Writing as Drawing by David Gullen

We all have our ways of doing things. When I’m plotting out a novel or a longer story I always start with pen and paper. I like to use my favourite fountain pen, and quartered sheets of A4.  I do something similar with a short story too, though I’ll probably just write down a few key things that anchor it. I’ll always use pen and paper.

DSCN4169There’s something about the process that works well for me, though I don’t know why. All I can say is there’s a connection between mind and eye and hand so they feel like three parts of one thing. Pen and paper stimulates and focusses my imagination and lets the ideas flow ­– though not in any order. I’ll brainstorm everything in a few sessions, one plot point, or scene, or character, or piece of dialogue per piece of paper.  I’ve found this much more useful than using a notebook because later on I can arrange and re-arrange the bits of paper into groups and piles – a structure starts to emerge.

At some point I’ll read through the stack of notes and off I’ll go again with more ideas, more bits of paper, and at least one recharge of the pen with fresh ink.

Back in June we were on what turned out to be a brilliant, happy, productive and relaxing two weeks in Cornwall. We’d hired a 1-bed beach cottage and our days became ones of early morning writing, beach walks and ice-cream, writing, pasties for lunch or supper, sea-swims, and conversations in the evening over a bottle of wine.

Someone had left a book in the cottage:  Between the Lines, Ba (Hons) Drawing, 2018, Falmouth University. It was fascinating to see pictures of the students’ work and read the comments each of them had written about their art and inspiration, and the connections some of them found between the paper and the pencil or brush in their hand with the concepts in their mind.

There were some suggested exercises in the back of the book. One of them was titled Automatic Writing is Drawing Too.  The instructions were simple: ‘Start Writing. Don’t think about the words until you’ve filled every bit of empty space.’

It was a good exercise but the concept startled me. Writing is drawing?  I pushed against the idea then realised they were right. Drawing is a way to communicate and express ideas on paper, and what is writing if not that? Writing with pen and paper really is a kind of drawing. It was obvious, I’d just never thought about it that way.

It made me wonder if that productive link between mind and hand and pen is really because when I do it I’m not writing or drawing, I’m doing both.


gullen-dkg1-2012David Gullen was born in Africa and baptised by King Neptune He has lived in England most of his life and has been writing short and long-form science fiction and fantasy for most of that. You can read his fantasy detective novel, The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms,  on Wattpad, or his eponymous web site. He is the current Chair of the Milford SF group.


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Constraints Are Your Friends by Sue Oke

image collage writingHave you ever noticed that the more constraints you face in your writing, the more creative you become? I used to write a collage piece with a group of writers—just for fun, you understand. This involved the giving and receiving of short phrases from everyone in the group, so that you end up with perhaps six unrelated phrases to work with. If working alone, you can choose random words/phrases from the book you are currently reading. The challenge then is to write a piece that incorporates all the phrases within ten minutes. As an additional constraint pick one of the phrases to start and finish the piece with.

The key to this exercise is NOT TO THINK. Put pen to paper and let the words flow. DO NOT STOP WRITING during the ten minutes. Grammar and spelling are not important. You can write a load of nonsense, at this point it really doesn’t matter. What you are doing is flexing the creative muscle. Have a go at it. You will be surprised at what the pen creates.

Random phrases I had to work with:

  • walking in single file
  • any number divided by itself
  • one long gaze at the world
  • bring me one child
  • one won the Derby
  • one tasted such delicious pineapple in Guadalupe
  • one across and two down
  • one does not gas badgers

And here’s the piece I produced in response to the phrases (rough and ready as I wrote it):

Bring me one child. Not two walking in single file down the long road to nowhere. Not any number divided by itself. Just one. Only one. The one that won the Derby, not the one that got away. Let him or her be clear skinned and clear eyed. One long gaze at the world, seeing only beauty, not the dross that skirts our lives. Let the child taste of delicious pineapple, the sweetest in Guadalupe. Lips licked, eyes hooded, badger-like. Only one will pass these gates, marked by posters decrying war and scratched messages that plead for kindness in the world.

One does not gas badgers or foxes or small children.

This place stands as a bastion in their defence. Windows stare blankly, one across and two down, a mismatched face that watches the road. Waiting for the only one that can save us. Fringed hair plastered flat by the rain, walking slow but determined, slight fingers wrapped in yours. Trusting. Such a taste, such a sight, a vision awaited with bated breath. To wait so long, gazing at the world.

Any number of feet tramping the dust, walking single file. But not one of them will do. He or she won the day, chosen by their village, their city, their state to journey here and save both badgers and children. This is not a selfless task, we who wait have promises to keep and promises to claim. So slice the pineapple, lick the juices and tell me that it is not delicious. Eyes that have seen the world can rest here, knowing that this community will not gas the badgers. That makes us feel safe. This is the right place.

Trace a finger along the window pane, moving lines, up and down, tracing patterns, a pineapple matrix. Whisper under your breath, give me a number, any number divided by itself and I will show you a prime child, just waiting to blossom. Sun and water, light and love––all will blossom here, nurtured within crumbling walls behind dusty windows. So, I ask you one more time. No, I demand it. Bring me one child.

Off you go. Generate your own random words and phrases and work that Creative Muscle!

Sue Oke headshot colourSusan Oke worked in the UK Higher Education sector for thirteen years before surrendering to her passion for writing. She spends every minute she can spare writing and has had short stories published in anthologies, magazines and podcasts. As the Review Editor first for Vector, and now for the BSFA Review, Susan gets to read lots of books—her favourite pastime, when she isn’t writing––and edit copy (another fun job, which she genuinely enjoys!). Susan is an active member of several critiquing groups and works part-time as an English tutor. You can view her blog and read samples of her work at: susanmayoke.com

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Milford Retrospective by Jacey Bedford

I was hoping I’d have had a Milford report from one of the report volunteers, always one (or several) of the Milford newbies, but they haven’t arrived yet, so here are my impressions of Milford 2018.

Milford rainWet, wet, wet! (And that’s got nothing to do with musical bands.) The weather wasn’t particularly kind to us this year. Instead of being able to sit out on the grass to do our crits, we grabbed raincoats and/or brollies to make our merry way between the house (the Plas) and the Main Meeting Room. A short walk, but a potentially wet one. Luckily I’d bought a new raincoat just a few weeks before.

But to be honest, the weather can’t spoil Milford. It can enhance it, of course, but the real fun is in getting fifteen writers of science fiction and fantasy (and some of the genres in between) and kettling us all up together for a whole week in a venue (Trigonos) in Snowdonia, far away from anywhere, with fabulous scenery, its own lake frontage, and perfect for our purpose.

What can I say about the company of writers? We spoke about deeply serious stuff, contemplated the nature of the universe, deep philosophical questions, pictures of cats, chocolate, and also we laughed–a lot. In fact I think this was one of the fun-est funniest Milfords I’ve ever attended. We take our writing seriously, but we don’t take ourselves very seriously at all. Evenings in the library after dinner were a hoot.

Nisi cropI drove to North Wales from West Yorkshire, a journey of about three and a half hours depending on traffic. Since I pass Manchester Airport, I volunteered to pick up our two bursary writers, Nisi Shawl (top left) who flew in from Seattle, and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (bottom left), a Filipina writer now resident in the Netherlands. Our bursary scheme, begun last year, gives two writers of colour places at Milford at no cost other than the cost of their transport.

Rochita crop

We read and constructively critiqued twenty pieces of work face-to-face in the Milford style. These we delivered at the rate of four critiques per afternoon session. Each one takes about an hour to do. Everyone gets a turn to speak uninterrupted (timed), then the writer gets uninterrupted right of reply. After that we devolve into a general discussion. I’m pleased to say that no one ran away screaming, ‘But you don’t understand my genius!’

On Wednesday we had our annual AGM and elected a committee for the coming year. Unsurprisingly, since most people are reluctant to come forward, or maybe they’re just happy that someone else is doing it, we re-elected the same committee:

  • Chair – Dave Gullen
  • Secretary – Jacey Bedford
  • Vice Chair – Liz Williams
  • Treasurer – Tina Anghelatos
  • Token Egregious Male – Jim Anderson
  • Gratuitous Woman – Kari Sperring
  • USA contact – Karen Brenchley

On Thursday night, after all the crits had been completed, we discussed appropriate markets and Dave Gullen reminded us all that we should be members of ALCS, the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society. (Yes, Dave, thanks for the reminder. I’ve done it at last!)

On Friday we planned a day out, firstly to Caernarfon (the town and the castle) and then to Conwy (the town and the castle and a very nice booze shop selling local Welsh whisky and beers).

Sadly on Friday morning, Nisi received news that her mother had been taken seriously ill. Milford kindness immediately kicked in. Liz made phone calls. She couldn’t get a flight on Friday (that we could get Nisi to in time) but did manage a 6.00 a.m. flight on Saturday morning, so Liz and Trevor did an emergency run to Manchester airport so that Nisi could spend the night in an airport hotel and then catch a flight back a day earlier than planned. Rochita went along to hold Nisi’s hand. Thankfully Nisi got back home in time to say goodbye, but her mother passed shortly after. We all felt that we were losing a member of our own family. Milford is like that.



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5th Milford Live Blog

Jacey Bedford

2012-09 Carnarfon Castle wallsThe work part of Milford 2018 is over. We’ve critiqued 20 pieces (that’s five per day since Sunday, a total of close to 150,000 words). Luckily we were able to make a start on the reading in August as most participants sent their work in in good time. Friday is our final day in Wales, so we’re planning a tourist trip. We’re going to Caernarfon in the morning, and hoping to have a pub lunch at a place we’ve been to before. Some people will probably take the opportunity to visit the castle (above), others to do a little light shopping in the (small) town. Then in te afternoon we’re heading for Conwy, another castle and a very fine set of town walls. Unless the weather socks in we’ll be coming back the pretty way, through the Llanberis Pass at the foot of Mount Snowdon.

Present this week: Kari Sperring, Juliet McKenna, Jim Anderson, Liz Williams, Carl Allery, Jacey Bedford (me), Juliet Kemp, Rochita Loenen Ruiz, Gus Smith, Anthony Francis, Mihaela Perkovic, Pauline Dungate, Nisi Shawl, Dave Gullen and Gaie Sebold. Most of our participants are British, but people have come from as far away as the west coast of the USA, Croatia and the Netherlands.

It’s been a great week full of hard work and laughter. The mix of people has been perfect. No cross words, just a spirit of kind cooperation. Though no one has stinted on the critique, which has been thorough, but fair.

I’m already looking forward to next year which will be held on 14th – 21st September.

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4th Milford Live Blog

Mihaela Perkovic

I have always loved libraries, but have never, ever thought to throw a party in one. Milford did throw one or three and the Croatian mistletoe brandy might have helped. 🙂

The evenings at Milford have been so much fun: great food, and even greater after dinner conversation which has gotten progressively sillier and sillier every night. Today we had our last crit session in the afternoon and the evening at the library started rather more seriously. The discussion on markets was informative, insightful and very, very useful. I do not think I ever discussed the business aspect of anything with quite that many jokes.

Laughter in the library is an aspect of Milford I would not have imagine but I am enjoying it immensely and am quite happy to return to it right now.




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3rd Milford Live Blog

Juliet McKenna

For a writer first published twenty years ago, my very first experience of a workshop environment has proved very interesting and rewarding. I’ve had invaluable feedback this week on the opening chapters of a new fantasy novel, set in the River Kingdom. Not just for finding the straight-forward detail and character glitches and bits that need tidying up, where fresh eyes are always essential.

You see, I know how to write for people who like my stuff and are familiar with my style, and that’s fine, but not nearly good enough at this point in my career. I need to know how to write for people who haven’t read my work, so they need more inclueing earlier on in a story, because they don’t know how I think and can see which way things are going.

So seeing where attentive readers have stumbled and wondered is really, really illuminating. Now, I’ve always had test readers, of course, every writer needs them, but getting fourteen views from a range of different writers, with diverse tastes and experiences is something else entirely. The book is going to benefit enormously, and I’ve added to my overall perspective in ways that will inform my future work.

Then there’s sitting and chatting with fellow authors about the art, craft and business of this writing lark. Great fun!

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2nd Live Blog – Milford 2018

Jacey Bedford

It’s Wednesday morning. The sun has come out for five minutes but the south wind is still blowing a hooligan. It’s been a very wild week in Wild Welsh Wales so far, but other than venturing between our accommodations and the main meeting room where our crit session is held, we don’t actually need to be out in it. Though, of course, braving the elements is an optional extra to the Milford week. If you’ve been hunched over your laptop all morning, it’s nice to let the weather blow the cobwebs away.

VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200

I nipped into Pennygroes (the next village) this morning and stopped to take a photo of the view up the Nantlle Valley. Compare and contrast this year’s from last year’s photo taken from the same spot.

Here’s 2018…


And 2017. That’s Mount Snowdon in the distance. It’s head shouded if fluffy white clouds, but at least you can see it.

Nantlle Valley sm

We have another afternoon of critiquing ahead, four more stories. Then tonight, after dinner, it’s the Milford AGM, when committee members are elected (or re-elected) and we get through a lot of admin. We’ve just had some really good news about bursary funding (for writers of colour). Applications are open now for 2019 and we’ve just had a donation to cover 2020. I can’t tell you more until after the AGM.

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