The Egg Timer of Science Fiction

Milford TimerThat egg timer in the picture has some history.  I am its new keeper.

I’ve been to the Milford SF conference three times now. Every time was different, every time I  learned new things about being a better writer. Every time was fun, hard work, and in the company of an interesting and varied group of people.

This year I left Milford as the new chair of the committee. When I told Gaie she said, ‘So being a Clarke Award judge wasn’t enough for you?’ It made me think, and my internal answer was ‘Kind of not, no.’

Milford is hugely useful in less immediately obvious ways. My SF novel, Shopocalypse, might never have been published without Milford, because I met someone there who introduced me to someone else. If you’re a genre writer I really recommend you try to go at least once*. This is what you’ll get: fifteen writers, one week, a whole lot of reading, critiquing, and conversation.

The first time I went it was pretty scary – there were WRITERS there. They had AGENTS and had been PUBLISHED. By PUBLISHERS. I soon discovered they were pretty normal really.  The second time was different, I knew the ropes, I learned different things. I came away re-energised, just like the first time. The third time, a couple of weeks ago was the same, and it was different again – I learned more new things, and got some great advice. And I realised something else too  – It felt a bit like coming home.

I’ve been to my fair share of conventions but I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider. I’ve never felt excluded but I also never really felt like I was really part of the thing itself.  Maybe it’s my version of imposter syndrome, maybe it’s because Milford is smaller, maybe I just like hanging out with other writers. So when I heard Sue Thomason was stepping down after several years as Chair, I thought I could take that on and help contribute to running Milford.  Thanks for being such a good Chair, Sue, I’ll do my absolute best to be the same. So, I am a chair, but according to some philosophers chairs don’t even exist. Others say nobody actually knows what a chair is. If I find out I’ll let you know.

We’ve got some plans to do more at Milford over the next couple of years, ideas for some extra events around the country. Longer term, maybe even extending to two full Milfords a year if there are the numbers.  And of course there’s the Milford bursary**. Check out the web site for details, sign up to the blog, or keep an eye out on Twitter. See the end of this post for more details.

SO, that egg timer… At Milford everyone gets three to four minutes to deliver their crit. These days we time people with a mobile phone, but back at the first UK Milford in 1972 it was an egg timer. That’s the one in the picture, and it’s in front of me on the table now.  It’s interesting to hold it and think about all the people who have been timed by that egg timer. In no particular order they include:

James Blish, Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin, John Brunner, Liz Williams, Christopher Priest, Anne McCaffrey, Brian Aldiss, Alastair Reynolds, Samuel Delaney, Jacey Bedford, Robert Holdstock, Gary Kilworth, Kari Sperring, John Clute, Jaine Fenn, Geoff Ryman, Diane Wynn Jones, Colin Harvey, Gaie Sebold, Colin Greenland, Charles Stross, Bruce Sterling, Cheryth Baldry, Paul Kincaid, Mary Gentle, Maxim Jakubowski…

The wood glass and salt of that egg timer must be imbued with some kind of SFnal talent vibe by now. If I’m lucky some of it will rub off. If not, the next Milford I go to, in 2018, will help do the job. Maybe see you there.

~

* Going to Milford – All you need to know

** The Milford Bursary is a fully-funded bursary for self-identifying science fiction/fantasy writers of colour, i.e. of black or minority ethnicity

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