The scientific data that Susan Bradbury crunched as a public health nurse somehow morphed a few years ago into a torrent of science fiction — fueling a stream of future-world tales that has yet to dip below warp speed.
She admits she was surprised when, after 30 years in the nursing field in the Berkshires and central Massachusetts, her writing suddenly transformed from the technical into fiction and became a daily passion. Bradbury's first novel, "Children of the Song," was published in December and four others are in draft form.
The story, the first in a trilogy, is set more than 8,000 years in the future on a planet inhabited by descendants of some of the first galactic colonists to leave Old Earth. According to the prologue, records of those earliest waves of colonization and the planets that were settled were lost or have devolved into legend. One of those "lost planets" has been rediscovered centuries later in a little explored sector of the galaxy.
Operatives from an advanced civilization assigned to observe the primitive inhabitants find something mysterious developing among them and then witness an attack by another group, resulting in a slaughter. They must decide whether to intervene against their strict orders in order to save two gifted young survivors.
Bradbury spent much of her youth in Berkshire County. She graduated from Mount Greylock Regional High School and later from Berkshire Community College with a nursing degree, and later still from North Adams State College with a degree in psychology.
She worked as a nurse in the Berkshires for a few years, including at the former North Adams Regional Hospital, before earning a master's degree in public health from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She subsequently worked for many years in Worcester-area hospitals.
She left her job in 2015 and now writes fiction full time.
Of her writing, Bradbury said she was inadvertently launched on that course about five years ago, after a colleague asked her to write an article for a medical journal about a bizarre finding at a Worcester hospital. As she was the infection control practitioner, the housekeeping supervisor approached her one day, saying, "Sue, you have to see this."
What she saw was a bed mattress cover that had disintegrated, revealing old blood and bodily fluid stains, roughly in the shape of a person.
For years in some cases, Bradbury said, cleaners had wiped the mattress cover with disinfectant but failed to look below it.
"We said, 'This can't be the only one,'" she said, adding that a team eventually checked every mattress and found 173 of 785 at the institution needed to be replaced.
Her boss later told her, "Sue, you've got to write this up in a professional journal as an article." And when she took a long time writing the article, he kept asking when it would be finished.
"I kept saying, 'Do you want the fiction version or the nonfiction version?'" Bradbury said. "Then of course, I had to write the fiction version because I had been threatening all this time to do it," she said. "And it was just a funny little short story, and I wrote it for my friends."
The story included a space plague that ended up wiping out much of the East Coast of the U.S., she said, "and it was just very funny, and what saved the day was hand washing."
"And then something happened after I did that, and I felt like I got whacked upside the head," she said. "I started writing, I mean really writing. I was working full time, so I wrote every single weekend, and it just hasn't stopped. And it consumes my mind So, it really was that sudden; I started writing, and apparently I have been holding all this back for a long, long time."
Bradbury said she enjoyed her career as a nurse in public health. She advised and educated the public and medical personnel, wrote releases and educational materials and worked with the state Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control concerning alerts, medical updates and warnings.
Bradbury and her family have numerous Berkshire ties. Her father, the late Carl Bradbury, was a newspaper man who once worked at The Transcript in North Adams and also followed a dream one year to become the golf pro at Forest Park Country Club in Adams.
Her brother, John Bradbury, is known locally as a golfer, having won multiple club championships at Waubeeka Golf Links in Williamstown.
She is writing under her maiden name, as S.L. Bradbury, partly in honor of one of her early science fiction favorites, Ray Bradbury. That link might be a deeper one, in fact, as she said genealogical research showed both she and Ray Bradbury are descendants of Mary Perkins Bradbury, a woman who was convicted in the Salem witch trials but managed to escape hanging in 1692.
A voracious reader, she became a sci-fi fan early on, beginning with classics like the stories of Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Andre Norton.
"Children of the Song" is published by Page Publishing and available in softcover online from Barnes & Noble and Amazon and in ebook formats.
Jim Therrien covers city government for The Eagle.