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. 

 

Post event write-up: Great Writing Conference – Imperial College, London

Last weekend, on July 1st and 2nd, I attended my first ever Great Writing conference at the Imperial College in London. This was the 20th anniversary of this event, and I found out about it late last year, so I am a tad behind. But better late than never.

The fact that it was in London was a massive plus point for me. Conferences, especially due to hotel bills, can become very expensive. Especially as I don’t have a university behind me, footing the bill. So it was great to just attend the full conference, but still, be able to go home in the evenings without much hassle.

So about the conference:

In a nutshell, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Arrived at 8:30 am on Saturday morning to register, and then after the 9 am introduction, the conference was in full flow, with multiple streams of panels running at the same time. As is always the case with these events, it’s difficult to choose because there is so much interesting material. 

It’s also about people. Sometimes you go to panels because you are familiar with someone’s work, or they are your friends or good acquaintance. Sometimes you just happen to get chatting to people at the conference and go to their sessions to support, as well as learn more about them. 

My panel selections were a combination of all of the above. 

On Saturday, I attended panels that included topics as wide-ranging as a permaculture travel memoir, finding an authentic voice, writing and performing identity, transmedia storytelling, a paper on the interplay of text and images in a contemporary essay, as well as exploration of real-world choices in the movie Arrival. 

I chaired a session of three panels, which were:

The Teacher-Effect: Poets who took, borrowed and stole from teachers of influence by Jen Webb

Articulate Walls: Writer’s Block and the Academic Creative Practitioner by Marshall Moore

Teaching the Wisdom of Uncertainty by Karen Stevens.

My three presenters were from different countries, bringing in different perspectives. That’s one of the most fascinating things about an international conference, that you do get a true mix of people, and a range of perspectives. There were people there from the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Northern Ireland…and these are just the people I spoke to. But even that covers the considerable geographical ground. 

On Sunday, I took advantage of living in London and made my leisurely way, joining from 10:30 onward. One of the first sessions of panels I attended was one that created a bit of a discussion, because it included a paper on Writing about Sex, by Malachi O’ Doherty, a journalist and a writer from Belfast. 

After lunch, I presented my paper, “Miss You’ve A White Name” which was well received, and also got me into some wonderful discussions, including an issue of cultural appropriation and I ended up making new acquaintances. 

After more chats, and more thoughtful presentations, and closing brief by Professor Graeme Harper who organises the conference, the 20th Great Writing Conference officially came to an end. Some people would stay on to go to the pub. I chose to make my way home, talking to one of the other attendees at the conference, as we made our way to the tube station by walking through the gorgeous Kensington Palace Gardens on a beautiful, sunny day in London. 

It was the perfect end to what had been a quite stimulating weekend. 

I am already looking forward to attending the Great Writing Conference next year.

 

Upcoming events

My apologies for the lack of frequent updates. It’s been a hell of a year already. Every month has brought about changes and challenges, and even half-way through the year, anything is barely settled. It’s not all bad. Challenges are tough, but usually they result in changes for the better.

My writing progress ebbs and flows right now, but here are some updates on various events I am going to be attending this summer:

July 1, 2 – Great Writing International Creative Writing Conference

I will be presenting a paper, “Miss You’ve A White Name” at the conference taking place at the Imperial College, London.

July 7 – BFS Social

British Fantasy Society has a social in London, so if you are there come say hi.

July 29, 30 – Creative Bridges Conference, Bristol

Creative Bridges is a conference about Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. I will be running my Meet Your Muse workshop there.

August 4, 5, 6 – Nine Worlds

I am excited about attending my very first Nine Worlds. Final schedule is yet to be confirmed, but I should be moderating two panels there.

August 21 – BristolConFringe

I will be reading a story at BristolConFringe in August, so if you are in the area, join us for this fantastic, free event.