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Category Archives: Science

Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch

It’s tomorrow night at the Storytelling Centre. You can bring knitting. It’s almost sold out. Turn to page 45 of your Edinburgh International Science Festival Programme and you’ll find it. Illicit Ink‘s ‘Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch’: Lady scientist

I’m playing Emma Darwin. That’s Charles Darwin’s wife. The lady scientist with which I’m stitching and bitching are:

And the brains behind the operation, that is the lady with the time machine who’s been stopping off at various points throughout history to collect us all – your compere for the evening is Ariadne Cass-Maran.

GET TICKETS HERE. Join the event on facebook here.

I should maybe point out that I’m not really bitching - I’m presenting the final monologue of the evening. It’s a spoken word piece I’ve written as Emma about her thoughts and questions on life, faith, feminism, science, death and love. I’m also sewing the tree of life onto a cushion and reading one of the letters I actually wrote to my dear Charlie (the real Emma wrote it – you know what I mean). I’m not saying anymore because I don’t want to spoil it! 

 
 

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Sparking Ideas From Science

Just a quick blog to say I’m running a science and poetry workshop at the National Library of Scotland on the evening of the 2nd April. You can find the event (and me) in the Edinburgh International Science Festival programme – open it in the centre and I’m top right. Oscar the cat has kindly pointed it out with his paw:

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You can also find details online on the Edinburgh International Science Festival Website here.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2014 in Events, Science, Writing

 

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Working with Libraries

I wanted to let you know about a few projects I’m doing with libraries.

Forest Families in Gorebridge

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Tomorrow I’m off to Gorebridge library to run some woodland themed storytelling workshops with the local primary schools at the launch the Forest Families project. Here’s how the facebook page describes Forest Families:

A project providing positive, nurturing interactions and free play in natural environments, for children from Mid Lothian,aged 3-8 years and their parents

Oak trees are the theme for tomorrow’s workshops. We’re hoping the children will recognise the shape of an oak leaf. It happens to be the Midlothian Council logo so they won’t have just see it on trees. I’m even going to be wearing an oak leaf dress – now that’s commitment!

I’m working with craft maker and educator Jaimie MacDonald. The last time we worked together we were running crafty storytelling training for youth leaders. This time we’re storytelling and making crafts with the children ourselves. I’m excited to hear Jaimie will be wearing a mushroom jumper (in keeping with the forest theme).

Each workshop is a taster session. We’ll have an introduction from project founder Stephanie Walker. Then it’s me with the story bag, leaves, imagination exercises, stories and some songs. Then it’s Jaimie making nature journals and finally we finish up with a wee song from the little oak story as we plant some trees:

Wonderful, beautiful, there’s only one like you.

There’s only one who was made to do, the things that you will do.

Families in Gorebridge will have an opportunity to sign up to monthly Forest Families workshops. The first one is Saturday 22nd February.

Social Media Training for Edinburgh Libraries

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Last month I ran a training session with team leaders and staff from across the Edinburgh public libraries. I was asked to share examples of how we used social media to promote reader development at Leith Library during the 9 month residency I did with the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland (read the highlights here).

The course was full and it was a good opportunity for people to share ideas between libraries. With that in mind I didn’t want to be doing all the talking. For part of the session I got people to slit into groups and discuss different ways to tell stories digitally – audio, video, photo and combinations of the above. Through the discussion and feedback people came up with loads of great ideas for things to do within their libraries and that was all before I shared some of what we did in Leith.

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Science Poetry at the National Library of Scotland

I was delighted to be asked to run a science poetry masterclass this April as part of the great big science read. I was also a little bit nervous since it’s called a master class. Did that mean I had to be a master of science poetry? Images of Yoda sprang to mind. But then we had a planning meeting at the National Library. We got excited about the titles of the science collection as inspiration for poems and I had a few ideas for exercises that the team really liked so that has put me at ease. There’s enough inspiration in that collection and in science itself so I figure I’m just going to be facilitating an opportunity for people to be inspired, connect and share.

If you’re interested you can find details of the event in the Science Festival Programme or in the latest National Libraries of Scotland what’s on leaflet.

You can read my most recent science poem ‘Relativity’ in the latest issue of The Istanbul Review.

 

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Faking My Own Death

Writing a personal monologue set ten years in the future during an Edinburgh based zombie apocalypse is not my usual kind of writing. I write about animals. Or science. I write for children. But I said yes before I’d got the brief. There’s a lesson to be learned there. Ari at Illicit Ink emailed me the story outline:

The apocalypse has come to Scotland. Nobody can quite agree on who invaded, but someone or something has. Seven Edinburgh folk give their stories about what happened, and how they are succeeding (or failing) to rebuild their worlds.

And some rules:

Your story must

a) Be in the first person – a monologue

b) Either be performed off-script or use a device (like a diary) where reading off the page is part of the performance

c) Include a section of the meta-story, as given by the producer

d) Be themed to the theme of the show

Here are some monologue devices you could use: diary, radio show, prison cell conversation, explanation over phone to spouse/children, news reading, coma conversation, someone buried under rubble conversation, report back to spaceship, letter to editor, school report, letter to loved one, letter to politician, confession to priest, chat to taxi driver, police station interview, etc.

I was one of the seven writers due to perform on stage at the Scottish Storytelling Centre earlier this month at ‘Apocalypse New’. My section brief was:

The mysterious visitors have built gardens. Edinburgh is full of waterfalls and new forests are springing up. Everyone is very happy and working together to build a compassionate and lovely world. But the strangers are eating people.

It perhaps sounds like my usual kind of writing until you get to that last line. At least I’d been given the most cheerful part, part five. I had a good few weeks to think about my section and during this time I was taken out quite literally by sciatic pain in my back and leg. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever had. I was on three types of prescription pain killers and still blacking out from pain. I could hardly walk but it gave me an opportunity to do something a little different with my writing. Here was a chance to fake my own death / disappearance / zombie abduction.

I waited until late at night when I was due a batch of pain killers. I wanted the pain to be real. I lay in bed with a phone camera and recorded three attempts at my last message to the world. Each was just over 10 minutes long and I played them back before recording the next one. I wanted the story to unravel almost seamlessly but at the same time be delivered with confusion and desperation. I wanted to question what it means to be human but add in things that show it’s me like my favourite bus (the number 10). I wanted to keep a few big reveals until the end. By the time I got to the third recording the pain and desperation were definitely real.

I didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t going to be performing in person. When it got to my section the lights went out and a ghostly face appeared on the screen. My face. In the story I’m a doctor, here is my story:

Watch on Youtube here

It went down well. I only wish I could have been there to see all the other performances – radio presented compering, an interview, a play with music and spoken word:

Illicit Ink Skyground: Apocalypse New

When I told people how I’d made the video they said I was suffering for my art. I hadn’t thought of it like that. I saw it as making the most out of the pain. It was described as heightened realism and good acting. If you’re pretending to be drugged and in pain it’s a lot easier if you are actually drugged and in pain so I’m not sure I deserve the credit. I got the idea a few month before from a friend who’s a real doctor. The servers went down in Glasgow and the NHS had no access to anyones medical records for two days. That’s what got me thinking – what if everyone’s medical records really were hacked…

On the day of the performance I got very scared that it was a ridiculous idea and I sent an email to Ari saying I was scared it was rubbish. She assured me it wasn’t and said it was just the sort of experimental thing she was looking for. If you like experiments Illicit Ink: Skyground is back again in February. J.A. Sutherland was very complimentary about the event, read the review here.

Image Credit: Chris Scott

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in Events, Film, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Brave New Words

scienceblobs

I’m excited to be the compère an event next week that brings together two of my passions – science and writing. A few people have asked me what a compère is so just to clarify it’s the host who links the evening events together. I’ll be introducing the speakers, chairing the discussion and conducting a science experiment with the audience. You’ve been warned!

The event follows on from the EuroStemCell creative non fiction writing competition. We’ll be sharing work from the winners and talking to a panel of science writers. You can read about the panel members here. If you’ve got a question for a member of the panel please add it to the comments below or tweet it to @Eurostemcell using the hashtag #bravenewwords. I hope to see you there!

Here are the details:

Wednesday 23rd October 2013, 7.00 for 7.30pm.
Inspace, 1 Crichton Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AB

Brave New Words: a celebration of words and science

For millennia, the sciences have fired the imagination. We react to the world around us with awe and curiosity. In order to understand and experience it, we tell ourselves stories. Some of these stories we describe as fiction and some as non-fiction. But all stories, just like all science, can teach.

These stories, once spread as myths and folklore, now come in the form of prose, comics, blogs and poems. But questions arise about how best to communicate science. How accurate must writers of fiction be? Can non-fiction authors be inventive or poetic? What forms are most effective at imparting knowledge and which are best at gripping the imagination?

Brave New Words will look to answer these questions. Hosted by storyteller Emily Dodd, writers of fiction and non-fiction Pippa Goldschmidt, Ken MacLeod, Barbara Melville and Mhairi Stewart will discuss the interplay between narrative and science. EuroStemCell will share the fruits of their recent non-fiction writing competition with comics, prose and poetry on stem cell science, performed by Rachel McCrum and Ariadne Cass-Mara.

The event is free but ticketed – get your tickets through eventbrite here find the event on facebook here. Read more about science writing in the context of this event on Bab’s blog.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2013 in Education, Events, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Writing for Children: Portobello Book Festival

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The Portobello Book Festival starts this weekend! There’s an exciting programme of FREE events from Friday 4th – Sunday 5th October including talks on local history, wilderness walking, bread making, football and writing.

I’m working with Eleanor Collins from Floris Books to run a session on Writing for Children on the Saturday at 5pm – 6pm in Portobello Library (upstairs). Here’s what the programme says:

Writing for Children
How do you write for children? What format should a picture book take? How do you turn a great idea into a TV show? How do you write for a children’s magazine?  What about writing science theatre for children?
Eleanor Collins, Senior Commissioning Editor at Floris Books, will talk about what makes a good children’s novel, how to plan the layout and story for a picture book, what appeals to younger readers and what makes great young adult fiction. Emily Dodd, CBeebies screenwriter and science communicator, will talk about developing ideas and writing for children’s TV and writing scripts for science theatre, school workshops and oral stories. 

 

If that’s for you we’d love to see you there. I’ve really enjoyed discussing ideas for the workshop with Eleanor (over a cuppa and cake!) and I’m excited to be part of the festival again.

The Portobello Book Festival is now in its forth year. This brilliant wee festival is run by volunteers and all the authors contribute their time for free too. The full programme for 2013 is here. Get tickets from Portobello Library or 15 minutes before an event (but be warned most events sell out!).

Portobello Book Festival has a blog and they’re also on twitter.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Education, Events, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Nina and the Neurons: Earth Explorers

Earth Explorers

Earth Explorers, the eighth series of CBeebies flagship science show Nina and the Neurons began this week. I’m the screenwriter on four episodes of this series, my first episode will be broadcast tomorrow.

My Episodes

  • Living in Space: Thursday 26th Sep, (4.30pm CBeebies)
  • Night and Day: Tuesday 8th Oct, Tuesday 5th Nov (4.30pm CBeebies)
  • Living on Earth: Thursday 10th Oct, Thursday 7th Nov (4.30pm CBeebies)
  • Shooting Stars: Friday 22nd Nov, Friday 6th Dec (4.30pm CBeebies)

You can watch live on CBeebies at 4.30pm or catch up later on BBC Iplayer

The Show

Nina is a scientist who answers questions from children with the help of her neurons. It’s a live action show (the children and people are real) with animation (that’s Nina’s animated senses neurons).

Small Beginnings

One reason I’m ridiculously excited about this series is because it all about earth science – geology, geography, oceanography, geophysics and space. I studied geophysics at university. Geophysics is the physics of the earth. Or physics for people who like the outdoors. But that definition may not sit right with the rock climbing theoretical physicists. Or the couch potato geophysicists.

Anyway, it’s funny to think it started for me when I was the age of the children who will be tuning into Nina tomorrow. My journey began with museum visits, a dinosaur collection and a little telescope. Now I’m writing on Nina. It’s exciting to think we might inspire a generation of children to explore the wonderful world around us and discover the science behind it through Earth Explorers. That’s geophysi-cool. I know, I’m a geophysi-geek. I’m not ashamed.

Another reason I’m excited about this series is because I was part of the team that came up with the concept for it back in 2012. It’s really exciting to see it become a series and I’m looking forward to watching it.

I worked on the last series of Nina and the Neurons too – Nina and the Neurons: Go Engineering. More here

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Education, Events, Media, Science, Writing

 

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He Blew Me a Kiss

Last week EuroStemCell announced the winners of their creative non-fiction science writing competition. If you’re wondering what creative non fiction writing is it’s factually accurate non-fiction writing that’s creative in its approach to communicating science. I wrote a bit more about it here.

I was judging the poetry category so I want to say a big congratulations to the winner, GP Eliot North. Here’s her beautiful winning poem:

He Blew Me a Kiss 

She liked Frank, they connected
despite his expressionless face. Behind the wound-up limbs and tremor
a gentle man shone out from the mask.

When she visited they would share a cuppa.
Chat about this and that. Do the ‘medication shuffle’;
a two-step dance they both knew well.

She’d heard about stem cell research.
How they’d taken swabs from patients’ skin. Growing stem cells
from skin cells in dishes, right there in the lab up the road.

These stem cells would then become brain cells.
Models of Parkinson’s just like Frank’s. For testing newer and better
medications and perhaps one day even a cure.

The last time she saw Frank it was snowing
but he insisted on accompanying her out. Standing by the gate like a sentinel
he’d wave her off that one last time.

Later she’d think of stem cells like kisses
blown on the winter air. A hand lifted slowly towards a frozen face.
The moment captured in her rear-view mirror.

by Eliot North

You can find the winners of the imaginative science writing and graphic non-fiction categories on the EuroStemCell website here.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Education, poetry, Science, Writing

 

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I’m on a Writing Retreat

I’m staying in a beautiful harbour village in the north-west of Scotland. This is Ullapool:

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The Plan

I’m taking a month out to write. I’m excited because

  • It’s a month full of potential and possibilities
  • I don’t know if I can do it so it’s a new challenge
  • I’ve started already, this is day 3 and it still feels exciting

The projects I’m working on are:

  • Picture books for Floris
  • A sitcom (or two sitcoms)
  • A series of young adult fiction novels

Picture Books

Floris are the biggest children’s publisher in Scotland. A couple of months ago they invited me to tea and asked me to write for them. I know, ridiculous as it sounds that really did happen. I’m still amazed (you know when you’re thinking have they got the right person here!?) so I’ve made writing for Floris my main priority. Here are some of my Day 1 ideas (for a picture book set on Shetland):

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On day two I put these ideas aside and wrote a new story about a pheasant and a mouse. This time I didn’t plan out ideas on luggage tags. I just typed the whole story straight from my head. It’s strange how no two stories get written in the same way.

Puzzling it Out

Writing picture books is really a big puzzle. You need to create a great story and great characters but you also need to tell the story across the right amount on double paged spreads. Each page has to be sufficiently visually different to the page before and you want people to keep turning the pages to see what happens next. Every page needs to be perfect. Thankfully Floris are helping me so I’m in good hands.

Sitcom(s)

A year ago I wrote a sitcom and got some feedback from BBC comedy and from Edinburgh screenwriter Adrian Mead. I wrote about pitching it here. I’ve not had chance to work on the sitcom in light of the feedback so I’m looking forward to getting back to it. I’m encouraged by the fact that BBC TV Comedy said it was funny. Apparently that’s the hardest thing to get right. I can work on the things they’ve suggested like developing one of the less developed characters but if it wasn’t funny there’s no way I’d spend more time on it. They also said they were happy to see any new versions or anything else I write so on that note I’ve got an idea for a new sitcom (but we’ll see how the time goes!)

YA Novels

I’ve planned a series of 12 young adult fiction novels set in Scotland. Originally I pitched them to CBBC as a television series idea but now I’d like to try to write one of them as a novel. They have a science theme. If they work then that’s great but if they don’t then that’s okay. I just want to give it a go, that’s what this month is about.

Food, Sleep and Slowing Down

I’m enjoying cooking and eating well. I’m staying with another writer and we’ve been taking it in turns to make meals. I’m also enjoying sleep and not setting my alarm. I know writers are supposed to get up early and write several thousand words but I feel a lot better when I’ve slept and that helps me to write better too.

This may sound lazy but if you know me you’ll know I’m generally one of those people who does too much. I’ve had bosses who have asked me to give 50% instead of 100% because my 50% is most people’s 100%. I don’t always have time to eat or ever get dressed when I’m busy so I’m trying to slow down a while I’m here and look after myself.

Exploring Ullapool

Most days I go for a walk.

On Wednesday I tried to join the Ullapool running club but no one turned up so I went on my own run and ended up a bit lost. A family of deer followed me and I met a lizard. Once I was on the right path again I relaxed and that’s when the story I was working on that day got exciting. It just goes to show hills and getting lost are great for creativity.

On Thursday I visited the library and the lovely CHORUS exhibition (bird song, bird photos and bird boxes) in the Macphael Centre:

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Today I visited art exhibition An Talla Solais, these two little squares are part of a miniature works of art from 100 artists. It’s called  ‘VOYAGE: A Journey in Tiny Steps’:

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World Skiff Championship

Next week it’s the world skiff championship. The village will be bustling with tourists and competitors. Princess Anne is opening the championships so I’ll pop down to the harbour for that. I’ve spotted several teams out practicing already:

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My Residency
I’m excited to be writing in Ullapool. I should mention I’ve been working as the Scottish Book Trust Reader in Residence at Leith Library 2.5 days a week for the last 9 months. The library part of my residency just finished but I’m still funded for 3 months to do my own practice. That’s why I’m able to take one month out to write – I would never normally be able do something ike this. It’s all thanks to the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland. It’s also thanks to my writer friend Mairi for letting me stay!

UPDATE: Read about the Skiff World Championship (and how I ended up in a rowing boat) here.

 
 

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Stem Cell Writing Competition

Alright stem cell buddy!?

Hi-five stem cell hen, where are you heading today?

Me, och, I was thinking heart… it’s been on my heart for a while

I dinnae ken but I’ve been dreaming of toe nails, wee ones at that. So I guess that’s where I’m bound

Good luck wee toenail..

Take heart hen!

And that happens. No really. Every little stem cell in your body has the full instruction manual for every bit of you. What’s more they all somehow perfectly decide between them to go and do and be every bit of you.

A wee ridiculous miracle in every cell. Your body is bursting with tiny miracles. I like to think they have the same accent as you, they are regional miracles.

So that’s how I would describe stem cells but I reckon you could do a much better job (YES I hear you cry). Well (drum roll) there’s only a competition for that!

Euro Stem Cell are running their first non fiction writing competition with three categories:

  • Imaginative science writing
  • Non-fiction poetry
  • Graphic non-fiction

You can read more about it on their website but don’t delay. The deadline is 30th June. Just to let you know I’m on the judging panel – I’m not quite sure how I managed that since folks like Rodger Highfield and Ken MacLeod are on there but heyho, I’m judging the non fiction poetry.

Creative Nonfiction For Science

If you were wondering what creative nonfiction writing is, I hear it’s the fastest growing new genre of writing. So soon enough I’m sure you will hear a lot more about it. I was co-facilitating a training course on ‘Nonfiction for Science – Imaginative Approaches to Science Writing’ at the Roslin Institute earlier this year. Here we are on the coffee break, that’s Barbara Melville on the left and me on the right (it had to be done!)

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One of my favourite parts of the course was meeting everyone. I set people the task of creating a pie-ku to introduce themselves and say why they’re on the course (it’s like a haiku but the syllables are 3,1,4)

e.g.

Emily

Loves

Science and Art

And after each person performed their pi-ku they went on to explain a bit about their current research and science communication experience. One woman was making glowing chickens. As she explained her work I casually said something like

“wow, so I guess for your public engagement you can just turn up with a chicken and turn our the lights?”

The answer was “No the chickens are far too valuable and precious to take out of the lab”

And someone else added “The embryos are quite portable though?”

Yep! I was running a training course with a bunch of geniuses. Another person was creating a synthetic carbon capture system. As we were chatting about applications I realised this would solve all climate change problems..

“Yes, if it worked it would be amazing!” she said enthusiastically.

So yeah, it was a fun day with twenty amazing academics. I loved working with the group and with my co-facillitator and course creator Barbara Melville. Barbara is an expert in creative writing for nonfiction and she’s the Writer in Residence at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

Check out the Euro Stem Cell Competition online. The competition hashtag is #stemcellcomp (find EuroStemCell on Twitter), You can also find EurostemCell on Facebook.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2013 in Education, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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