Good day, and welcome to a special edition of The Milford Report, covering the release of 15 authors on to a rural environment in north Wales with nothing but their wits, several bottles of booze and all the pesto they could manage at their disposal.
Our season started with the arrival of each of the writers from across the globe, whom for (not necessarily) legal reasons we shall name each of now. There was Jacey, Tiffani, Powder, Sam, Mark, Victor, Tania, Sue, Kari, Steph, Tina, Terry, Pauline, Liz and myself.
The crack team of scribblers landed in a thoroughly suspecting Trigonos which, of course, being ready for us pacified us with copious quantities of food and cake for the entire duration of our stay. Inevitable desk rearrangements aside, most of us met up on the Saturday evening to make introductions, enjoy our first meal and prepare ourselves for an intense week of critiquing a wide variety of written work from our chosen crew. My phone notifications would not let me forget which day it was in at least three different ways, though thankfully I managed to get just a step ahead of it by heading across to Kari’s place, whereupon I was guarded by cats, fed delicious stir fry and be all set for a sensible launch time in order to make it in good time for the week’s adventures.
Russell Smith by Llyn Nantlle
On Sunday we commenced this task, following breakfast and in my case, a tradition which commenced that very day, I took a walk to the incredibly picturesque nearby lake. This day brought us the kind of weather that to be honest I was expecting to be the norm for the week – grey with a constant sheen of drenching drizzle. The thing I learned the hard way, though thankfully pretty fast, was that the bright footwear I wore, whilst ensuring I would be easy to find even in those conditions, provided the kind of wet weather protection which made me wonder why I didn’t just venture down there barefooted and have done. Still, the tranquility once I got there proved a way of starting the day I simply refused to go without for the rest of the week. And so, it wasn’t long before every single writer there knew my morning routine as soon as I did.
After a few hours to ourselves, usually either taken up by resting off the breakfast, exploring the local sights or certainly in my case, catching up on/revising our reading, the first round of crits began, and it wasn’t too long before we all got into the swing of things. A table sat in the centre of the room bearing snacks and chocolate, mostly there for energy hits but occasionally for those moments in which one of the authors giving a critique had to pay the ‘stress toll’ of having a lot to say to the writer in the hot seat about their piece. Dragon’s Den had nothing on this at times.
We of course also discovered that we were far from alone in the room where it happened (the room where it happened, the room where it happened…). By the wide windows in the corner, wasps the size of fingers of Fudge could be seen communing with their brotherhood on the Other Side of the Window (great album) and otherwise failing to be bothered about either getting out of the room or the kind of sugar supplies you could build a five year nest plan around. Instead this of course meant that the writers themselves would occasionally be buzzed, no hint of requests for writing advice nor any care for their works in progress, but instead basking in that reaction that only they could bring out of some of us. Windows were opened, doors were closed and bargains were struck with neighbouring spiders to protect us for the rest of the week in the way that spiders are a symbol of protection of the UK in general just now (too soon? Or a precise grounding of this post in time? You decide).
The day survived, the Great Feeding began. Turns out four rounds of intense crits do wonders for the appetite on the whole, and nobody knew this better than the wonderful catering crew at Trigonos. Should you require my many food and menu pics, rest assured they are available, but we did eat delicious food often. I sampled some of the local beer and got a photo of a book from the onsite library which will only be funny to the niche group within the small card game which I play. But it went down well with that lot, and so we continued through.
Llyn Nantlle by Russell Smith
From here, a routine was very much entered, at least from me. We’d have breakfast, over which comic book discussions could frequently be heard, I’d take my walk to the lake, where I would find a difference in environment every single day for the rest of the week from the previous day, and we’d go at the crits for the rest of the afternoon following daily soup. Wasp flight patterns evolved into different angles of menace, and a set of boots far more resistant to the dewy antics underfoot turned up and aided my daily walk immensely. Coffee, cake and critiques. Could open a cafe with a name like that – oh, no wait…
Russell Smith, Liz Williams and Victor Ocampo shortly after capturing Caernarfon Castle
On the third day, some of us branched out a little with our morning adventures. Wonderful as the lake was, it was time to get out to Caernarfon whereby myself, Liz and Victor would put into practice the castle storming practice I deliberately hadn’t mentioned thus far as, aided by butterflies on the wheels of our chosen chariot, we achieved wondrous views, purchased plush dragons and pulled the odd superhero pose. The weather went on a glorious run of sunshine and so altered the landscape of the lake once more as we enjoyed scones whichever way we chose to decorate and on this night of the full moon, went on the hunt for the infamous Were-Squirrel. Sure, we’d love to have bagged photos of Nessie in a different location, but on this night, this became our quest.
Our Wednesday AGM saw many momentous things occur, not least our illustrious committee surviving for another term but new posts being created as well. The following day found some productive marketing conversation about all of our works in their various stages as well as the last round of crits, which our exhausted yet plucky adventurers survived! Our reward was a trip to Criccieth on the Friday whereby we made full use of our expert Welsh Medieval castle guide, Kari, and gained a tour of the castle in question, as well as questioning a small boy spy and in some cases, installing ourselves as the ruler by right.
Kari and Sam: Titanic at Criccieth Castle
Trivial stuff aside, we also utilised the time properly to shoot photos for the hottest album of the year, various movie trailers including a version of Titanic we’re pretty sure you don’t need to see, and the Braveheart spinoff – ‘Longshanks’. After that, we went to Dylans, a lovely restaurant by the sea, and enjoyed various fine lunches between us. Mostly mussels, but not always. Finally, a wander through the town which gained us trinkets and wool as per our individual needs.
And just as quickly as we had made our way there, Saturday came around and saw us all making our way out of the delightful week at Trigonos and on our various destinations out of our quiet little spot away from the rest of the world. On this day, Mark joined me for my little ritual walk and we said goodbye via the not-so-secret Secret Garden. You can see us bursary types, myself and Tania, perched on the wall by the river as we said goodbye to the place for now.
Mbozi (Tania) Haimbe and Russell Smith
Speaking of such, you know Tania and I were the recipients of the 2019 Milford Bursary for Writers of Colour, right? No? Okay – well thanks to a bunch of people strongly suggesting that I might apply for it, and the results being successful, I had my entire time at the conference covered as well as full-board accommodation for the week. This meant I could get there at all, for a start.
I hope it has been abundantly clear that I personally found the experience not only highly enjoyable, but also utterly valuable when it came to going forward with the work in progress I took along. I had some exceptional encouragement and every one of the crits I got back will aid me greatly in some way with the next stage. When you have folk like that urging you along, you know you’re going to be just fine. Better than fine. I can’t speak for Tania as to her time at the retreat, but I can certainly tell you her work in progress is going to be quite something when it’s finished. If you are eligible and thinking about applying, honestly, do it.
I’m missing the place greatly already, that peaceful clanking of writer’s bottles and speak of adventures too numerous to mention in here, but I can tell you now the June writing retreat back to Trigonos can’t come around too soon in many ways. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to visit such a wonderful place and can’t recommend my time there enough. I certainly intend to be back.
This has been Russell Smith on the Milford Report, signing off.
The whole Milford 2019 group L to R: Steph Bianchini, Sue Oke, Mark Bilsborough, Mbozi (Tania) Haimbe, Russell Smith, Terry Jackman, Tiffani Angus, Sam Tovey, Tina Anghelatos, Kari Sperring, Jacey Bedford, Powder Thompson, Liz Williams, Victor Ocampo, and Pauline Dungate.