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.

Asham Award interview

In 2006 my short story ‘The Wing’ won the Asham Award. This award was incepted by the Asham Literary Endowment trust to encourage and promote new writing by women. Please take a look at their website.

The below interview with me originally appeared on the Asham Award website, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Camilla Dinkel, the author.


Annie Kirby, winner of the Fifth Asham Award,
talks to Camilla Dinkel

Annie Kirby makes it sound very simple.  One morning she woke with the image in her mind of a man wiping the face of a dead child. In the hour it took her to walk to work near her home in Dorset the whole story had formed in her mind.  By the end of the day she had written the first draft of her prize winning story, The Wing.

‘It sort of catherine-wheeled out from this central image’ she explains.  The result is a powerful and structurally complex story of a catastrophe set amongst European immigrants in a mining community somewhere in the States.  From the foreshadowing of the disaster in the first sentence to that final arresting image, the narrative rolls along in a light, steely prose that carries an astonishing weight of emotion, leaving the reader slightly breathless.

It is an impressive piece of writing which more than satisfies Annie’s own criterion of a good short story, that it should take a short time to read, but remain a long time in your head.

Annie Kirby has been writing ‘ever since she could’, and started taking it seriously three years ago. She is a graduate of the prestigious MA creative writing course at the University of East Anglia, where she was tutored by Michele Roberts and Patricia Duncker, and has already had a short story published in a collection by Comma Press, and another selected for BBC Radio 4′s One to Watch series.

Last year’s winner Victoria Briggs was also a creative writing MA student.  Is that what it takes to win the Asham Award, I wondered.  Annie thinks they are not for everybody. ‘Creative writing courses are helpful for writers who are open to criticism and feedback and don’t feel too defensive about their work’ she explains. ‘People starting out as writers don’t know whether they are any good or not, so of course it’s an enormous boost to your confidence to be selected.’    And while feedback is usually contradictory, she feels it helps a writer to determine her own position.  The opportunity to discuss and critique the work of other writers she also found very stimulating.

For her the particular significance of winning the Asham Award – out of over a thousand entries – was ‘being picked by other writers, as opposed to editors who often have something particular in mind’ and having her story published with those of established authors.  It also projected her immediately into the spotlight – the day after the presentation at the London Review Bookshop she was on stage at the Hay on Wye Literature festival, discussing the short story with last year’s winner Victoria Briggs and the novelist Louise Doughty, one of the Asham Award judges, in front of a large audience.

What are her hints for short story writing? ‘Trust your readers’ she replies, without hesitation. ‘Don’t feel you have to tell them everything. The reader owns half of the story; they can take the ambiguity and make something of it for themselves.’

‘Make every word count’ is her second principle, essential to the short story where you have relatively little space, but equally applicable to the novel.  Indeed her writing displays an economy of style that enables her to realise her characters with the minimum of description, through a gesture or a phrase.

In spite of what she describes as ‘her addiction’ to the short story, Annie is now working on a ‘melodramatic and mythological’ novel ‘though I can’t see myself devoting all my time to it’ she says.  There are six or seven short story outlines queuing up for attention when she has completed her PhD in Native American Film and Literature.

In the resurgence of the short story Annie Kirby is definitely one to watch.

(c) Camilla Dinkel

About me

I’m a writer of short and long fiction, essays and articles. I’m also a writing tutor.

I love to tell stories and have been writing since I was five years old. I write slowly. I make no apology for this. Fiction can be beautiful, political, challenging, disturbing, funny or tragic, but the most important thing is the story. Even when I’m not writing, I’m usually thinking about a story. If you spot a mad woman rambling to herself at the supermarket checkout, it might be me, working on some dialogue. If we’re chatting and you’re not convinced I’m really listening to you, you’re probably right. I’m likely off in my writer’s head, working on that scene I’ve been struggling with for months. If you catch me staring at you on the bus or in the café, don’t be offended. I’m just wondering why you have writing on your shoes, or only one earring or what has made you smile or laugh or get up in the morning, and am turning it into a story. Sorry about that.

Click on the links above to find out more about my writing.