2nd Live Blog – Milford 2018

Jacey Bedford

It’s Wednesday morning. The sun has come out for five minutes but the south wind is still blowing a hooligan. It’s been a very wild week in Wild Welsh Wales so far, but other than venturing between our accommodations and the main meeting room where our crit session is held, we don’t actually need to be out in it. Though, of course, braving the elements is an optional extra to the Milford week. If you’ve been hunched over your laptop all morning, it’s nice to let the weather blow the cobwebs away.

VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200

I nipped into Pennygroes (the next village) this morning and stopped to take a photo of the view up the Nantlle Valley. Compare and contrast this year’s from last year’s photo taken from the same spot.

Here’s 2018…

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And 2017. That’s Mount Snowdon in the distance. It’s head shouded if fluffy white clouds, but at least you can see it.

Nantlle Valley sm

We have another afternoon of critiquing ahead, four more stories. Then tonight, after dinner, it’s the Milford AGM, when committee members are elected (or re-elected) and we get through a lot of admin. We’ve just had some really good news about bursary funding (for writers of colour). Applications are open now for 2019 and we’ve just had a donation to cover 2020. I can’t tell you more until after the AGM.

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Live Blog from Milford 2018

Jacey Bedford

It’s my turn first because I look after this blog.

We all arrived at Trigonos on Saturday, ready to start critiquing on Sunday. We are fifteen. We’ve all sent in our pieces for critique in advance and now, on Tuesday, we’re suddenly halfway through the workload. I’m not quite sure how that happened.

We have a tradition of taking phrases from critiques out of context–because we can.

“I’m left alone in a dark room with three women, two of whom are naked, two of whom are dead, and I don’t know why.” – Dave Gullen

“You don’t stop in the middle of a battle to editorialise. ‘Oh, I remember when–‘ THWACK!” – Juliet McKenna.

“I think the Zealots got a bit too zeloty.” Anthony Francis.

“If you’re going to give the women male names, I’d like you to call Phillips Petunia.” – Liz Williams

Jim Anderson

We’ve passed the half way point and it’s another spectacular week with the Milford crew.  One of the things I find most interesting about the experience is getting the first hand reports and commentary from readers who’ve something very different than the piece the author intended, and we’ve had a bit of that.  And it just reminds me, when we read, we bring with ourselves the whole of our previous experience, and authors bring with them their entire experience, and it’s always a fascinating mix.

It’s wonderful getting to know people, some of whose names I’ve heard before and some of whom I look forward to reading more from in years to come.  And my reading list between now and the end of the year has many new names on it, both those I’m working with this week and also the people they’re suggesting as the people I really really should read.  All most excellent.

Liz Williams

Milford is currently defaulting to Welsh Standard Rain: heavy and nocturnal. It’s great to lie awake at night, as if one were on the prow of a great ship, listening to the gale roaring in the trees but one also starts calculating the height of trees + wind direction + distance to the house… some us ventured out this morning to the usual walk at Rhyd Ddu through the forest, which was not possible on this occasion as there were fir trees down across the path. More weather expected for this evening with the advent of the season’s second named storms. We’re staying in! We have books and we have wine.

Gaie Sebold

Ah, the company of writers.  Dinner conversation involved an exchange of martial arts anecdotes, followed by Narrowly Avoided Death By Road Traffic anecdotes, and now, comfortably ensconced in the library with wine, we are onto Weird,  Poisonous and Otherwise Scary Animals We Have Met.  I have now discovered the existence of many many really unpleasant things that David Attenborough never told me about.  (Seriously if you want to invent weird creatures, just look at what we’ve already got on this planet).  Wales is comparatively unscary in this respect, apart from apparently they have ticks that drop on you from trees.  Yick.  I am having a great time.

 

 

 

 

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Much Ado About Not So Much by Madeleine Robins

Like a goodly number of my friends and colleagues, I went to the Worldcon in San Jose in August. How could I not? It’s literally just down the road from me. Plus, chance to see all sorts of people I don’t see nearly often enough–writers, readers, fans, people I have known for an unflattering number of years.

A few days before the convention I started hearing odd things. Like “Don’t Worry We’re Hiring Extra Security” type odd things. I, being blessedly deaf to most scandals and brouhaha, had missed out on this new wrinkle in a several-years-old brangle. A wing of SF writer/fandom has been objecting to SF and fantasy that features women, LGBTQ folk, and persons of color. These folk believe that they–white, male, straight–are the Default Setting, and our genre is being ruined by these forays into the Other. Some of these folk attempted to establish a beachhead and die on it, and take the Hugo Award with them. To that end there was an attempt a few years ago to stack the deck of the awards, which was thwarted (the announcements of No Award garnered louder and louder applause as the evening went on). Then the rules were changed to make this sort of tampering harder to do.

I had thought (see above, blessedly clueless etc.) that this particular wrinkle was ironing itself out. Yes, even in this contentious age. I was naive. This year a writer was banned from attending the convention after he thoughtfully served notice that he intended to come to the convention and break the Code of Conduct, specifically by filming people whether or not they consented to be filmed. Apparently in order to establish how discriminated-against he was. The Convention Committee, bound to take this seriously, offered to refund his money if he could not conform to the Code. Me, I find this totally reasonable.

Someone who gets into rumbles on line and talks about wearing a body-cam into a SFWA meeting (presumably so he can film… what? The treasurer’s report? I’ve been to SFWA meetings, plenty of them, and they are rarely hotbeds of conspiracy. And usually they run out of coffee and danish before I get there) is not likely to go quietly, and The Guy did not. He attempted to gin up a protest on Saturday afternoon, posting an announcement on Facebook in the hope that oppressed Millions would converge on the convention center to make their wrath known.

Then Antifa* apparently said they’d be there to stage a counter protest. Why can’t we all just get along?

Such warnings have to be taken seriously, on the off chance that something really nasty happens. So the convention paid what I assume is a healthy amount of money for a heavy security presence (it paid off on Friday, when The Guy apparently came to the convention and was escorted out), and the city of San Jose spent what I assume is a healthy amount of money for police–in full riot gear on a hot, sunny day–stationed outside the convention center.

SJCC-plazaThe photo shows the plaza of the San Jose Convention Center. Even when the assembled hordes of the right and left were there (fittingly, on the right and left respectively), it was almost as empty as it appears in the photo. About twenty souls on each side, separated by about 100 feet and many barriers. I should note that the instigator of the whole shebang did not come, announcing publicly that his son was ill (in which case props for him staying home and being a good Dad), but possibly going sailing instead. What if we gave a riot and nobody came?

That evening the Hugos were awarded. Quite reasonably, because she’s a phenomenal writer who wrote a brilliant novel, Nora Jemisin won the Best Novel award. The fact that the other winners of writing awards were women is because they wrote what the voters most admired. (I now have a huge number of new things to read and new authors to research; I particularly want to read the story by Rebecca Roanhorse which won the Best Short Story Hugo. Roanhorse–who is half black and half indigenous–also took the John W. Campbell award for best new writer. (Anyone who is familiar with who Campbell was will appreciate the delicious irony of this.)

So, Worldcon: I got to eat meals or have a drink with almost everyone I wanted to see. I did a panel and an autographing and have a new list of a couple of dozen books I need to read, like, right now. Worldcon celebrated SF and fantasy in the myriad ways that it can be celebrated. In other words, Worldcon did exactly what it was meant to do, and everyone went on with their lives. Even, I assume, The Guy.

 

* Antifa, for those not current on the niceties of US political movements, is a freeform movement of militant “anti-fascist” groups who work via “direct action” (which sometimes looks a lot like violence) in reaction to aggressive right-wing protestors.

 

Madeleine Robins head shotMadeleine Robins has been a nanny, an administrator, an actor, and a swordswoman;  trafficked book production, edited comics, and repaired hurt books.  She’s also the author of the dark urban fantasy  The Stone War, three alternate-Regency-noir mysteries — Point of  Honour,  Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner;  and Sold for Endless Rue, a retelling of Rapunzel set in the medieval medical school in Salerno, Italy.  She is a founding member of the Book View Cafe.  An unregenerate New Yorker, she now lives in San Francisco , where she manages the American Bookbinders Museum, bakes cakes, and is a slave to the dog.

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FUNDED PLACES FOR SF WRITERS OF COLOUR TO ATTEND MILFORD 2019

Due to the generosity of the committee of the 2012 and 2018 Eastercons, and an anonymous (writer) donor, Milford SF Writers’ Conference is offering two bursaries for self-identifying science fiction/fantasy writers of colour (BAME)  to attend the 2019 Milford SF Writers’ Conference in the UK which takes place from 14th to 21st September. The location is Trigonos, Nantlle, North Wales (9 miles south of Caernarfon).

107In 2017, our bursary recipients were Suyi Davies Okungbowa, from Lagos, Nigeria (pictured above) and Dolly Garland from London, UK. In 2018 our recipients are Nisi Shawl from the USA and Rochita Loenen Ruiz from the Philipines, currently resident in the Netherlands.

Applications for the two 2019 places are now open. They close on 28th February 2019. Successful applicants will be notified in March 2019 and must confirm acceptance or decline within a week of notification.

Writers from all over the world (far and near) are invited to apply as long as they write in English and are ‘Milford qualified’ (i.e at least one SF story sale to a recognised publication).

Each bursary will cover the cost of the conference fee and full board accommodation (i.e. room and all meals). The bursary value is approximately £650. The bursary does not cover the cost of transport to or from the conference from either inside or outside the UK. Should a successful applicant be unable to take up the offer of a bursary, there is no cash value, and no guarantee that we will be able to offer a bursary in a future year.

This is intended to be an encouragement and not a quota. We have a limited number of bursaries available, however we operate an equal opportunities policy so all SF/F writers who are ‘Milford qualified’ are welcome to apply for the full-price Milford SF Writers’ Conference places, subject to availability.

Thank you to all previous applicants. If you have applied unsuccessfully in the past, you are welcome to apply again. For an applcation form or if you have any questions, please contact the Milford secretary.

If you are interested in helping to fund our bursary programme for future years, please talk to us.

Milford secretary: jacey@jaceybedford.co.uk.

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Mining Experience by Jim Anderson

PapersIn what I can only describe as a courageous decision, I spent part of a recent weekend cleaning out the drawer of half finished projects. Perhaps it was the sun. And there were more than I remembered there being. So one of the things this cleaning out has inspired me to do is to see how many of them I can convert from half finished to finished by the end of the year.

But one of the stories I found is one that I haven’t yet persuaded myself to go back to, because of how uncomfortable I felt putting it down on paper in the first place and how uncomfortable it made me when I went back and reread it. Interestingly, I hadn’t remembered all of the details and if anything, I found myself more uncomfortable reading through it, than I remember myself being when writing it.

It’s a very strange experience, being that uncomfortable with something I pulled out of my own imagination. And I know that readers recognize the difference between what a writer can pull from their imagination and what that writer believes, and for this particularly story, I suspect I’ll get over this hurdle inside my head more quickly than I currently think is possible  And then I’ll realize I got all het up for nothing.

This contrasts with a different recent experience, where I had to stop half way through drafting a story because I’d tapped into something remarkably personal. To be fair, I wasn’t surprised, given what I was writing about and the experience I was mining. We’ll see how the revision goes for that one.

And now I’m curious, because I’ve heard it said that one should never confide in a writer, because that story or anecdote might well appear somewhere in that writer’s work. But I’ve never had that conversation with another writer, about the extent to which they mine their own experiences and the experiences of those people they know.

Clearly for some of what we write, faster than light drives and Gandalf and all, we’re probably more in the realm of imagination than experience, however much we might bring things we know into the stories. (Though we can always wonder otherwise.) But our characters react, and they find themselves in locales and situations, and so how much of this do we consciously mine from our own experience? Perhaps come Milford in September, we’ll sit around the fire and this will be the topic of conversation for the evening.

 

jim_andersonJim Anderson (on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com) 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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Getcha luvverly ideas here! By Ben Jeapes

You know you’ve made it as an author when you’re asked the time-honoured question, “where do you get your ideas from?” There are various time-honoured responses, but Neil Gaiman in the link nails it.

In our recent house move I unearthed a very old notebook from the time when ideas just kept popping into my head. Some even made it through in recognisable form to publication. Most got no further than the notebook. The last of them is dated 3-5-93, and as I started writing His Majesty’s Starship in Christmas 1993, that means everything here predates my career as a novelist.

I will probably never do anything more with them and it would be cruel to consign them to my bedside drawer for another 23+ years, so, boys and girls and other, please feel free to pinch with my blessing.

Professional killer of immortals (e.g. people à la Icehenge, who are bored of living forever).

Children born/bred in hyperspace as result of experiment to develop concepts for hyperspace travel – can’t cope with (or pose a threat to) men who come to rescue them. BRING IN MEMES & MIMETICS – hostile ideas and items picked up by children.

Accounts/investment manager for bloke who has deposited money and gone on a long space trip – plans to return & collect pooled-up interest. [I can’t claim credit for this, but this is similar to the origin of the AI Jane in Orson Scott Card’s Enderverse – a super-intelligent program develop to deal with the complexities of investments and index-linked pensions in a universe with time distorting relativistic travel.]

Christian minister in e.g. yuppy tower block – wins (e.g. against ambience of the buildings) through love. MAKE IT A STARSHIP? [“Giantkiller”, Interzone 89 (November 1994), available in Jeapes Japes.]

AI sets up own publishing co. Describe getting ISBNs, first bestseller etc. Survives takeover bid and ends up “X & Son” (X being its name.) [My first Interzone sale! “Memoirs of a Publisher”, Interzone 43 (January 1991), available in Jeapes Japes.]

Boy at boarding school comes from the future … 3 or 4 years in the future is all. Some kind of time swap? No one believes him until at the end when his 13 year old self reappears. [I was on a roll. My one and only sale to Fantasy & Science Fiction (September 1997): “Pages Out of Order”, available in Jeapes Japes.]

Ben's notebook‘Rights broker’ for different classes of being (e.g. human with genetic upgrades) – rights (to live, to work etc.) are treated as commodities.

Christian sets out to evangelise parallel worlds – maybe causes the Fall in one?

Village (à la Prisoner?) where people go to disappear – get absorbed into the timestream that suits them. Detective story? Fantasy?

Elite band of actors who can act anything (à la Songbirds of OS Card). Hero is ‘foreign to his own body’ (Oliver Sacks, Michael Flynn) and a great actor. Poss. setting – post-holocaust Europe (biological holocaust, not nuclear. Nanotech?).

Prayer book is in fact spell book in disguise. Belongs to young Salvation Army bloke? Ends up as poetry book? Baddy must also be disguised. [Hmm. Not dissimilar to an idea that ended up in The Comeback of the King.]

Child’s collection of cuddly toys have lives of their own. Eventually we learn it is the child’s subconscious psychokinetic powers moving them (poss. when he dies and they collapse?) Maybe they gang up on him to stop him growing up. Maybe an older brother went through the same thing. [“Getting rid of Teddy”, Interzone 76 (October 1993), available in Jeapes Japes.]

Spaceship with different groups of people on it, poss. fleeing something. (At least one group is Cosmochristers?) Detect something near them (à la Liberator at start of Blake’s 7). What is it? Each group has its expectations – all; are satisfied simultaneously à la Schrodinger when the ship is finally revealed visually. Say, ship has been hijacked by nutters who expect, say, God to come and rescue them and think the UFO is his vehicle. Crew think it’s a battleship come to rescue them. Poss. a third alternative? At the last moment, the head religious nutter vanishes.

Treatment for mental cases – brains are wiped and a copy of their minds inserted, minus the madness therefore they remember being mad.

Time travelling reporters sent back to cover historical incidents (or history in general) – have to ‘live’ back to the present. Poss. one meets his family as children? (Or his wife’s family.) [“Correspondents”, Aboriginal SF, Summer 1998, available in Jeapes Japes.]

Society where bonfire burners are members of an elite – poss. parallel with oppressive religion. Hero fights them.

Journalist investigates someone who was a key influence in the lives of 3-4 different, important people. X knew them at school, at university etc. but is totally unremarkable him/herself. He/she is a gear in the mechanism of society. Perhaps bring in butterfly effect etc. in social terms.

Correspondent gets himself imprisoned on a life sentence – the Home Time will have to get him out, or people will see him not ageing (at least, that’s his plan). [Definitely incorporated into Time’s Chariot.]

Time travel agency brings people to pre-AIDS times in order to get laid safely. Have to work out why they don’t pass on infection.

Man looks after ‘teenage’ (problem?) AIs which can’t be erased – one gets a crush on him. [“Crush”, Interzone 68 (February 1993), available in Jeapes Japes.]

Youngster yearns to be a feelie-star (or whatever) – can’t break into it. His hero got into feelies when they started. Youngster works out that he is the star, time-travelled. MAYBE youngster grows up and matures. Sends tachyon signal (à la Timescape) back containing info to clone him from.

FTL has been invented recently. Someone works out that in C20 a Rama-type ship passed through the system undetected. It broadcast signals (e.g. the chaos number from Ian Stewart’s book) that have only recently been recognised as important. They were dismissed as static or whatever beforehand. Now we have FTL, we can go after this thing!!

Time travel – son takes his crippled Dad, who was a great sailor, on a C19 sailing ship as a treat.

Time travel – mother whose son has been taken away by social services for child abuse (real or imagined) is visited by the grown-up son.

First contact between invisible, mass-sensing aliens and humans, who can’t see them.

Scam – for some reason, guy pretends to be an AI.

Old-fashioned, clunking AI is found which can only communicate by icons, not sound.

Courtroom drama – a time traveller hops to and fro in time to create the required precedents to win a case in the present.

In SF, Earthmen make contact with less-developed aliens but still seem to deal with a worldwide society. In reality they would be dealing with one government amongst many. How about an alternate world where aliens deal with one country on Earth – a couple of centuries ago? E.g. America, 1776? Germany, 1914? [It turned out to be Cromwell’s England in 1645, in The New World Order.]

Man crashed on a far-off planet has to work out how to program ship’s computer to get back into space.

Man followed everywhere by ghost of 2-year-old toddler son (or not a ghost – he doesn’t have a son! Left over from temporal realignment …)

Aspects of a real person’s life are recorded in VR for other to experience. The real person (e.g. the Queen) doesn’t like it.

A time-travelling Red Cross, careful not to disrupt history but bringing relief to the wounded of historical battles.

bjeapes01

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 7 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His first Milford was at Margate in 1991, which shows (a) how far Milford has come in the past 26 years and (b) qualifies him as a Great Old One, in Milford terms at least. www.benjeapes.com

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Fantasy and Historical Perspective by Sandra Unerman

‘There is nothing like looking if you want to find something…’ but what you find is not always quite the something you were after. So says the narrator of The Hobbit when the dwarves go looking for shelter from a storm in the mountains. On the other hand, when writers look back into the past, what they find is likely to depend on what they are looking for.

Ghosts & ExilesMy newly published novel, Ghosts and Exiles, is set in the 1930s but was written in the 2010s. I’ve tried to avoid obvious anachronisms, because they would throw the reader out of the story. But my interests are those of the 21st century and that’s bound to be reflected in what I write. In this novel, a family and their friends must deal with a haunting and with the intrusion of magic, which partly results from the events of my earlier book, Spellhaven. That novel is set during and after the Great War, because it reflects the upheaval in European civilisation during that period. Ghosts and Exiles moves forward to London the 1930s to explore how the exiles from Spellhaven and their descendants cope with the changes in their lives.

SpellhavenAs I thought about the 1930s, I found plenty to interest me. Women were breaking out of their traditional roles then but not without a struggle; people were still dealing with the aftermath of the First World War and were afraid a new one was coming. Refugees who came to London, mostly from Europe, had to come to terms with great changes in their lives, while the English countryside and English country life could no longer be taken by granted as people thought they should be.

These were some of the issues that were written about in the 1930s themselves. My perspective on them, however, is bound to be different. I’m conscious, for example, that religion and class are not important concerns for any of my characters. I can justify this because of the particular backgrounds I have given them but it is far from typical of daily life as most people experienced it then. There are bound to be other distortions and angles, less easy for me to spot, which would speak to a reader from the future about the time the book is written rather than the time in which it is set.

Lit his of SF LuckhurstI’ve been thinking about this, because I’ve been reading A Literary History of Science Fiction, edited by Roger Luckhurst (British Library 2017). This survey of the genre from its origins up to the 21st century relates different works to the social and political context in which they were written. Of course, fantasy as a genre might be expected to be less concerned with the preoccupations of the present. It has been criticised as conservative and backward looking. But I would argue that it’s just as possible to imagine alternative ways of living or to explore human experience creatively in fantasy as in science fiction. A historical fantasy doesn’t have to involve nostalgia for the past. Frances Hardinge’s latest novel A Skinful of Shadows, is not romantic about either the Cavaliers or the Roundheads of the English Civil War. She focuses, as she often does, on the possibility of change for her characters and for society, rather than a restoration of the old order. Her approach evokes her chosen period through the way her characters think and behave as well as physical details. But all the same, she writes from a 21st century perspective in her focus on a rebellious young girl and in her portrayal of the destruction and disillusion brought about by the war.

I don’t think this is a drawback: a novel which tried to avoid the concerns of today would probably not be worth reading. It means that a historical fantasy, if done well, engages the reader on two levels. It evokes an imaginary past but through that past, has something to say about the kind of people we are and the way we live our lives now.

 

sandra-unermanSandra Unerman’s several visits to Milford have given a real boost to her writing. She is a retired Government lawyer who lives in London. Her novel, Spellhaven was nominated for the 2018 Crawford award from the IAFA. Her latest novel is Ghosts and Exiles and she has had a number of short stories published. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Middlesex University and she is a member of London Clockhouse Writers.

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