Tenth up is Mechphil (a fine member of the group who, for various reasons, has asked to use a pseudonym for this piece)
What made you want to become a writer?
I’ve always had a kind of internal pressure to extract ideas from my busy but rather opaque mind and make them real, tangible and accessible to others. As well as writing I have been known to sketch inventions and even try to build them. That’s how my first published story came into being. It was only after I’d dabbled with building the thing that I decided writing the story was far easier. That desire to make ideas real is perhaps part of what led me to engineering, although engineering was also my childhood environment.
Writing in particular was a form of self-expression I felt compelled to use from an early age – my first conscious piece of creative writing was describing a Himalayan monsoon thunderstorm seen through the slats on the shutters in my bedroom late one hot night. I wrote stories – mainly awful thrillers modelled after the likes of Alistair McLean and Hammond Innes with a bit of Bob Judd thrown in - throughout my childhood and teens not really with any aim at publication.
Later I came to see fiction writing as a powerful way of expressing important, and often philosophical and ethical, ideas in ways a very wide public could engage with. I think fiction plays a most important role in our society’s ability to deal with the new and to direct our technological and cultural innovations.
What was your first success?
That depends how you define success! I was first encouraged to publish by teachers at school, though not the longer thriller pieces but shorter and gentler stories about family relationships. Earlier than that I think my writing changed the way my family understood me. That has been perhaps the biggest success of all. Having my first story published was a success…but then so was having my first magazine article published, editing my first academic book and having my first academic papers published.
What do you think the group does for you?
The group is very important for giving one a sense of proportion about one’s fiction. I am especially bad at re-reading and editing my own work and I really value the group’s many different perspectives on a piece. These help one to work out what a story really is about. The NSFWG are of course excellent at giving advice about how to edit work ready for publication but there is more to it than that. Sharing writing with a trusted group of others who aim to reflect honestly but positively on creative work is an important part of developing as a creative artist and as a person. One of the greatest pleasures for me in being a member of the group since 2004 has been watching newer members developing. That function depends very precisely on the group’s culture and ways of working. Keeping things positive and open for so long is a real achievement and one I hope we can continue to succeed at for many years yet. For anyone who is interested in writing or has to write for work I would strongly recommend joining or forming a writers’ group. In many professional fields “reflexive practice” is becoming a way of life. Often that means using writing as a way of developing oneself. Whilst writing is a tool which can be used in solitude many forms of professional reflexive practice can be enhanced with shared writing.
What was your last piece of work?
A story for workshopping at the group a few months back. It’s probably one I won’t publish (immediately anyway) as it was something of a send-up of things I work on more seriously elsewhere. Although when I shared it with colleagues at work the resulting discussions were productive so a modified version might have to appear somewhere.
What's coming up from you?
I’m continuing to write and speak in academic and other areas about some of the themes which appear in my fiction. For example, morphological change and identity – how we adapt when our bodies and brains change significantly. Also about how entities with different morphologies cooperate and form working or social groups. A sideline is some work about ethics of autonomous vehicles.
Quite how some of my current experiences in industry will translate into fiction I’m not sure. I have a set of ideas around the often discussed near future “NBIC” technologies which I’d like to explore fictionally. So far I just have snatches of scenes rather than any clear plan. But I think, in my little corner of the engineering world anyway, seen through a writer’s eyes, truth is distinctly stranger than fiction, or even, more aptly, friction, which is a very strange phenomenon indeed. And so something of this might creep into some stories later this year.