We were fortunate enough to have author Joe Bedford turn to us for help with his debut novel, through a developmental edit with Sam Jordison. That same novel was longlisted for the Grindstone Novel Prize in 2020, and has been picked up by Parthian Books for publication in June 2023.
JW: Tell us a little bit about your history as a writer – when did you start writing, and how did you begin developing your career in the early stages?
Like all writers, my journey began as a reader. I grew up reading C.S. Lewis and Brian Jacques and plagiarising their distant worlds and talking animals in stories of my own. I wrote awful poetry and pretentious song lyrics as a teenager, and continued both when I started university. After that I moved to London to be ‘a writer’ and have written continuously since then, though it has taken me ten years for my writing to become anything like an authentic expression of how I think and feel. So much of my work over the years was about how I want to think, how I want to appear, that I look at some of my early stories and novels and wonder how on earth my friends and family read them without bursting out laughing. But that is all part of the process, not just of writing seriously but of living seriously, which is living honestly with oneself, I think.
JW: You started your career as a published author with short stories in magazines and competitions, before querying for your first novel. What made you begin submitting your work to writing competitions, and what have been the benefits of that approach?
I came to writing competitions after a few years of publishing short stories in magazines, mainly to attempt to add awards to my publication history. What I found was a community of writers who are hugely motivated and massively supportive of each other. Submitting to competitions has connected me with organisers and judges, with writers who have similar goals to myself, and with uniquely talented people working in a huge variety of styles and forms. After a couple of years of submitting widely, I began to connect with people who would also regularly appear on shortlists and longlists – writers who are not all aiming for success in longer fiction but are masters of the flash, short fiction, and hybrid forms. The competition circuit holds a wealth of talent and enthusiasm, as well as a willingness to reach out and connect as a network of support. Aside from the more widely-broadcast names like the Bridport Prize, I always enjoy submitting to Leicester Writes Short Story Prize, the Bournemouth Writing Prize and the Hastings LitFest short story competition among others.
What I found was a community of writers who are hugely motivated and massively supportive of each other. Submitting to competitions has connected me with organisers and judges, with writers who have similar goals to myself, and with uniquely talented people working in a huge variety of styles and forms.
JW: What are the main advantages of having a professional developmental assessment, and how did it help you get your book to where it is now?
I feel like one of the hardest calls creative practitioners have to make is knowing when a piece is finished. For writers wanting to publish, that point comes when you’re able to say honestly to yourself: this is ready to send out. But in my experience, it’s impossible to know when this is true without outside input. Before bringing my manuscript to Jericho Writers, I felt as though my work was approaching completion – my structure was working, my character arcs were tidy and the prose itself felt clean. Yet despite this, feedback from the few people who read my later drafts was the same: something is missing. That’s when I decided to undertake a developmental edit with Jericho Writers, to work out what that missing piece was and to ask for guidance in overcoming that final obstacle. In the end, that process involved changing a fundamental aspect of the story, but after I did that, suddenly everything else fell into place. It was like stepping back from a Magic Eye puzzle and finally seeing the true shape behind the fuzz.
Yet despite this, feedback from the few people who read my later drafts was the same: something is missing. That’s when I decided to undertake a developmental edit with Jericho Writers, to work out what that missing piece was and to ask for guidance in overcoming that final obstacle.
JW: You received an offer on your debut novel from indie publisher Parthian Books (due to publish in 2023). What have been the benefits, so far, of working with an independent publisher?
There are many ways to publish, all involving a mix of what writers want from their work, what publishers are feasibly able to do with their work, and how their readership might finally receive that work. The differences between mainstream publishing, independent publishing and self-publishing (as well as the various hybrid forms that intersect with each) are well-documented, and in the past I’ve considered all of these options for my work. For this novel, I selected only a small number of agents and independent publishers to query, and all of these were people whose work I knew and trusted. Parthian Books are a publisher whose books I had already read and admired, so querying them didn’t feel like a job application. When they then engaged with my work I felt as though I was being read carefully, passionately and respectfully – not just as someone with a lucrative product (though this is also important) but as a writer with something valuable to say. Since signing with Parthian, that feeling has been with me every step of the way.
JW: Have there been any surprises or unexpected obstacles on your writing journey so far?
As I think most writers will recognise, obstacles might be the defining feature of the writing journey – especially the journey from practice to publication. When I was twenty-one I met the author David Peace and asked him at what age he was first published. He told me he was thirty. I told him I would be published in my twenties. I don’t remember him rolling his eyes but he probably should have done. At that age I was so convinced I was ‘a writer’ that I foresaw no barriers between myself and the recognition I craved. But being ‘a writer’ is not enough; in fact, it is not always even helpful. For me, the greatest unexpected obstacle was that idea within myself: that I am ‘a writer’, a clever person, who should write cleverly and be celebrated for it. It was only when I realised that readers are more interested in honest emotions and engaging characters that my writing began to achieve any resonance at all. Before that, it was only ego, bluffing and the satisfaction of an elegant sentence. Though many writers have made a career out of that too.
Being ‘a writer’ is not enough; in fact, it is not always even helpful.
JW: Do you have any advice for people looking to make their writing into a sustainable source of income?
Get support. Turning writing into a sustainable lifestyle practice (at least one that affords you enough time to write without being overburdened financially) is about seeking help. There are dozens of writers’ organisations, charities, bursaries, scholarships and residencies out there to apply to. I am currently writing fiction full-time as part of a funded PhD studentship, which I was awarded because I spent time putting together a careful application, and because I had done the groundwork to get me there. Write when you can, where you can, and send it out as much as you feel able to. Pursue courses and training if you can afford to, and look out for free low-income places if you can’t – there are plenty out there. Connect with other writers by emailing them, even just to tell them you enjoyed their work, or by attending readings, workshops and open mics if you’re able to. Most importantly, work hard on your craft so that they when you do pursue funding, you have something that people will look at and say: yes, this person is dedicated, this person is serious about writing. And have the confidence to know that this is what you want, and that you have something meaningful to give.
Joe Bedford is a writer from Doncaster, UK. His short stories have been published widely, including in Litro, Structo and MIR Online, and have been placed in numerous national awards. His debut novel A Bad Decade for Good People, which underwent a development edit with Galley Beggar Press founder Sam Jordison via Jericho Writers, will be published by Parthian Books in Summer 2023.
For more details see joebedford.co.uk.
Photo credits: Deborah Thwaites
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