Extract from BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research

You might remember I had a story published in new Comma Press anthology – BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research. The Wellcome Trust, which supported the anthology, has an extract on its website (a fantastic story by Adam Marek) which you can read for free! The first link is Adam’s story, and the second is the accompanying extract by scientist Professor Bruce Whitelaw. (If you want to read my story and the accompanying extract by Nick Love you’ll have to buy the anthology!)



The Next Big Thing

Fab writer Maria Roberts has tagged me to answer questions about my work-in-progress. Maria and I both had stories in the Bracket anthology and she has since gone on to great things with her memoir, Single Mother on the Verge. You can read Maria’s answers to the same questions here. I will now be tagging five authors to answer the same questions next Wednesday on their own blogs (I’m a day late, how unusual!) and will be posting the links here.

What is the working title of your next book?

Dark, Beautiful Storms

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Back in 1998, I attended my first Creative Writing workshop at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. One of the assignments was to write a ‘borrowed place’ story. I chose, for random reasons lost in the mists of time (although it might have been because I was reading Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo), to set my story in the Isles of Scilly. The 10,000 word story I submitted was the genesis for my novel in progress (and yes, I have been working on it for 15 years!). The original story now makes up Parts 2 and 6 of the novel. (The story is no longer set on the Isles of Scilly, but on a fictional archipelago somewhere in the Atlantic ocean.)

What genre does your book fall under?

I like to think it sits at the commercial end of literary fiction but that might be wishful thinking. It’s literary in the sense that it plays with conventions and the nature and meaning of storytelling, but I’ve also worked hard to make it accessible and (hopefully) a good, old-fashioned gripping yarn.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The characters are so real to me that it’s hard to imagine them being played by anybody, although I do think Emilia Fox would make a great Rebecca, a slightly unhinged gothic novelist living alone on an island and singing into the sea for her lost husband.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Mousy scientist investigates the disappearance of her estranged gothic novelist mother and is drawn into the repeating cycle of stories of past generations, uncovering madness, terrible crimes and the legend of the selkies.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m hoping it will be represented by an agency although I don’t have an agent yet.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I started it in 1998 and it’s almost finished. Hopefully the second, third and fourth drafts will be quicker! The reason it’s taken so long is because it’s taken years for me to develop my skills to a level that enables me to tell the story in the way I wanted. I’ve also written a lot of short stories and a PhD thesis since 1998 so I haven’t been slacking off!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I feel slightly embarrassed to compare my novel to such wonderful books but it’s a bit Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, a bit The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve and a bit The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to write a story about Selkies, mythological creatures that are seals when in the water, shedding their skins on land to become humans. The legend is that fishermen would steal the skins of selkie women, forcing them to remain on land as their wives. I wanted to turn the mythology upside down and bring it into the modern day, with women acting as perpetrators as well as victims. For me, content should dictate form, and after a few false starts with a modular structure jumping between narrators,  I realised I needed to tell the story in a circular and concentric format, with texts embedded within other texts, working back in time and then forwards again.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There is a cross-dressing Selkie fisherman in it, and he’s really, really hot. Also, there is some really bad but fun poetry. I attribute the terrible poetry to the mad gothic novelist, but really it’s all mine.

Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 – Zella Compton / Annie Kirby

It’s two for one day at Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12!

If you’re out and about in Southsea, your time would be well spent popping into the library to see Zella Compton reading from her recently published debut novel for young adults, The Ten Rules of Skimming. Zella is a freelance writer and editor and a columnist for Portsmouth News. Zella is a very engaging reader and she also has a rather lovely website which is well worth dipping into.

The other 20×12 reader today is, um, me. I’ll be reading my short story “Xenopus Rose-Tinted” from the Comma Press anthology BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research at Portsmouth Central Library. You can find out more about me and my writing by clicking on the links above, and specifically about my BioPunk story by clicking here.

Both readings are at 12.20 pm, so dust off your time machines…..

BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research

New anthologies from Comma Press are always exciting, but BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research is doubly so (for me, anyway), because my story “Xenopus Rose-Tinted” is in it.

BioPunk is the third and final anthology in Comma’s series of scientist-author collaborations and explores the ethical ramifications around innovative bio-medical research. Once I had agreed to get involved, I was sent a list of potential research areas nominated by the scientists. The concept was that each author would pick a research area, meet the scientist, learn as much as they could about the research and write a story that would then be checked for factual accuracy by the scientist. Each story would be published with an afterword from the scientist, explaining the science in more detail and grounding it in real research.

Once I had picked my research topic (which I’m not going to go into here, as it would spoil the story) I travelled up to Manchester to meet my scientist, Dr Nick Love. Nick made me very welcome and spent a day showing me around his lab and explaining his work. Nick may well be the most patient man on the planet when it comes to answering stupid questions and explaining cutting-edge research to someone who just scraped through her biology A-level. He had kindly prepared a couple of crib sheets for me, one of which used a lovely musical metaphor to explain part of the science, which I refined a bit and used in the final story. We also talked about ethics and I was struck by how reflective Nick was around these issues, and that he did not pretend there were any easy answers.

Writing “Xenopus Rose-Tinted” was challenging at times, as I tried to articulate complex scientific ideas in language that would keep non-scientific readers engaged, but would also accurately reflect the scientific reality. I also struggled with the ethical issues and agonised over how to address these in the story without sounding too preachy. But I also had a lot of fun writing this story, and I hope you have fun reading it too.

BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research, ed. Ra Page (Comma Press, 2012) is published on 22 November 2012, in paperback and on Kindle. Follow this link below for additional information.

I will also be reading an abridged version of “Xenopus Rose-Tinted” in Portsmouth Central Library at 12.20 pm on Thursday 1st November 2012, as part of the Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 event.

Portsmouth BookFest 20×12

I’m very excited to be participating in Portsmouth Bookfest 2012 which launches today. It’s packed with events and there’s something for everyone, no matter what genre of fiction you like to read and/or write. Click on the link for full details.

The event I’ll be participating in is 20 x 12, a series of free readings given by 20 local emerging authors. Each reading starts at 12.20 and lasts for 12 minutes, so it’s perfect if you’re short of time and if you work in Portsmouth or Southsea, you could squeeze a reading in during your lunch hour! All readings are in the foyer of Central Library, or on Fridays and weekends, at Southsea Library. More information about the schedule and each of the authors participating can be found here.

Kicking things off today is the lovely Christine Lawrence, who will be reading from her book ‘Caught in the Web’  at Southsea Library today (20th October), at 12.20pm. You can find out more about Chris and her writing on her website.