Episode 3 of the groundbreaking Inventive Podcast airs today, featuring Professor Trevor Cox’s in-depth interview with the brilliant aeronautical engineer Sophie Robinson, and my new short story inspired by Sophie’s life and work, ‘The Hotwells Cold Water Swimming Club’.
The Inventive Podcast series mixes engineering fact and fiction, and in my story I wanted to explore further some of the ethical dimensions of Sophie’s work – plus ideas around class and access to education – via the medium of wild swimming.
At one point I began thinking of the story as a kind of ‘prose portrait’, and I tried to use Sophie’s voice wherever I could, finding that incidental comments from the interview recordings and my notes – e.g. ‘Go on, ask me that question again.’ – might provide me with the actual narrative building blocks of my story. But I was also mindful that a story always needs to assert its own logic, and I remembered what the poet Louis Aragon says in the preface to Vol. 1 of his great Henri Mattisse: a Novel about the moment when a written portrait begins to diverge into fiction:
to justify the liberty taken with my subject, my own variations, the sort of detachment I aimed at . . . Just as a painter, having started a portrait, finds his hand running away with him and . . . eventually changes from a photographer into a novelist.Aragon, Henri Matisse: a novel, Volume I, p.16
You will notice that the fictional engineer in my story is called Fiona/Fi rather than Sophie/Soph, but I hope I have done the real Sophie proud nonetheless!
It was a great privilege to talk to Sophie and to write a piece of fiction inspired by Trevor’s interview and our subsequent conversations, so I really hope you enjoy the episode.
Here’s the blurb:
In the third episode of Inventive Podcast, Trevor meets aerospace engineer Sophie Robinson. Sophie works on groundbreaking eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft that will change the way we travel in the future. Writer Tony White’s inspirational story ‘The Hotwells Cold Water Swimming Club’ captures perfectly what Sophie gets up to in her spare time – she’s a self-confessed mermaid! – and the ethical dilemmas she has faced at work.
We’d love to hear what you think