Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Live from Milford SF Writer's Conference!

This year, I swore that I'd write a live personal blog from Milford SF Writer's conference at Trigonos, Snowdonia, Wales, and here it is. Forgive the old pic: I can't get Blogspot to access my photo album on this iPad, and if you want to see some new ones, check my Twitter feed.

This year, as usual, we've got a good crowd. It is always pleasant to see old friends, and also to make the acquaintance of new ones. This year, there are two recipients of a Writers of Colour Bursary present, and they're not only charming people but also extremely good writers. Generally speaking, actually, the story quality has been extremely high this year.

In some ways, I feel rather fortunate actually being here at all. Gremlins seemed to be working full time, prior to arrival. The day before I left, my car developed a fault, which meant that I had to take it into the garage. The cat was very cross with me for leaving her at kennels.

Then, on the journey, the trains were delayed, meaning that connections were missed.

Fortunately, I met up with a fellow Milford attendee, T, at Birmingham, and we were able to rearrange group taxi rides at the other end. We arrived at Bangor only an hour later or so than we had originally planned.

We used the time stuck on trains and platforms to catch up and to have discussions about contemporary SF. I think that we both feel that a portion of current SF seems stuck in the past, whilst the 21st century unfolds about us. One particular unfolding was especially concerning T: family had evacuated their homes due to Hurricane Irma, which was raging as we travelled. It's hard to believe in techno-utopias when it's obvious that we've fouled our own nest.

Milford is held annually at a teaching centre in Snowdonia called Trigonos, which is a very chilled out environment where you're fed extremely well. There's a largish lake at the bottom of the garden and you can see Snowdon on the rare clear days. It is also apparently, the site of one of the stories in the Mabinogion and certainly feels like fairyland at times.

The format at Milford is that the mornings are free and the afternoons are devoted to critiquing. This is a good thing because as usual, I'm behind in my note-writing.

I've decided that I'm quite right-brained (holistic, overviewy) in my critiques: I tend to see the stories as a whole, and neglect details that other critters will pick up on. Those other critters seem to have the opposite tendency: small details get latched upon whilst the whole tends to be neglected. Both styles, of course, can be useful to a writer being critted. I hope!

I mentioned this theory at breakfast, and someone commented that the left brain-right brain thing had been exploded. Actually, the whole question has recently been re examined in a fascinating book by Iain McGilchrist called 'The Master and His Emmisary.' The general idea is that the two hemispheres give us the capacity to attend upon the world in two ways. The first mode of attention is geared towards manipulation, and to breaking up the world into comprehensible pieces. The second is concerned with detecting general changes in the environment and so is more holistic.

The upshot is that the world is presented to us in two ways, which can coincide but also contradict. McGilchrist suggests that it's best when the two sides of ourselves are made to work together, and that things tend to go wrong when one side dominates over the other. In fiction writing terms, I think we need both modes: the holistic mode for creation and a view of the rounded whole of the work, and the more analytical side to work through plots and problems.

Anyway, so far it's been fun if a bit exhausting. It's also chucked it down with rain; I've already fallen on my arse at least once. However, it is beautiful and very peaceful here. If Samye ling's my own personal Shangri-La, Milford's probably Arcadia. Or maybe Annwyn!

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