Show 006: March 2008
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NewsThe bulbs are out in my garden and it’s the beginning of the literature festival season. I’ve just taken part in the Headingley Literature Festival, and Huddersfield , and am looking forward to the second incarnation of Scarborough’s festival in April. Literature festivals have really grown in numbers over the last few years. I would love to hear from you about festivals near you, whether local or national. The Scarborough Literature Festival is billing itself as The Long Weekend where you can spend the whole time, enjoying talking about books and meeting authors.
Book ReviewThis month’s book is The Island of Lost Souls, set in a near future where the country is involved in a war for democracy, and Fin our hero, a young man of twenty four is wanting to avoid conscription. I first read this book about eighteen months ago for an event in North Wales. It grabbed me by the throat from the first page. In a nail-bitingly tense narrative we read about Fin’s quest for survival where he has a stark choice - to go to war or go on the run. I know that comparisons have been made with Ian McEwan and Iain Banks, but Martyn Bedford has his own style, and, written in beautiful English, the book is chockful of ideas and debate. I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I did.
I talk to Martyn Bedford about the writing of The Island of Lost Souls and his first novel Acts of Revision.
The Island of Lost Souls has its roots a long way back. I was in my twenties when the Falklands War was happening and I was a typical lefty pacifist, and I think the idea of an anti-war novel was rooted in that time, but I didn’t do anything about it then. The first invasion of Iraq brought my anti-war leanings to the surface. The thing I was trying to avoid was another Vietnam draft-dodger novel; I thought the best thing to do was to set it in a near future where conscription was introduced. I think one thing you can do as a writer is to live out some elements in your life that you can’t do in reality. I wanted to challenge a government’s right to embark on such a war.
I’ve been doing lots of reader’s groups, and public readings, around the book, and the war as a topic doesn’t seem to crop up very often. People seem to be more interested in the dystopia I’ve created rather than the war. I do base the novel in the Scilly Isles, but the world I’ve created is a hybrid of Britain and America. The first edition was published in 2006, it feels very long ago now. When you’re writing something new, the last thing feels far away.. My mind it too occupied by what I’m writing at the moment. I flourished in English at school and wanted to go onto journalism, I was always writing short stories and the first chapters of novels. By the end of my twenties I was more interested in writing fiction than journalism.
My first novel was called Acts of Revision and it was published in 1996. I had read my old schools reports and was staggered by the low opinion that teachers seemed to have of me. I had a hero who was psychologically disturbed ,and, clearing out after his mother’s death, finds his old reports. He tracks his old teachers down and enacts various revenges against them. There’s always one teacher in our life that we remember with dislike.
I’ve more or less wrapped my present novel up. It’s called The Fifth Tenant, set in Kentish Town in London, where a number of people lived in a shared house. I tell their individual and intersecting stories.
I don’t make a conscious decision to make each novel different from my others, but I’ve always been easily bored, I’ve always chopped and changed. I’d find it boring to write genre books like crime or sci-fi. As a writer you need to go with the grain of your own creative processes.
The best things in my life as a novelist are that I actually love using words, which why I was attracted to journalism in the first place. Being a writer can be very frustrating, but when you produce a piece of writing you enjoyed writing that’s great. Funnily enough I’ve just started writing poetry again for the first time in about twenty years; it’s wonderful concentrating on the individual word or image.