Friday, 19 October 2012

Bio Punk: Stories from the far side of research

I am really proud to have a story in this.

Bio Punk is an anthology of stories, commissioned by Comma Press, from established and emerging writers. The premise of each story is for writers to partner up with scientists or ethicists at the cutting edge of their field of research. They get together and the scientist shares aspects of their work with the writer. The writer then goes away and creates a story based on factual information about that particular area of scientific research. Each story is carefully checked and followed in the book with an afterword by the partner scientist to verify the content of the story. It's a dynamic, stimulating idea, bringing perceived disparate subjects, literature and science, into close quarters. Bio Punk is the third and final book using this scientific collaboration, following on from When it Changed and Litmus. Having admired both these titles and their premise, it was an honour to be commissioned for this one.

Dr Angharad Watson, (or 'my scientist' as I affectionately claim her in my head) has been a brilliant collaborator in this project. We met up at her laboratory and I couldn't make notes quickly enough. She is really inspiring, and her passion for her work is infectious. The 'what if...' questions just kept coming and Angharad was fantastic at answering them. Our particular area of discussion was over-the-counter remedies; the stuff you can buy in chemists or supermarkets without a prescription or consultation and that doesn't have to go through any clinical trials but can still be marketed as having medicinal benefits. The story, 'Shake me and I Rattle', came out of this.

Bio Punk was launched last week as part of the Manchester Literature Festival, with readings from authors Jane Feaver and Gregory Norminton, and scientist collaborators Dr Melissa Baxter and Dr Nihal Engin Vrana on Skype link. Well done, and many thanks, to the Comma Press team, especially Ra Page; a brilliantly encouraging and perceptive editor to work with.

To purchase your very own, gorgeous copy of Bio Punk, click here.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Ainscough's Revisited

I'm delighted to have completed the piece of fiction for the Litfest 2012 commission based on Ainscough's Flour Mill (see more here). 

I am a bit rubbish at self reflection. I wonder if other writers are like this - you get your piece finished, send it off and then just press on with the next project. I think maybe it's because the thought of having nothing 'out there' is a bit terrifying and I just want to keep writing, not reflecting. And also, I am hesitant to trespass on a finished story. Like it's not really mine anymore. If it's good enough it will be fine on its own, without me explaining, chewing over the roots of it. Once it's there, I would usually rather build a fence around it and leave the thing for readers to explore without me following them round pointing things out like a National Trust volunteer. I am an idiot, though. I know writing about the creative process is far more than this. And my hesitance is silly and unfortunate because I absolutely adore reading about other writers processes and getting an insight into how they've shaped their text. I actively seek out this kind of information in blogs and conversations. So this time, when I was asked to write a bit about the starting points for the landscape project by Lancashire Writing Hub, I climbed over the fence and had a go. The other two commissioned writers, Ian Hill and Naomi Kruger also wrote about their process in creating the commissioned landscape pieces. They are really very interesting. It is a joy to be involved in this project with writers I admire. 

It was lovely to be invited to take some images of the mill for some artwork to go alongside the story. Returning, after completing the commission was an interesting experience. I tried to see how my main character, Abi, would see it. What would she focus on? How would it look through her eyes and experiences? Would she stop and take photographs of the ducks like I always do? (No, I don't think she would.) The way I see the mill building now is slightly different. I've explored it in my head obsessively. I have repossessed it, inhabited it and although I've never actually been inside, I feel like I know it intimately. I know my version of it. My version of the truth of it. It was lovely to compare notes with Claire Massey on this, who has been the most wonderful editor throughout the process. Claire said "I always feel like I've layered story over places I know with indelible ink and the stories become more like memories than fictions." 

All of my characters in this story (bar the landlord and lady) are fictitious. Only the landscape, I thought would be 'real'. Although I wonder if the landscape is now fiction, too. As soon as we begin our narrative we can't help but fictionalise what we think is really there. And all in the story that we think is made up meets in the middle and slowly becomes more like memory.

Naomi, Ian and I will be reading our commissioned pieces at LICA, Lancaster on 21st October 2012, at 12pm, as part of the all day prose shindig. There are so many fantastic things happening throughout the festival. See the full Litfest 2012 program here.