Category Archives: short stories
My interactive story, “The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam”, is to be discussed in Postdigital Storytelling: Poetics, Praxis, Research, an academic book written by Dr Spencer Jordan, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham, and due to be published by Routledge later this year.
The story – a collaboration between me and designer Andy Campbell – was originally commissioned and published online in 2000 by the Ilkley Literature Festival, in conjunction with Route Publishing, and is regarded as a key hypertext in the early development of digital, interactive narrative fiction in the UK.
It’s smashing to think that the story is still being read and studied nearly 20 years after it was written!
Miriam is now hosted by Dreaming Methods and can be viewed via this link: https://dreamingmethods.com/miriam/
My latest short story is newly published online as part of an innovative project that pairs writers and photographers to produce pieces of fiction and accompanying images for use in hospitals working with stroke patients.
A Thousand Word Photos has been conceived and set up by Ben Lambert (creator and editor) alongside Alexia Singh (photographic editor), with the idea of commissioning 1000-word short stories inspired by photographs – in my case, an intriguing and atmospheric shot of a basement storeroom, taken by the internationally renowned, award-winning photographic artist, Chloe Dewe Matthews. Using this as my starting point, I wrote The Interaction, a Pinteresque piece in which an unnamed protagonist is subjected to interrogation.
Here’s the opening to give you a flavour:
The procedure is the same as always. I am escorted to the Interaction Room and made to sit at the desk, facing the glass screen that divides both desk and room. My escorts retreat but do not leave. After the customary wait, my Interactor lets himself into the other half of the room, briefcase in hand. He sits opposite me, shaved head gleaming beneath the spotlights that enclose us in white haze. His suit shimmers like a seal’s pelt. The screen holograms my reflection over his face, as if we are one entity. This thought hasn’t struck me before but I daren’t let it distract me: it might be months until my next Interaction – assuming this one ends in failure, as the others have done. I shut that thought down, too.
In addition to being published online, the stories selected for the project are read aloud to stroke patients at hospitals by professionally trained actors working with the charity InterAct Stroke Support to aid recovery through creative stimulation.
I’m pleased to announce that one of my short stories has been given a new lease of life by being published for the second time. “The Wrong Coat” appears in Reflections, the newly launched anthology published by Cleckheaton Literature Festival and featuring prose and poetry from writers who have taken part in the festival. My story was originally published in Journeys: a Space for Words (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2016).
I’m looking forward to a trip to the north-east next weekend to take part in the prestigious Durham Book Festival – my first gig there in nearly twenty years.
I’ll be reading from and discussing my short-story collection, Letters Home, and sharing a stage with Jacqueline Crooks (The Ice Migration) and Colette Snowden (The Secret to Not Drowning) in a panel event chaired by Kevin Duffy, founding editor of Bluemoose Books. The event is organised by the Northern Fiction Alliance, a radical collective of independent publishers based in the north of England, showcasing work from Bluemoose (Hebden Bridge), Peepal Tree Press (Leeds) and my own publishers, Comma Press (Manchester).
Durham Book Festival, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors, is now in its 29th year. The 2018 festival runs from October 6th to October 14th and includes some stellar figures from the world of literature: Pat Barker, Sarah Waters, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Sarah Perry, Kate Mosse, Alan Johnson and Andrew McMillan, to name just a few.
Our session will be in the Burlison Gallery at Durham Town Hall, from 4.00-5.00pm on Saturday October 13th. Tickets, priced £5/£4, can by booked by phone or online – please follow this link to the event’s page on the festival website for more details.
I’m very pleased to be sharing a stage (again) with my good friend and fellow writer, Mandy Sutter, at a gig in Hebden Bridge next week. In a reprise of our recent “Mad, Bad & Sad” event in Ilkley, we’ll be reading from our story collections – Letters Home (Comma Press 2017) and Bush Meat (New Welsh Rarebyte 2017) – and discussing what draws fiction-writers and readers to dark and disturbing subject matter.
The event is at 7pm on Thursday October 4th in Hebden Bridge Library, Cheetham Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 8EP (doors open at 6.30.) There will be plenty of time for audience questions and we’ll be signing copies of our books, and generally mingling, afterwards. Admission is free but tickets can be booked in advance – please click on this link for full details.
It’s rare that you get the chance to do a gig within walking distance of your home, so I’m looking forward to an easy stroll down to Ilkley Playhouse for “Mad, Bad and Sad” – an event which will explore the dark side of life (and fiction).
I’ll be sharing a stage with two other writers – my good friend, Mandy Sutter, and acclaimed debut novelist Clare Fisher – to give readings from our work and to discuss why so many writers, and readers, are drawn to stories which explore the sordid and the seedy, the grim and the gruesome, the traumatic and the tragic.
Mandy, winner of the 2016 New Welsh Writing Awards, is the author of two novels – Stretching It (2013) and Bush Meat (2017), three poetry pamphlets, most recently Old Blue Car (2015), and co-author of two non-fiction books about the lives of Somali women. Bush Meat was described by Booker-shortlisted Alison Moore as “atmospheric…wonderfully unexpected…disquieting, touching and darkly humorous.”
Clare’s first novel, All the Good Things, was published by Penguin last year – described as “a sparkly and unsettling debut” by The Guardian – and her collection of short fiction, How the Light Gets In, is out this month.
I’ll be reading excerpts from my own story collection, Letters Home (Comma Press, 2017), in which themes of loss, absence and isolation recur (not to mention death, violence, racism and depression). A cheery evening in prospect, then. The event will be chaired by local journalist and author Yvette Huddleston, the books editor of the Yorkshire Post, and there will be time for questions from the audience.
“Mad, Bad and Sad” is at 7.30pm on Wednesday June 13th, in the Wildman Theatre at Ilkley Playhouse. Tickets are £6 from the Playhouse box office and the venue advises advance booking, either online at www.ilkleyplayhouse.co.uk or on 01943 609539. Here’s a direct link to the event page on the Playhouse website.
My tour of the blogosphere continued with a recent guest spot on the Papertrail Podcast website to take part in a Q&A interview about the themes I explore in my short-story collection, Letters Home, and my writing more generally.
Here’s an extract to give you a flavour:
Q: A lot of these stories feel like they’re examining the absence of something. In some stories it’s literally about people searching for something, or trying to get a glimpse of it. In others it’s more abstract, and the absence is never directly addressed. What draws you too examine these moments?
A: I’m interested in the tension between life as it is (or seems to be) and as we might wish it to be, between what we have and we don’t or can’t have, or what we’ve lost. The boy whose mother has disappeared, the asylum seeker separated from his wife and son, the widower facing another lonely Christmas dinner, the sole survivor of triplets . . . each of these characters is trying to reconcile what is present in their lives with what’s absent from it. I’m exploring the notion that these empty spaces in our existence don’t signify something missing, as such, but are as much a part of who we are as the silences between the notes are integral to a piece of music.
To read the Q&A in full, and to check out other books-related interviews, articles and reviews on the Papertrail site, click here.
I’ll be revisiting one of my former home towns shortly to take part in the Sheffield Festival of Debate 2018. Pre-children, my wife and I lived in the Walkley Bank area of the city from 1994-95, when I briefly returned to journalism after graduating from the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. While my wife took up a one-year post at Sheffield University Library, I commuted to Bradford three days a week for my job as a sub-editor on the Telegraph and Argus newspaper.
I’ve been back to Sheffield several times down the years and am looking forward to dropping by once again on May 9th for a panel event at the festival, where I’ll be reading from and discussing my short story, Withen, which is set locally and centres on the so-called Battle of Orgreave in the summer of 1984, during the miners’ strike. The story appears in Protest: Stories of Resistance (Comma Press 2017), and I’ll be sharing a stage with Joanna Quinn, whose story based on the Greenham Common peace camp is also in the anthology.
The event will be chaired by the activist, broadcaster and writer, John Rees, one of the consultants for the book, in which writers are paired with social and cultural historians, academics and other experts, to produce short-fiction and accompanying contextual commentaries based on political protests spanning more than 600 years of British history. It forms part of a series of sessions on democracy and activism at this year’s Festival of Debate, now in its fourth year, and which runs to the end of June.
The Protest event is at 7pm on Wednesday May 9th in the Millennium Gallery, 48 Arundel Gate, Sheffield, S1 2PP. To book tickets and to find out about other events, please click on this link to the festival’s website
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.
I’m grateful to the writer, blogger and critic, Hannah Radcliffe, for a wonderful review of my story collection, Letters Home, which she posted this week on the Thresholds website, an international short-story forum. Here’s an edited version of her article:
THE THINGS WE LEAVE UNSAID
by Hannah Radcliffe
I find something profoundly comforting in recognising a semblance of my own life in the writing of others. As a northerner who has lived in the south of the UK for many years now, I find reading stories firmly bedded in a northern culture to be the literary equivalent of slipping on a favourite pair of slippers; shaped exactly to fit you, at once comforting and familiar.
Perhaps I’m being a bit sentimental here, but forgive me. I’m currently homesick for the North – and therefore when reading Letters Home by Martyn Bedford I found it quite wonderful to walk the streets of Ilkley with the protagonist of ‘The Beckhams are in Betty’s’, and hugely evocative to sit in the café at Manchester Oxford Road Station with Louisa in ‘Waiting at the Pumpkin.’
Aside from my own sentimentality, author Martyn Bedford has described this collection – which is published by Comma Press – as a group of characters ‘…struggling to bridge the gap between life as it is and life as they might wish it to be.’ Struggling with the idea of what is home, the nature of identity, the need to escape from one life to something different.
One might say they are characters who are at a point of redefinition: a man facing down the ghosts of his past at his father’s funeral; an asylum seeker in an alien country trying to piece together a new life far away from his family; a young woman slipping further and further away from reality in a seemingly self-induced coma; a teenage drug-smuggler perilously ill in a foreign land.
I think what I found most poignant when reading this collection were the things that were not spoken between characters; the words that fall between the cracks. Time and time again, characters seem to slip past one another, their true intentions never quite vocalised.
Overall, this collection feels to me like a group of stories about tipping points: a man facing a final illness, a woman close to giving birth in a potentially abusive relationship, a son attending his father’s funeral and allowing an old grudge to travel to the surface once more.
Perhaps I found such resonance in this collection because of the particular voices explored here: northern voices. Or perhaps it’s because all of us can relate to times at which we have stood on a precipice in our own lives, needing or wanting something – change, validation, a sense of understanding, looking to move beyond our current circumstances to something different, something better.
So, perhaps, reading Letters Home was not actually as comforting as slipping into my favourite pair of slippers, after all. Perhaps the reality of it was more challenging than that, more demanding.
But then, isn’t the sign of a good book is that it forces you to think? And leaves you thinking, long after you’ve set it down? Martyn Bedford’s characters are reconstructing their own realities, and asking you to do the same.
To read the review in full and to explore the rest of the excellent Thresholds site, please click here.← Older posts