Beyond the Curb
Book blogs have become a cultural phenomenon in the past decade or so, democratizing literary criticism and journalism for a generation of reviewers and readers who – by choice or exclusion – look beyond the traditional reviews pages of newspapers, magazines and journals. Among the more thoughtful and erudite sites I’ve come across in this flourishing online realm is Curb Complex, which is characterized by excellent reviews, author interviews, thought pieces and the like.
So I was pleased and flattered that my recent short-story collection, Letters Home (Comma Press), has been selected for review on the site, alongside a Q&A-style interview with me, conducted by Curb Complex’s Liam Bishop. His penetrative review focuses on several individual stories in the collection, placing them in a literary, socio-political or cultural context, and concludes with the assessment:
“Bedford’s characters […] are often caught in moments of transition, traversing the past to make sense of the present, and there is nowhere left to go but to go.”
To read the review in full, please click on this link.
And here’s a flavour of the Q&A:
Q: What are you looking for in your own environment to construct the environment of your stories? What drew you to a particular locality for instance?
A: Milan Kundera said (and I’m paraphrasing) that the novelist demolishes the house of his/her life and uses the bricks to build the houses of his/her fiction. Like most analogies, this is an over-simplification of a complex process; it also places undue emphasis on an author’s autobiographical experience in relation to two other essential sources of fictional material: research and, of course, the imagination. However, like many writers, I draw on the events of my own life to varying extents, with varying degrees of disguise and embellishment, in most of my fiction.
Sometimes, as in “The Beckhams are in Betty’s”, the premise is rooted in direct experience: the first half of the story (in which the narrator is told by his dental hygienist that the Beckhams are in town) happened to me, more or less as described. But the protagonist is not me and his response to the rumour was not mine, so the story shifts from semi-autobiographical to fictional as it proceeds. With other stories, the material might be sourced from something I’ve read in a newspaper or seen on TV; for example, “Here’s a Little Baby, One, Two, Three” was prompted by a nature documentary about bee-eaters (although my characters are human, not birds).
The most overtly autobiographical piece in the collection, “Unsaid” – a story told entirely in dialogue – is based on the last weeks of my dad’s life, with many of the exchanges taken verbatim from real conversations, as best as I can recall them, albeit that ‘my’ character is female. As for locality, the drug-smuggler’s grim hotel room in “A Representative in Automotive Components” (as well as his illness and the unlikely friendship with the sales rep who helps him), were drawn directly from my own experiences as a backpacker in India – although the drug-smuggling aspect is made up, in order to provide a plot that enables a particular episode in my life to function as a story rather than memoir.
I don’t subscribe to the old creative-writing adage that you should ‘write what you know’, or not exclusively at least. But I do believe that personal experience, when filtered through a writer’s imagination, can lend essential depth and authenticity – both contextual and emotional – to a fictional narrative.
To read the Q&A in full, please click on this link.