Inspired by our enjoyment and appreciation of Milford’s annual conference and unable to sign up to a specialised SF critique group in our own area, a few writers based in the north of England decided to form a small critique group. Since our founder members were stretched from coast to coast from Lancashire to Yorkshire it made sense to meet in the middle. Since I’m more or less in the middle (on the edge of the Pennines) and have a rambling old house with spare bedrooms and a decent-sized living room to meet in, Northwrite’s inaugural meeting happened here in June 2012, and it has happened quarterly ever since.
The views here aren’t so bad…
We meet on a Sunday for a full day, and since I don’t have to travel I cook lunch for anything up to ten of us, eleven if I count my longsuffering husband who very kindly helps with the washing up and otherwise keeps a low profile.
We have ten members, and though a few people have dropped out over the years we’ve always been able to fill the places. Of course not everyone attends every meeting and we find that we average out at seven members per session, which works out quite nicely as it’s a nice full meeting with a decent workload. A couple of weeks before the meeting, each attendee sends a single piece for critique, either a short story or part of a novel, up to a maximum of 10,000 words.
We start as close to eleven as possible to allow time for the long distance travellers to get here, and we usually manage to crit a couple of pieces before lunch and the rest in the afternoon, finishing around five or six p.m.
We use the Milford method of critiquing which is outlined in full on the Milford web site: http://www.milfordsf.co.uk/about.htm#Rules.
- Each participant, in rotation, spends up to four minutes (timed) giving their critique of the work at hand. Everyone gets the opportunity to open the critting, to crit and be critted.
- No interruption, whether by the author or anyone else, is allowed during this stage of the proceedings.
- After everyone has spoken the author gets an uninterrupted right of reply.
- This is often followed by a more general discussion.
- The critter normally gives the crittee a written version of their crit or maybe their original MS with notes, or emails it afterwards.
Most of our Northwrite members have attended Milford so they already know the cardinal rule of delivering constructive rather than destructive critique. However critique is thorough and robust. When we first began Northwrite we didn’t impose a membership bar (To attend Milford you have to have sold a minimum of one piece of fiction to a recognised market) however we quickly realised that though this bar is low it is effective and we’ve since adopted it.
All of our members are either founder members, or they’ve become members by invitation. On the rare occasion we’ve invited someone unpublished or self-published for a trial session we’ve found/they’ve found that our critique was too robust and detailed for their sensibilities. One young lady said afterwards that it was like attending ‘a masterclass’. While we don’t think of ourselves as being elevated, and we certainly don’t intend to be cliquey, we are all writing for publication and we take our craft seriously. We all have experience of being edited by professional editors, and being critiqued by professional writers. Anyone who wants to be patted on the back and told how wonderful their story is, is not going to like Northwrite (or Milford either). No matter how good a story, someone can always find something, however small, to change for the better.
And that’s the whole point of critique sessions. When you critique someone’s story or novel extract, you are always trying to offer critique that will help to improve it, to drive it a little closer to being publication-ready.
Everybody’s critique style is different. I tend to critique on first impressions, because a reader might not give your writing a second chance if the first impressions don’t hold attention. One of our members is really good at dissecting the logic of a plot, another is spot-on when it comes to philosophical and moral arguments. One is brilliant at picking out typos, another is a historian and great at exposing holes in historically-based fantasy plots. We all have something different to bring to a critique session. The one thing that unites us is our desire to help the writer to make their piece better.
Having started out as a group for writers from Lancashire and Yorkshire, we found that a few of our founder members dropped out and by word of mouth writers with further to travel asked to join. One comes down from the Isle of Arran, others from Gloucestershire, London and Cambridge, while we still have a core of northern writers. It means that some arrive on the Saturday and depart on Monday morning, but so far we’ve never had more overnight people than we can find a bed for, and the social side of things is great.
You can find out more at the Northwrite web site: http://www.northwritesf.com/
Jacey Bedford is the secretary of Milford SF Writers and the mother hen of Northwrite. She’s had close to forty short stories published on both sides of the Atlantic and has novels published by DAW in the USA. Her Psi-Tech Trilogy (space opera) is complete and her Rowanlind Trilogy (historical fantasy) completes in December 2018. She maintains this blog and one of her own at: https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/