I attended Milford shortly after my first publication came out in John Klima’s now legendary “Electric Velocipede”. This was in 2006, a year when things, in writing terms, started happening for me.
Foremost among these was Milford. I submitted the two requisite pieces of work – a surrealist fantasy piece called “A Doom of My Own” (later published in John Klima’s “EV”) and a short story called “BleakWarrior Meets the Sons of Brawl”, now the first chapter of a recently released novel entitled BleakWarrior.
When I look back, it seems to me that “A Doom of My Own” gained the most favour in terms of its reception by the Milford group. But it didn’t cause as much of a reaction as the other piece, which is the basis for a very important and inspiring lesson for me.
I was nervous about submitting “BleakWarrior Meets the Sons of Brawl” because of the type of story it is. Like the novel where it now sits, it is a generic hybrid that incorporates elements of dark fantasy, splatterpunk and cosmic horror, new weird, graphic novels, spaghetti westerns and (as I like to think) Elizabethan revenge tragedy.
BleakWarrior is deliberately hard-edged and gratuitous, violent and X-rated. It is equally careless of applying strict grammatical rules or rules of narration and narrative point of view. It is ugly, philosophically perverse, but also experimental in its aims to combine pulp and literary facets of fiction. I tend to refer to the novel, in generic terms, as Sword and Debauchery. And, to this extent, it follows a risky strategy that is likely to divide opinion.
When it came to the critique, however, what quickly became obvious to me was that the Milford group were not in the business of letting personal taste or preference get in the way of a robust but measured critical appraisal. The Milford critics (also accomplished authors) were proven experts in their field. They were too shrewd and sharp-edged with insights to let value-judgements overrule their critical opinions. They were unerringly professional, to put it plainly, to the extent that, in my case, I received some vital practical advice that I treasure to this day.
One thing I learned, for example, was the art of not giving away too much, too soon – the art of concealment as a means of perfecting the illusion of fiction, in such a way as to make it seem more real, more believable, more true to the way that we process information in the real world – not all at once, but gradually.
My risky story didn’t meet with everyone’s personal approval (for from it!). “I am not your target audience” was often heard during the scrutiny of “BleakWarrior Meets the Sons of Brawl”. But at no stage did anyone suggest that I was barking up the wrong writing tree. On the contrary, it was clear by the reactions of the group that I might have actually been onto something.
So much so that, soon after, “BleakWarrior Meets the Sons of Brawl” was accepted for publication by Ann VanderMeer at “Weird Tales” magazine – a submission that I made in response to the sage advice of Milford grandee, Chris Butler. Chris was adamant that “Weird Tales” was the ideal place for submitting my story, and so it proved. I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to submit to “Weird Tales” if it hadn’t been for the encouragement and direction given to me by the Milford group. It was exactly the kind of firm but gentle shove that I needed at the time. I was, after all, a mere rookie.
There are other important caveats you will take away with you from Milford. Above all, it lifts you onto a more elevated plane of awareness in regards to the people and processes that populate the world of writing. It gives you confidence, lasting friendships and, to top it off, a full on engagement with the enchanting landscapes of North Wales.
Alistair Rennie is the author of the weird, sword and debauchery novel, BleakWarrior. He has published dark fantasy and horror fiction, essays and poetry in The New Weird anthology, Weird Tales magazine, Fabulous Whitby, Electric Velocipede, Mythic Delirium, Pevnost, Schlock Magazine, Horror Without Victims, Weird Fiction Review and Shadowed Realms.
He was born and grew up in the North of Scotland, has lived for ten years in Italy, and now lives in Edinburgh in the South of Scotland. He holds a first class Honours Degree in Literature from the University of Aberdeen and a PhD in Literature from the University of Edinburgh. He is a time-served painter and decorator and a veteran climber of numerous hills and mountains in the Western Highlands, the Cairngorms and the Italian Dolomites.