New Writers Awards 2018: Samantha Clark
Samantha Clark has been a visual artist for many years, and her writing has emerged as an extension of this creative practice. She writes narrative nonfiction and recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of St Andrews, for which she was awarded the Samuel Rutherford Thesis Prize. Sam has published in Terrain.Org, Antennae, EcoArt Scotland and Dark Mountain, as well as a pamphlet ‘Dark Matter’, the result of a residency at Timespan, Helmsdale in 2015. For several years Sam taught at Edinburgh College of Art, and then was Reader in Art at the University of the West of Scotland before moving to Orkney in 2016. Sam now teaches online and at UHI, writes and makes art, and tries, with varying success, to grow vegetables.
If you go through the biology lab in the Ashworth building of Edinburgh University, past the glass cases with displays about parasitic nematodes, past where they keep the jars of worms next to the compressor unit, climb the back stairs past the bad paintings of impossible dinosaurs that could never have existed, but which are so endearingly wonky that nobody can bear to have them removed, you come to an nondescript brown door which could be a broom cupboard or a lavatory, but which, if you open it with the key you have been given, will lead you into wonderland. This door leads to the Curator’s Room.
As you open the door it smells of formalin and dust. The window has been screened off by black plastic sheeting. Flick the switch and the lights buzz and flicker on. Rows of tall wooden rolling shelving units are packed tightly together, but if you push them apart like a bookstack they will slide back just far enough for you to squeeze in between. Then you can lose yourself for hours among specimen jars of every shape and size, mahogany boxes with hand-inked labels, cardboard boxes labeled ‘rabbit brains in liquid (8)’, ‘diatom ooze, red clay, coral mud, manganese nodules, shark’s teeth’. One box is labelled, mysteriously, ‘biology curator’s group, path of rain gods’. Here you can see a blindworm bleached and suspended in a spirit jar; a wax scale model of a fish brain on a turned ebony handle; a meticulous calculation of the mass in cubic miles of the salt in the world’s oceans, written in a careful copperplate hand on a glass lantern slide; a three day old polar bear cub preserved like a pickled egg in a jar. In a corner, propped like a broomstick, a narwhal’s single tusk.
From The Curator’s Room, published in Terrain.Org: Journal of Built + Natural Environments, 2014
"I am delighted and honoured to receive this award from the Scottish Book Trust. The encouragement, sense of community and practical support of a New Writers Award could not have come at a better time for me. I intend to make the most of this opportunity!"