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Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 13.38.33Great to see my short story Black Milk up at Disclaimer Magazine.

(And very pretty it looks too.)

http://www.disclaimermag.com/other-stuff/black-milk-a-tender-short-story-by-philip-a-suggars-2988

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IMG_2819I was just looking through Gardner Dozois’ Best New Science Fiction 31st Edition (published in the UK as The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 27th Edition) and nearly fell off my chair when I noticed that my story Automatic Diamanté had got an honourable mention. I’d had no idea that it had snuck into the book at all. There the title was nestling between works by Charlie Stross, Rachael Swirsky, Lavie Tidhar and Adrian Tchaikovsky. All I have to do now is make it into the actual table of contents.IMG_2820

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VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200 This was my first Milford and in fact my first face-to-face workshop. If I’m honest, I was filled with apprehension.

Even a cursory glance at the history of Milford reveals a roll call of illustrious early attendees. As an example, founder member and original attendee James Blish, wrote the wonderful Cities in Flight books, a series that was a favourite of mine as a nerdling growing up.

Similarly, this list of alumni makes it hard not to constantly reflect upon the fact that this workshop, or conference as it should more properly be called, is now over forty years old.

Given all of the above then, it gives me great pleasure to report that Milford appears to be in very rude health and shows no sign of losing its vitality as a place to talk about, critique (and if you’re lucky) write genre fiction.

The setting, a converted farmhouse and office complex nestling in the Nantlle Valley in the Snowdonia National Park, is absolutely gorgeous. Going for a stroll along the lakeside in the spare moments between reading, writing, critiquing or socialising was a relaxing and memorable experience.IMG_0754

That’s not to say that the pace of work at Milford is breakneck or stress inducing, but it certainly is intense. I usually spent my mornings reading submissions and preparing critiques. Afternoons were spent in the main office with the other attendees going over the pieces that each writer has submitted.

There were ten writers in attendance for this year’s second Milford. Some like Jacey Bedford, Liz Williams, Carl Allery, Mike Lewis and Al Robertson were old hands. A couple like Guy T Martland and Sue Oke had been at least once before, while David Allan, James Maxwell (and of course me) made up the newbie contingent.IMG_0732

The opportunity to share your work-in-progress with talented, dedicated and big-brained writers who are serious about their work is worth the price of admission alone, but add to that the fact that you all get to eat and hang out together afterwards really does make this an invaluable opportunity. (Oh and there’s regular cake. Did mention that there’s cake?)

The fiction submitted this year ran the entire gamut of genres. We had a selection of second world medievalist stories, noir-ish urban fantasy, YA doom fiction, space opera, future set science-fiction/fantasy and neo-cyber-punk and even some magical realism in there for good measure. Moreover, there was a good balance between shorter works and novel excerpts (attendees can submit up to 15,000 words split over multiple pieces or just one larger piece).

The Milford critique process is a simple one. Before arrival Liz circulates a timetable denoting when each piece will be critiqued (which allows you to plan your reading if you haven’t had the time to go through it all beforehand). During the crit itself each participant gets to speak without interruption for four minutes while the author frantically scribbles down these comments. Once everyone has had his or her turn the author gets the chance to reply.

IMG_0738Generally we critiqued three to four pieces each day this way and although there is a standing tradition at Milford that a writer whose work is in for a kicking has the blow(s) softened by the application of chocolate, no one in our group suffered this fate.

Evenings are usually spent in the library where, after a few drinks, the conversational topics are wide and varied, but always pursued in a good natured and inclusive way. On my visit discussions included: the arcane laws of Swiss toilet usage, how much guano a man has to be smeared with before he ceases to be attractive and (this being the week of the Scottish referendum) whether David Allan (who was a Scot) would have to sit at a different dinner table if his nation seceded from the union.

Occasionally, Jacey would lead a breakout team to an adjoining room to play Bananagram (think combat Scrabble). Given the name of the game, I found the absence of any fruit in play notable, although perhaps players waited until I had retired before brandishing their bananas.

We were blessed with unseasonably warm weather during my visit, so much so that it led to us running at least one critique IMG_0746session seated around the sundial on the lawn overlooking the lake, something unheard of since Milford took up residence at Trigonos in 2004. (I should also point out that despite frequent threats to do so, Guy Martland never did jump in and go for a swim – maybe next year, eh?).

The food was enjoyable and plentiful and Al Robertson and I both reflected that going home would be difficult, given that we’d have to forgo being fed every 2-3 hours.

That said, I do remember one rather avant-garde (and bright green) cheesecake that had come to us from a planet where a race of tiny humans milked giant avocados in order to make cheese. (Maybe). Despite this peculiar provenance, it was actually pretty tasty.

My only two pieces of advice for any potential attendees would be:
1) relax. The idea of the critique process is a little intimidating at first, but in practice Jacey and Liz go out of their way to make newbies feel instantly at home. Moreover, the feedback (especially about the parts of your submission that might not be working) is absolutely invaluable and motivational.
2) do as much of the reading as you can before you get there. While it’s easily possible to read through all of the submissions on site, having got through everything beforehand means you’ll be able to do some writing in a wonderfully tranquil setting. I felt for those old hands, such as Mike Lewis, who reminded me of the pre-internet days when attendees would be greeted at the door by a stack of printed manuscripts and told to get on with it.

IMG_0725Writing this now, it occurs to me that compared to our colleagues elsewhere in the world we are starved of world-class genre writing workshops here in the UK. We have no Clarions, no Taos ToolBoxes and no Viable Paradises.

Perhaps that dearth is merely a reflection of the few native, professionally paying short fiction markets here in Blighty, but if that is the case then it’s also at odds with the fact that as a relatively small nation of speculative scribblers we seem to punch well above our weight.

For all of the grit and graft of our industrial history and post-empire angst, maybe this island of ours is full of dreamers after all.

It’s a good thing then, that we have Milford.

(Anyone interested in attending future events can contact Jacey bedford via the website here.)

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20140402-071802.jpgLast month my story, “Upwards Behind the Onstreaming the Dark Silvers in the Mooness” was published by the monthly story reading 20140402-071820.jpgevent Liars’ League and performed at their “Truth and Dare” evening at the Phoenix pub, in the middle of good old London town.

For those of you that didn’t get to the event you can read the full text of the story and watch the rather brilliant Tony Bell read it here.

And here’s a quick article from the Guardian on why the League are one of the top ten story events in the capital.

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So, somewhat amazingly, my story Automatic Diamanté came second in the James White Award, placed after Shannon Fay‘s “You First Meet the Devil at a Church Fete”! Congratulations to

Me on stage with Sarah Newton, 'science fiction behemoth' Stephen Baxter, Paul Cornell and Donna Scott.

Me on stage with Sarah Newton,’science fiction behemoth’ Stephen Baxter, Paul Cornell and Donna Scott.

Shannon and a big thank you to the judges: Hugo nominated Aliette de Bodard, Hugo Winner Ian McDonald and the Interzone editors Andy Cox and Andy Hedgecock.

Speaking of which, the Interzone editors said so many positive things about my story I’m beginning to wonder whether a crumpled fiver found its way into my submission:

“Our initial response to Automatic Diamanté was that it is smart, dark and engaging. Our next reaction was that it’s the work of a talented writer who we would hope and expect to hear from in the future. It tackles big ideas of self, identity and consciousness: these are ambitious themes for a short story, and they carry a risk that narrative can collapse under the weight of philosophical speculation and be reduced to the status of ‘thought experiment’. But this is an adroit piece of writing that avoids this pitfall through its wit, its emotional resonance and the controlled energy of its language.”

Thanks also to everyone for all the kind words of congratulations, both on the interwebs and at the event (which was part of the BSFA awards ceremony at this year’s Eastercon) as well as to those who were kind enough to forgive me shambling onto stage to give an impromptu speech (based largely it must be said on my previous blog post). Chuffed doesn’t really cover it (so you have to excuse the blowing of one’s own trumpet). Likewise, if you want to see the judges’ feedback on both stories it’s here (so you can see I didn’t make it up or get my missus to claim to be a judge, write nice things on a napkin & present it to me with dinner).

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It really is a bit of a thrill to have been shortlisted for this year’s James White Award and not simply because it’s

banner-graphic2 always exciting to be shortlisted for something (the Nasty League of Meanies’ shortlist for most despicable pipe-smoker of the year being a notable exception), but also because there are three very good reasons to be thrilled about the JWA in general:

  1. It’s international: as a British writer I’m keenly aware that the short story is a form better regarded by our cousins in the United States and as result there’s just a fraction of the number of U.S. markets here. It’s my hope then, that international awards like the JWA might have the dual effect of strengthening the domestic short story market as well as broadening the cultural flavour of the imagined worlds that populate speculative fiction.
  2. It’s judged anonymously: it’s only human nature to be swayed a little (either positively or negatively) by a big name. Anonymising submissions avoids any of these complexities.
  3. It’s open to “non-professional” authors: obviously the definition of a professional author isn’t without its difficulties, since few writers are able to scrape enough money together from their words to support themselves financially. The JWA side-steps this by using the Science Fiction Writers of America yardstick for a “professional”, that is: a writer with 3 or more stories published in “pro” magazines to their name. In theory then the JWA (and awards like it) offer an excellent opportunity for emerging writers to throw their collective hats into the ring.

Finally though, and perhaps most importantly the JWA is entirely fan-dunded funded, so after having headed over here to read the first 250 words of this year’s shortlisted stories why not click on the donate button and throw a little money their way.

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20110613-034153.jpgI’ve just found out that my short story Automatic Diamanté has been shortlisted for this year’s James White Award. Really excited and honoured to have been selected. The full list is up on their site along with the first 250 words of each story. http://www.jameswhiteaward.com/archives/795#more-795

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