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.