Category Archives: short stories

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.

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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.

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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