Short stories

‘The Chicken Run’, Chapman 63, 1991
‘Garden Birds’, Acclaim, April 1994
‘Cats’, Chapman 81, 1995

 

‘Ephemera’ and ‘Garden Birds’ were short-listed for the Ian St James Award and the Wells Festival Award respectively.

 

 

'Tell them our stories'

From September 2010-March 2011 I was very fortunate to hold a 'Bright Ideas' Visiting Fellowship at the ESRC's Genomics Forum in Edinburgh, in collaboration with the Surgeons' Hall Museum, and the stories that resulted from this work are all online on the Forum's  Creative Space.

I researched and wrote the part-fictionalised human stories of some of the exhibits in the Museum's renowned anatomy collection. As a contrast, I also interviewed and wrote the real-life stories of several present-day donors (and potential donors) and collectors of tissues and organs.

A few years previously I had been shocked out of being a detached observer, a scientist/writer carrying out 'research', when I visited exhibitions and museums as background material for my novel, The Embalmer's Book of Recipes: at the Museum Vrolik in Amsterdam, the clatter of coffee cups being laid out for a conference, the loud talking and laughter of men repairing the heating ducts, the bright lights and chrome and glass of the display areas, suddenly clashed agonisingly with the contents of the jars - late-stage foetuses and neonates, each with some developmental or genetic abnormality. These specimens were once, briefly, sentient beings, brought into the world by their mothers, women of all ages and backgrounds, privileged or poor, who may or may not have had the sympathy and support of family or friends.

And so began my need to explore and write the stories of some of those people whose tissues and organs came to be publicly exhibited - in this case, in the Surgeons' Hall Museum, Edinburgh.

Surgeons' Hall Museum. (photo: Ann Lingard)

The collections at the Surgeons' Hall Museum date from the late 17th century and it is impossible not to wonder about the people - the 'patients' as the Collections Manager touchingly refers to them - whose organs and skeletons are in storage or on display. For these exhibits were 'donated' by human beings, each of whom had a life, perhaps in a town, on a farm, perhaps with a family and friends; or perhaps he or she was ridiculed and despised.

Some of these 'specimens' were certainly obtained without the patient's consent, and Andrew Connell's musings (see The Curator's Story) helped me to understand why the patients might have been brought to such straits, in hope or fear or ignorance.

It was as a contrast to these stories of past 'donors' that I felt it was important to find out more about the way in which we now treat donation and collection of organs and tissues, for both teaching and transplant purposes.

"Are you sitting comfortably?", my Keynote Talk at the Genomics Network's 2012 Conference, Genomics in Society: Facts, Fictions and Cultures, was an attempt to discuss the writer's dilemma in writing these stories'. The blog, 'A comfortable seat?' that I posted before the talk also contains the piece of doggerel about the sex-lives of snails that appears in my novel, Seaside Pleasures.