Thursday, April 14, 2016

Martyn Bedford

Martyn Bedford’s first novel for young adults, Flip, won multiple awards in Britain and has been translated into eight languages. His second novel for young adults, Never Ending, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. He has also written five novels for adults, including The Houdini Girl.

Bedford's new YA novel is Twenty Questions for Gloria.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve been in a reading slump for the past two or three months. Books that I’d normally expect to finish in a couple of days have hung around my bedside table for a week or more. Some books, I’ve abandoned, unfinished – which is almost unheard of, for me. I won’t say which ones because it would be unfair on the authors. The fault is mine, not theirs.

The cause is easy to identify. In the latter part of 2015, I was privileged to be one of the judges for the children’s and young-adult fiction category of the Costa Book Awards, which is one of the top literary prizes in the UK. The three of us on the judging panel had to read more than 150 books in three months, then re-read the 12 longlisted titles before choosing a shortlist and a winner.

I was then asked to join the judging panel for the Costa Book of the Year Award, in which the five category winners – Novel, First Novel, Poetry, Biography and Children’s/YA – compete for the overall prize. Again, an enormous honour and pleasure ... but, by the time the judging process was over at the end of January, I was completely exhausted with reading. My eyes felt as if they’d been in a pickling jar for months and even the thought of picking up another book, let alone opening it, brought me out in a cold sweat.

For most of February and March, I tried and failed to get my reading mojo back. Close to panic, I wondered if I had gone off books for ever. Was I doomed to spend the rest of my life watching daytime TV or trawling YouTube for pictures of sneezing cats, or whatever it is that non-readers do?

But, just in the past two weeks, a rescue party has arrived. First on the scene was China Miéville, whose brilliantly imaginative steam-punk novel, Railsea, was like a rope thrown to a drowning man. Then Black Widow, a gripping, ingenious British crime thriller by Chris Brookmyre, pulled me ashore.

Now, I have Nell Zink administering the kiss of life with her wonderfully quirky, funny novel, Mislaid. I’m only half-way through this one but I’ve been hooked since the opening page. If you read a lot of fiction over several decades, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a novel that is unlike anything you’ve ever read. But Mislaid is such a book. On the face of it, it’s a family saga that begins with an affair between a college student, Peggy, and her poetry tutor, Lee, and follows the vicissitudes of their lives and loves in the decades that follow.

But it’s so much more than that. Zink, who was famously ‘discovered’ by Jonathan Franzen, takes a slice of recent American history (the mid-1960s onwards) and reshapes it with such linguistic panache, such storytelling virtuosity, such sardonic wit, such sharp social and cultural insight, that it forces you to rethink every assumption you ever had about sex, gender and race . . . and about what a novel might be. As for Peggy, I haven’t even finished the book yet and she is already one of my favourite fictional heroines of all time.

So, thank you, China Miéville. Thank you Chris Brookmyre. And, most of all, thank you, Nell Zink, for pulling me back from the brink of the sneezing cats.
Visit Martyn Bedford's website.

The Page 69 Test: Twenty Questions for Gloria.

--Marshal Zeringue