I'm one of those people who gets a thrill from the smell of a chemistry lab. Talk to me of quarks and mesons, and my stomach is aflutter! But I wasn't cut out to be a scientist, it seemed. A BSc in Maths and Physics demonstrated that I didn't have what it took to dedicate myself to research – and I also realised that I wanted to work with words instead of elementary particles. So I became a science journalist. But fiction was my first love, and in 2008 my first short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, was published. Half of the stories in the book were inspired by articles from New Scientist, because I just couldn't leave that science connection alone. I'm not the only one: there's quite a bit of science-inspired fiction out there, check this out.
So, the next natural step? Get inspiration directly from the place where science is being done. And that's what I did. Let me introduce Bristol University Science Faculty's first writer-in-residence. Nice to meet you.
I've only just begun, so there's not a great deal to report yet. I am headquartered in the brand-new and very beautiful Nanoscience and Quantum Information Centre (NSQI), but free to roam around the university, sniffing out those chemicals and large hadron colliders (alright, maybe only small hadron colliders.). The plan is to spend two days a week embedded in a lab, or perhaps several labs, asking lots of ridiculous questions, learning about how science is done, who does it, why they do it, what they do on a daily basis. And then my brain, which works in fairly odd ways, will stew on all of this, and somehow from it I will write short – and very short – stories. One of these stories will be published here each month, as well as regular blog posts so you can follow what I'm up to. I'm also aiming to get some of the lab rats writing fiction too, by running a few flash fiction workshops. (What is flash fiction? See my website here)
So far, I've been to a seminar on quantum tunnelling at the NSQI, and spent some time in the glass-walled “fishbowl” room there, intended to inspire interaction and encourage multi-disciplinary collaboration. And last week I spent a day and a half in Professor Paul Martin's biochemistry lab. I learned so much in just that time, there is so much that those outside the practice of science have no idea about. For example: how do you get to work in a lab? Do you answer a job ad? What radio station is best to have on in the background? Do scientists call themselves “scientists”? I will be visiting this lab more often, will report back on my findings! I also blog regularly about writing at TaniaWrites.
In the meantime, here's one I wrote earlier, a science-inspired flash story, The Painter and the Physicist. More tales from the lab soon. Blog post 2