Inspiration: the Transit of Venus

Science lets us see the way nature is; we experience this as we glimpse the workings of the same great celestial clock James Cook saw when the transit of Venus began at the predicted moment in June 1769. Science is the compass on the voyage we must all make into the twenty-first century. That we have it in our possession is astonishing. That we should never have found it, or that we should turn our back on it, is quite simply unthinkable.

Professor Sir Paul Callaghan (1947-2012)

One day in 1769 the future of Aotearoa arrived quite unexpectedly, from the East, and in a form undreamt of. Just as it had some six centuries before. What future is on the horizon now?

The judge for the 2012 competition was Steve Braunias, columnist, journalist and author.  He announced the two winning entries at the 2012 Research Honours Dinner in Auckland in November 2012.

Fiction Winner

Fourteen (PDF, 49 kB)
Brian Langham

A metaphor for change and distance in relationships. A father, seeking reconnection to his past takes his son on a road trip through the Gold Coast in Queensland during the transit of Venus.

Hear this story, recorded by Radio New Zealand National, read by Brian Sergent.

Brian has written both fiction and non-fiction for many years. A trained journalist, he has specialised in writing about science and technology both as a free-lance writer and through his roles with New Zealand science agencies.  In terms of fiction, with a number of publications and the odd award some years behind him, he recently returned to writing both short stories and longer works.

He enjoys exploring colourful, if slightly-flawed characters, and the subtlety of their interactions such as those of Travis and his narrator father in Fourteen. Often his stories combine two of his favourite themes: music and science.

The competition judge comments on winning fiction entry ……

“I heard that my father died on the same day Frank Zappa died.” Great opening line, and great narrative – a father and son go to the Gold Coast during the Transit of Venus, which becomes a kind of metaphor for distances and also connections. It’s funny, gentle, superbly paced, under-stated, perfectly formed, good with science, always believable, and, winningly, very charming.

Fiction Runner-up

Black Toes (PDF, 383 kB)
Fiona Stewart Sussman

A patient facing radical surgery is resentful when he hears that his present condition may be strongly connected to his own mother’s choices while she carried him in her womb, but he moves past his anger to the beginnings of understanding.

Hear this story, recorded by Radio New Zealand National, read by Jacob Rajan.

Creative Non-Fiction Winner

Epigenetics: navigating our inner seas (PDF, 98 kB)
Renee Liang

A preganant woman wrestles with the interface between her research into epigenetics and her motherly responsibility. How does her professional research inform her choices as a mother-to-be carrying a new life in her womb?

Hear this story, recorded by Radio New Zealand National, read by Vanessa Rhodes.

Renee likes to describe herself as having three passions – medicine, writing and research.

Depending on the day and time, she can variously be found as a paediatrician working around NZ and Australia, as a researcher on landmark longitudinal study Growing Up In New Zealand based at the University of Auckland, or as a freelance writer, poet and playwright. Recently she also became a mother for the first time.

Despite the apparent disparity of these vocations, Renee sees them all as a way to celebrate the power of stories- to heal, teach and move. Her poetry has been widely published in journals and anthologies, she has had three full length plays and a number of short plays produced, and she is currently working on her first novel and a poetry collection. As well as her medical degrees, she also holds a Master of Creative Writing and a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts (Drama) from the University of Auckland.

The competition judge comments on winning creative non-fiction entry ….

Science is universal, science is social – and science is also thrillingly personal. This terrific essay personalises science right from the start, when the author writes about breastfeeding her two-month-old daughter. It soon widens to a thoughtful and inquiring discussion about epigenetics.  So much of this essay is absolutely first-rate – the narrative pacing, the easy intelligence, the engagement with the subject. It’s a pleasure to read.

Creative Non-Fiction Runner-up

Our Whimsical Condition (PDF, 370 kB)
Alice Miller

A poetic contemplation of the whimsical nature of life as we know it, about the search for the fundamental particles and about our need to accept that the universe is, fundamentally, chaotic.

Hear this story, recorded by Radio New Zealand National, read by Michele Amas.

Past winning entries

An anthology of past winners from 2007 to 2011 is available as an e-book.

Cover of Shift 2012 eBookSHIFT 2012 (PDF) (PDF, 747 kB) (750k)

SHIFT epub (2MB)

SHIFT .mobi (225k)

An updated version of Shift will be available online shortly.

The International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington is proud to support the 2012 Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing.