Val McDermid, chair of this year’s judges, hails a selection that crosses divide between arts and sciences.
Crime writer Val McDermid, who is chairing the judges for this year’s Wellcome book prize, has criticised the divide between arts and sciences in the UK’s education system, speaking out as the longlist for the £30,000 award was announced.
In an interview with the Guardian about the longlist, which identifies the best science writing across fiction and nonfiction, The Wire in the Blood author said: “Science is clearly something that we need to be focusing our energy on, because that is where the economic future of the country lies and we really should be driving our education towards it – but that does not mean we should turn our back on the arts.”
Citing her own education in Scotland, McDermid said she feared the modern curriculum left little opportunity for students to be creative and investigate things that engage their interest “for the joy of it”.
“I have concerns about what is happening in education,” added the author, who has a son at school. “Everything is so curriculum-led now that there is very little opportunity for teachers to encourage students to go off and discover things for themselves.”
Developments in education, she added, meant that the Wellcome prize – one of the richest in the UK – was more important than ever because it focuses on making science accessible through both fiction and nonfiction.
The 12 books chosen for the 2017 longlist are split between seven factual and five fiction titles, ranging from Victorian gothic in Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent to Jo Marchant’s Cure, which investigates how the mind can cure the body. French novelist Maylis de Kerangal’s blow-by-blow account of a heart transplant in Mend the Living is also longlisted, and is the first foreign-language book to be considered for the award.
The crime writer talks about her liberal parents, dangerous outings with her father and the pleasures of motherhood
Interview by Donna Ferguson
The day after I was born, I was taken off to an isolation hospital. My parents had both had TB and there was a concern that I might develop it myself. So I spent the first three months of my life in hospital, 30-odd miles away from where my parents lived in Kirkcaldy. There was no bus service and my parents didn’t have a car, so they only managed to visit once in that time. When my mother saw me, she didn’t recognise me. She just walked straight past me.
We’re Scottish! We don’t talk about our emotions
All her life, I think my mum tried to love me in the way she knew she ought to – she tried to make herself feel that absolute bond that you’re supposed to have between mother and child. But we didn’t have that intimacy. A few months before she died, she said – almost in passing – “I always thought we never bonded properly, because we were separated when you were born.” That was the first time she’d ever directly addressed it. We’re Scottish! We don’t talk about our emotions.
The BBC is airing a new documentary on BBC One tonight (29th November) about women who write crime fiction, featuring prominent crime writers Val McDermid, Patricia Cornwell, Martina Cole, husband-and-wife author team Nicci French, Sarah Phelps and Paula Hawkins in interview with presenter Alan Yentob.
The aim of the programme “Serial Killers: The Women Who Write Crime Fiction” is to explore why – with 21 billion crime novels sold last year – the readers of crime are mostly women and more often than not, are the writers too. The same riddle earlier this year sparked the launch of a new women’s crime festival in London, Killer Women, set up by a collective of female crime writers including Hawkins.
The BBC’s programme begins with an introduction to the study of forensics and continues in a series of interviews with the authors, and with one editor, Trapeze’s Sam Eades, as well as with forensic professionals actively dealing with cases, such as Professor Sue Black who has been assisting McDermid with her research for 20 years.