Lancaster in pics

A late reshuffle was required at my Lancaster Litfest gig yesterday after Sean O’Brien had to withdraw and the widely revered and multiple award-winning veteran of science fiction, M. John Harrison, hot-footed it from his home in Shropshire to take Sean’s place.

Mike, as he’s known, was great to work with on stage and the event was skilfully managed by our compere, Kevin McVeigh. Mike (pictured on the far left) and I read from our respective story collections – You Should Come With Me Now and Letters Home, both published by Comma Press – then discussed our work, and the short-story form, before taking questions from an appreciative audience.

I’m grateful to Comma’s Sales and Production Manager, Becca Parkinson, for the use of these photos from her Twitter feed.

Off to Lancaster

A trip across the Pennines beckons this weekend as I head over to Lancaster to take part in the town’s annual literature festival. It’ll be my first visit to the festival (or the town, for that matter) and I’m delighted and honoured to be sharing a stage with Sean O’Brien, one of the UK’s foremost poets.

Our event – the Comma Press Short Story Showcase – is part of Independent Publishing Day at the festival, which will celebrate some of the best new writing from publishers in the Northern Fiction Alliance, including Comma, Bluemoose Books, Dead Ink and Saraband. I’ll be reading from my recently published solo collection, Letters Home, and Sean O’Brien will read from Quartier Perdu, his second collection of short fiction, and we’ll also be discussing our work and the joys of the short-story form.

The event is at 4pm on Saturday (March 10th) at The Sanctuary, in Lancaster Library, 18-20 Market Street. To find out more, and to book tickets for this or any other events, please click on this link to the website of the Lancaster Litfest, which is marking its 40th anniversary this year and runs until March 25th.

By royal appointment

I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours in a studio earlier this week as a guest on the Emma Truelove culture show on Radio Royal FM, the hospital radio station based at Bradford Royal Infirmary.

I was there to talk about and read extracts from my short-story collection Letters Home, which was published in November by Comma Press. Radio Royal, which broadcasts online and directly to patients across the hospital via individual radio devices, has been in operation since 1954 and currently boasts an average of more 22,000 listening hours per month.

For my guest slot, I shared the studio with indy-published author, E. Rachael Hardcastle, who lives in Bradford and whose books include the Finding Pandora series of fantasy novels for young-adults and a new novella for adults, Noah Finn & the Art of Suicide.

Letters in the press

My short-story collection, Letters Home, has been receiving some favourable attention in the press recently. The Yorkshire Post ran an interview and review in its culture section, an author Q&A appeared in Big Issue North and a smashing review appeared in the well-regarded online books magazine

Here are extracts, with links to the full versions of the articles:

Big Issue North:
Many writers begin with a collection of short stories before making the leap to novels. Why did it happen the other way round for you?
In fact, I started out writing short stories (and had a couple of early pieces published in a magazine and an anthology) before I tackled my first novel. And I’ve continued to write short fiction alongside and in between my novels. I’ve always loved writing stories – it’s just taken me 20-odd years to produce enough decent ones to justify a collection!

For me, the short story began as a training ground where I could practise my craft but, over the years, I’ve come to appreciate it as a form in its own right, quite different to the novel. I’m attracted to the way a story can offer a snapshot of a character’s life at a particular moment – like an encounter with an interesting stranger on a train who you will never meet again but who leaves a lasting impression.

Yorkshire Post:
The quote from Jacob Ross on the book’s front cover says it all – this truly is “a luminous collection”. It is a display of creative virtuosity, with Bedford presenting a huge range of diverse voices and scenarios . . . a dazzling read that reveals a writer at the very top of his game.
Bedford proves to be an author unafraid to challenge his reader and seems keen to provoke introspection about the nature of the world and our place in it. His stories are thoughtful and are sure to empower those of a rebellious nature, as well as being a loving refrain to those who push against the status quo.

Letters Home is a vivid collection of heartfelt stories, told with vigour and obvious empathy. Bedford conjures up powerful narratives of everyday life which explore pertinent, often contentious, topics including migration and economic disparity with humour and care.

New anthology

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my latest short story in a new anthology of prose fiction and poetry. Portmanteau, released this week by Indigo Dreams Publishing, incudes specially commissioned pieces by staff and students at Leeds Trinity University (where I teach creative writing), and work by regulars at Wordspace, our monthly open-mic event. My contribution, “One Night in Port Manteau”, is a dark and creepy tale set in the red-light district of a seedy harbour town in an unnamed country, where an American tourist hooks up with an unusual pair of sex workers for a night none of them will forget.

Portmanteau is edited by Esther Dreher and Ethan Lowe, two students on the MA in Creative Writing at LTU, and poet and Professor of English, Oz Hardwick. Please click on this link to Amazon if you wish to purchase a copy.

Stories of my life

When my publisher, Comma Press, asked me to write a guest blog-post about my new short-story collection, I considered the suggested topics and decided to write about the ways in which I’ve drawn on personal experience in these fictional tales. My novels aren’t remotely autobiographical and yet, in Letters Home, several of the pieces arose directly from – and closely mirror – real events in my life. I was curious to explore why that might be.

Here’s the opening of the blog post:

Like many authors, I’m often asked to what extent my fiction is based on personal experience. Some readers seem unduly preoccupied with finding the writer in the writing; at least, where novelists are concerned. Philip Roth was recently quoted as saying that readers generally assumed his novels were autobiographical, but that when he published a memoir he was accused of making it up.

Perhaps this perception is rooted in the hackneyed creative-writing adage: Write what you know. As if real-life experience trumps all other cards in the fiction-writer’s hand – research, for example, or (whisper it) the imagination. Of course, plenty of writers do draw closely on autobiographical material for their novels, sometimes heavily disguised, sometimes draping only the thinnest of fictional veils over the fact.

I never have. None of my eight novels is even loosely autobiographical and none of my characters is a surrogate me. Let me state, for the record, that I have not taken revenge on my former teachers, been a trafficked sex-worker in Amsterdam, become obsessed with tracking down a panther on Ilkley Moor, woken up one morning to find my soul inside someone else’s body, or been sent to a psychiatric clinic after causing my brother’s death. I don’t even have a brother.

To read the rest of the piece, please click on this link to the Comma Press blog page.

If you’re interested, you can also listen to the audio of me reading excerpts from a couple of the stories in Letters Home at the book’s recent launch event in Bradford Waterstones. Click here to visit Comma’s twitter feed, where the recording can be accessed.

Letters praised

I’m grateful to David M Barnett, novelist and critic, for this smashing review of Letters Home, which appeared in both the Ilkley Gazette and the Wharfedale Observer this week:

Ilkley’s Martyn Bedford has forged a career for himself as a writer of novels, but Letters Home is his first collection of short fiction and finds both the author and the short story form in fine fettle.

Bedford has written literary thrillers such as Acts of Revision and Black Cat, and novels for young adults including Flip, which was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award. With Letters Home he takes perhaps a more contemplative look at distinct and diverse Northern lives.

The title story is an often moving and thought-provoking tale of an asylum seeker who is living in a flat overlooking Leeds United’s Elland Road ground. Local children chant abuse at him, his door is daubed with graffiti, unspeakable things are pushed through his letter box. Still, he composes in his head letters to send home to his family, cheerful missives about how his life in Britain is safe and comforting, even as Bedford counterpoints the lines from the letters he will never send with the stark and often brutal reality of being an unwanted stranger in a strange land.

In “My Soul To Keep”, Charlotte suffers from a rare condition that means she wants to sleep all the time, eventually succumbing to it and sleeping for a full year, becoming a minor celebrity in the process. Through the eyes of Kim, one of the sleep technicians tasked with monitoring the girl’s seemingly-endless sleep, Charlotte’s condition becomes almost enviable; she sleeps because it pushes the bad stuff in life away. Charlotte isn’t dead, isn’t in a coma, but is not properly alive. Instead she inhabits a strange netherworld that many people, after recent world events, would probably like to embrace.

Bedford’s writing is never anything less than strikingly engaging, and his stories are portraits of lives lived always on the edge of change – in the case of the young man who finds himself living in an apartment where an obscure painter once committed suicide, quite literally so – draw you in like overheard gossip.

The stories are episodes in people’s lives, which we are given access to, and rarely brought to solid conclusions. Like in the wonderful “The Beckhams Are In Betty’s”, in which a rumour that the celebrity family unit has taken over Ilkley’s flagship tearooms for a private tea provide an almost obsessive brief departure from the usual life of the protagonist.

The stories are both short postcards from the edge of everyday existence, and also Martyn Bedford’s bitter-sweet love notes to life in Yorkshire, and Letters Home is a first class read.

Tuning into Leeds

I spent an enjoyable half-hour in the studios of Chapel FM this evening as a guest on the Love the Words show. As well as chatting to the genial host, Peter Spafford, about my new story collection, Letters Home, I also read extracts from a couple of the stories: the title piece, “Letters Home”, and “The Beckhams are in Betty’s”.

Chapel FM, as the name suggests, is based in a former chapel in Seacroft, East Leeds, and broadcasts to listeners all over the Leeds area and around the world online. To hear the show on “listen again”, please click on this link to the station’s website. My slot begins at 86:45.

Library gig

I’m off to Simon Armitage’s neck of the woods (or neck of the moors, perhaps) on Monday for the latest event in the launch tour for my new short-story collection, Letters Home. At the invitation of the Friends of Marsden Library, I’ll be talking about the book and reading extracts from it at the latest in the Northern Writers Reading series at the famous old library, which is housed in the West Yorkshire village’s Mechanics Hall.

The Friends are a community organisation of volunteers set up in 2015 to promote the library, to assist the staff, and to keep the place open in the face of increasing pressure on local authority finances. In the summer of 2016, Kirklees Council approved the first stage of transferring ownership of Marsden Mechanics Hall to the village, represented by Marsden Community Trust (MCT). MCT will be responsible for the upkeep and will need to generate income from rent and room-hire to cover the costs.

Marsden Library is a very important part of the building, which has housed a library for the whole of its 150-year history. The MCT Board, Friends of Marsden Library and the Library Service have agreed to re-design the library to make better use of the space as a multi-purpose venue for the community. To this end, a fund-raising appeal has been launched and I’m very happy to do my bit to help promote the library and its campaign.

Please click here to visit the Friends of Marsden Library website for full details of the event, which is from 7.00-8.00pm on Monday November 20th. Admission is free but donations are welcome.

Book launch dates

A busy week looms with not one but two launches for my new solo collection of short stories, Letters Home.

The book isn’t officially published until November 16th but copies have already arrived at the publishers – the Manchester-based independent, Comma Press – and will be on sale at the two events. The stories – old and new, published and unpublished – span twenty years of my writing career, and the collection marks my first publication for an adult readership since The Island of Lost Souls (Bloomsbury) in 2006, after which I switched to writing teen/YA fiction.

The first launch event, billed as “An evening with Martyn Bedford” (what a horrible thought), is at the wonderful Waterstones branch in the Wool Exchange, Bradford, from 6.00-8.00pm on Tuesday (Nov 7th). I’ll be discussing the collection in-conversation with my brilliant editor at Comma, Ra Page, and reading extracts from some of the stories, as well as taking question from the audience. The event is free but space is limited so please contact the bookshop to reserve a place. Click here to visit the relevant page on the Waterstones website.

Then, on Thursday (Nov 9th), I’m taking part in the Leeds Short Story Salon from 6.30-8.30 at Blackwell’s bookshop in Woodhouse Lane, opposite Leeds University. I’ll be sharing a stage with Leeds-based author S.J. Bradley and there will also be open-mic slots for members of the audience. Again, the event is free but please contact the shop to get a ticket. Here’s the link to the event on the Blackwell’s website.

If you are unable to attend either event but would like to buy a copy of Letters Home, you can pre-order one directly from Comma Press for £9.00 (RRP £9.99) through this link.

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