Dr Bridget Stocker’s tribute to Marie Curie takes out the 2011 Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing

17 November 2011

At last nights 2011 New Zealand Research Honours Dinner, Dr Bridget Stocker was awarded the fiction category of the Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing.

Held in partnership with the New Zealand Listener Magazine and the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, the purpose of the competition is to "encourage exciting science communication through the written word," and Dr Stocker won the judges over with her tribute to Nobel Laureate Marie Curie entitled "Radium – A Love Story".  Dr Stocker's story will be published in the Listener along with the winning non-fiction entry by Dr Joanna Wojnar.

Using the pen name M.Curie, Dr Stocker takes the reader back to early 19th century Paris, and into the mind of her protagonist Madame Marie Curie. Through her use of beautiful imagery and descriptive prose reminiscent of the era, Dr Stocker successfully recreates an evening alone with the famous chemist and physicist, as she reflects on her discovery of radium. Dr Stocker's knowledge of chemistry and her personal experiences of working in the laboratory help give the story its very realistic feel.

"M. Curie – The Radium Institute, Rue d'Ulm, Paris, 1934

I wait impatiently in my office, the nib of my pen poised above the page. Writing your story, from your birth and christening to your slow demise, is just a means to fill the time. I am to explain the principles of 'the Curie', the rate of your decay, and yet my mind wanders. To write about the end is a travesty. I must focus on how it began. First, I need to be alone."

Reproduced with permission from Dr Bridget Stocker.  Link to the Royal Society website to read Dr Stocker's full winning entry,  "Radium - A Love Story"

"I felt compelled to write this story on Marie Curie given that I'd taken part in the RSNZ Marie Curie lecture series and featured on the cover of a chemistry magazine celebrating the life of Marie Curie," says Dr Stocker. "That said, I almost didn't enter because I was running out of time – but I'm glad that I did!"

"Marie has always inspired me because of her unfailing dedication and hard work," says Dr Stocker. She had a lot against her at the time because she was a woman in a male-dominated area."

"Despite these challenges, Marie never waivered in her desire to turn her discovery of radium into something that could alleviate suffering. She has often been painted as a nerd or a geek. I wanted to show another side of Marie, as a real person with feelings and passion."

Writing has always been a keen interest of Dr Stocker's but with the demands of university study, was not something she took seriously until moving to Switzerland following the completion of her PhD in Chemistry in 2004. Whilst a post-doctoral fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Zurich), Dr Stocker 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).

"I would like to acknowledge my mentor from the Iowa programme, Monica Bergers, for supporting me in the early stages of my writing," she says. It was through her guidance that I gained the confidence to continue with this 'hobby' and feel comfortable sharing my stories with others."

Dr Stocker went on to receive 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.

"Barbara and Chris are amazing and saw something interesting about my work, even though, when reading back through my old drafts now, I think oh God, some of that was really bad! In fact Chris asked me recently if I was now 'coming out' (as a writer) - and I suppose I am!"

Dr Stocker is currently working with Barbara and Chris on the completion of her first novel.

She still does not own a television.

CONTACT

Please contact Dr Bridget Stocker on 04 499 6914 ext 813 or bstocker@malaghan.org.nz for more information

RELATED LINKS

Link to the Royal Society of New Zealand website to read more about the Manhire Prize and the full manuscript of Dr Stocker's "Radium – A Love Story"

Link to the Royal Society of New Zealand website to read a media release on the Manhire prize, with a comment on Bridget's story by judge Jo Randerson

Read more about Dr Stocker's other major win at the 2011 NZ Research Honours Awards Evening – the Easterfield Medal for Chemistry