It happened on a Sunday. March 5th, 2017. I remember it specifically because it was the last month of the first quarter of 2017, and I felt like the year had taken off and I was yet to. I had just moved into a new department in the third year of my job at a consulting firm, and had just gotten to that place in a new role where you start to see all the cracks. I splayed in front of the TV that weekend, asking myself how my writing, career and adulting were going to coexist.
The email from Jacey came then, a simple message that moved mountains.
Dear Suyi, it read. I’m delighted to tell you that you’ve been selected for the Milford Bursary in September. Enclosed is your official letter and a form to send back to us.
If there was ever a time I needed a shove, this was it. These were some fine folks, worlds away from mine, saying they had read what I had written and wanted to pay for me to come share more with them. It was acknowledgement; it was validation. It was: You’re one of us. Come have a seat at the table.
It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I applied for paid vacation. I applied for a visa. I bought a plane ticket and warm clothes.
This is the part I remember. From then on, everything becomes a blur. I remember things in slices: long flights, train rides along the coast, some dudebros at Bangor station sporting Hawaiian shirts in the biting cold and Vaughan remarking, “Some hardy souls right there.” Riding in the cab through pretty Nantlle, watching inclined sheep on the hills–lots of them. Trigonos, with its warm house and staff, a calming stream and a park bench set just so you can see Mount Snowdon when the clouds allow. Confectionery, coffee and tea-time bells. Chatting with Sue about her Nigerian affiliations. Trying to read a sundial with Val, Matt and Phil. A walk in the garden with Jackie. Talking martial arts with Mark. Jacey singing in the library. Dolly and I trying to play a fast one on Phil and me totally messing it up. Liz reading Tiff’s tarot cards. Steph showing me how to use a DSLR. Sara talking about Japanese manga. Terry guiding me through Caernarfon Castle. Exploring Caernarfon with Vaughan. The Milford group’s craving for meat. Drink, lots of it. Chocolate, lots of it. Laughter, lots of it.
I think the thing I remember most is leaving reinvigorated, with renewed purpose. Before I came, I was aching to double down where my writing was concerned, and I left with just the tools to do that. One year down the line, that decision took in and birthed something beautiful.
I sold the book I brought to Milford to Rebellion Publishing.
David Mogo, Godhunter was just a novella then. The first of fruits from Milford was the push I got, aided by my editor, to make it a novel. Just before I started that, Val and Tiff had written stellar references and offered golden advice for my MFA applications in December. Responses arrived in March 2018: I was joining the University of Arizona’s MFA in fiction.
I left my job right then and doubled down on writing David Mogo. May through July, I took the responses I got at Milford and revised and reworked and wrote. I wrote one or two stories and pieces for a couple of venues, and sealed many open chapters in my life (I got married in June), but I kept working at it. I left Lagos for Tucson in July, and I was still writing on the plane, up until a day before resumption at my new life. In November 2018, the book was announced.
The spirit of Milford never left. I don’t think it ever does. At my program now, when I sit with colleagues, share work and listen to responses, I remember Milford gave me my first truly pleasant workshop experience. When I stand in front of my students and talk to them about their writing, I remember how warm it was when I sat in the crit room at Trigonos and saw my opinion respected, saw criticism delivered even-handedly, even humorously. I remember large lunches and breakfasts, evenings at the library, writers gathering as people first. It has informed my dealings with fellow artists and colleagues since.
I will always carry Milford with me, I believe. To say my Trigonos experience in 2017 has contributed significantly to the growth, success and furtherance of my journey as a writer–not just technically, but holistically–would be putting it lightly. To anyone who ever gets a chance to attend, I say: Do it, despite whatever odds you face. There is always space for an extra spirt to carry with you; and for the times when you need it the most, the spirit of Milford never disappoints.
Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian author of speculative stories, usually featuring gods, starships, monsters, detectives, and everything in-between. His forthcoming novel, David Mogo, Godhunter, releases in July 2019. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Podcastle, The Dark, Ozy, Omenana and other magazines and anthologies. He lives on the web at suyidavies.com, tweets at @IAmSuyiDavies, and is @suyidavies on Instagram and Facebook.