Media-Newswire.com) - One of the stories published as part of a unique collaboration between scientists and authors has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award. Sara Maitland’s the Moss Witch, written with the help of evolutionary ecologist Dr Jennifer Rowntree from The University of Manchester, describes a haunting encounter between a botanist and a witch in a patch of ancient Scottish woodland.
The witch displays the characteristics of a bryophyte - a non flowering plant such as a moss.
It will be read by Hannah Gordon on BBC Radio Four today ( Wednesday ) at 3.30pm - and the overall winner will be announced on R4’s culture show Front Row next Monday.
The Moss Witch was written for the anthology ‘When it Changed’, published by Comma Press and the brain child of University of Manchester lecturer and science fiction novelist Geoff Ryman.
Ryman paired off literary colleagues with scientists - mostly from The University of Manchester - to produce the book.
The BBC competition, in its fourth year, celebrates the best of the contemporary British short story.
Sara Maitland, who has been writing fiction and non fiction since the 1970s, lives and works from her home in South West Scotland.
She said: “The story, at a basic level, reflects the tension between the need to protect the environment and the sacrifices we are asked to ensure that happens.
“One illustration of this is the plan to site a wind farm on the moor where I live in South West Scotland.
“The wind farm will be the end of the moor as I know it.
“I chose moss because I find it very beautiful and very strange and there’s lots of it where I live.
“I released how profoundly meditative moss can be when I researched my recent book, ‘A book of Silence' ( Granta, 2008 ).
“I also love ancient woodland - a subject I’m looking at in my new book.”
She added: “Before I spoke to Jenny at Manchester University I didn’t really have a story - so I’d like to pay tribute to her. She understood what I was trying to do and helped enormously.
“I’m delighted to be selected for this shortlist – it’s a vindication of ‘When it Changed’ - which is the most exciting thing I’ve been involved in for 10 years.”
Dr Rowntree, who is based at The University of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences said: “I spoke regularly with Sara about bryophytes and particularly mosses and suggested ways she could find out more about them.
“I think she reflected entirely what we talked about, and has created an interesting and haunting tale.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."