Beware, there be spoilers: Slaughterhouse 5, by Jim Anderson

Reprinted from Jim Anderson’s Multijimbo blog of 4th August 2018.

Slaughterhouse 5This might be Vonnegut’s most famous novel, the story of Billy Pilgrim.  Billy, like Vonnegut himself was, is an American soldier in World War 2 who survives the fire bombing of Dresden.

And it contains a lot more.  Billy starts traveling through time, bouncing back and forth to different points in his own life, his own time stream.  The aliens from Tralfamadore make an appearance.

And we start encountering other characters that we’d already met in earlier novels, and it is this aspect of Vonnegut’s art that I want to talk about.  We encounter Rumfoord, who we met earlier in The Sirens of Titan.  We spend more time with Kilgore Trout, the underappreciated science fiction writer whose work we’d read about in other novels.

And there are others – this isn’t intended to be an academic treatise and so I don’t feel the need to give a complete list.


Kurt Vonnegut

I’m sure that someone has gone through and done a detailed analysis of which characters appear or are mentioned in more than one of Vonnegut’s stories and novels, and has done the analysis of the extent to which Vonnegut’s world is internally consistent.

I should say that I don’t really care how internally consistent his world is.  I’m curious, but we have gotten used to long form stories set in internally inconsistent worlds, the Simpsons being a famous example.

I like Kilgore Trout’s ideas and titles, and it appears that I’m not the only one.  A quick run to reveals that Philip Jose Farmer wrote a novel under the pseudonym Kilgore Trout back in the 1970s, and there are others making (less appropriate) use of the name more recently.

I like these connections that Vonnegut makes between his novels through the characters, and I’m curious to see the extent to which he continues this as I continue on in my reading.


jim_andersonJim Anderson (available on-line at is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.

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Rochita Loenen Ruiz Talks About the Milford Bursary for Writers of Colour

Each year, finances permitting, Milford invites writers of colour to apply for one of the two available bursary places. In 2017, our first bursary year, our writers were Suyi Davies Okungbowa (Nigeria) and Dolly Garland (UK). In our second year our bursary recipients were Nisi Shawl (USA) and Rochita Loenen Ruiz, a Filipina writer based in the Netherlands. We welcome applications from writers of colour from anywhere in the world. The only stipulation is that the writer has to have sold at least one speculative fiction short story to a recognised market, and they have to write in English. For details and application forms, take a look here. The bursary covers the cost of Milford and full accommodation and meals (though not transport to and from). We would love to hear from anyone out there interested in offering funding. You can see below, how much getting a bursary for Milford means.

Here is Rochita’s take on Milford 2018.

Rochita cropI had given up on writing.

Or at least I thought I had.

I lost my husband in 2015. After that, I lost my sister. In the same year that I lost my sister, I lost my father.

Each of these losses came at a moment when I thought to myself, let me pick up the pen and write again.

After a while, the losses overshadowed my desire to write. I looked at the words and they made no sense.

Well, I said to myself. I suppose this means writing has left me.

And I thought I should do my best to be happy without writing. And for a while, I really thought I was happy without the writing. Except I really wasn’t.

Every once in a while, I would go back to the written work. I would write. Run out of energy. Sink into despair.

‘There’s no point in courting the muse, when she’s not ready to be courted,’ is what I told myself.

So, when the email came from Jacey Bedford telling me that there had been a unanimous vote to offer me a bursary for the Milford writers workshop. I did not know how to answer. Could I go when I felt like the world’s shittiest writer?

How would I manage that? How could I possibly leave my children and go away for a week?

I thought of my sister and the conversation we had before we parted ways that final time.

‘You must write,’ she said. ‘If you stop writing, I’ll never talk to you again.’

The funny thing is how a good friend repeated those same words to me.

‘Go,’ she said. ‘You must go or I won’t speak to you again.’

The thing about receiving a bursary when you are lost in the wasteland is how it becomes a beacon in the darkness. For the first time in a long time, I began to hope.

As the days passed and as Milford took on a more solid form inside my head. The urge to write and to write more and to write something that meant something to me began to grow.

I then decided to let go of all my previous plans for what I should write and simply write as a way of reaching out to my sister.

I wrote a lot of words that ended up getting discarded, but I was writing almost everyday.

Nantlle Valley smThen, on a visit to the mountains, I felt my sister’s presence. I remembered how I used to be terrified of tumbling down the side of the mountain and of how I wouldn’t go down the mountainside to school if she didn’t come back up and hold my hand. Even when she was exasperated, she would climb back up to where I was, reach out her hand and take hold of mine. The memory of that moment is distilled in the novel excerpt I submitted to Milford.

Milford stays with me as a moment of brightness.  I learned from the work of my fellow writers, and I learned from the way they looked at the various works offered for criticque. 

More than the writing and the reading of the work and more than the getting to know other writers, I have become more convinced that there are more of us who would rather build bridges than walls. There is a grace in creating space where conversations and dialogues are possible without the harsh stridency we see in the world today.

I am very thankful to everyone who made my Milford week possible. I am thankful for the generosity and kindness of those who voted for me as one of the bursary recipients for 2018 and I am thankful for the individuals who made and who continue to make the bursary possible for the coming years.

On my second day in Wales, Liz Williams and Kari Sperring took me for a drive to the beach at Trefor. We walked and we talked, and on the way back we were gifted with the sight of a double rainbow stretching out over the waters. We stopped to take pictures and as we stood there, I felt very blessed. I was with beloved friends and I was writing again.

I wrote more than 10,000 words while I was at Milford and came home with close to a quarter of a novel.

I am writing still.


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Writing as Drawing by David Gullen

We all have our ways of doing things. When I’m plotting out a novel or a longer story I always start with pen and paper. I like to use my favourite fountain pen, and quartered sheets of A4.  I do something similar with a short story too, though I’ll probably just write down a few key things that anchor it. I’ll always use pen and paper.

DSCN4169There’s something about the process that works well for me, though I don’t know why. All I can say is there’s a connection between mind and eye and hand so they feel like three parts of one thing. Pen and paper stimulates and focusses my imagination and lets the ideas flow ­– though not in any order. I’ll brainstorm everything in a few sessions, one plot point, or scene, or character, or piece of dialogue per piece of paper.  I’ve found this much more useful than using a notebook because later on I can arrange and re-arrange the bits of paper into groups and piles – a structure starts to emerge.

At some point I’ll read through the stack of notes and off I’ll go again with more ideas, more bits of paper, and at least one recharge of the pen with fresh ink.

Back in June we were on what turned out to be a brilliant, happy, productive and relaxing two weeks in Cornwall. We’d hired a 1-bed beach cottage and our days became ones of early morning writing, beach walks and ice-cream, writing, pasties for lunch or supper, sea-swims, and conversations in the evening over a bottle of wine.

Someone had left a book in the cottage:  Between the Lines, Ba (Hons) Drawing, 2018, Falmouth University. It was fascinating to see pictures of the students’ work and read the comments each of them had written about their art and inspiration, and the connections some of them found between the paper and the pencil or brush in their hand with the concepts in their mind.

There were some suggested exercises in the back of the book. One of them was titled Automatic Writing is Drawing Too.  The instructions were simple: ‘Start Writing. Don’t think about the words until you’ve filled every bit of empty space.’

It was a good exercise but the concept startled me. Writing is drawing?  I pushed against the idea then realised they were right. Drawing is a way to communicate and express ideas on paper, and what is writing if not that? Writing with pen and paper really is a kind of drawing. It was obvious, I’d just never thought about it that way.

It made me wonder if that productive link between mind and hand and pen is really because when I do it I’m not writing or drawing, I’m doing both.


gullen-dkg1-2012David Gullen was born in Africa and baptised by King Neptune He has lived in England most of his life and has been writing short and long-form science fiction and fantasy for most of that. You can read his fantasy detective novel, The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms,  on Wattpad, or his eponymous web site. He is the current Chair of the Milford SF group.


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Constraints Are Your Friends by Sue Oke

image collage writingHave you ever noticed that the more constraints you face in your writing, the more creative you become? I used to write a collage piece with a group of writers—just for fun, you understand. This involved the giving and receiving of short phrases from everyone in the group, so that you end up with perhaps six unrelated phrases to work with. If working alone, you can choose random words/phrases from the book you are currently reading. The challenge then is to write a piece that incorporates all the phrases within ten minutes. As an additional constraint pick one of the phrases to start and finish the piece with.

The key to this exercise is NOT TO THINK. Put pen to paper and let the words flow. DO NOT STOP WRITING during the ten minutes. Grammar and spelling are not important. You can write a load of nonsense, at this point it really doesn’t matter. What you are doing is flexing the creative muscle. Have a go at it. You will be surprised at what the pen creates.

Random phrases I had to work with:

  • walking in single file
  • any number divided by itself
  • one long gaze at the world
  • bring me one child
  • one won the Derby
  • one tasted such delicious pineapple in Guadalupe
  • one across and two down
  • one does not gas badgers

And here’s the piece I produced in response to the phrases (rough and ready as I wrote it):

Bring me one child. Not two walking in single file down the long road to nowhere. Not any number divided by itself. Just one. Only one. The one that won the Derby, not the one that got away. Let him or her be clear skinned and clear eyed. One long gaze at the world, seeing only beauty, not the dross that skirts our lives. Let the child taste of delicious pineapple, the sweetest in Guadalupe. Lips licked, eyes hooded, badger-like. Only one will pass these gates, marked by posters decrying war and scratched messages that plead for kindness in the world.

One does not gas badgers or foxes or small children.

This place stands as a bastion in their defence. Windows stare blankly, one across and two down, a mismatched face that watches the road. Waiting for the only one that can save us. Fringed hair plastered flat by the rain, walking slow but determined, slight fingers wrapped in yours. Trusting. Such a taste, such a sight, a vision awaited with bated breath. To wait so long, gazing at the world.

Any number of feet tramping the dust, walking single file. But not one of them will do. He or she won the day, chosen by their village, their city, their state to journey here and save both badgers and children. This is not a selfless task, we who wait have promises to keep and promises to claim. So slice the pineapple, lick the juices and tell me that it is not delicious. Eyes that have seen the world can rest here, knowing that this community will not gas the badgers. That makes us feel safe. This is the right place.

Trace a finger along the window pane, moving lines, up and down, tracing patterns, a pineapple matrix. Whisper under your breath, give me a number, any number divided by itself and I will show you a prime child, just waiting to blossom. Sun and water, light and love––all will blossom here, nurtured within crumbling walls behind dusty windows. So, I ask you one more time. No, I demand it. Bring me one child.

Off you go. Generate your own random words and phrases and work that Creative Muscle!

Sue Oke headshot colourSusan Oke worked in the UK Higher Education sector for thirteen years before surrendering to her passion for writing. She spends every minute she can spare writing and has had short stories published in anthologies, magazines and podcasts. As the Review Editor first for Vector, and now for the BSFA Review, Susan gets to read lots of books—her favourite pastime, when she isn’t writing––and edit copy (another fun job, which she genuinely enjoys!). Susan is an active member of several critiquing groups and works part-time as an English tutor. You can view her blog and read samples of her work at:

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Milford Retrospective by Jacey Bedford

I was hoping I’d have had a Milford report from one of the report volunteers, always one (or several) of the Milford newbies, but they haven’t arrived yet, so here are my impressions of Milford 2018.

Milford rainWet, wet, wet! (And that’s got nothing to do with musical bands.) The weather wasn’t particularly kind to us this year. Instead of being able to sit out on the grass to do our crits, we grabbed raincoats and/or brollies to make our merry way between the house (the Plas) and the Main Meeting Room. A short walk, but a potentially wet one. Luckily I’d bought a new raincoat just a few weeks before.

But to be honest, the weather can’t spoil Milford. It can enhance it, of course, but the real fun is in getting fifteen writers of science fiction and fantasy (and some of the genres in between) and kettling us all up together for a whole week in a venue (Trigonos) in Snowdonia, far away from anywhere, with fabulous scenery, its own lake frontage, and perfect for our purpose.

What can I say about the company of writers? We spoke about deeply serious stuff, contemplated the nature of the universe, deep philosophical questions, pictures of cats, chocolate, and also we laughed–a lot. In fact I think this was one of the fun-est funniest Milfords I’ve ever attended. We take our writing seriously, but we don’t take ourselves very seriously at all. Evenings in the library after dinner were a hoot.

Nisi cropI drove to North Wales from West Yorkshire, a journey of about three and a half hours depending on traffic. Since I pass Manchester Airport, I volunteered to pick up our two bursary writers, Nisi Shawl (top left) who flew in from Seattle, and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (bottom left), a Filipina writer now resident in the Netherlands. Our bursary scheme, begun last year, gives two writers of colour places at Milford at no cost other than the cost of their transport.

Rochita crop

We read and constructively critiqued twenty pieces of work face-to-face in the Milford style. These we delivered at the rate of four critiques per afternoon session. Each one takes about an hour to do. Everyone gets a turn to speak uninterrupted (timed), then the writer gets uninterrupted right of reply. After that we devolve into a general discussion. I’m pleased to say that no one ran away screaming, ‘But you don’t understand my genius!’

On Wednesday we had our annual AGM and elected a committee for the coming year. Unsurprisingly, since most people are reluctant to come forward, or maybe they’re just happy that someone else is doing it, we re-elected the same committee:

  • Chair – Dave Gullen
  • Secretary – Jacey Bedford
  • Vice Chair – Liz Williams
  • Treasurer – Tina Anghelatos
  • Token Egregious Male – Jim Anderson
  • Gratuitous Woman – Kari Sperring
  • USA contact – Karen Brenchley

On Thursday night, after all the crits had been completed, we discussed appropriate markets and Dave Gullen reminded us all that we should be members of ALCS, the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society. (Yes, Dave, thanks for the reminder. I’ve done it at last!)

On Friday we planned a day out, firstly to Caernarfon (the town and the castle) and then to Conwy (the town and the castle and a very nice booze shop selling local Welsh whisky and beers).

Sadly on Friday morning, Nisi received news that her mother had been taken seriously ill. Milford kindness immediately kicked in. Liz made phone calls. She couldn’t get a flight on Friday (that we could get Nisi to in time) but did manage a 6.00 a.m. flight on Saturday morning, so Liz and Trevor did an emergency run to Manchester airport so that Nisi could spend the night in an airport hotel and then catch a flight back a day earlier than planned. Rochita went along to hold Nisi’s hand. Thankfully Nisi got back home in time to say goodbye, but her mother passed shortly after. We all felt that we were losing a member of our own family. Milford is like that.



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5th Milford Live Blog

Jacey Bedford

2012-09 Carnarfon Castle wallsThe work part of Milford 2018 is over. We’ve critiqued 20 pieces (that’s five per day since Sunday, a total of close to 150,000 words). Luckily we were able to make a start on the reading in August as most participants sent their work in in good time. Friday is our final day in Wales, so we’re planning a tourist trip. We’re going to Caernarfon in the morning, and hoping to have a pub lunch at a place we’ve been to before. Some people will probably take the opportunity to visit the castle (above), others to do a little light shopping in the (small) town. Then in te afternoon we’re heading for Conwy, another castle and a very fine set of town walls. Unless the weather socks in we’ll be coming back the pretty way, through the Llanberis Pass at the foot of Mount Snowdon.

Present this week: Kari Sperring, Juliet McKenna, Jim Anderson, Liz Williams, Carl Allery, Jacey Bedford (me), Juliet Kemp, Rochita Loenen Ruiz, Gus Smith, Anthony Francis, Mihaela Perkovic, Pauline Dungate, Nisi Shawl, Dave Gullen and Gaie Sebold. Most of our participants are British, but people have come from as far away as the west coast of the USA, Croatia and the Netherlands.

It’s been a great week full of hard work and laughter. The mix of people has been perfect. No cross words, just a spirit of kind cooperation. Though no one has stinted on the critique, which has been thorough, but fair.

I’m already looking forward to next year which will be held on 14th – 21st September.

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4th Milford Live Blog

Mihaela Perkovic

I have always loved libraries, but have never, ever thought to throw a party in one. Milford did throw one or three and the Croatian mistletoe brandy might have helped. 🙂

The evenings at Milford have been so much fun: great food, and even greater after dinner conversation which has gotten progressively sillier and sillier every night. Today we had our last crit session in the afternoon and the evening at the library started rather more seriously. The discussion on markets was informative, insightful and very, very useful. I do not think I ever discussed the business aspect of anything with quite that many jokes.

Laughter in the library is an aspect of Milford I would not have imagine but I am enjoying it immensely and am quite happy to return to it right now.




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