A Vivid Collection, Fresh and Unafraid To Challenge

I sat down earlier this week filled with good intentions. I had a new collection of stories to read and, rather mendaciously, told myself I’d just read one. Just one. I didn’t. I devoured the collection in front of me, moving irresistibly and greedily from one story to the next, incapable of stopping.

The addictive book in front of me was Letters Home by Martyn Bedford, published by Comma Press whose mission is to put the short story at the heart of contemporary literature. Letters Home is a collection of twelve short stories, some previously published elsewhere, and some created for this collection.

Each story can be read as a standalone work of fiction, but they all feature characters who have reached points of redefinition, who are trying to exchange their old identities for something fresh. This reinvention may be an act of escape, through the deep caress of sleep, or an act of rebellion when walking away from a soul crushing job, but all the stories here recognise that the ‘first step in changing reality is to construct it.’

Martyn Bedford is the author of five novels for adults: Acts of Revision, Exit, Orange & Red, The Houdini Girl, Black Cat and The Island of the Lost Souls. He has also written three novels for young adults; Flip, Never Ending and Twenty Questions for Gloria. Winner of the Yorkshire Post First Book Award, Bedford was also shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award and longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and has had his work translated into fifteen languages. He has contributed to four Comma anthologies: The Book of Leeds, M.O., Beta-Life and Protest.

“So he waved, to let them know he was well. That he was not Olsen.”

Because of Olsen centres on a man who finds, to his initial dismay, that his crummy bedsit is a site of honoured pilgrimage for fans of a cult artist. Eerie enough as a premise, particularly when disturbed from slumber to find a group of tourists snapping pictures of your morning face; however, things become eerier still when Miller begins to shift, insidiously towards the mysterious Olsen driven by a morbidly curious desire to understand the man behind the myth.  

“Christie read the words, the big ones along the top. Daddy’s lie, again.”

A Missing Person’s Enquiry is a heart wrenching exploration of grief and loss, told through the eyes of Christie who is sure that if he can solve the mystery behind his mother’s disappearance then she will return to him.

“Doing anything nice at the weekend sir?”

Unsaid demonstrates Bedford’s thrilling restraint, through his use of a non-traditional narrative which is still painfully evocative. Playing with themes of ageing and the changing dynamics as children become caregivers to parents, this is a warm, loving portrayal of a father and daughter, both swept along by the passage of time.



Bedford proves to be an author unafraid to challenge his reader

“His body felt unnaturally light, held in place on the bed by the weight of the sheet; he pictured himself, a chalk figure in the black.”

A Representative in Automotive Components is a fever dream in print. Following a backpacker on a dangerous mission who falls foul of dysentery, this tale bears witness to his distress as he literally watches his future get flushed away. This melancholy offering is unsettling, and Bedford’s writing is so vivid that the reader feels themselves tangled in the sweat drenched sheets, lost and alone in a strange land.

“What we’re witnessing here is nowt less than a planned attack on the British working class and our communities…they hate us. And, if we let them, they will destroy us.”

Withen follows a family fractured by the miner’s strike and slowly reveals old hurts and long buried resentments. The cataclysmic impact of Thatcher on Northern mining communities is highlighted in heart aching relief and serves as a chilling reminder that little has changed, communities devastated by closure of the pits have never fully recovered and the North continues to be marginalised by the Government. As well as giving voice to the injustice felt by the residents of those communities so carelessly decimated, Withen also gives any Northern reader a thrilling chance to see their community in print and to see the stories of their families told on a national stage with great compassion.

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.

Letters Home is a collection of short stories from Martyn Bedford, published by Comma Press, and is available now.

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