Thank you Wayne

I’ve just logged off from the livestream of the memorial service for the writer Wayne Milstead, who died suddenly last month. Wayne and his husband Aaron ran Circle of Missé, the writing retreat. I’m sharing here what I wrote in an email the day I heard the shocking news.

Close of a Penguin Books mug with the book title, 'Not to be Taken'. Mug is filled with pens and pencils and is on the library table with bookshelves and and blue wall in the background.

It was in 2015, when we were living in Pau, that MT came up with a very clever grand gesture. He’s not good at marking calendar moments like Mother’s Day or Valentines (to be fair, neither am I) so when it comes to bigger events, like my birthday, he feels he has to ‘make up for’ something, and he tends to go big. I’d just declared my intention to take writing seriously, and it was entirely his idea to let me have some time away at some kind of writing retreat. It would never have remotely occurred to me at the time – writing retreats were for ‘real’ writers, surely.

So it was MT who found Circle of Missé, and presented me with the offer that he would take time off work so he could be with the kids while I was away.

I chose a taught retreat called ‘A Writer Begins’. I wrote this in a blog post shortly after being there:

Throughout the five days, Wayne helped us shed stifling thoughts about creativity, offering instead prompts, cajoling and just the right level of challenge to allow us to fulfil whatever potential was there…Wayne gave me an overwhelming sense of possibility, an exhilarating confidence, and several pieces of work – finished, in progress, starters – that made me pretty damn proud of myself.

That year, we moved to Congo, and I thought that visit to Missé was a one-off treat, something I’d never repeat. But early in 2022 I got the email announcing their post-pandemic programme of retreats – and I was back living in France, trying desperately to carve out the headspace for revision of an actual book. The stars aligned, and I returned early last summer, for a whole week of nothing but me and a desk and my book and someone else cooking. Although this time I hadn’t signed up for teaching (I had become one of those writers that 2015-me couldn’t conceive of being: focused and autonomous), I did get a coaching session with Wayne.

In the cocooning book-lined library, Wayne had arranged the books according to his own idiosyncratic but somehow pleasingly logical categorisation: a satisfying pattern of alternate rows and piles, like a drywall of words, the blue-painted walls a calming and inspiring backdrop. I closed the glass-panelled door and sat opposite him, nervous for his response to the outline I’d sent him to look at in advance. In his gentle Texan-transatlantic lilt, he asked encouraging questions, reminded me of the importance of pulling the reader through the story, and of anchoring emotion with sensory detail. The confidence he gave me this time was from drilling down into detail and showing me the clarity in the story. Today I’m looking at the scrappy page of notes from our session, which I folded up to keep in the pocket at the back of my process journal. His encouragement is summarised in the sentence I’ve set apart from the rest and highlighted with stars, a direct quote from Wayne: ‘This is the best memoir title I’ve heard this year.’ I am ridiculously proud of my title, if nothing else.

But I know I’ll be proud of this book too. There are many decisions I’ve taken along the way, and many important friends, mentors, and teachers who’ve helped me get this far. Without Wayne, I’d be somewhere. But without him, I wouldn’t be exactly here, now, with the confidence I feel today. This book will be infused with his influence.

My heart breaks for Aaron, who kept our stomachs, and our glasses, full every day at Missé, telling his own stories both on our plates, and around the table. He has lost his love, his business partner, his partner in creativity. What they created together will leave an enduring influence.

There’s more about my first visit to Missé here and here.

You can read ‘Alligator Whisperer’, a moving and witty story by Wayne, here.

Missé does continue. See available retreat dates here.

2 thoughts on “Thank you Wayne

  1. What beautiful memories of what sounds like a wonderful experience with a wonderful man…..  so sorry for your loss

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