Category Archives: short stories

Saying sooth

I was pleased and flattered to come across a very nice mention of my short story, The Sayer of the Sooth, in a review of Beta-Life: Stories from an A-Life Future. The anthology, published by Comma Press, receives a detailed and thoughtful write-up by the renowned translator and journalist Anna Aslanyan in 3:AM Magazine, an online literary journal with the wonderful tagline: “Whatever it is, we’re against it.”

Thankfully they aren’t against my story, or the anthology – in which all the tales are set in 2070 and resulted from collaborations between writers and experts in artificial intelligence, who wrote afterwords to explain the science behind each piece of fiction. It includes stories by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Sean O’Brien, Toby Litt and Lucy Caldwell.

Beta-Life cover 2Here’s what the critic has to say about my contribution:
“Martyn Bedford deals with this problem [the mundanity of future miracles in an age of ubiquitous technology] elegantly in The Sayer of the Sooth, one of the best stories in the anthology. Its 21-year-old narrator is reading his great-grandfather’s sci-fi short story set in 2070, commenting on what the author got wrong. Here is his reaction to one cutting-edge gadget: ‘The glasses I mightve believed. But lie detection contact lenses with invisible miniaturised components? From a writer who cant even imagine the details of a 2070 bathroom.’ In his afterword James O’Shea describes the story as ‘lovingly grounded in the British Pessimism School of science fiction’ and reveals that, although he is not sure about the lenses either, a lie detector similar to Bedford’s was developed by a research group at Manchester Metropolitan University and patented in 2002.”

To read the review in full, please follow this link to the 3:AM website. And to buy a copy of the anthology direct from Comma Press at a discounted online price of £10.99, click here.

Get a Beta-Life!

In between darfts of my latest teenage novel, I’ve been working on a couple of short stories for adults. I’m pleased to announce that one of them, The Sayer of the Sooth, has now been published in a new science-fiction anthology – Beta-Life: Short Stories from an A-Life Future – in which all the stories are set in the year 2070.

Beta-Life cover 2The anthology, released this week by the excellent independent publisher, Comma Press, is the result of a series of 19 collaborations between writers and scientists working in the field of Artificial Intelligence and advanced computing technology.

For my story, I was paired with Dr James O’Shea, a senior lecturer in the School of Computing, Mathematics and Digital Technology at Manchester Metropolitan University. Dr O’Shea and his colleagues have spent more than ten years researching and developing Silent Talker, a computer programme which uses advanced facial imaging analysis to detect when someone is lying. It is the most sophisticated lie-detection device ever invented, with an accuracy rate of more than 80% (projected to rise to more than 90%).

What particularly interested me about this research was in speculating how far the Silent Talker technology might have developed by 2070. Will we live in a society where lying has become virtually impossible – where anyone can aim a camera, camera-phone or android device at someone else and know, instantly, whether they are telling the truth? In The Sayer of the Sooth, my ‘hero’, Jack, is drawn into an intricate web of deceit – virtual and actual – when he receives the mysterious gift of a book written long before he was born.

I’m flattered to have received this praise from one of the other contributors to the anthology, Sarah Schofield, who wrote on her blog: “I particularly admire Martyn Bedford’s story, which not only creates a very convincing portrayal of the world in 2070 but also riffs against it in a self-aware primary narrative, the story effectively folding back in on itself. It is hugely inventive, without compromising the grit of the central story.”

comma logoFor each story in the anthology, the writer’s fictional response has an afterword by the expert collaborator, putting the creative piece in its scientific context. The book is the brainchild of its co-editors – Professor Martyn Amos, a colleague of Dr O’Shea’s at MMU, and Ra Page, Editor in Chief at Comma Press. Contributing authors include Frank Cottrell Boyce, Toby Litt and Sean O’Brien.

Please click here to find out more and to order copies of the anthology direct from Comma Press.

A Malvern tale

I’m delighted to announce that I have been commissioned to write a short story to mark the 150th anniversary of Malvern College.

The independent school – whose former pupils include C.S. Lewis and Jeremy Paxman – has invited me to produce a story, set at Malvern College, to be published exclusively to students and staff for World Book Day in March.

Malvern College crestI was approached by the school after completing a similar commission for Wellington College, in Berkshire, last year (see my short stories page). I will be writing this latest story in instalments, with some being released via the Malvern College intranet in the lead-up to March 5th, while the rest are to be issued on World Book Day itself.

The school plans to publish the story in an anthology, along with the best entries from Malvern’s own students, in response to a creative-writing competition – on the theme of ‘The Hand of History’ – which I’ll be judging. The competition is open to all students at the co-educational school, which has nearly 700 day and boarding pupils aged 13 to 18.

As before, I’ve been given a pretty open brief – the only stipulations being that the story should be set at Malvern College and relate in some way to the school’s 150-year history. I already have a rough idea in mind and will be developing it over the coming months.

Malvern college picIt’s an impressive school, in attractive grounds, overlooked by the beautiful Malvern Hills – where Piers Plowman once roamed, and where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis set some of the scenes in their novels. It’s hard not to be inspired by a place so steeped in literary history . . . and somewhat daunted by following in the footsteps of great writers!

Mr Mark Henderson, Head of English, said, “We are delighted to be welcoming Martyn Bedford to Malvern College as part of the celebration of our 150th anniversary. His story will be the centrepiece of an extended focus on creative writing which will involve many of the pupils.”

Orgreave story

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been commissioned to write a short story about the Battle of Orgreave. The story will feature in Riotution, a new anthology of fiction about riots, marches, protests and other episodes of revolt, revolution or unrest in history, being compiled by Manchester-based independent publisher, Comma Press, for publication in 2015.

coal not dole stickersComma has paired a number of writers with specialist historians, who will act as research consultants. I’ll be researching my story in collaboration with social historian Prof. David Waddington, of Sheffield Hallam University. The idea is that the authors will write fictional stories about fictional characters caught up in actual historical events. I did something similar in one of my novels – Exit, Orange & Red – which is partly set in Victorian Sheffield during a period of industrial conflict among metalworkers.

The commissioned writers have been given a wide range of events to choose from, including the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the Inca resistance in 1571, the Indian mutiny in 1857, the anti-Vietnam War march on Washington in 1965, the Prague Spring of 1968, the IRA hunger strikes of the 1970s and the Tahrir Square protests in Cairo, in 2011. When I looked down the list, my attention was immediately drawn to Orgreave.

The 1984-85 miners’ strike has always fascinated me and the violent clashes between the police and pickets at the Orgreave coking plant in June 1984 were a pivotal and defining moment – not just in that strike but for contemporary British political and social history. I was teaching English in Hong Kong that summer and I remember being shocked and upset by the footage on the television news from back home. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.

I’m looking forward to working with Prof. Waddington on the research. He was at the Battle of Orgreave as an academic observer and is now one of the UK’s foremost experts on the miners’ strike and its aftermath, as well as on the policing of public disorder.comma logo This is the second story for Comma Press in which I’ve been paired with an academic expert, following my collaboration with Dr James O’Shea, at Manchester Metropolitan University, for Beta-Life: Stories from an A-life Future, a science-fiction anthology which is being published this autumn.

Art meets science

I had an interesting trip to Manchester last week to meet Dr James O’Shea, a computer scientist, with whom I’m collaborating on a short story for a special commission. It came about after I was approached by the excellent independent publisher Comma Press to contribute to an anthology of speculative fiction set in 2070.

comma logoSupported by the European Commission’s TRUCE (Training and Research in Unconventional Computing in Europe) programme, the project has paired 15 writers with researchers in computing and artificial intelligence at universities in the UK and mainland Europe. The anthology is to be titled Beta-Life: Short Stories from an A-life Future.

For my story, I’m consulting Dr O’Shea, a senior lecturer in the school of computing, mathematics and digital technology at Manchester Metropolitan University. Dr O’Shea and his colleagues have spent more than ten years researching and developing Silent Talker, a computer programme which uses advanced facial imaging analysis to detect when someone is lying.

By filming an interview subject with computer-linked cameras, the system’s Artificial Neural Network technology detects lies by monitoring dozens of non-verbal ‘channels’, or minute facial gestures, which are beyond the interviewee’s control.MMU logo It is the most sophisticated lie-detection device ever invented, with an accuracy rate of more than 80% (projected to rise to more than 90% with further refinements). It featured in a recent ITV documentary.

What’s particularly interesting about this research, for the purposes of this anthology, is in speculating how far the Silent Talker technology might have developed by 2070. Will we live in a society where lying has become virtually impossible – where anyone can aim a camera, camera-phone or android device at someone else and know, instantly, whether they are telling the truth?

Over several coffees in a noisy Starbucks on Oxford Road, Dr O’Shea and I had a bit of fun travelling 56 years into the future in our imaginations. The science and technology of lie-detection are fascinating in themselves but, as a fiction writer, I’m especially drawn to the ethical, social, political and psychological implications.

I’m going to spend the coming weeks developing and writing the short story. Comma Press have scheduled publication of the anthology for the summer, with each story accompanied by an afterword written by the scientists who have collaborated with the project. The book, to be edited by Martyn Amos and Ra Page, will be the fourth in a series of specially commissioned science-fiction collections by Comma.

Click here to find out more about Silent Talker from the MMU website.

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