In the submission guidelines to Rocket Science, I pointed out that the stories I was looking for could even be set on Earth. I was sort of hoping someone would send in a story about building or testing rockets. Martin McGrath went one better. His ‘Pathfinders’ is about a mission to Mars… but is set entirely on the surface of the Earth.
I started my working life setting crosswords and editing puzzle magazines but have spent most of what I laughingly call my “career” twisting the facts as a journalist and public relations manager. Since leaving the crosswords [“Act like female deer (6)”][i] I have worked in the National Health Service and local government in the UK and then served a number of different trade unions, fighting the good fight on behalf of Britain’s working men and women and actors. Currently I’m a freelance writer, editor and designer of paper things and web things.
I have a Masters and PhD in a field of political science that became obsolete eighteen months before I sat down for my viva.
My fiction has been published in various magazines and collections. My most recently published short story, ‘Eskragh’, appeared in Albedo One and was long-listed by Ellen Datlow for the year’s best horror anthology and appeared in Tangent Online’s list of the best short stories of 2011. A selection of my flash fiction was published in Illuminations: The Friday Flash Fiction Anthology.
‘Pathfinders’ was inspired by a couple of lectures that were put on by the BFI as part of their Kosmos retrospective on Russian science fiction films. The seeds were a comment by Simon Ings about the fundamental differences in Russian and American psychology being linked to their different geographies and spending an hour or so listening to the Russian cosmonaut, Sergei Kirkalev, talk about his experiences aboard the Mir space station as the Soviet Union fell apart below and his later career training Russia’s cosmonaut cadre. Kirkalev has an extraordinary grace and calmness, he was very impressive and I tried to capture some of that in ‘Pathfinders’.
When I read Ian’s pitch for Rocket Science, it set my mind thinking about the reality of the modern space programmes in economically straitened times and those other threads came together to form the shape of the story. I’m delighted Ian accepted the story for his anthology, even if there aren’t any actual rockets in the piece.
In my spare time I edit Focus, the British Science Fiction Association magazine for writers, and work on their other publications. I am the administrator of the James White Award, an annual short story competition. I blog, incontinently, at www.mmcgrath.co.uk and tweet, inanely, as @martinmcgrath.
[i] “Behind” – sorry, old habits die hard.