I started Acts of Revision on the University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA. When it was done, I sent a synopsis and sample chapters to several London literary agents, only one of whom asked to see the whole manuscript.
Weeks went by without a reply. Eventually, I phoned to see if he was still interested, only to discover that he had left the agency… and left my manuscript behind on a shelf. The guy who took the call told me he was an agent (he wasn’t, I later found out, he was the departed agent’s assistant) and offered to read the novel. He rang me three days later to say he loved it and offered to represent me.
The following week, I was with friends on a “writing retreat” in the forests of mid-Wales when I heard the news that two publishers were involved in an auction for Acts of Revision. By the end of that day a deal was done and, somehow, I’d driven home to Yorkshire without crashing the car. The assistant became an agent … and I became a novelist.
Since then, I’ve written four more novels for adults. Altogether, my books have been translated into 13 languages and two of them, Acts of Revision and The Houdini Girl, were also published in the U.S.
Here’s some information about them…
Acts of Revision
hardback, Bantam Press, 1996;
paperback, Black Swan, 1997.
Winner: Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award
Gregory Lynn lives a solitary existence, scarred by childhood trauma and preoccupied with the cartoon fantasies he draws to help him cope with life. In his drawings he exerts control over events – because by drawing things, he sometimes makes them happen the way he wants them to.
But then his mother dies and he discovers his old school reports. After years of suppression, the bitter memories of his formative years are reawakened. As he reads what his teachers wrote about him, Gregory remembers who made him the way he is. And he prepares, with the appalling logic of a psychopath, for his acts of revision against them.
Praise for Acts of Revision:
“In Martyn Bedford, the University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA (which gave us Ishiguro and McEwan) has spawned another star.” (Guardian)
“An accomplished first novel. On the surface [it] is a chillingly clever variation, compellingly written and impressively structured, on the theme of revenge. Beneath that it is a complex psychological portrait, painted with a subtle, instinctive hand.” (David Horspool, The Times Literary Supplement)
“Comparisons with Ian McEwan and Iain Banks are inevitable, but also justified, for this disturbing, powerful book could well be the best debut novel of the year.” (Dominic Bradbury, Literary Review)
“A brilliant portrait of a psychopathic breakdown. An exceptional first novel [by] a clever and stylish writer … this is a profoundly sinister work, and all the more so for being wildly funny too.” (The Times)
“A uniquely British psycho… a moving debut.” (Independent)
“A macabre and extraordinary debut.” (Daily Telegraph)
“Very clever and highly polished… dazzling.” (Sunday Telegraph)
“A thrilling and terrifying read… I was impressed by the detached delicacy with which Martyn Bedford controls his frightening material and found myself chuckling nervously at his treacly black humour. A novel to make any teacher’s hair stand on end. (Lesley Glaister)
“A chilling revenge fantasy… a mystery turned inside out; you know whodunit, but not what. Mr Bedford’s book is intellectual, even playful – a post-modern exploration of the nature of reality and the inability of narrative to record or interpret events without making them into something else. Compelling. (New York Times Book Review)
“This is the perfect read. Not since Thomas Harris gave us Red Dragon have I experienced such a gripping tale – one that grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go.” (Atlanta Journal)
“Bedford’s taut language, strategic repetition and honed irony effectively underscore the narrator’s obsessions, while the story’s symmetry, suspense and strong central character hold the reader hostage.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Martyn Bedford’s debut novel makes us aware of what doesn’t exist in Germany – excellent literary entertainment. Why don’t we have writers like him?” (Die Woche)
Exit, Orange & Red
hardback, Bantam Press, 1997.
paperback, Black Swan, 1998.
Blood is found smeared on the doors of a vast shopping mall built on a site where a steelworks once stood. Local reporter Constance Amory is assigned to cover the crime – an assignment which plunges her into the biggest story of her life.
As one increasingly fierce attack follows another, she begins to unravel a trail of cryptic clues that draw her back into the past, to a Victorian era of social unrest and violent conflict. Before long, she realises that past and present are converging on a tragic and dramatic collision course.
Praise for Exit, Orange & Red:
“Ingenious and intriguing … I was genuinely sorry to finish it.” (Lesley Glaister, Independent)
“A challenging and intelligent writer who is to be admired for his boldness. Bedford’s ideas and his execution of them are strikingly original and his sensibilities unusual.” (Mary Loudon, The Times)
The Houdini Girl
hardback, Viking, 1999.
paperback, Penguin, 2000.
Fletcher Brandon, aka Red, is a conjurer, an illusionist, a master of deception. A professional magician, he charms wild, impulsive Rosa into his life with simple sleight of hand. But her mysterious death, and the lies that emerge soon after, force Red into a painful realization – even a trickster can be tricked.
As he delves deeper into the circumstances of Rosa’s life and death, confronting her hidden past and secret double-life, Red enters a world where betrayal, exploitation and brutality are not simply part of the act. Sometimes, when the lady vanishes, she stays vanished.
Praise for The Houdini Girl:
“The characters in Martyn Bedford’s persuasive novel will remain vividly in your mind…The Houdini Girl is an impressive achievement – elegantly crafted, utterly convincing and deeply felt.” (Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha)
“Martyn Bedford is the genuine article, a writer of unmistakable flair and accomplishment… The Houdini Girl is masterfully choreographed.” (Carey Harrison, The New York Times)
“A great success, delivering what Bedford always promised: writing that is nerve-racking, bold, unusual, stylish, never complacent and always intelligent.” (The Times)
“Magical in more senses than one, a novel that once started is hard to put down … a refreshing and enviable new talent.” (Daily Express)
“An exciting high-wire act of a book.” (Sunday Times)
“A clever, thought-provoking read, but first and foremost a gripping thriller. (Daily Mirror)
“A witty, humane thriller, the novel is also a wry essay on illusion, not only in magic . . . but also in our relationships.” (Patrick Gale, Daily Telegraph)
“Gripping… a terrific achievement … spiced with plenty of smoking and boozing and sex [this novel] offers a sharp rebuke to the macho culture of the new lad. The Houdini Girl powerfully lays bare the exploitation and degradation of women in pornography.” (Toby Mundy, New Statesman)
hardback, Viking, 2000
paperback, Penguin, 2001
Chloe Fortune is a dowser. She finds things. Objects, people, places, animals – anything, really. All she needs is a pendulum and a map to swing it over. And something to look for.
Ethan Gray is searching. For evidence: a trail, victims – anything to get him closer to the Black Beast, to prove that the “modern myth” of tacky news stories is a living, flesh-and-blood predator at large in the countryside.
But when Chloe joins Ethan in his quest, is she being drawn into a fantasy, the product of an obsessive man’s wishful thinking… or into something more real and more dangerous than she could ever have imagined? Out on the moors, the hunt has begun.
Praise for Black Cat:
“A thriller like this naturally relies on surface tension. But the wit and verve of Bedford’s writing lift the book from plain narrative to a plateau of pure delight.” (Literary Review)
“Impressive… original, thoughtful and highly engaging.” (Financial Times)
The Island of Lost Souls
hardback, Bloomsbury, 2006;
paperback, Bloomsbury, 2007
A fugitive turns up at a young widow’s door. Finn is a draft-dodger. Afraid of dying and opposed to the war which has already maimed his brother, he could see no way out until a stranger slipped him a calling card for an anti-draft network.
Now on the run, he has the promise of a new identity and a new life – but, if he is caught, the punishment will be severe. Then he meets Bryher and she takes him into hiding. Thrown together by war, united in grief, they risk everything for one another: a gamble that could make or break them.
Praise for The Island of Lost Souls:
“Draft-dodging fiction is nothing new… but Bedford handles the theme with tremendous verve and originality. [His] high concept storyline is complemented with wonderfully smooth prose. The Island of Lost Souls manages to be both a very entertaining thriller and a meditative exploration of the value of friendship and social commitment and the importance of good government. It is the perfect novel for these troubled times.” (Matt Thorne, Literary Review)
“Sharp, funny, pitiless … Bedford digs deeply into the morality of bravery and cowardice, and the true price of following your conscience.” (Kate Saunders, The Times)
“[A] promising look into a possible British tomorrow.” (Guardian)
“Like a lot of futuristic writing, this novel has an agenda and Martyn Bedford’s unflappable prose disguises the fervour of his polemic against militarism. Orwell, even in his fiction, was always an essayist. Bedford is a novelist. He may start with an idea but he ends with characters. Finn and his relationship with other dissidents turn this book … into something with perspective.” (Michael McGirr, Sydney Morning Herald)
“As much a meditation on belonging as a great anti-war statement, Bedford carries Finn and the stark choices he has to make at a beautiful pace. The tension ebbs and flows like waves, carrying you deep into Finn’s dilemmas and adventures. The novel thrills, it breaks your heart. Above all, it makes you glad you learned to read.” (Yorkshire Evening Post)
Note: for my adult novels, I am represented by Jonny Geller at the Curtis Brown literary agency in London.