Milford at Fifty: Milford One -1972 and Beyond – A Retrospective by David Redd

From David Redd’s Milford retrospective (website) and comments from his 2019 interview in SF Magazines.

Milford 1972 attendees
Mark Adlard * Brian Aldiss * James Blish * John Brunner * Kenneth Bulmer * Richard Cowper * Judith Anne Lawrence (Judy Blish) * George Locke (Gordon Walters) * Anne McCaffrey * John Phillifent * Christopher Priest * David Redd * Josephine Saxton * Andrew Stephenson * Peter Tate.

1972 saw the first Milford Science Fiction Writers Conference in the UK, set up by a small dedicated team of James Blish (a co-founder of the original USA Milford); Anne McCaffrey (Chair); Judy Blish (legwork); and Ken Bulmer (“Liaison Officer between the Americans and the inscrutable British.”)

Judy Blish dug up addresses and wrote to folk, including me. (She was short of candidates.)

That initial Milford was my first-ever story workshop experience: new, exciting, crowded, exhausting, sometimes frightening, enlightening and valuable. Most attendees were published novelists, while I had only a few magazine stories to my name. With the initial demand unknown, the committee had limited Milford One to a single weekend. We workshopped fifteen stories in three days!

I remember little about the hotel; probably it was the Lydgate, sold soon after. Subsequently, Milford resided happily for many years at the Compton House, with some very understanding mine hosts in Pat & Don Emberson, along with their joint proprietors Joy and Tony Tillett in the earlier years. Milfordites kept many interesting and incriminating documents of that time in the notorious “Milford Box,” (now apparently lost.)

The stories? A blur, inevitably, although I think Chris Priest brought a promising novelette called “The Inverted World,” which became an excellent novel due to his own efforts, not ours, and I brought one called “Morning” which did at least make it into F&SF. Mark Adlard offered an alien-zoo short story and received great admiration in some quarters for his vigorous description of a harpoon “whanging home.” Mark was so encouraged by this enthusiasm that he went home and wrote an entire novel about harpoons whanging home, for which Penguin paid him £30,000. (“I do hope this story is true,” I wrote, and so far nobody has contradicted me.)

A note on costs: registration £1.50, hotel daily full board, £3.50. Ah, 1972! So that was Milford One. A whirlwind of meeting friends old and new, of professionals showing great kindness, of frantic reading and frantic critting – one member did not last the weekend. 1972 must have been a success; the next year Milford UK extended to a full week, and has been running ever since.

Random Recollections
Early Milford conferences were dominated by the frantic rush to read manuscripts – no emailed pre-circulation then – which left us only limited time for socialising. We managed some. By 1974 James Blish was obviously frail and concentrating with a fixed determination, but back in 1972 he was still relaxed enough to chat non-adversarially about, for example, the Star Trek novelisations coming from the author of A Case of Conscience. They weren’t incompatible with his fearsome literary integrity, I learned over breakfast. He told me they were useful “bridge material” (his phrase) enticing newcomers into other SF.

I hope Blish wouldn’t mind me saying that in story critiques he was a ruthless perfectionist (as he was of his own serious work, which I suspect could get over-revised) and I suffered this when he dismissed my story Morning as, if I may precis, derivative and inadequate. Nothing personal, he took pains to assure me afterwards. “At least So-and-so liked it,” I muttered. “So-and-so has a tin ear!” said Blish, reverting to workshop mode for an instant. Then he was human again.

I should point out that some of the Biggest Names there such as Blish and Brunner were surprisingly considerate to their juniors. Ditto Brian Aldiss, exiting early in some vexation, yet pausing to apologise to me for leaving without commenting on my story. A lot of people took the Milford ethic of mutual help very seriously.

Highlights of the first and subsequent Milfords
Meeting so many good people, e.g. Richard Cowper, Pam Boal, Rob Holdstock (to name some of the sadly missed) through to the 21st century and, oh, Vaughan Stanger, Ian Creasey, Colin P. Davies among too many to mention. (If you’re a Milford person reading this and thinking your name should be there, yes it should.)

Lowlights also came: those lapses of judgement which dog my life, of course, but worse still, the shock of attendee Paul Tabori being suddenly rushed to hospital (1974) and dying weeks later—to my shame I’d known of him better for The Green Rain than for The Art of Folly and the rest.

One last highlight? I was at a Milford wrap party when Chip Delany met (Lady) Naomi Mitchison; what a nice meeting of different cultures. Now, the amazing Naomi Mitchison: what a life, yet the internet this decade can say “Today, she has largely been forgotten”. Another one. She never attended a Milford workshop (that I know of) but was a Saturday-evening guest in 1974. Delany was quick to smile and mention Memoirs of a Spacewoman; Mitchison had the air of one enjoying herself greatly. They should have found much to discuss.

Those Milford end-of-week parties quickly became a tradition. In 1978 our guests included Nick Webb of Pan Books, a huge and genial man, confiding hopes that an untried author he’d commissioned to novelise a radio series could deliver. The author’s name was Douglas Adams. His book—you’ll know the title—came out almost exactly a year after that party, and in a couple of months sold 200,000 copies. Nick must have been delighted. And relieved.

David Redd sold his first stories to Michael Moorcock at New Worlds SF and later appeared in many other magazines, including F&SF, If, Amazing, Fantastic, Asimov’s SF, and Interzone.

One of his other claims to fame is that he appeared on the television quiz program Who Wants to be a Millionaire with his wife Meriel in 2001: they won £16,000.

He was a civil engineer by profession but is now retired. He has a son and a daughter.

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com).
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