Category Archives: short stories

Time to protest!

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.

Orgreave revisited

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.

Now for WoW

I’m looking forward to a trip to Liverpool next month to take part in the 2017 Writing on the Wall Festival, where I’ll be helping to launch a new anthology of short fiction about political dissent and resistance. The anthology – Protest! : stories of resistance, published by the Manchester-based independent Comma Press – includes my latest story, Withen, which centres on the Battle of Orgreave during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

For the book, Comma Press commissioned twenty writers – including Frank Cottrell Boyce, Kit de Waal, Alexei Sayle, Maggie Gee, Sara Maitland and Courttia Newland – to bring to life crucial moments of protest in British history through the medium of fiction. The stories range across topics as diverse as the Suffragettes, the Peasants’ Revolt, the Brixton riots and the civil rights movements of the 1960s.

Each story has been written in consultation with a specialist historian or, in the case of more recent protests, in partnership with activists who helped organise them. The resulting fictions are accompanied by short essays by the historians and activists, contextualising the events and offering insights into the political climates that produced them. For my story, I worked closely with Prof. David Waddington, a social historian from Sheffield Hallam University, who was an academic observer at Orgreave.

At the festival, I’ll be sharing a stage with Stuart Evers and Jacob Ross, whose stories also appear in the book. The event is at 7.30pm on Thursday May 25th, at Blackburne House, Blackburne Place, Liverpool, L8 7PE. Tickets (£6/£3) can be obtained via these links to Comma Press and the Wowfest site.

New story!

I’m very pleased to announce that my latest short story has been published this week in an anthology of prose and poetry by new and established writers. The story, “The Wrong Coat” – which evolved
LTU journeys coverfrom a creative-writing exercise – tells the tale of a man troubled by unbidden memories after he pulls on someone else’s coat when leaving a party. It has been included in Journeys: a Space for Words, the second annual anthology from Leeds Trinity University tutors, students and guest contributors. The book, edited by two of LTU’s Creative Writing MA students, Stephanie Buick and Lucy Brighton, and English lecturer and poet Oz Hardwick, has been released by Indigo Dreams Publishing.
It is available directly from the publisher via this link or from Amazon via this link.

Short snories!

It’s publication day! There have been two or three launch events already, and I received my copies of the book a week or so ago, but October 29th is the official publication date for Spindles: Stories from the Science of Sleep, which includes my short story My Soul to Keep. (Actually, I’ve found three different ‘official’ publication dates online but I have time to write a blog post today so I’m going with this one!)

The anthology, published by the very marvellous Manchester-based independent, Comma Press, is the latest in their series in which fiction writers collaborate with researchers and academics to produce science-themed stories and accompanying afterwords.

Spindles coverTo quote from the blurb on the back of the book: “For centuries, sleep has provided writers with a magical ingredient – a passage of time during which great changes miraculously occur, an Orpheus-like voyage through the subconscious daubed with the fantastic. But over the last ten years, our scientific understanding of sleep has been revolutionised. No longer is sleep viewed as a time of simple rest and recuperation. Instead, it is proving to be an intensely dynamic period of brain activity: a vital stage in the re-wiring of memories, the learning of new skills, and the processing of problems and emotions. How will storytelling respond to this new and emerging science of sleep?”

There are fourteen stories, from a strong line up of specially commissioned writers, including M.J. Hyland, Deborah Levy, Sara Maitland, Adam Marek and Adam Roberts. The standard is high throughout but I was especially taken with Maria Hyland‘s A Sleeping Serial Killer and The Raveled Sleeve of Care by Adam Roberts. Many of the scientific afterwords make fascinating reading in themselves.

For my contribution, I was paired with Ed Watkins, Professor of Experimental and Applied Clinical Psychology at the University of Exeter, a specialist in mood disorders. With his help, I researched and wrote a story centred on the interconnections between depression and hypersomnia, or excessive sleep. Narrated by Kim, a technician in a sleep laboratory, My Soul to Keep is the tale of a young woman, Charlotte, who is entering her 365th day of uninterrupted sleep, confounding medical science and all attempts to wake her. Meanwhile, in the street outside the lab, hordes of Charlotte’s devotees have set up a sleep camp and are chanting her name, convinced that she is some kind of living (or sleeping) goddess.

Me on stage with Dr Simon Kyle of Oxford University at the Manchester Science Festival.

Me on stage with Dr Simon Kyle of Oxford University at the Manchester Science Festival.

The Manchester Science Festival, where I took part in a recent launch event, heralded the anthology as follows: “Despite storytelling’s age-old fascination with sleep and dreams, authors have yet to properly address even the basics of contemporary sleep science. Comma Press have commissioned a talented and exciting group of sleep scientists and fiction writers to tackle this most ordinary, and most mysterious animal function. From memory consolidation, to the ‘printing’ of new memories during sleep, from sleep disorders like parasomnia, to genetic theories about insomnia – this anthology of short stories and scientific afterwords covers everything the modern field has to offer, whilst staying in touch with the age-old mythology that still surrounds and informs our understanding of sleep.”

comma logoSpindles was supported by the Wellcome Trust and is edited by Ra Page, of Comma Press, and Dr Penelope Lewis of the University of Manchester’s NaPS (Neuroscience and Psychology of Sleep) lab. For more details about the collection or to order a copy at a discount price of £8.75 (RRP £9.99), please click on this link to the Comma website.

Time for B.E.D

An early bedtime beckons later this week when I’ll be helping to launch a new short-story anthology on the theme of sleep . . . at the appropriately named B.E.D bar, in Manchester. The event, part of the 2015 Manchester Science Festival, celebrates the publication of Spindles: Short Stories from the Science of Sleep, by Comma Press, which includes my most recent story, My Soul to Keep.

Spindles coverI’ll be sharing a stage with the anthology’s co-editors, Ra Page, of Comma Press, and Dr Penelope Lewis, from the University of Manchester, along with another of the book’s contributors, Dr Simon Kyle, of the University of Manchester’s Neuroscience and Psychology of Sleep Lab (NaPS). As well as a panel discussion and readings, there will be time for Q&A, including questions on sleep-related topics submitted before and during the event by tweet, email or Facebook message.

Spindles comprises a selection of fourteen specially commissioned sleep-themed stories from fiction-writers – including M.J. Hyland, Deborah Levy, Sara Maitland, Adam Marek and Ian Watson – with accompanying commentaries by a range of experts in related fields of study which put each story in its scientific context. For my story, on the connection between depression and hypersomnia (excessive sleep), I was paired with Prof. Ed Watkins, a researcher in clinical psychology at the University of Exeter, whose help was invaluable in providing the factual underpinning for my fictional foray.

Manchester Science Festival logoThe launch event takes place at 6.30pm on Thursday October 22nd, in the B.E.D bar, underneath Tribeca, at 50 Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3WF. Entry is free and children are welcome – until 8pm, when, of course, it will be their bedtime. For further details about the event and the Manchester Science Festival, please click on this link, and for more information about the anthology, here’s a link to the Comma Press site.

Chuffed by MacGuffin

Two of my short stories are being reissued on Comma Press’s new digital publishing platform, MacGuffin, when it launches in June. The stories – Letters Home and A Missing Person’s Inquiry – are free to read in text form or to listen to. The audio version of the first story is voiced by a professional actor while the second is a recording of a reading I gave at a live-literature event in Manchester.

MacGuffin is a free website and app for user-generated content (fiction, poetry, non-fiction), enabling published and unpublished writers to upload their work for readers to access and read or listen to via PC, smartphone or tablet.MacGuffin logo 2

The project is a collaboration between the Manchester-based independent publisher Comma Press, Manchester Metropolitan University and fffunction, a web design agency, and is supported by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts. Jim Hinks, Digital Editor at Comma, said, “In a conservative publishing climate where too many wonderful writers go unread, MacGuffin will encourage discovery and cross-pollination – a place where readers can discover exciting new talent, and writers can access new audiences.”

Although the platform doesn’t go fully live until next month, to have a sneak preview of the web browser version follow this link.

Enter Room Zero

Room Zero cover imageMy latest short story has been published this week and is now available to read for free via my website. Room Zero was specially commissioned by Malvern College, in Worcestershire, as part of their 150th anniversary celebrations and was published in ten instalments on the school’s intranet over consecutive days, culminating on World Book Day. It’s the story of two 16-year-old students at Malvern whose quest to find the mysterious ‘Room Zero’ leads them into a strange and dangerous adventure. To download and read the story, please go to the short stories section of this site and scroll down to the link at the foot of the page. I hope you enjoy it!

Time for bed

I’m excited to be working on a new short-story commission for the marvellous Comma Press – this time for an anthology on the topic of sleep. For my story, which will focus on the links between hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) and depression, I am collaborating with Prof. Edward Watkins, of Exeter University’s School of Psychology, a leading expert on mood disorders.

We are among a number of writers and consultants signed up by Comma, a Manchester-based independent publisher, to work together on a range of sleep-related issues for the anthology, funded by the Wellcome Trust and scheduled for publication later in the year.

comma logo
When I read the list of topics I was particularly interested in hypersomnia, which apparently occurs in 40% of depressed young adults and 10% of older adults. The link between mood disorder and sleep pattern is a relatively new field of research but there is already plenty of evidence that the two are much more inter-related than previously believed.

The idea for this anthology is that the specialist explains the ‘science’ to the writer, who incorporates it into a piece of fiction which helps to illuminate the topic for a lay reader. Each story is then accompanied by a commentary, written by the academic consultant. I’m currently researching the topic with the help of Prof. Watkins and will then begin planning and writing the short story.

The anthology is the latest in a series by Comma Press in which writers and specialists collaborate. For my two previous commissions – one on artificial intelligence and another on political protest – I worked with research academics at Manchester Metropolitan University and Sheffield Hallam University.

One story has already been published – The Sayer of the Sooth, in Beta-Life: Stories from and A-Life Future (October 2014) – and the other anthology, due out shortly, will include my story, Withen, about the Battle of Orgreave.

More praise, forsooth

Another great review of the Beta-Life anthology, this time in The Guardian‘s latest science-fiction round-up, by novelist and critic Eric Brown. My short story, “The Sayer of the Sooth“, gets a very nice mention along the way. Here’s the review in full:

Beta-Life cover 2Beta-Life (Comma, £10.99), edited by Martyn Amos and Ra Page, is a timely anthology inspired by the 2013 European Conference on Artificial Life. The project brings together 19 authors with scientists working in a range of artificial life and unconventional computing disciplines “to follow research itself into the future, rather than reflect purely on current concerns”. The result is a strong anthology of speculative fictions set in 2070, each followed by a factual essay by a scientist. Standouts include Martyn Bedford’s sly story about lie-recognition software and the difficulty of writing about the future, “The Sayer of the Sooth”; Adam Marek’s cautionary tale about the dangers, both personal and societal, of cellular nanotechnology, “Growing Skyscrapers”; and Adam Roberts’s marvellously tongue-in-cheek “A Swarm of Living Robjects Around Us”, which explores the nature of machine consciousness and our dependence on technology. Many of the fictions are cutting-edge, and the essays offer a crash-course in futurology.

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