importance of money that provides for one’s basic needs so that one can focus on writing. That is as relevant today as it was in 1928. Except that today, this is no longer an issue for just women.

We have come far enough in gender equality that this issue applies to both sexes. If there are any fortunes to be inherited, it is no longer only men who inherit them. When Woolf said,

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

[Kindle Location 37, Chapter 1]

she wasn’t talking about the importance of money for its own sake. She didn’t say a woman must have thousands of pounds, a big house and a bunch of servants if she is to write fiction. It’s about what money gives you. A sense of comfort and security of knowing you have a roof over your head, bills are paid, and you have somewhere to write.

The physical comforts cannot be overrated. Whatever lofty heights your soul may aspire to, it is framed in a corporal body. As such, it has basic human needs like every other person.

Woolf was right when she said,

The human frame being what it is, heart, body, and brain all mixed together and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

[Kindle Location 237, Chapter 1]

We have not yet gotten to a stage where science can separate heart, body and brain in different compartments. However inconvenient it may be, it’s probably a good thing for our writing, enabling us to tap into not just intellectual but also our emotional capacity. However, attempting to tap into your inner muse when you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from is rarely successful. The image of a starving artist may sound romantic, but in reality, it has no more romance than the lives of millions of other starving people.

Woolf asks,

What effect has poverty on fiction? What conditions are necessary for the creation of works of art?

[Kindle Location 329, Chapter 2]

Necessity is too definitive, for it would change from person to person. Some people are able to bear discomforts more than others. Yet, it would be logical to say that comfortable conditions of living would be more conducive to the creation of works of art, and the availability of that comfort is dependent upon having money. Even if the impact of gaining some money is not as momentous as it was in Woolf’s times.

The news of my legacy reached me one night about the same time that the act was passed that gave votes to women…of the two – the vote and the money – the money, I own, seemed infinitely the more important.

[Kindle Location 486, Chapter 2]

Woolf was an intelligent, socially conscientious woman. She knew the importance of being able to vote, the tide of change it represented for women, yet it was the £500 per year that she found more valuable. For it was the money that bought her independence, without which, political rights mean very little.

Food, house, and clothing are mine for ever.

[Kindle Location 503, Chapter 2]

These basic needs were her security. They gave her the freedom to be a writer. These are the very basic needs that prevent people today from blossoming into their inner artist.

Woolf raises this in a reflection about women who lived during Shakespeare’s time. 

For it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet.

[Kindle Location 541, Chapter 3]

It wasn’t a puzzle. Woolf knew the answer to that too.

What were the conditions in which women lived, I asked myself; for fiction, imaginative work that is, is not dropped like a pebble upon the ground, as science may be; fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached  to life at all four corners…But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.

[Kindle Location 543, Chapter 3]

That is the same concern we face today. The environment nurtures creativity, but it can also distract. There is a reason people pay small fortunes to attend writers’ retreats. The reality that was true then and is true now.

Dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made; health will break down. Further, accentuating all these difficulties and making them harder to bear is the world’s notorious indifference. It does not ask people to write poems and novels and histories; it does not need them.

[Kindle Location 676, Chapter 3]

Art available in abundance is not perceived as a necessity, and yet take it away – every book, every film, every painting, and every play – and the world will mourn its loss, and be changed forever. However, until that happens, complain about being a struggling writer, and people will tell you to get a real job.

The very people, who look down upon and give “practical” advice to the struggling artists, hero-worship successful ones. Just think about a mile long queue for book-signings, midnight book releases, and intensity of fans for success stories such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Eat Pray Love. As Woolf said,

Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.

[Kindle Location 845, Chapter 3]

She is not the only one who’s being honest about the importance of money and comfort in a writer’s life. She references Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who said,

The poor poet has not in these days, nor has had for two hundred years, a dog’s chance…a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.

[Kindle Location 1406, Chapter 3]

In today’s society, we are not absolutely ruled by the circumstances of our birth. Education is available to people of all backgrounds. With the long reach of the Internet, more and more opportunities are available for those with a vision and a drive. While a poor child in England today does not have as hopeless existence as a child of an Athenian slave, he also does not have the ease with which opportunities are available for the rich child. Intellectual freedom is still difficult to achieve, for it requires time to study and to reflect. One can only find that time once the bills are paid, and there is a place – a room of one’s own – to sit down in.

 

The humanity of taboos: explored through Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

Note: I first submitted this essay with my MA in English Literature application. I received the admission offer, and so now I can publish it here. 

The humanity of taboos
Explored through Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

It is not the most common thing to associate Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita1 with Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things2. Published forty-two years apart, former by an established Russian author relocated to America, and the latter by an Indian author who has produced no other work of Fiction, Lolita and The God of Small Things are two masterpieces with one thing in common: they show us, as we will see throughout this essay, that taboos are taboos not because they are against human nature, but because they are a side of human nature we would rather feign ignorance too.

Nabokov didn’t write Lolita to be scandalous. He wrote it because it was a story that called to him and he felt that if he didn’t finish it, “the ghost of the destroyed book would haunt my files for the rest of my life.” [Nabokov, 310]

Roy felt a calling too, but of a different kind. Her story is semi-autobiographical, set in the world of her childhood. When asked about the book’s focus on the caste system and attitude towards women, Roy said, “I never set out with the intention to write about it. I think one of the saddest things that’s happening to literature is that it’s getting over-simplified by this diet of simple political ideas.”3

By remaining true to their fiction, they managed to pinpoint unpleasant truths of our reality more effectively than any political statement or philosophical argument could ever have done. Through the lives of their very human characters, both Nabokov and Roy showed us the immorality of our humanity.

It’s a norm in Western society to paint paedophiles as monsters. Yet, as we go through Humbert’s narrative, and feel disgusted as we’ve been conditioned to feel by the moral compass of our times, a trace of sympathy sneaks in when we see him suffer, and know that however taboo, he loves. “…I looked and looked at her, and knew as clearly as I know I am to die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else.” [Nabokov, 275, 276]

We don’t believe him merely because he says so. We believe him because we’ve witnessed his journey, and also because even he is relieved by the awareness that it wasn’t just “the foul lust.” [Nabokov, 281]

Humbert’s relationship with Lolita is a taboo because the rules of our society say so. If that wasn’t the case, the reaction to this novel would have been different. As Humbert pointed out, “Marriage and cohabitation before the age of puberty are still not uncommon in certain East Indian provinces. Lepcha old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds.” [Nabokov, 19]

The taboos in Roy’s world are labelled different, but the crimes are similar. All the central characters break rules, and suffer the consequences, though some pay a price much steeper than others. “Perhaps, Ammu, Estha and she (Rahel) were the worst transgressors. But it wasn’t just them. It was the others too. They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tempered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.” [Roy, 31]

Roy shows us humanity’s fear of any threat to its order. The society creates layer upon layer of structure, each with its own set of rules, embedded in the very consciousness of people from the time they are born. Very few people, like Ammu and Velutha, manage to escape this inherent conditioning. The majority, like Vellya Paapen, merely struggle on, accepting their lot in life.

Humbert knew he was breaking the rules. He doesn’t ask for or expect forgiveness. Though he claims his preference for young girls a natural inclination, he knows that it is a violation of legal and social rules, and accepts his due penalties. What he insists on, is making the world aware that he loved, and loved truly. “…how much I loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still grey-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still Carmencita, still mine…” [Nabokov, 276]

It is not just Humbert towards whom our emotions are inverted. Lolita, the victim by the standards of our society, should have been the one a reader would root for. However, though we can see that she is largely a product of her circumstances, there is also an element of her inherent nature that does not generate sympathy. Lolita, as a person, as a child, does not fit neatly into the victim mould. In her relationship with Humbert, she was more often the one with the power. Humbert knew it too. “…I was weak, I was not wise, my schoolgirl nymphet had me in thrall.” [Nabokov, 181]

When Estha is abused, we feel the emotions we are supposed to feel, because both characters meet our moral expectations. Estha is a good boy, a victim. The man who abuses him is someone we can easily envision standing in a corner, looking out with a predator’s eye for vulnerable children. “The Orangedrink Lemondrink Man’s hand closed over Estha’s. His thumbnail was long like a woman’s. He moved Estha’s hand up and down. First slowly. Then fastly. The lemondrink was cold and sweet. The penis hot and hard.” [Roy, 103]

Lolita is not frightened of Humbert, though perhaps she doesn’t see another way out. When we see her manipulating him, using his lust against him, while we can’t blame her, it becomes a clash of two taboos. Humbert is wrong by our moral standards for having sex with a minor. Lolita is wrong by our moral standards because she behaves like a prostitute, demanding things and money for her favours. “Her weekly allowance, paid to her under condition she fulfil her basic obligations, was twenty-one cents at the start of the Beardsley era – and went up to one dollar five before its end.” [Nabokov, 181]

Estha, on the other hand, is terrified that “The Orangedrink Lemondrink Man could walk in any minute.” [Roy, 194] The fear drives him to find a refuge away from home, to discover, “The boat that Ammu would use to cross the river. To love by night the man her children loved by day.” [Roy, 202]

The relationship between Ammu and Velutha is one of the two main taboos in The God of Small Things. It is this relationship that offers hope of finding one’s own happiness, even in the world made of rigid rules. “And on Ammu’s Road (to Age and Death) a small, sunny meadow appeared.” [Roy, 337] It also sprinkles sorrow that seeps through the lives of all the central characters. Everyone is somehow left broken, and alone.

The second main taboo is when the twins, Estha and Rahel, have sex. Technically, it is incest and like Humbert’s love for Lolita, based on the rules of our society, we are expected to show disgust. Yet, as we travel with the story, we can see that “…what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.” [Roy, 328]

For Estha and Rahel, the fraternal twins with “the single Siamese soul” [Roy, 41] there was an intimacy that went beyond their individuality. The events that destroyed their lives, made them accomplices in the deaths of Velutha and Sophie Mol, and the slow disintegration of their mother’s life, connected them further. For two people, so intertwined that there was no clear distinction between where one person began and another ended, the sex was merely an attempt to find solace in the company of the only other person who knew everything, could understand everything, was a part of everything – and was essentially a sharer of soul.

The characters and the scene make us think about – even if we can’t quite gather the courage to challenge – the taboos as defined by our civilised society.

Despite the seemingly destructive themes, both novels end on a hopeful note, highlighting that no matter how rigid the rules, no matter what the consequences of breaking those rules, humans will strive to capture the fleeting moments of joy. In The God of Small Things, the hopeful note is highlighted in an impactful manner by ending the story, in the middle, when Ammu promises to meet Velutha, “Tomorrow.” [Roy, 340]

In Lolita, the hopeful note comes from Humbert’s acknowledgement of his crime. “I would have given Humbert at least thirty-five years for rape.” [Nabokov, 307] His regret is not for loving Lolita, nor for having sex with her. His regret is because he caused her pain, and destroyed her childhood. However, he also convinces us that his love for her was genuine, in his own way, and ends his memoir wishing Lolita only happiness.

Humbert also shows us another side of Lolita, which in turn makes her a more sympathetic character. “She would mail her vulnerability in trite brashness and boredom…” [Nabokov, 283]

Neither of the authors set out to convert us to change our moral compass, but they show us that like nearly all the elements of humanity, the definitions of monsters and victims are not always black and white. Their works and their worlds challenge us to look at our own morality, at the taboos of our society and consider the reasons behind them. People who don’t like that challenge are the ones who call for banning of these books.

Oscar Wilde4 said it long ago, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” Both Roy and Nabokov shame the world, by showing us the humanity of taboos.

 

Bibliography

1.    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Penguin Books 1997, ISBN 0-14-026407-8
2.    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Flamingo 1998, ISBN 0-00-655068-1
3.    Small is Beautiful – An Interview with Arundhati Roy, Harper Collins Australia http://www.harpercollins.com.au/author/authorExtra.aspx?authorID=50000537&displayType=interview
4.    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Chapter 19

 

While the world sleeps

This essay is the first in a collection in Ben Okri’s book, A Way of Being Free. The book is seemingly based on creativity, and yet really about life, dreams, authenticity, and so much more.

While the World Sleeps sets the stage for the rest of the book, the very title turning on the imagination. Think about being awake while the world is sleeping, literally and metaphorically. Think about the silence, the aloneness, and the possibilities. This essay uses that metaphor to offer both hope and a reality check.

It uses poets as its vehicles, but the truth of it applies to anyone who is attempting to seek out the truth in the world, and not be limited by the external boundaries. There are plenty of external boundaries. Even if we see the beauty and the limitless potential of what the world could be, the world doesn’t allow us to just retrieve that beauty. It doesn’t allow us to just embrace our vision.

“In the hands of the poet, the world is resistant. It is only with the searching and the moulding that the unyielding world becomes transformed in a new medium of song and metaphor.” [Pg 1]

We must snatch what fragments we can, and then put them back together like a puzzle. We must then continue to work at this puzzle, refining the rough edges, fitting it into a cohesive whole until it resembles our original vision.

To do this, to snatch these fragments of our waking dream, we must remain awake to see the world for what it truly is, in all its glory and hideousness.

“The poet needs to be up at night, when the world sleeps; needs to be up at dawn, before the world wakes; needs to dwell in odd corners, where Tao is said to reside; needs to exist in dark places, where spiders forge their webs in silence; near the gutters, where the underside of our dreams fester. Poets need to live where others don’t care to look, and they need to do this because if they don’t they can’t sing to us of all the secret and public domains of our lives.” [Pg 1]

Only by staying awake to see the true nature of the world, we can also see “the fluid nature of reality.” [Pg 2] We can see what most people are terrified to admit: “each individual reality is different. Laws do not bind our perceptions. There are as many worlds as there are lives.” [Pg 2]

The hope is that if we are courageous enough to acknowledge and accept our dreams, to go after them, then we can extend the boundaries of the world offered to us. We can alter our reality.

But courage is a must because most people are afraid of people who have that kind of courage. By altering our own world, we may also alter theirs, and that frightens them. “…the dreams of the people are beyond them. It is they who have to curb the poet’s vision of reality.” [Pg 4]

If you choose to stay awake while the world sleeps, if you choose to notice the things the world is uncomfortable you noticing, you may be seen as set against the world because you “cannot accept that what there seems to be is all there is.” [Pg 3]

The reality is that we are expected, in this world of rules and regulations and political correction to sing “only of our restricted angles and in restricted terms and in restricted language.” [Pg 4, 5]

To go beyond those restrictions to the limitless means of expression available to us is seen often as sowing dissent. However, you don’t need to be frightened of people who are frightened themselves. You don’t need to submerge yourself in what the world seems to be, because “[the world] carries within it for ever the desire to be transformed into something higher.”[Pg 6] Use your dreams, the truth you see while the world is asleep and keep going where your dreams lead you. 

“The world may seem unyielding but, like invisible forces in the air, it merely awaits imagination and will to unloosen the magic within itself.” [Pg 6]

When you seek the truth while the world sleeps, don’t just look into the outward nooks and crannies. Look for the truth within yourself. Dig deep.

“The deeper poet feel, the deeper is their exploration.” [Pg 7]

If you feel the fire within you, if you feel that what you see and what you get is not enough, then you must go after what you wish the truth to be. Don’t let the “ghost of your possibilities” [Pg 12] hang around your neck. Don’t murder the possibilities of all that you could be. Don’t murder your dreams.

There will be people and institutions and government who don’t like your unconventional ways; who don’t approve of you extending boundaries of their world, but “it’s from the strength of your antagonists that you derive your greater authority. They make it absolutely necessary for you to be more than yourself.” [Pg 15]

Therefore, be more than yourself. The world actually wants you to be authentic, to be unconventional, and to create more realities. The difficulties that come your way are there to test you, that you can stick by your beliefs, that you can see your dreams through the completion.

Towards the end of the essay, Okri offers us hope and a challenge. “Don’t wait till you are dead to know that in reality the whole of life is on your side.” [Pg 15]

We don’t have to be caged in other people’s reality. We can choose our reality. We can tailor it to our dreams; modify it to resemble our vision. However, to do that, we must keep our dreams alive, by not suppressing “the poetic into our waking lives.” [Pg 13]

 

Ask the readers: which writers intrigue you?

Sometimes, I get curious about certain writers through random means. It could be by reading one of their books, as in the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but at other times it’s because of what I learn about them or about their work from other sources.

For example, I didn’t really become interested in Virginia Woolf after reading Mrs. Dalloway. To be honest, it didn’t appeal to me all that much. But once I read Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer, which includes considerable commentary on Woolf’s work, I had a fresh interest in Woolf. The interest has only doubled after I read her Writer’s Diary. 

So today, I would like to know which authors intrigue you at the moment? Does this curiosity make you want to explore their works further, or do you want to know more about the author as a person? 

How did you become interested in them?

Share your answers in the comments below, and who knows, perhaps your list will inspire others. 

 

Harry Potter exhibition and inspiration from J.K.Rowling

Yesterday, I went to the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library. As a massive fan of the books, I was immensely looking forward to it.

No photos, as photography wasn’t permitted, but if you are a Harry Potter fan and able to go then I would recommend it.

The exhibition is beautifully curated, and as one would expect from the British Library, very well done. It’s called A History of Magic, and you can see on display, many original manuscripts that relate to the concepts discussed within the Harry Potter books, such as the Philosopher’s stone, a bezoar, potions, and even broomsticks and cauldrons.

Several interactive elements allow the visitor to brew a potion (mine failed, so the Night Goblins are going to continue attacking), read your fortune through Tarot cards, and look into the crystal ball.

There are beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay who designed some of the artwork for the book covers. There was, in short, considerable interesting material.

But my favourites – and the reason I booked this exhibition – was to see J. K. Rowling’s original manuscripts. There was the first page of the synopsis of her first book that she submitted to publishers. There were annotated drafts of printed manuscripts at the editing stage, including some scenes and earlier versions of stories that never made it to the final cut.

There were plot sheets, basically hand-written spreadsheets where Rowling planned out her stories. One page of it from Order of the Phoenix has been well-circulated over the years on the internet. But to see that, and a few others in person was incredible.

There was an annotated copy of the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which Rowling annotated with her thoughts on why she wrote etc. to raise money for charity. Only the first page is visible on the display, but I would love to read her annotations in their entirety.

As I went through that exhibit, it became more clear how many years of work went into making this Wizarding World as real as it is, and how much effort and planning and thinking and edits it took to make the stories as rich as they are.

As I looked at the edit notes, I was comforted to see that Rowling also did all the “menial” work as I am doing right now, and which sometimes frustrates me. Having to edit and re-edit, and rethink. Knowing the richness and depth of a story in your own head, but wanting to make it come alive on the page when it just isn’t living up to your standards.

It was a relief, to be honest. It was a feeling of kinship, and of hope. That it’s okay. That while some people may just write pretty perfect first drafts (very few I think), most people don’t, and that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you suck as a writer. It just means that’s how you work, that’s how you mine ideas, and that’s how you polish.

I wish I had been able to take photos of some of that stuff, just to remind me when I am having doubts. But that’s what this blog post is for. To remember. And to remind the rest of you who may also struggle with that from time to time, when the book you want to write is just isn’t coming together, and when you question whether you are good enough.

Keep writing that story. Keep working at it. Finish.

You can do it.

Whether or not you like Harry Potter is irrelevant. Rowling’s story is that of hard work and grit. And as writers, we can all take inspiration from that.

 

NaNoWriMo 2017 – let the madness begin!

Honestly, I had no plans to do NaNoWriMo earlier this year. Until September, I hadn’t thought about it. After all, my life is so crazy busy right now that even considering it was silly. But then in September I went to Milford Writers Conference and got this huge injection of writing mojo. That was a really good thing because I really needed that injection. After that, writing momentum has been going in full force, and I am really keen to make some solid progress on my novel. So enter NaNoWriMo.

At first, I thought I would just do it without joining in officially. I figured I will do about 30,000 words and even that will be solid progress. But one thing led to another, and I ended up officially signing up to NaNo, and so of course now I have to try to do the whole 50,000. 

The madness has begun. 

I know I have some very busy days coming up when I will be lucky if I manage to do 500 words a day, so I wanted to get off to a really good start. On the first day, I’ve managed to 5485 words, which was way better than I was expecting. So the first day of NaNoWriMo2017 has been a success. And hopefully, I will hit that 50,000 mark. 

 

Milford writers conference – a week in north Wales

After a wonderful week at my very first Milford Writers Conference in gorgeous Nantlle valley, at the foot of Snowdon mountain (which continued to play a disappearing act), I am back in London. I wanted to write down impressions of this week before it was too late. While the impact is still fresh, though I am pretty sure the impact of it will stay a while.

You note I said my “first” visit,  and it certainly won’t be the last. Milford has that effect on people. 

By Thursday evening we critiqued altogether 26 pieces. That’s 5 days of intensive afternoon critique sessions. I hadn’t actually realised how taxing it was until Friday morning. I felt completely drained. Most people were pretty knackered on Friday, so just as well that we had the day off. We used that to explore the nearby town of Caernarfon, including the Caernarfon castle. It’s a lovely castle, restored well, and contains quite a bit of Welsh history. Half-a-day’s tour there and then we returned to Trigonos for Cake’O clock. In the evening, Suyi, Vaughan and I went for our last walk to Mordor. It rained on us, and as the evening was falling, we kept it short. But still, it was good to pay another visit to the slate quarry and the lake.

Friday evening was a rather subdued affair, but most of us hung out in the library together. On Saturday morning we all started making our way back out of Trigonos and to our respective homes. It was sad to say goodbye, as in one week, having spent most of our waking hours together, it did feel as if I was saying goodbye to people I’ve known for a long time.

While at Milford, I also created my “Post-Milford Action List” which involves being far more productive and proactive with my writing. On the way back, in the car, Sue and I discussed what we are taking away from Milford.

These are the things I learned/gained from Milford:

  • I really felt rejuvenated with my writing mojo. It’s incredible spending time with other writers who are committed to their craft. We basically spent the week focused entirely on writing. That was incredibly inspiring.
  • I learned more about my critique style and more about everyone else’s critique styles. This is incredibly valuable, not just to keep improving as someone who gives feedback, but also to keep developing my own critique style.
  • I had a fresh perspective on eliminating (unnecessary) busyness from life. During this week, we focused as little as possible on mundane life stuff. While that’s not really practical for a normal life, I think it is possible to waste a little less time thinking about necessary but unimportant life chores. I don’t know how exactly I am going do that just yet, but at least I am thinking about it, and hopefully will be able to implement some changes.
  • I need to make more time for writing, and for thinking about writing.
  • I met incredible people, who I hope will become friends as well as colleagues. Writing community is incredibly small and we all seem to cross paths, so there are many opportunities to work together and support one another as we go forward.

And as if to keep the Milford ties in place, today by a totally freak coincidence I ran into Suyi in Waterstones, Piccadilly. That is just continuation of Milford, not the end. I somehow ended up on the committee to help out with the social media. I look forward to doing my bit to spread awareness about Milford. A few of us have decided to do NaNoWriMo this year to make progress on our particular projects. There are many more plans for Milford in the works, and I believe it will flourish. It’s already got a great history behind it, and it still continues to be a solid place for support, networking, and inspiration for writers. I am really glad I am now a part of this community.

Milford is over. Long live Milford.

 

 

 

Milford Writers Conference – journey so far…

I am currently in gorgeous Nantlle Valley in North Wales. It’s a week of utter privilege as I am here to attend Milford Writers Workshop for one week, for which I won a bursary. It’s not just the bursary that makes it a privilege, but also the sheer luxury of being able to spend one week thinking about nothing but writing. For this one week, I have given myself permission to park all the other areas and problems and priorities of life aside. 

So here I am. Really excited and happy to be here. I arrived here on Saturday morning, with a fellow Milford participant Susan Oke who kindly gave me a lift from North London. We took the time to settle down on Saturday, met one another. It’s 15 of us in total. Some people I knew before, others I only knew online, and yet others that I didn’t know at all. But by Saturday night we were all at least acquainted, or getting better acquainted.

My room is a charming single room on the first floor of the Plas (the main house). From my window, I can see the grounds of Trigonos centre, the lake, and the mountains. It’s both “A room of my own” and “A room with a view.” 

One of the best things about being here is not having to worry about mundane life stuff. Food is served at fixed times. 8 am is breakfast, 1 pm is lunch,  4 pm is cake’o clock and 7 pm is dinner. You can have tea and coffee all day long, and there is also a fruit bowl if you do somehow manage to be hungry despite all those meal times. You turn up, and you eat what’s there. Major dietary restrictions have already been noted and catered for in advance. 

From 2 to 6, or rather for however long it takes to get through the day’s schedule, we critique each other’s work. This is why we are here. To have other writers critique our work, and to offer our opinions for their work. Submissions are all high quality. I have now attended critique sessions for 3 days, and together we have critiqued 16 stories – and not counting 2 of my own – all 14 have been worthy contenders. There are great ideas, great executions, great characters. Of course, all of our stories need work. That is also why we are here. But no one’s work is utterly basic, or terrible. It is a group of professional, supportive people. Critiques are done very professionally and in a very encouraging manner. 

Liz Williams and Jacey Bedford who organise everything take great care to ensure that Milford remains supportive and inclusive environment. Trigonos is a beautiful venue that helps soothe the spirit and offer a recharge of creative energy. It is just the perfect place for this retreat. 

Many of my fellow attendees are returnees to Milford. They too are extremely supportive and encouraging. They also share their wisdom and experience both about the work itself, as well as the local area. At meal times discussions around the table range across the spectrum of humanity from serious to totally hilarious. When we are at meals, there is suddenly this loud hubbub, where everyone is talking, and the excitement and enthusiasm are being shared. We are all happy to be here. We are all pleased and appreciate that we are fortunate to be in this position to take our writing seriously enough that we can do this. 

The range of writing experience is also extremely diverse, and it’s a great thing because we all learn different things from one another. Listening to other people’s critiques is a valuable experience because it teaches me many different perspectives, and many different ways of doing a thing – not just writing, but also critiquing. It expands my mind about ideas and makes me interested in topics that I may never have thought about before. 

Outside of writing, as I get to speak to my fellow attendees more and more, I learn things about them that brings out even more of their interesting personalities. They are a curious mix, and each in their own way, uniquely interesting. 

All four days here have been interesting, but today has been my favourite so far. First because today I finally got to visit Mordor. Seriously! It’s been raining pretty much the whole week, which does make going out and about in the country a bit tricky. All day’s incessant rain stopped just for a bit to let me tour Mordor with the expert human ranger, Vaughan Stanger. (Elves were busy.) Mordor is a slate quarry, which was christened thus by this lunatic bunch of SFF writers who attended Milford in 2005. Apparently for its often gloomy, ominous feel. What’s fun is how casually this reference is now made, not just by returnees to Milford, but also us newbies. It was muddy, and a lot of puddles to navigate, but I really enjoyed it. Great views from the top, and just nice to stretch my legs a bit and explore the area.

Writing retreat is great, but I do spend most of my time reading, critiquing, writing or eating. So the body needed some movement. The morning hike woke me up and made me feel great. 

Today, we had a more intensive critique session, as we did six critiques. Again, the quality was amazing and made me feel glad to be in this company.

Work was followed by a fabulous dinner, where I did end up taking food from Val Nolan’s plate. But hey, a girl’s gotta eat onion rings. Then the post-dinner conversation which led me to put Tiffani Angus and Liz Williams in my “Kick-ass women I admire” category. 

I may have temporarily crushed Philip Suggars’ spirits by implying I was calling him boring – which wasn’t true – I was calling other people boring, while I happened to be looking at him. He, on the other hand, is really quite good fun.

And Matt Colborn has agreed to lead a workout session tomorrow morning – so I am really looking forward to that (though during the session I expect to swear at him because he has plans for Planks and Burpees). 

So after yet another full and fun day, I have retired to my room to write this blog post, and do more readings for critique and also hopefully some writing. Time is flying too fast, and I know already that this is a place I would like to return to. I know why these people come back. It’s not just the place. It’s not just the people. It’s the perfect combination of both that makes this productive and enjoyable for all of us. And it gives us that spirit of community, which as writers is nice to feel. Not just for camaraderie, but also on a professional level. To know that there are many of us who take this seriously, want to do as well as we can, and are willing to learn and grow. It is this atmosphere of growth that Milford fosters well.