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A Woman I Admire Writing Competition Spring 2018

Interview with Bridget Blankley, winner of A Woman I Admire writing competition.

When did you decide to go into engineering? What prompted your decision?

I don't honestly remember a time when I didn't want to be an engineer, except for about six months in 1969 when, like everyone else in the world, I wanted to be an astronaut.

I liked maths and science at school and loved pulling things about to see how they worked so Engineering just seemed natural.

Were there many women on the course?

There were four women on the course in the first year, out of about 80 I think, the first year was a combined engineering course. Two of us graduated in mechanical engineering.

Do you think things have improved and it's easier for women to become engineers today?

If you had asked me this ten years ago I would have said yes, definitely. But I'm not so sure now. All the questions about girls' subjects and boys' subjects seem to be back — I'm not sure why. I wonder if it has something to do with there being more pressure on girls to conform to stereotypes again. I remember computer engineering was comparatively new when I started at university, and it was heralded as a breakthrough because there was a more even split of male and female students on the course. Now that seems to have changed and it has, I believe, become a ‘male’ course. Isn't that sad?

Do you have a specialism?

I trained as a mechanical engineer and worked in design for a while. Then, after about seven years I became interested in production engineering, so I left work and studied Manufacturing Management at Cranfield. After that I worked in food manufacture.

Can you say specifically how the Caroline Haslett Memorial Trust helped you?

My father died while I was taking my O' levels (GCSEs today). Mum went back to work to keep me at school, but she was working as a kitchen assistant, the pay wasn't very much at all, so although I was offered a place at Brunel, I realised that I wouldn't be able to take up the offer. One of the teachers at my school told me about the Caroline Haslett Memorial Trust and encouraged me to apply. The grant wasn't huge, but it was enough to make a difference.

You mention in your story that you have sponsored other engineers. How does that work?

Sadly, it was nothing to do with providing funding. It was part of the process of becoming a chartered engineer. At the time, another chartered engineer had to sign off their training and sponsor them so that they could become members of the institution. I worked at Britvic at the time and they didn't have a programme for training Chartered Engineers, I was lucky to be able to work with one of the departments to introduce a programme for manufacturing engineers. I think I learnt more than the people I was sponsoring — but maybe I shouldn't say that.

What inspired you to take up writing?

When my mother became ill I stopped working. After a while I started looking around for something to do and tried all sorts of evening classes, history, art and creative writing. I enjoyed all of them, but enjoyed the writing classes most. One of the tutors encouraged us to think about formal study and, eventually, I took a creative writing degree at Southampton.

I had never thought of myself as being particularly creative, but I would make up stories for my children when they were small. It's just that I never thought to write them down. Now I have the excuse to make up stories again.

You have a children's book coming out in March, tell us about it.

It's called The Ghosts and Jamal and it's the story of a teenager from rural Nigeria who, after a terrorist attack, finds himself completely alone. Because of a combination of isolation and illness he hasn't been to school at all, so tries to explain what has happened by relating it to the supernatural. The book tells the story of his trek to discover why his family were killed and to try to find somewhere to make a new home.

The publisher describes Jamal as an unlikely hero, but I think that, like the rest of us, he's just making the best of what life throws at him. Unfortunately for poor Jamal, life throws an awful lot at him.

Do you see yourself spending more time writing?

I really hope so. It is something that I enjoy, and it's something that fits easily around my other responsibilities. My publisher is very understanding, and I think I cause more than my fair share of problems. Not only do I have to arrange events so that I can be back to look after Mum each day, but I also have Asperger's, so she often has to explain things that, I'm sure, she thinks are obvious. I have a couple of ideas for my next book and I am in the process of writing one and researching another.

What's next for you?

Apart from my next book I am in the process of applying to study for a research degree. When I was told I had won this prize it made me smile. It could mean that Caroline Haslett will have supported me through my first degree and then been responsible for some of the books for my PhD. She really is on my side, isn't she?