Introduced by Frasier Armitage
It’s a true privilege to be able to introduce you to Joe Bedford as Write On! October Writer Of The Month. Joe is the creator of the Writers On Research interview series and writes short fiction and novels, with his debut novel being longlisted for the Grindstone Novel Prize in 2020. He’s also won several prestigious competitions, including the Leicester Writes Prize in 2022.
Joe’s writing had me hooked from the very first sentence. The extract below comes from A Bad Decade For Good People — a novel released earlier this year. I challenge you to be anything but instantly gripped by it!
Extract from A Bad Decade For Good People
If the policeman’s baton had found Laurie half an inch lower she would be blind in one eye. Instead it left her with a long, crescent-shaped scar, which she wore like a medal, never hiding it and never knowing how it made my stomach flip. Every time I saw it I had to shake off the memory of her blood running down over her eyelids and onto her jacket, and afterwards the stitching and the gooey rivets it left behind and the halo of yellow bruising that hung around the socket for weeks.
Her scar was all I could see while she pleaded with me by the side of the road, until we were lit in the headlights of Dad’s car and then running, slipping, gripping each other’s clothes in the ditch. I remember the sound of Dad’s voice carrying over the hum of the engine, the faint warmth coming through Laurie’s jacket as she held me, the smell of mud and silage. The hills opposite looked like the silhouette of a man sleeping on his side, cut against the stars – the kind of thing you notice at midnight in the countryside, with someone who makes you feel as though things could be better. That and the raw feeling that your failure isn’t yet total but just another blip in time, waiting to pass.
We tried not to laugh aloud as Dad stumbled back into his car, slammed the door and sped away. After that Laurie was earnest again and pleading for me to pack it in at the pub and come away with her to Brighton, where she’d found the perfect place for us to carve something out, her words. Where Helena was waiting, whose name she couldn’t mention without smiling.
‘I just want to make it right,’ I said, but she didn’t recognise my guilt, never could.
She just pointed the torch up to her chin and pulled a face, which forced me to laugh. The stars above her head disappeared and I saw the long, moon-shaped line of damage illuminated above her eye. Half an inch lower, that eye would be blind, I thought. Then she’d be someone else and I’d be someone else. Though she’d always be my sister.
© Joe Bedford, 2023, (Published by Parthian Books)
What a great opening! Aren’t you just itching to read more? I know I am.
Joe isn’t just a master of the long form. His short stories are brilliant too, reflecting his literary style while remaining grounded in relatability. A great example of this is found in this next piece: The Tick.
We raised our arms above the grass while she explained about the deer tick – the thing that stuffs its head into you, drinks you up, gives you Lyme disease. I didn’t want to hear it. She said that if you pull off a tick its head comes away from its body and rots in you, which made me think of the prawns I’d undressed the night before and their frilly faces in the dustbin of the guesthouse. The kind of food we’d never cook at home, at least not from scratch – the kind of ‘fresh food’ that’s supposed to make everything else seem fresh. That old trick.
When we set up our picnic the first thing she said, just as I took a deep sniff of our supermarket pate, was that I’d need to check between her buttocks as soon as we got back. In case there was a tick. I told her she could spread herself there and then if she wanted but she was busy running a comb through her hair, checking the teeth. She found a video on her phone of a farmer running a brush through a calf’s tail so that you could see the whole brush alive with ticks, clamouring all over it so you could barely see the brush-hairs. Writhing among the bristles. ‘For God’s sake,’ I said.
Back at the guesthouse she peeled off her clothes, stuffed them into a white plastic bag. A smell like bisque wafted from the bin. I hadn’t seen her naked since the thing with Marcus and even though that’d all been part of the arrangement I still didn’t want to touch where his fingers had been. On her, in her – it made my skin crawl. The sight of her pale body in the en suite mirror, running her fingers under her arms, up her inner thigh. It made me queasy – seeing what he must have seen, in their hotel room or his car or wherever it was. Perhaps it was in a guesthouse like this one, this same one even. On the bed, in the shower, on her, in her. She should have told me some other time.
I forced myself to go through when she called. I could still taste the pate when I bent down behind her. Just a flicker in me expected to find one of them hiding between her buttocks. Feeding, waiting, stubborn to detach. You’re supposed to twist and pull, if you find one, so that the head doesn’t come off. Twist, pull, discard, forget.
She asked and I said ‘Nothing there’. Though I hadn’t looked.
Afterwards she stepped into the shower and blasted herself all over with the showerhead. Just in case. When it was my turn, I pulled the jacket off my back like a prawn’s shell, examined my naked body in the mirror, my hairs like bristles. Combed through the folds, the crevices. And then let the scalding water run over me while she made a phone call.
© Joe Bedford, 2021 (First published in Litro)
I always admire a writer who can engage my emotions with very few words. This next extract taken from On Tuesdays I Clean The House, got me in that zone almost immediately. This piece won the Leicester Writes Prize. As you read on, just reflect on the variety of feelings stirred from one sentence to the next. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a deserving winner.
On Tuesdays I Clean the House (Extract)
I put my head in the oven. The black grime here is just part of the darkness but I scrub at it anyway, forcefully, with a steel nest that’s coming apart in my fist. The hard bumps of cooking can never be scrubbed away, but unlike before we married, when oven-grime was all part of my spite for our landlords, this oven belongs to me and her – our first oven in our first kitchen with the muck of our shared cooking, where the cleanliness is also ours. I catch the orange water carrying flakes of black down the glass. There’s a smear of it on my t-shirt, right over the word ‘Greece’.
My laughter sounds metallic in the smooth space of the kitchen – the clatter of a baking shelf thrown against the wall. Perhaps my neighbours have their ears pressed to their ugly paisley wallpaper, forming with their mouths: Is she laughing? Maybe she’s crying. Or perhaps they’re cleaning their own house, or pissing in their own garden. Or perhaps they’re not in.
But everyone’s in. The chatter of our television in the living room reminds me of it, sitting there like a visiting salesman in the closed hearth. My wife hadn’t wanted one, I hadn’t especially wanted one either, but my brother-in-law put it there anyway – he said it made it feel more like a living room. We watched it sometimes after arguing – me in the armchair, my wife on the sofa which we’d repositioned especially, playing the married couple. It went on more after a few months of curfew, when the long midday seemed empty of human voices and she began to return too tired to climb the stairs, and so took her tea on the sofa and sometimes slept there. I sleep there too sometimes, though only when I can’t face the bedroom. I leave the TV on continually, only muting it when the voices begin to clamour.
The lit screen bristles when I polish it. A woman is being interviewed from a stretcher – I brush her hair with the chamois. There are captions running along the bottom with words and numbers like the steady index of a stock exchange, though these are the names of places and the numbers are people very much like the woman on TV but who died without first telling their sad, familiar stories to the cameras. There’s a nurse with her, pressing her forehead with a damp cloth. Green eyes rising above the white of her mask.
Her irises look like little perfect worlds, swallowed by widening black.
My wife’s voice rings so loudly in my mind it’s as if she’s come home early, and I can picture what she would say if she caught me halfway through my cleaning routine, which she’s never seen – something about how womanly I look in my marigolds and how the soles of my upturned feet are atrocious, and then the sound of her laughter which was so strong for so many years, even when her energy was sinking under the weight of the disaster unfolding around us. Her laughter burst from her like soap bubbles, inflating quickly and then vanishing so suddenly that you could hear the space where the laughter had been, like the outline of a bubble that hangs there for just half a second after it pops.
That is what should be on the television – her laughter. But now it’s polished and the woman on the stretcher is gone, and they’re all onto the next concurrent disaster. Except for me.
From the top step I watch for her bicycle swinging around into the driveway, and I’m ready to thump down the stairs and flick the kettle on. She used to arrive so often sitting side-saddle on the bike, ready to dismount, that it was like someone magical was floating down the drive to put everything right. It’s a sentimental thought, pretty stupid – I never thought that kind of thing before. Often towards the beginning of the curfew I was simply jealous that she got to go out, and found her coming back like that almost entitled, like How can you look like that when the world is so fucked-up? The stupidest thought of all.
She told me before that her thoughts about me were a greater burden than the things we said in argument, because they couldn’t be taken back, and I agree. I thought badly of my wife not just on the top step with the freshly-vacuumed carpet underneath me but alone in the garden where I swore under my breath and even with her, even in bed while we were making love and she pushed me away halfway through. Even when she couldn’t come home, even later than that. I visualise myself in these moments and see a stupid child, the one who pisses in her own garden, and then I get the urge to clean again but it’s already finished. So instead I walk slowly down the stairs, and move the mop and bucket from the bathroom door just to be rid of them, and fill the kettle.
© Joe Bedford, 2022 (Winner of the Leicester Writes Prize)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction to Joe Bedford’s work. He has a true talent for crafting sentences that speak to the heart, are a joy to read, and grab your attention right from the off. If you’ve fallen in love with his style and storytelling as much as I have, you can connect with Joe at his website: joebedford.co.uk and on X (formerly Twitter): @joebedford_uk
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Joe Bedford is the creator of the Writers On Research interview series and writes short fiction and novels, his debut novel being longlisted for the Grindstone Novel Prize in 2020.