Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing winners announced

Press Release – The Royal Society of New Zealand

The two winning entries in the Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Writing were announced on Wednesday night with Bridget Stocker from Wellington being awarded the fiction prize and Joanna Wojnar from Auckland winning the non-fiction …17 November 2011

Winners announced for Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing

The two winning entries in the Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Writing were announced on Wednesday night with Bridget Stocker from Wellington being awarded the fiction prize and Joanna Wojnar from Auckland winning the non-fiction category.

They were each presented with $2500 at the New Zealand Research Honours event hosted by the Royal Society of New Zealand at Te Papa in Wellington. Their winning entries will be published in the Listener.

The theme of this year’s competition was ‘Chemical World’ and was chosen to coincide with the 2011 International Year of Chemistry. Entrants took their inspiration from the Vincent O’Sullivan quote “I unhem creation a little, to work out the stitch”.

Both winning writers are chemists and have PhDs, with Dr Bridget Stocker working at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington and Dr Joanna Wojnar at the University of Auckland.

Stocker’s winning fiction piece, Radium – A Love Story, is about world famous chemist Marie Curie and told from her point of view. About her story Stocker says: “I felt compelled to write this story given that I’d taken part in the Marie Curie lecture series by the Royal Society of New Zealand, and then been featured on the cover of a chemistry magazine celebrating the life of Marie Curie. That said, I almost didn’t enter because I was running out of time, but I’m glad that I did!”

In the non-fiction category Wojnar’s winning piece is entitled 100% Chemical Free and is about the misuse of the term ‘chemical free’. In it she asks the question ‘When exactly did chemistry become synonymous with poison, and chemical with toxic?’

Wojnar says: “My writing so far has been solely scientific publications in my field. The competition entry therefore was a change in pace for me, but it was quite fun to write as it’s one of my pet peeves. The other one is the misuse of the word ‘organic’, but that’s the topic of another article!”

The Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing is an annual competition organised by the Royal Society of New Zealand in association with the New Zealand Listener magazine and the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington, headed by Professor Bill Manhire.

The judge, Jo Randerson, is a Wellington-based writer, theatre maker and cross media artist.

The two winning entries will be published in the New Zealand Listener and are currently on the Royal Society of New Zealand’s website together with all 21 shortlisted entries: at www.royalsociety.org.nz

Here are Jo Randerson’s comments on the entries submitted and the winners:

Fiction category, winning entry is “Radium – A Love Story” by Bridget Stocker

“There was a clear thematic to this year’s fiction entries, and it stems from the evocative terminology which colours the world of chemistry. Reactions, bonds, lone pairs – many of the stories were based around relationships, which is totally in keeping with the chemist’s theme. How does this element relate to that one? Does it attract, repel, share electrons or fall into a stable or unstable structure? It was a stable structure that I looked for amongst the contenders for the prize. There were some lovely ideas and concepts in the shortlist, but with short fiction we need to feel a well-shaped ride.

“The winning entry took a direct approach by setting itself right in the heart of Curie’s world, and impressed with its simplicity and poetry. It took me to a new world which is now a permanent part of my consciousness.”

Non-fiction category, winning entry is “100% Chemical Free” by Joanna Wojnar

“As for the non-fiction, again there were some strong entries. Above all, I sought a cohesive argument and writing that flowed easily from idea to idea, as well as thorough and notated research.

“The winning essay has the clearest and most interesting argument – that the terms ‘natural’ and ‘chemical’ have become un-necessarily polarised. It’s a relevant and timely thesis to consider, it speaks to the world we are familiar with, it is a defender of chemistry. The writing is strongly voiced and conveys its points easily and convincingly.”

More about the winners

About Bridget Stocker: Writing has always been a keen interest of Bridget’s but with the demands of university study, was not something she took seriously until moving to Switzerland following the completion of her Ph.D. (Chemistry) in 2004. Whilst a post-doctoral fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Zurich), Bridget did not buy a television or install a phone, and made the most of her quiet evenings alone at home to begin writing a novel. What started as a hobby became more serious when she returned to New Zealand and, in 2008, was accepted into the Victoria University of Wellington Iowa creative writing workshop (fiction stream). Bridget was awarded a Creative New Zealand Mentor fellowship with Barbara Else (2008-2009), and was then taken on board by Chris and Barbara Else of the TFS literacy agency. She has recently completed her first novel.

Bridget has always had a variety of interests including painting, graphic design, ballet and jazz dance, aerobics and running. Highlights include illustrating a children’s book, designing the logo for the MacDiarmid Research Institute, and instructing aerobics. She currently leads a research team at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Wellington, and has an adjunct position with Victoria University. She has presented her scientific research at numerous international conferences and to community groups, has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles, has featured on Radio New Zealand’s National programme on numerous occasions, and was recently invited to present a public seminar as part of the 2011 Royal Society of New Zealand Marie Curie Lecture series. She lives with her partner, Mattie, in the Aro Valley, a 15 year old cat (which was a recent ‘gift’ from the neighbours), and still does not own a television.

Bridget says: “I felt compelled to write this story on Marie Curie given that I’d taken part in the Royal Society of new Zealand Marie Curie lecture series and then been featured on the cover of a chemistry magazine celebrating the life of Marie Curie. That said, I almost didn’t enter because I was running out of time – but I’m glad that I did!”

About Joanna Wojnar: She is originally from Poland, but her family immigrated to New Zealand when she was a small child. She is a PhD chemist, having obtained her degrees from Victoria University of Wellington, most recently her doctorate under the supervision of Associate Professor Peter Northcote in 2008. Since then, she has done a postdoc with Professor Stephen Kent at the University of Chicago, and then returned to New Zealand to take up a position with Professor Margaret Brimble at the University of Auckland. She is currently working on the synthesis of labelled antifreeze glycopeptide probes for the investigation of how antifreeze glycopeptides trail from the gut to the blood of the Antarctic notothenioid fish, and how these fish remove circulating ice.

Joanna says: “My writing so far has been solely scientific publications in my field. The competition entry therefore was a change in pace for me, but it was quite fun to write as it’s one of my pet peeves. The other one is the misuse of the word ‘organic’, but that’s the topic of another article!”

Background information: The Royal Society of New Zealand promotes science, technology and the humanities in schools, in industry and in society. It administers several funds for science and technology, publishes science journals, offers advice to Government, and fosters international contact and co-operation. www.royalsociety.org.nz

ENDS

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