Why Fiction Matters By Nancy Jane Moore

I’ve had several conversations with fiction writers lately on what we should be doing about climate change, the U.S. election, and other important concerns of the day. My immediate response was that now, more than ever, we should write stories.

They dismissed that advice. I got the feeling they thought of fiction as a luxury or even an irrelevance at the current time, even though they’re very fine fiction writers. But I wasn’t advising them to indulge themselves or escape into their work.

I really believe that fiction – telling stories – is one of the most important things we do as human beings. I believe that because reading fiction is one of the things that made me who I am today.

Stories matter. One of the most comforting items in my Facebook feed on the Wednesday after the U.S. election – and I saw it in more than one place – was a few lines from Lord of the Rings:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

That’s fantasy, the supposedly “escapist” literature.

Now I wasn’t telling my fellow writers to write to the exclusion of everything else that needs doing. Other things also matter. Conventional political activity matters, despite our habit in the U.S. of disparaging it. We need good people to run for office and work on campaigns, because it’s hard to get anything done when the people in power are stacked against you.

Activism matters. We need the people who mass in the streets because Black Lives Matter and those who block pipelines. We also need those who are creating new structures – those building the worker co-ops and social justice entrepreneur programs.

Most of all we need a vision, so that we can see where we’re going. And that brings me back to fiction, because stories can give us vision.

In Staying with the Trouble, a manifesto on how to survive the difficult times ahead that includes fiction, Donna Haraway says:
“To study the kind of situated, mortal, germinal wisdom we need, I turn to Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler. It matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what concepts we think to think other concepts with. It matters wherehow Ouroboros swallows its tale, again.”

Haraway goes on to talk about the “carrier bag theory of fiction”:
“[Le Guin’s] theories, her stories, are capacious bags for collecting, carrying, and telling the stuff of living.”

One of the things that always delights me in Le Guin’s fiction is her penchant for messy semi-utopias. Not everything works as it ought to; not everyone is happy; there are no saviors that make everything perfect.

We need to think about those kind of utopias these days. Climate change is going to alter our planet, and we cannot count on those with power – both in governments and in the business world – to take the necessary steps to change it. Haraway’s “The Camille Stories: Children of Compost” sets up some ways people might change. Yes, it’s imaginary, but I can see it inspiring someone to try something similar.

Haraway started these stories as part of a group writing project at a symposium. One of the things I’d like to do is bring people together to work on stories in a similar fashion, perhaps at some science fiction conventions, perhaps where I live. Writing is usually a solitary practice, but coming together to imagine ways to stay with the trouble could get a lot of creative juices flowing, not just in writers but in organizers and activists.

I’m going to keep doing my own writing as well, because I have things to say that need to be heard. It’s very important to me that the progress human beings have made toward becoming civilized continues even as we struggle with bad leaders and a warming planet. We have learned so much over our short history on Earth and I don’t want us to have to start over from scratch. I’ve never been a fan of reinventing the wheel.

I can just tell you my ideas, as I’m doing here. Nonfiction is important and I read a lot of it. But I’m found that reading stories changes me in a way that learning ideas does not. There’s something about setting ideas in a world that allows a reader to make them their own.

By the way, not all stories have to change or enlighten us. Sometimes we just need to visit someone else’s world for awhile. I imagine every reader out there has a favorite kind of comfort reading. Mysteries fill the bill for me. Others like their quest novels or romances. Those of us who write shouldn’t neglect those tales, either.

Life is hard enough. We need to have some fun while we’re saving the world.

[An earlier version of this essay appeared on the Book View Café blog]

 

nan300 Nancy Jane Moore is the author of The Weave, a science fiction novel published by Aqueduct Press. Her other books include a collection, Conscientious Inconsistencies, published by PS Publishing, and the novella Changeling, also from Aqueduct. She is a member of the international authors’ co-op Book View Café and has new short fiction out in several recent anthologies. In addition to writing, she trains in martial arts and holds a fourth degree black belt in Aikido. A native Texan, she spent many years in Washington, DC, not working for the U.S. government, and now makes her home in Oakland, California, with her sweetheart and his cats.

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Confession of a Museum Bunny by Deborah Walker

walker-museum-ramIdeas for my stories come to me in museums, in galleries, in libraries. Find me upstairs (and it’s always quieter upstairs) in the British Museum trawling the past looking for future inspiration.

Old books, paintings, objects are part of our material heritage. Survivors of the ravages of times, sometimes cherished throughout the ages, sometimes forgotten, dug from the ground, broken and then reconstruction. Objects tell stories. Museums select and interpret these stories, grouping objects together to give a window into the past.

Museum objects are rich in concrete detail for stories. And not just for fantasy stories, set in the real or imagined past. A detail from the past can act as a springboard for a story about the future. Looking at the helmet of a 10th century Norwegian chief leads me to consider what armour a space Viking might wear (Space Vikings! Now I want to write a space Viking story). Looking at a beaten gold headdress from ancient Ur makes me wonder how the woman felt wearing such a beautiful and precious item. How did her society shape her? How will my future society shape my characters? An object in a museum will catch my attention. Why was this sword engraved with the image of a bear? And that will send me down a pathway of research.

walker-museum-a_philosopher_lecturing_with_a_mechanical_planetary_-_1766Left – A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, by Joseph Wright, 1766 (Deby Museum and Art Gallery)

Some museums collect the finest pieces of the past, the most costly, the most cherished. Objects may be monumental, priceless and awe-inspiring. But these are not the only stories to be told. Sadly many objects from the past of the working person have been lost. Yet, you can still glimpse the lives of working folk painted as rural scenes on objects. And social museums seek to recapture a glimpse of the ordinary, the everyday.

Objects, books and paintings are material records of the stories told in the past, the stories of religion and mythology. You can read the changing nature of stories through objects. Creation stories, eschatologies, the stories of the gods as their worshippers migrate and change, stories of lovers seeking to retrieve their beloved from the underworld. Some stories are repeated through the ages. What element has gripped so many imaginations?

Musuems don’t always look backwards. In the British Museum’s African Galleries there’s a sculpture called Tree of Life (2004) constructed out of decommissioned rifles. Science museums examine the science of the past, the future and even trends for the future.

The presence of an object in a museum in a story in itself. The Parthenon Marbles, the Benin Bronzes (and others) on display in London are subject to repeated calls to be returned to their countries of origin. These objects tell stories of colonialism, empire, and war.

Though I love the massive, wealthy London museums and galleries, I’ve a fondness for the more obscure museum. After all, I used to work for one, as curator of the Royal Veterinary Museum. In London you can visit Alexander Fleming’s laboratory, or visit the Royal College of Surgeons Museum to explore the ideology that underpinned medicine for thousands of years. University are centres of research and specialism. Their collections are often open to the public by appointment. It’s worth trying a visit to a museum outside your area of interest. Volunteering to help out during my daughter’s school trip took me to the Imperial War Museum, I saw a wealth of cool spy gadgets that will no doubt work their way into some of my stories.

walker-museum-ram-in-a-thicketLeft – Ram in a Thicket (2600-2400 BC) from Ur, in southern Iraq, British Museum

I live in London, and this article has been about London’s cultural wealth. But you can find wonderful museums everywhere. Holidays at home or abroad are opportunities to glimpse other cultures. A family wedding in Cyprus found me in a small museum examining of hundreds of votive offerings, clay figurines of a men on horseback. A collection that I couldn’t have seen anywhere else. I’m Derbyshire born and bred. Derby’s Museum has a wonderful collection of Joseph Wright of Derby’s atmospheric paintings exploring the development of modern science during the Enlightenment. A bus ride from my home town takes me to the D.H. Lawrence Museum, and to the National Trust’s Museum of Childhood. And sometimes history can’t be constrained to a building. I like the prehistoric stones ring at Arbour Low in Derbyshire that sometime in the past has been pushed over. The standing stones are fallen, nobody remembers why. There’s history everywhere.

And there’s the internet. Museums have embraced the internet seeking to widen access to their collections. It’s not, in my opinion as good as seeing the real thing. (Who can forget standing under the real-size model of the Blue Whale at the Natural History Museum?) But museum websites are a valuable resource.

And if you do take a trip to a museum, don’t forget to take a tour. Curators love to talk their collections. They have a passion for them. And curators are people who want to communicate stories. I should know; I used to be one.

WALKER-bio shotDeborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two teenage children. Her stories have appeared in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Nature’s Futures, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and The Year’s Best SF 18 and have been translated into over a dozen languages.

Two of Deborah’s stories inspired by the London’s cultural heritage are “The Bio-Documentarian of the British Library” published in Cosmos, and “Green Future” published in Nature’s Futures.

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From the Shallows to the Depths by Matt Colborn

Writers need social media, right? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…. Conventional wisdom says that an active presence on these platforms is essential. Writers who don’t tweet like budgerigars, the argument goes, will wither and die, and flop to the bottom of their cages, their works forever unread.

Swallowing this, last October, I decided to try and boost my Twitter numbers from a measly 63. To achieve this, I tweeted daily and followed lots of people. Soon, I’d gained about 250 followers, only some of whom were robots. This was not spectacular, but better than 63.

Some of the people whom I followed were also writers, and I’d occasionally receive an automated message advertising a book or story website. This, then, seemed to be the Twitter model, where marketing works via mutual endorsement. If you scratched someone’s back, then maybe, just maybe, they’d scratch yours.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work, because I never bothered clicking the links, for the following reason. My time is precious, and in any given year, there are far more books produced than I’ll ever have the chance to read. This means that I will tend to read only the best works of a particular genre. I find new books via friend’s recommendations, or by reviews, or by reading new works from an author who is already familiar, and whose work I have enjoyed in the past.

dead-tweeter By contrast, a Twitter link by an unknown author isn’t enough to get me to read on, and I have little doubt that the same applies in my direction. A follower does not automatically become an avid reader, even if you beg them.

This Twitter skepticism was crystallized by Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. ‘Deep Work’ is any sort of task that requires a high level of skill, sustained attention and focus. Fiction writing, which requires hours of concentration, peace and quiet, is a primary example. Newport contrasts deep work with the attention scattering ‘shallow’ work practises that have become commonplace since the advent of the Internet.

Newport is especially critical of arguments that authors should be spending lots of time on social media, because (as I suspected) works that become successful and widely read tend to be the best in a genre and do not issue from the person with the most Twitter followers. He cites a number of authors who barely use social media at all, including J.K. Rowling and Neal Stephenson.

Newport also believes that social platforms are overrated as a marketing tool, and he makes what seem to me fairly convincing arguments that the potential gains in readership that you can expect to get from Twitter will be less than you think.

My conclusions, as an author, are that (1) it’s more valuable for me to concentrate on producing as good a copy as I can manage and (2) that I’m better off trying to sell pieces to magazines and online venues and getting a name that way, as opposed to obsessing about the number of my Twitter followers.

I still tweet, occasionally, and I’m still on Facebook, occasionally. Newport doesn’t suggest the abandonment of these tools, necessarily. Instead he suggests their each of us intelligently evaluate their use in our professional lives, instead of being bamboozled by a new app’s hype.

I’ve personally been pleasantly surprised by how much my productivity has improved ever since I made a conscious policy to reduce my use of social media. Fiction writing, as Stephen King suggested, is the kind of activity that requires an inwards turn, which seems increasingly difficult to find, in these distracted days. Let’s opt for the deeps, and not the shallows.

 

matt-colborn-mugshotMatt Colborn is a freelance writer and academic with a doctorate in cognitive science. He has written for the Guardian as well as SFX and Interzone magazines. He writes across the spectrum of speculative fiction. He published a collection of short fiction, ‘City in the Dusk and Other Stories,’ in 2013 and is currently completing a novel. His website is at http://mattcolbornwriter.blogspot.co.uk

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Funding for Writers of Colour to Attend Milford SF in 2017 – Applications Invited Now.

FUNDED PLACES FOR TWO SF WRITERS OF COLOUR (BME) AT THE 2017 MILFORD SF WRITERS’ CONFERENCE

9th to 16th September 2017

Applications remain open until the end of February 2017
Successful applicants will be notified in March 2017
Download information and an application form

Word / RTF

Typewriter 3Due to the generosity of the committee of the 8Squared Eastercon, and an anonymous (writer) donor, Milford SF Writers’ Conference is able to offer two funded places for self-identifying science fiction/fantasy writers of colour, i.e. of black or minority ethnicity, to attend the 2017 Milford SF Writers’ Conference in the UK from 9th – 16th September. Writers from all over the world (far and near) are invited to apply as long as they write in English. Applicants must be ‘Milford qualified’ (i.e have at least one SF story sale to a recognised market).

The bursary will cover the cost of the conference fee and full board accommodation (i.e. room and all meals). The bursary value is £610. The bursary does not cover the cost of transport to or from the conference from either inside or outside the UK. The location is Trigonos, Nantlle, North Wales (9 miles south of Caernarfon).

This funding is intended to be an encouragement and not a quota. We only have two bursaries available, however we operate an equal opportunities policy so all SF/F writers who are ‘Milford qualified’ are welcome to apply for the full-price Milford SF Writers’ Conference places subject to availability. Bookings for the 2018 event are already coming in.

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MILFORD is a gathering of authors who write speculative fiction (in its widest sense). It is not a school for beginners; there are no “teachers” or “students”. It is not an elitist in-group. Invitations are extended to any SF author – from relative newcomers to those may only dimly recall what rejection slips look like. Generally the workshop includes some writers who have not attended a previous Milford, and they are particularly welcome. The language of the conference is English, so all work must be submitted for critique in English. Some attendees are novel-writers, others specialise in short stories

The conference is the longest-running SF writers’ event in the UK. It has been a regular and almost annual occurrence since 1972, drawing members from Britain, Europe, America and Australia. Over the years it has moved venue several times, but has been in its current location since 2004. It has settled into a comfortable, workable format: demanding and exhausting, but also convivial. In short, it’s a social as well as a literary event–a chance to connect with other writers.

Many famous names have passed through Milford in its (more than) four decades: Anne McCaffrey, Brian Aldiss, Bruce Sterling, Charles Stross, Chris Priest, Diana Wynne Jones, George R.R. Martin, James Blish (the founder of Milford in the UK), John Clute, Neil Gaiman and Samuel R Delaney. More recently Alastair Reynolds, Gaie Sebold, Jaine Fenn, Karen Traviss, Kari Sperring and Liz Williams.

 

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Milford Works by Vaughan Stanger

Unless you’re an established writer with a multi-novel deal – and perhaps even for those blessed folk too – a little recognition can go a long way. So when in early January I read that my short story ‘Insider Art’ had made it onto the longlist for the BSFA Awards (2016) Shorter Fiction category, I was elated, not least because it’s only my second appearance in the fifteen years since my first appearance in print or pixels. Needless to say, I was all over social media faster that you can say “click to post”, announcing my joy to all and sundry (both of you). Then, when I – doubtless unwisely – posted my good news on the Milford Yahoo group, I received congratulations from several of my peers plus an unsubtle hint from Jacey Bedford of this parish that I might consider doing some research to find out which other nominees had attended Milford – and that it might serve as a basis of a Milford blog post. And that’s how the trap was baited…

Purely as an aside – this really isn’t an attempt at self-promotion (honest) – ‘Insider Art’ was  given a good seeing-to at the 2013 Milford Conference, where it bore the title ‘Extrusion’. I subsequently revised it…extensively. In November 2015, Wendy Delmater Thies, editor-in-chief of the long-running webzine Abyss & Apex, sent me the magic email. The story was published in April 2016. Anyway, I digress…

Prompted by Jacey, I have scoured the Milford alumni list also the Success Stories page, searching for matches to the BSFA Awards longlists. I’m not going to pretend that this process was perfect – the attendance lists for some of the older Milfords remain to be unearthed, assuming they can ever be found. But in the meantime, these are my findings.

Best Novel

  • (Stephen Baxter** &) Alastair Reynolds       The Medusa Chronicles
  • Chris Beckett                                                  Daughter of Eden
  • Christopher Priest                                        The Gradual
  • Alastair Reynolds                                          Revenger
  • Al Robertson                                                   Waking Hell
  • Charles Stross                                                 The Nightmare Stacks

(18% Milford penetration.)

** As far as I know, Stephen Baxter has not attended a Milford.

Best Shorter Fiction 

  • Ian Creasey                                                     No Strangers Any More
  • Ian Creasey                                                     The Language of Flowers
  • Jaine Fenn                                                       Liberty Bird (Milford 2013)
  • Una McCormack                                            Taking Flight
  • Vaughan Stanger                                           Insider Art (Milford 2013)
  • Bruce Sterling                                                 Pirate Utopia

(23% Milford penetration)

Best Non-Fiction       

  • John Clute                                                       Scores column, articles published in 2016
  • Paul Kincaid                                                   This is Science Fiction?
  • Geoff Ryman                                                  100 African Writers of SFF

(25% Milford penetration)

Also, although not nominated directly, it is worth noting that two Milford alumni had books published in 2016 with covers that have been nominated in the Artworks category.

David Clements                                              David Hardy’s cover for ‘Disturbed Universes’ (David tells me that at least two of the stories in his collection survived trial-by-Milford.)

Alastair Reynolds                                           Chris Moore’s cover for ‘The Iron Tactician’

Last but not least, David Langford’s Ansible Editions published Rob Hansen’s ‘THEN: Science Fiction Fandom in the UK 1930-1980’, which is listed in the nonfiction category.

~

So, what can we conclude from the above?

Well, for a start: Milford works!

Also, 2013 was a good year… eventually.

The Milford legacy lasts for life.

And finally…

Milford works!

(Rinse and repeat)

So, there you have it. Conclusive proof that… Okay, excessive repetition is a writerly vice, as I’ve been told more than once.

All that remains for me to say is this: if you’re a BSFA member, don’t forget to vote for your (maximum of four) favourites in each category. No, they don’t have to be by Milford alumni. Voting for Round 2, which will determine the shortlists, ends on 31 January. The details and full longlists can be found here: http://www.bsfa.co.uk/bsfa-awards/nominate-for-the-bsfa-awards/

Good luck to all the nominees!

 

vaughan-stangerVaughan Stanger. Briefly an astronomer and more recently a research project manager in an aerospace company, Vaughan Stanger now writes SF and fantasy fiction for a living. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Postscripts, Nature Futures and Interzone.  He has released two collections,  ‘Moondust Memories’ and ‘Sons of the Earth & Other Stories’, both of which available on Amazon. Like many writers, he loves cats; contrarily, he refuses to be owned by one. You can follow his writing adventures at http://www.vaughanstanger.com or on Twitter @VaughanStanger.

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So What Has Milford Ever Done for Me? by Jacey Bedford

silverwolf-final-cvr-smMy new book is out today!

Hang on, let me say that again, because it never gets old.

My new book – my fourth – is out today, 3rd January 2017.

For the longest time I worried that I would never sell a short story. Then when I’d sold one of those, I worried that I’d never sell a novel. I used to think: If only I can sell one book, just one book, I’ll be satisfied.

Yeah, right.

I was suffering from a poverty of expectation. In other words I’d set my sights firmly on the bottom rung of the ladder and no further. Lots of my writer friends from Milford, my contemporaries, had got themselves book deals before I did, some spectacularly. Alastair Reynolds, Liz Williams, Kari Sperring, Jaine Fenn, Ben Jeapes…

group98Milford 1998
L-R Back row: Jacey Bedford, Kat Patrick, Ben Jeapes, Chris Amies, Patricia Wrede, Liz Williams, Cherith Baldry. Front row: Alastair Reynolds, Steve Kilbane, Pauline Dungate.

VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200

Milford 2016: L-R standing: John Moran, Dave Gullen, Terry Jackman, David Allan, Guy T Martland, Jim Anderson, Liz Williams, Jacey Bedford, Glen Mehn, Elizabeth Counihan, Lizzy Priest. Seated L-R: Sue Thomason, Amy Tibbetts, Paulina Morgan, Siobhan McVeigh.

While waiting for my break I’d done all the usual things: kept writing novels even though they were not being published; searched for and found an agent (and lost her again when she got out of the agenting business); kept sending out novels to publishers’ slushpiles while looking for a new agent. Then I got lucky. A writer I’d met at Milford gave me an introduction to her editor. I was still in the slushpile, but maybe slightly closer to the recognised end of it.

Finally (in 2013) I got the message that I’d been waiting half a lifetime for. Sheila Gilbert from DAW emailed me and said: I want to buy your book, when can I phone you? It was 6.00 on a Wednesday evening, and the novel in question was Winterwood. I stared at the email for a few frozen moments, excitement bubbling up inside me. I started to type: I’ll be at my desk all day Thursday when the realisation struck me. If it was 6.00 in the UK it would still only be 1.00 in New York. I’m in now, I typed. The phone rang almost as soon as I hit send.

Everything happened quite quickly after that. Within a week I had a new agent – the lovely Amy Boggs from Donald Maass Literary in New York. Shortly after that I had a three book deal with DAW. I’d been worrying about selling one book and now I’d sold three. Of course I still had to write one of them from scratch, but I could do that. Of course I could. I was a real author, now. Real, I tell you. REAL!

My poverty of expectation had been blown out of the window.

One of Sheila’s first questions was: What else have you got? She was pleased to discover that I wrote science fiction as well as fantasy. She bought Empire of Dust, a space opera which, in embryonic form, I’d taken to my first ever Milford in 1998. She then ordered a sequel to Empire, which became Crossways, and the third book in the three book deal was the one she’d bought first, Winterwood, a historical fantasy set in 1801.

Empire of Dust (Psi-Tech #1) came out in 2014, Crossways (Psi-Tech #2) in 2015 and Winterwood (Rowankind #1) in 2016. My agent negotiated a follow-on deal and now my fourth book, Silverwolf (Rowankind #2) is out today and Nimbus (Psi-Tech #3) is due in October 2017.

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I very much doubt I’d have my book deals if it wasn’t for Milford. All my published books – their first few chapters at least – have been subjected to the Milford process, and all of them are better for it. I learned a lot about publishing and story markets from the after-dinner socialising, and made invaluable connections. It was still a long process. Overnight success (from my first short story sale to my first published novel) still took sixteen years, but if I’d not had the help and encouragement from other writers (friendships made via Milford) I might never have stayed the course.

Thank you Milford.

jacey-novacon-2012-300pxsquJacey Bedford is the hon. sec. of Milford. She’s been attending since 1998. She’s a British writer from Yorkshire with over thirty short stories and four (so far) novels to her credit. She lives behind a desk in an old strone house on the edge of the Pennines with her husband and a long-haired, black German Shepherd – that’s a dog not an actual shepherd from Germany.

 

 

 

Follow Jacey:
http://www.jaceybedford.co.uk
Twitter: @jaceybedford
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jacey.bedford.writer
Blog: http://jaceybedford.wordpress.com

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Unforeseen Consequences by Sandra Unerman

If I hadn’t been to Milford, I might never have become an MA. When I retired after thirty-four years as a Government lawyer, I wanted to work hard at my writing of fiction, as I’d not had the time or energy to do before. But I did not want to work in complete isolation. When I started to write, a long time ago, I had assumed that that was the way to do it, that my efforts should be shown to nobody until I was completely satisfied with them. My first visit to a Milford workshop, in 2000, helped persuade me otherwise. I was almost too nervous to go. But when I made it there, I found the experience thoroughly encouraging. By then, the atmosphere had mellowed since the early days described by Chris Priest. The basic framework was the same but nobody made a big fuss about the rules or tried to tell anyone else how to rewrite their work.

david-rain-tom-arden-by-antony-heaven

The late David Rain who wrote as Tom Arden

I’ve been back to Milford several times since then but as I thought about retirement, I was looking for something more extensive. I discovered that Middlesex University was offering an MA in Creative Writing, with a specialist strand in Fantasy and Science Fiction. I wasn’t sure whether an academic approach would help me develop my fiction or kill it off altogether. But the course supervisor was David Rain. He had been one of the other participants at my first Milord and his feedback had always been perceptive and interesting. I went to talk to David and decided to give the MA a go.

I can’t recommend that particular course at Middlesex because it’s no longer available. I’m sure courses at different universities provide different experiences. Even so, some of what made my course worthwhile for me must also apply elsewhere.

At the most basic level, like Milford, the Middlesex course provided a chance to meet and talk to other writers about technique and ideas, not to mention book recommendations. And it’s always intriguing to read other people’s work in progress, even if, or especially if, it’s not the kind of thing I would normally tackle.

My creative impulses were not suffocated by the academic aspects of the course. Instead, I was pushed into trying things I would never have tackled on my own, with positive results. Writing for the screen, for example, has never been an ambition of mine. But the exercise of telling a story through action and images capable of being filmed had benefits I could apply to other kinds of narrative. For the novel writing section, Farah Mendlesohn got us all to provide a 90,000 word draft in three months, starting from scratch. I learned a lot from that and from the resulting discussions led by Farah.

The tutor for SF short stories was Rob Shearman. I’ve always found short stories harder to tackle than longer work but the sessions with Rob helped me grasp the different approach needed. I’ve had a number of short stories published since I graduated and I don’t quite so often receive feedback along the lines of ‘This doesn’t quite work as a story but would make a great start to a novel.’

The MA course led on to more connections with writing networks. I continue to meet a few of my fellow students once a month in a critiquing group, where we try keep roughly to the Milford system. (If anyone within reach of North London is interested in joining us, do get in touch.) I am also a member of the London Clockhouse Writers’ Workshop, led by Allen Ashley, which is not a critiquing group but a chance to look at market opportunities and to discuss themes and ideas. This has no direct connection to the MA or to Milford but I doubt I would have found it without them.

David Rain’s early death was a great loss to everyone who knew him.  I shall always be particularly grateful to him for drawing me into the MA course.

 

sandra-unermanSandra Unerman is a retired Government lawyer who lives on the northern fringe of London. Many years ago, she had an Arthurian fantasy published as a YA novel. Since then, she has published a number of short stories, including stories recently in Midnight Circus and Detectives of the Fantastic, vol. IV. She has a draft of another novel for which she is seeking a publisher. She is a member of the Folklore Society and the Historical Novel Society.

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