For most of my life, I planned to be an author.
I’d just turned four when I started school, and as soon as I was taught to read and we were given our first book and told to read the first page for homework, I went home and read the whole thing. A childhood of avid reading followed, reading the first six Harry Potter books by age six, reading thirty books in a month once and 1000 pages in a day for the craic, stuff like that. I’m not saying this because it’s impressive — I don’t even know if it is, in the grand scheme of things — but to show that I was a huge bookworm.
I started a book-reviewing blog when I was 13 and ran that for a couple of years, reviewing pre-release books I was sent by publishers (ARCs). Books were my thing.
And, of course, I wrote too. I think the first prize I ever won was for a short story in Senior Infants, the prize a pencil topped with a giraffe. The following prizes were too, like an all-ages “international” writing competition I was highly-commended in for a short story when I was 7, or the 8–12s international poetry competition I came top five for when I was 11 with one of my incredibly dramatic, ridiculously introspective poems. I tried to write a ton of novels too. I remember one in particular that I got a few chapters into, with characters named Mercury, Venus and Delphi who were supposedly normal people until the big reveal. I realised that was dumb a while after I gave up on it, although then saw some really successful books with the same thing, which was weird.
Then, after a few years of wanting to be a popstar (consciously, I wanted that to be my career, but I think I just took being a writer for granted — I’ve always wanted that). I got serious about it and finally wrote a full novel. It was June 2013, during my Junior Cert exams (I specifically remember working on it during my Geography exam and the invigilator asking if I was sure I didn’t want to hand that up), and I was bored because school exams, so the urge to write came calling.
I wrote 1000 words every single day that summer except one (the day I finished my exams and we went out to celebrate), and I came out with a 100,000 word YA scifi novel. I left it for six weeks like a lot of writing advice says to, then came back and wrote a second draft, then after that looked at it again and realised it wasn’t very good. Like, looking back on it now and seeing what I’ve seen published, probably technically publishable, but still not very good.
So in June 2014, I started again with a new novel, another YA scifi, but this one I showed my sister to read the first 20 pages of and she said it was actually good. I had a harder time finishing that one, maybe because working on my big Young Scientist project kept me busy, but I did get it finished in December 2014, and the 6-week clock started.
A Whirlwind of Science
And then disaster/miracle struck. BT Young Scientist Exhibition 2015 happened, and I won Best Invention, which meant a trip to Seattle to visit Intellectual Ventures, Intel and Microsoft, and things started happening. As well as continuing to work on the project (well, trying to find facilities mainly…), opportunities started popping up. For one, I was accepted into Outbox Incubator, which sent 140 high-achieving girls in STEM from around the EU to a house in London for up to six weeks to learn how to turn STEM skills into business skills. I had the most amazing summer of my life, starting with a week in Seattle for that trip, 3 weeks at CTYI studying Philosophy and 2 weeks in London at Outbox Incubator.
Then from there I got my first speaking gig thanks to Stemettes, who organised Outbox, speaking on a panel at Bank of America in Dublin about my experiences at Outbox and in STEM. I also got this network of likeminded STEM people and heard about tons of opportunities, and life got super busy. (Also, I was in Leaving Cert year by this point).
Technically, my first conference was in April 2015 right after BTYSTE, at Evolve Biomed presenting my research, but I wouldn’t really count that as a speaking gig.
I was named a Global Youth Leader in Nanotechnology and appointed to the Youth Panel of the British Science Association, which meant trips over to London and Birmingham to do Youth Panel meetings and speaking at those. By then I’d caught this speaking bug and I was signing up for loads of things and winning a bunch of things along the way that I won’t mention for brevity. 2016 came around, and I spoke at the World Youth Organisation’s event in March and Inspirefest in June and TY Expo and TEDxDrogheda in September and Budapest in October and Zeminar in November and…
A couple of conferences and a busy and very fun year in college later brings me to today, May 2017, two and a half years after I finished writing that second book, and only now realising how much I miss it, how much I miss writing. See, the STEM world (and the startup world that has bled into it) is VERY sparkly. It has tons of prizes and loads of initiatives designed to get girls into it, and so being in it is immediately rewarding whereas writing is less so because, let’s face it, as a girl in STEM it feels like you’re given awards simply for breathing in a STEM way. And I DO care about it. But I also really enjoy writing, and I think the captivating whirlwind that is girl-in-STEM life might’ve caught me a bit.
Even now, even though most of the stuff people see me do/know me for is science/public health research & advocacy, most of my working time is spent writing. That can be writing science-related things, writing blog posts, writing newsletters, writing stories, writing freelance pieces, writing proposals, whatever, but it’s definitely what I spent most of my time doing.
I love science, and I’m doing it in college because even though it’s really tough, and definitely something I find a lot harder than I’d find journalism or something artsy (remember, I’m interested in arts too), I believe it’s the morally right choice for me to take because it’s the best way I know to change the world — to tackle diseases and to understand the world around us better so we can improve it. I have a lot of projects going related to science and of course I’m going to keep going because I really do care about it. But I’m also going to make time for some writing.
I reread that novel I wrote in 2014 recently and, much to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed the 46k words of it I could find saved in cloud storage. It had problems, of course, but I loved the setting and lots of the characters and the exhilarating chapter endings. Obviously this could just be me being biased, although I’d expect that to have less of an effect three years later, but it’s an encouraging sign. So I’m considering taking the basic premise of that and revamping & rewriting it. Which is exciting.
I’ve just been dying to do some creative writing. I’ve done a ton of sort-of creative-ish things lately like writing science things and programming projects but just something wholly made up. I do think science is the important thing to do and it is important to engage with the real world and do stuff there, but I’m learning how to have fun and this is going to be something for that.
I’m also working on a book about public involvement in science — why we need it and how we can make that happen — but that’s pretty shh at the moment so I can’t say much.
In short: I love science and think it’s the way to change the world, which I really care about doing. But the whirlwind of science-related things I’ve been swept up in over the last few years have distracted from the fact that I also love writing. So I’m going to keep up the work I’m doing in STEM, but also prioritise my writing. Because even though it’s not as immediately glitzy, writing is important to me too.