What I did on my (not quite) holiday

In May I took a week off from real life and went to the Milford Writing Retreat in North Wales. It’s held at Trigonos, a centre for conferences, courses and retreats on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. We hold our annual Milford SF Writers’ Conference there in September, and a retreat week in May. What’s the difference? The September conference is a critique week where 15 science fiction and fantasy writers get together to workshop works in progress. The retreat week is simply time to write, in pleasant surroundings, in the company of other writers at mealtimes and breaks. Everyone has an ensuite bedroom with a table and chair. There are also other quiet corners of the house, or in the grounds, where you can hunker down with a laptop.

Mike Lewis takes the biscuit.

This year there were ten writers, all with different work plans, some intensive, some allowing for ‘holiday’ trips out. We missed two retreats in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid, but in a previous retreat Catie Murphy set the word-count record by writing 33,000 words in a week. We decided, then, to make that a new unit of measurement – a murphy being 33,000 words. This year Mike Lewis did 57,000 words in the week, only 9,000 short of a double murphy.

My own ambitions were much more modest than Mike’s this year. I had a very productive talk with my agent on the Friday before the retreat and as a result I had a load of editing to do on my book ‘The Midnight Rose’ which is aimed at the YA/New Adult market. It’s a riff on the Tam Lin story as portrayed in the Child Ballads. It’s a story I’ve always loved, as both a story and a song. My two main characters are musicians and there’s music implicit in the story. Since I’ve lived in the music world as a professional singer with the trio, Artisan, I’ve tried to weave music thoughout the plot.

What I used to do for a living. Artisan at Winnipeg Folk Festival. L – R Hilary, Jacey and Brian.

I did one pass through the story to remove some of the domestic stuff which was not propelling the story forward, and started on adding in some extra scenes to heighten the tension. In total I only ended up with about 3,000 extra words to the total word-count, but by the time the week ended I felt as if I’d really got to grips with the story, and I’m ready to continue working on it.

The company was excellent. I knew all the writers there from various previous Milfords, and it was lovely to catch up with them at mealtimes, and after dinner in the library. Everything is very relaxed at Trigonos. We’re left on our own in the house.and 18 acres of grounds. We can stick in our rooms, inhabit the library, wander down to the lake, or go and sit in the (not so) secret graden. This was the view from my bedroom window. The taller of the two peaks in the far distance is Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales.

There were distractions, of course. On Tuesday we all went out to lunch at Castell Deudraeth, in the grounds of Portmeiron (yes, that’s where The Prisoner was filmed many years ago). We met up with Jaine Fenn who has attended Milford many times, but coincidentally was staying in Portmeiron for the week. It was nice to have a good catch-up.

My other distraction was this little chap – a bushy-tailed tree rat intent on munching its way through all the seeds on the wych elm tree outside my window. Yes, I know squirrels are vermin to most people, but you’ve got to admit they’re cute. I’m not sure whether it was the same one who visited two days running. I’d like to think so.

Trigonos is the sort of place that allows you to feel as though you are outside the real world. It’s a three and a half hour drive for me, across the Pennines, past Chester and along the North Wales coast road with increasingly spectacular scenery. There’s a new Caernarfon bypass, which trims about ten minutes off the journey and avoids potential traffic jams through Carnarfon itself. As soon as you turn on to the narrow road that takes you through Penygroes towards Nantlle, you can feel the stresses of the journey start to lift.

Everyone got something out of the retreat week. Several people (including me) signed up immediately for the retreat in 2023, which means we can. go ahead and confirm the booking with Trigonos. The week is in my diary already: 14th – 21st May 2023.

The Lake at Trigonos.
Retreat writers 2022: Juliet E McKenna, Liz Williams, Mike Lewis, Kari Sperring (back), Jacey Bedford, Heather Lindsley (back) Tiffani Angus, Mark Bilsborough, David Allan, Russell Smith.

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com).
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