Category Archives: short stories
When my publisher, Comma Press, asked me to write a guest blog-post about my new short-story collection, I considered the suggested topics and decided to write about the ways in which I’ve drawn on personal experience in these fictional tales. My novels aren’t remotely autobiographical and yet, in Letters Home, several of the pieces arose directly from – and closely mirror – real events in my life. I was curious to explore why that might be.
Here’s the opening of the blog post:
Like many authors, I’m often asked to what extent my fiction is based on personal experience. Some readers seem unduly preoccupied with finding the writer in the writing; at least, where novelists are concerned. Philip Roth was recently quoted as saying that readers generally assumed his novels were autobiographical, but that when he published a memoir he was accused of making it up.
Perhaps this perception is rooted in the hackneyed creative-writing adage: Write what you know. As if real-life experience trumps all other cards in the fiction-writer’s hand – research, for example, or (whisper it) the imagination. Of course, plenty of writers do draw closely on autobiographical material for their novels, sometimes heavily disguised, sometimes draping only the thinnest of fictional veils over the fact.
I never have. None of my eight novels is even loosely autobiographical and none of my characters is a surrogate me. Let me state, for the record, that I have not taken revenge on my former teachers, been a trafficked sex-worker in Amsterdam, become obsessed with tracking down a panther on Ilkley Moor, woken up one morning to find my soul inside someone else’s body, or been sent to a psychiatric clinic after causing my brother’s death. I don’t even have a brother.
To read the rest of the piece, please click on this link to the Comma Press blog page.
If you’re interested, you can also listen to the audio of me reading excerpts from a couple of the stories in Letters Home at the book’s recent launch event in Bradford Waterstones. Click here to visit Comma’s twitter feed, where the recording can be accessed.
I’m grateful to David M Barnett, novelist and critic, for this smashing review of Letters Home, which appeared in both the Ilkley Gazette and the Wharfedale Observer this week:
Ilkley’s Martyn Bedford has forged a career for himself as a writer of novels, but Letters Home is his first collection of short fiction and finds both the author and the short story form in fine fettle.
Bedford has written literary thrillers such as Acts of Revision and Black Cat, and novels for young adults including Flip, which was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award. With Letters Home he takes perhaps a more contemplative look at distinct and diverse Northern lives.
The title story is an often moving and thought-provoking tale of an asylum seeker who is living in a flat overlooking Leeds United’s Elland Road ground. Local children chant abuse at him, his door is daubed with graffiti, unspeakable things are pushed through his letter box. Still, he composes in his head letters to send home to his family, cheerful missives about how his life in Britain is safe and comforting, even as Bedford counterpoints the lines from the letters he will never send with the stark and often brutal reality of being an unwanted stranger in a strange land.
In “My Soul To Keep”, Charlotte suffers from a rare condition that means she wants to sleep all the time, eventually succumbing to it and sleeping for a full year, becoming a minor celebrity in the process. Through the eyes of Kim, one of the sleep technicians tasked with monitoring the girl’s seemingly-endless sleep, Charlotte’s condition becomes almost enviable; she sleeps because it pushes the bad stuff in life away. Charlotte isn’t dead, isn’t in a coma, but is not properly alive. Instead she inhabits a strange netherworld that many people, after recent world events, would probably like to embrace.
Bedford’s writing is never anything less than strikingly engaging, and his stories are portraits of lives lived always on the edge of change – in the case of the young man who finds himself living in an apartment where an obscure painter once committed suicide, quite literally so – draw you in like overheard gossip.
The stories are episodes in people’s lives, which we are given access to, and rarely brought to solid conclusions. Like in the wonderful “The Beckhams Are In Betty’s”, in which a rumour that the celebrity family unit has taken over Ilkley’s flagship tearooms for a private tea provide an almost obsessive brief departure from the usual life of the protagonist.
The stories are both short postcards from the edge of everyday existence, and also Martyn Bedford’s bitter-sweet love notes to life in Yorkshire, and Letters Home is a first class read.
I spent an enjoyable half-hour in the studios of Chapel FM this evening as a guest on the Love the Words show. As well as chatting to the genial host, Peter Spafford, about my new story collection, Letters Home, I also read extracts from a couple of the stories: the title piece, “Letters Home”, and “The Beckhams are in Betty’s”.
Chapel FM, as the name suggests, is based in a former chapel in Seacroft, East Leeds, and broadcasts to listeners all over the Leeds area and around the world online. To hear the show on “listen again”, please click on this link to the station’s website. My slot begins at 86:45.
I’m off to Simon Armitage’s neck of the woods (or neck of the moors, perhaps) on Monday for the latest event in the launch tour for my new short-story collection, Letters Home. At the invitation of the Friends of Marsden Library, I’ll be talking about the book and reading extracts from it at the latest in the Northern Writers Reading series at the famous old library, which is housed in the West Yorkshire village’s Mechanics Hall.
The Friends are a community organisation of volunteers set up in 2015 to promote the library, to assist the staff, and to keep the place open in the face of increasing pressure on local authority finances. In the summer of 2016, Kirklees Council approved the first stage of transferring ownership of Marsden Mechanics Hall to the village, represented by Marsden Community Trust (MCT). MCT will be responsible for the upkeep and will need to generate income from rent and room-hire to cover the costs.
Marsden Library is a very important part of the building, which has housed a library for the whole of its 150-year history. The MCT Board, Friends of Marsden Library and the Library Service have agreed to re-design the library to make better use of the space as a multi-purpose venue for the community. To this end, a fund-raising appeal has been launched and I’m very happy to do my bit to help promote the library and its campaign.
Please click here to visit the Friends of Marsden Library website for full details of the event, which is from 7.00-8.00pm on Monday November 20th. Admission is free but donations are welcome.
A busy week looms with not one but two launches for my new solo collection of short stories, Letters Home.
The book isn’t officially published until November 16th but copies have already arrived at the publishers – the Manchester-based independent, Comma Press – and will be on sale at the two events. The stories – old and new, published and unpublished – span twenty years of my writing career, and the collection marks my first publication for an adult readership since The Island of Lost Souls (Bloomsbury) in 2006, after which I switched to writing teen/YA fiction.
The first launch event, billed as “An evening with Martyn Bedford” (what a horrible thought), is at the wonderful Waterstones branch in the Wool Exchange, Bradford, from 6.00-8.00pm on Tuesday (Nov 7th). I’ll be discussing the collection in-conversation with my brilliant editor at Comma, Ra Page, and reading extracts from some of the stories, as well as taking question from the audience. The event is free but space is limited so please contact the bookshop to reserve a place. Click here to visit the relevant page on the Waterstones website.
Then, on Thursday (Nov 9th), I’m taking part in the Leeds Short Story Salon from 6.30-8.30 at Blackwell’s bookshop in Woodhouse Lane, opposite Leeds University. I’ll be sharing a stage with Leeds-based author S.J. Bradley and there will also be open-mic slots for members of the audience. Again, the event is free but please contact the shop to get a ticket. Here’s the link to the event on the Blackwell’s website.
If you are unable to attend either event but would like to buy a copy of Letters Home, you can pre-order one directly from Comma Press for £9.00 (RRP £9.99) through this link.
I’m very excited to be able to reveal the cover of my new book – Letters Home, a solo collection of short stories – which is coming out next month. The stories (for adults) include several new ones written especially for the collection, along with some previously unpublished pieces and others which have already appeared in anthologies, newspapers and magazines over the years.
Here’s the back-cover blurb:
“When an out-of-work actor discovers his bedsit once belonged to an obscure, suicidal painter, he turns his talents to re-creating the ultimate site-specific performance . . .
As a teenage girl drifts from depression into a permanent state of sleep, she becomes the focus of both scientific interest and an unexpected, cult following…
Against a backdrop of hooliganism and hostility, an asylum seeker writes letters home assuring his family how welcoming England is…
Many of the characters in Martyn Bedford’s stories find themselves at a point of redefinition, trading in their old identity for something new. Whether it is an act of retreat or escape – fantasising about storming out of a thankless job, or just avoiding a bad-tempered husband for a few moments on Christmas day – they each understand the first step in changing a reality, is to reconstruct it.”
I’ve been flattered to receive a couple of wonderful pre-publication quotes from other writers:
Haunting and intimate portraits of vividly different lives that get under your skin and stay there – Jeremy Dyson, co-writer of The League of Gentlemen.
Letters Home further establishes Martyn Bedford as a stand-out writer of highly memorable fiction – Jacob Ross, author of The Bone Readers, winner of the 2017 Jhalak Prize.
Letters Home is published on November 16th by Comma Press. Please click here for the Comma website, where physical and digital copies can be pre-ordered.
I’m looking forward to appearing at the Ilkley Literature Festival later this week . . . and not just because the venue is walking distance from my house. I’ve done quite a few events at ILF down the years – my debut was way back in 1996, alongside Stan Barstow at the Craiglands Hotel – but this will be my first time on stage at St Margaret’s Hall (although I was a frequent visitor there with my daughters, when they were little, for parents-and-tots sessions.)
It’s especially exciting to be appearing at the festival alongside two writers as renowned as Maggie Gee and Jacob Ross for what promises to be a lively evening of political and literary debate. The three of us will be reading extracts from, and discussing, our short stories, which have been included in Protest: Stories of Resistance, the latest anthology by Comma Press. Maggie’s story revolves around the night-cleaners’ strike in Hoxton, London, in the early 1970s; Jacob’s focuses on the New Cross Fire and Brixton riots a decade later, while mine is centred on the so-called Battle of Orgreave during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.
For the anthology, Comma paired twenty writers with expert consultants – social and political historians and academics – each of whom has written an afterword which sets the fiction in its historical context. For my story, “Withen”, I collaborated with Prof. David Waddington of Sheffield Hallam University, who was present as an academic observer on that infamous day when riot police broke up a mass picket outside the coking plant at Orgreave, South Yorkshire.
Other authors whose stories appear in the anthology include Sara Maitland, Kit de Waal, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Alexei Sayle, David Constantine and Courttia Newland, with protest topics ranging across seven centuries, from the Peasants’ Revolt to Greenham Common, the Aldermaston March to the Diggers, the Suffragettes to the Anti-Iraq War demo.
The anthology has already received glowing reviews and I’m flattered that my story has been mentioned in despatches:
“Many of the stories explore the long-term legacy of the events upon its characters: perhaps none more so than Martyn Bedford’s skilful, sensitive depiction of estrangement caused by the divisiveness of the 1980s mining strikes.
Bethany Creamer, disclaimermag.com
Martyn Bedford’s “Withen” uses flashback to devastating effect to lay out the impact on a single family of Thatcher’s pit closures: the ending of this story is one of the most chilling we can recall in this or any collection.
“Protest Lit”, event 92 at this year’s festival, is at St Margaret’s Hall, Queen’s Road, Ilkley, from 7.30-8.30pm, on Friday October 6th. Tickets priced £7 (£5 concessions) can be obtained via the Ilkley Literature Festival website – click here – or simply pay at the door.
I’m looking forward to a trip to Manchester this week for a celebration of independent publishing in the north of England. I’ll be one of eight writers sharing a stage at the first Northern Fiction Alliance roadshow, to mark the formation of a new collective of indie presses.
The event, from 6-8pm on Tuesday 26th September, at Waterstones, Deansgate, will showcase a variety of NFA presses and books, with talks and readings from editors and authors. I’ll be reading an extract from “Withen”, my story about the battle of Orgreave, which is published in Protest, the latest anthology from Manchester-based Comma Press.
Here’s the full line-up of writers:
Martyn Bedford (Comma Press)
Heidi James (Bluemoose Books)
Joanna Walsh (And Other Stories)
Paul Hanley (Route)
Jacob Ross (Peepal Tree Press)
Naomi Booth (Dead Ink Books)
Benjamin Myers (Mayfly)
Graeme Macrae Burnet (Saraband)
Tickets cost £3 and include a glass of wine or soft drink on arrival. There will also be a 10% discount on any books purchased on the night published by any of the presses in attendance. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or tweet us @waterstonesmcr.
In these febrile political times, it seems apt for a new anthology of fiction about resistance to be hitting the bookshelves (virtual and physical). Protest: Stories of Resistance is the latest book of short-fiction to be published by the excellent Manchester-based independent Comma Press . . . and I’m pleased and honoured to be among the contributing authors.
In putting together this anthology, editor Ra Page paired twenty writers with leading social historians and other experts, to produce stories and commentaries ranging across centuries of political dissent – from the Peasants’ Revolt to the Poll Tax riots, from the Suffragettes to the anti-Iraq War demonstration, from the Diggers to Greenham Common. For my story, Withen – which centres on the Battle of Orgreave, during the 1984-85 miners’ strike – I worked collaboratively with Prof. David Waddington, of Sheffield Hallam University, who assisted my research and has written a factual afterword to accompany my fictional response to those events.
Other contributing authors include: Kate Clanchy, David Constantine, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Maggie Gee, Matthew Holness, Sara Maitland, Courttia Newland, Alexei Sayle and Kit de Waal. I’m proud to see my name – and my story – alongside theirs, and to be making my small contribution to the political discourse generated by this recasting of social history through the prism of imaginative literature.
Protest: Stories of Resistance (hardback, £14.99) is officially published on July 6th but is already available online direct from Comma Press at a discount price of £13.50. Click here to visit the book’s page on the Comma website.
As a former fellow of the Royal Literary Fund, I was recently invited to contribute an essay to the RLF’s website about the way in which the germ of an idea can evolve into piece of fiction.
I chose to reflect on the process by which I conceived, researched and wrote my latest short story, “Withen”, which is centred on the Battle of Orgreave, during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. The story is being anthologised by Comma Press in Protest! Stories of Resistance, to be published later this month. In the meantime, if you’d like to read my essay on the story’s genesis – and how it all began more than thirty years ago . . . in Hong Kong! – please click on this link to the RLF website.