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Dundee Literary Festival 2014

oscardundee

Just a quick post to let you know I’m taking my first picture book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story’ to Dundee Literary Festival on 25th October, 10.00am. Get tickets here. The event is part of the family fun day:

DundeeKids

There will be:

  • Football with giant foam pinecones (more about that here)
  • Videos of actual dancing capercaillies at RSPB Loch Garten
  • Beautiful Scottish wildlife images thanks to Laurie Campbell
  • A naughty water-squirting red squirrel
  • Science experiments
  • A chance to make a red squirrel or capercaillie fridge magnet

You can also expect sounds effects, stickers, smells and a few surprises. We’ll be learning capercaillie dance moves along the way and dancing to music composed especially for the event by Sam Gallagher. Here’s a wee sample of the track, click play below:

About the Story

Cameron the capercaillie can’t dance. His family, the MacFeathers are the best dancers in the Cairngorms but sadly, when Cameron wiggles everyone giggles. Cameron meets a new friend, a red squirrel called Hazel Nut who takes him on a journey through the forest, will he learn to dance?

Pet Portraits

Literary Dundee have been sharing photos of pets with the programme on their facebook page. I got a little bit carried away and sent Peggy Hughes eight photos from the photoshoot I did with Oscar. Here he is at the end (I think he’s had enough!).

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Find Literary Dundee on Facebook and on Twitter. Find the wonderful Dundee Literary Festival programme online here.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling

 

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Portobello Book Festival 2014

I’m part of this year’s Portobello Book Festival along with science writers Anna Claybourne and Pippa Goldschmidt. Here’s what the programme says about our event:

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The festival runs from the 3rd to the 5th of October in Portobello, Edinburgh. The programme launched earlier this month in the Dalriada Pub. I was excited to meet one of my fellow science writers Anna Claybourne at the launch:

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I grew up loving the type of children’s non-fiction science books that Anna writes so it was a real pleasure to meet her.

I was even more star struck (if that were possible) when I met the women behind a book I absolutely love, despite my inability to knit. I bring you the wonderfully woolly Knit Your Own Scotland:

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And here are Ruth and Jackie, they look a bit like they’ve been knitted too (or has the love for the book taken over my imagination?):

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I told them how much we loved their book in Leith Library and how we challenged the knitting group to knit Scotland for Book Week. The good news is, you can build a new Scotland (well knit it) at the knitting workshop on the Saturday afternoon.

This year’s programme really is amazing, we say that every year but it just keeps getting better. You can see all of the events here.

Writing Workshops

If you’re an aspiring writer, I’d recommend the ‘Opening Lines’ workshop on Saturday morning run by the lovely women from my writer’s group Mairi Wilson and Louise Kelly. Or if you’re into YA writing there’s a workshop with on ‘Writing for Teens’ with children and young people’s librarian Simon Radcliff, and award-winning YA authors Keith Gray and Cat Clarke.

I’m also looking forward to finding out ‘What’s happening in Publishing’ with Francis Bickmore (Publishing Director at Canongate Books), Allan Guthrie (author, agent, editor, publisher – what can’t this man do?) and Eleanor Collins (Senior Commissioning Editor at Floris Books) on Sunday afternoon.

Get Tickets

All the events are free but ticketed and tickets are available in person from Portobello Library. No you can’t book online or phone up – you need to go to the library and that’s a good thing! There will be a chance to donate after each event – please do – all the speakers and organisers contribute their time voluntarily – your donations will make next year’s festival possible.

It’s my third year being part of the programme and I’m delighted to be back in Portobello!

Find the programme online here. Follow Portobello Book Festival on Twitter @PortyBookFest.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2014 in Education, Events, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Can’t Dance Cameron Book Launch

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Last week my first picture book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story’ launched in Edinburgh. STV Edinburgh wrote about it here. There were a couple of exciting announcements at the launch:

1) Can’t Dance Cameron is on a reprint. That doesn’t normally happen on the day a new book launches – the book was actually out in shops in Scotland a couple of weeks before the launch because of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Thanks to everyone who’s been buying the book.

2) My new book ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ is out next year – I had to keep that secret until now. I signed the contract at the beginning of August and wrote the first version of the book last year. It’s changed a bit since then and it’s now about ready to go to an illustrator. Very exciting.

Back to the launch, here it is in pictures, thanks to photographer Chris Scott. I’m like Can’t Dance Cameron – afraid I’ll look silly dancing BUT Chris somehow managed to get a photo of me in mid-air – he described it as an ascension shot. And I look, well,… almost graceful.

The Launch

The evening started with drinks, nibbles, networking and chat. People took their seats ready for the launch to begin:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Intro from Eleanor

The Chief Commissioning Editor at Floris Books, Eleanor Collins introduced people to me and the book:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Living legend Jonathan Meres did a wee stand-up comedy slot with a giant blue dice:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

There were six comedy stories on my interactions with birds through the ages:

  1. AGE 7 IN THE DEN
  2. BIRD WATCHER BADGE
  3. HITCHCOCK’S THE BIRDS
  4. LEATHER GANNET
  5. FULMAR AUTOPSY
  6. PUFFINS AND MEETING THE QUEEN

We got three stories depending on the dice throw:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Into the Forest

Then it was me. We went on an interactive journey through the forest to try to find a dancing bird. This is the naughty water squirting squirrel, Hazel Nut:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Here are the expert volunteers who fanned the smell of the pine forest all around the audience:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

This is an actual giant pine cone – from the USA. We practiced a firework style “ooooh!” and “Ahhhh!” when the pine cone came out – ready for later in the story…

Can't Dance Cameron launch

True or False?

This was a red squirrel true or false quiz – you had to make the shape of a T or an F with your body:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Football

Then out came the football pine cones – Bethan and Roo volunteered:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Here’s Bethan kicking the pine cone past the wild cat to distract it. That’s Adele, she’s works at the Botanic Gardens and she’s pretending to be a scots pine.

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Dancing

Then we learnt the dance moves, this is the assertion shot I mentioned earlier. Look at my feet!

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Science Experiment POP!

Then a quick science experiment to make the capercaillie popping noise using an alka-seltzer rocket!

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Music and Dancing

Then we put the dancing together with the music and everyone joined in:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Here’s a sample of the track, click play below:

Even Roy Gill danced, despite his earlier tweet:

The Story

Then I shared the story with the pictures up on the big screen:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

With some actions along the way:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Q and A

After that it was time for the Q and A chaired by Bookriot blogger Edd McCracken:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

There were some great questions from the audience including:

  • What inspired the book?
  • What happened to the wildcat?
  • How long did it take to write the book?

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Thanks

Then there were some thank yous, hosted by poet Elspeth Murray:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Elspeth thanked:

On my behalf and then I said a few thanks to:

  • My writers group – especially Mairi who let me stay in Ullapool (where I wrote the first version of the book)
  • The Scottish Book Trust (they funded the writing of this book via the Reader in Residence post at Leith Library)
  • Katie Pamment the Illustrator
  • Everyone at Floris Books
  • A big thanks went to my amazing editor Eleanor – I gave her some flowers

Can't Dance Cameron launch

I also thanked everyone for coming and for buying books. Finally Kirsten the publicist from Floris came up to say a final thanks – it was a lovely surprise to be given some flowers too!

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Signing

Then a sort of double queue formed, here’s a slightly awkward moment when two people thought they were first in line!

Can't Dance Cameron launch

It was lovely to meet people and sign copies of the book. The illustrator Katie Pamment signed too – it’s not every day you get a first edition signed by the author and the illustrator:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

This is near the end of the queue. By the time we finished all the wine had run out – before I had chance to drink any!

Can't Dance Cameron launch

There are more lovely photos from the event in a Chris Scott album here

Feedback

Lastly here are some of the tweets from the event. Floris books put some together in a storify too, find it here.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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The Istanbul Review

I’m excited to have a science poem published in the latest edition of The Istanbul Review, page 22:

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Relativity has a mathematical structure – every line has one more word all the way up to twenty. It’s about the maths and science and stories inside everything. It would fit into the writing genre of creative non fiction – if you’re wondering what creative non fiction is, I wrote a bit about it here.

There’s also an interview with me covering writing for children, writing science, working with excluded teens, blogging and asking ‘if I could add a word to the dictionary, what would it be?’. They do this awesome thing where illustrator Aysegul Sinav draws each contributor:

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I love the gorgeous artwork on the cover (by Canan Berber):

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I should maybe explain what The Istanbul Review is – It’s a literary journal featuring fiction, poetry, art, interviews, creative non fiction and out takes. It’s printed in Istanbul. This issue includes another creative non fiction piece, by Turkey’s most read novelist Elif Skafak:

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There are some lovely mathematical structures in there too in the form of sestutes (62 word poems) by Edinburgh based award-winning historical fiction writer Sara Sheridan:

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Buy a copy online here. Or if you’re in Edinburgh, you can pop in and buy one (or order over the phone from anywhere in the UK) from Looking Glass Books.

Find the Istanbul Review online, on twitter, on pinterest and on Facebook. They’re open for submissions just now for issue 6, find out how to submit your work here

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Inverness Book Festival

Inverness Book Festival

This Saturday my new picture book ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ is coming home to the Highlands. We’re off to the Inverness Book Festival.

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Event Details: Saturday 23rd August 11.30am, Eden Court, Inverness. 

Tickets for children are £4 but include a free adult entry. You are of course welcome without a child too.

GET TICKETS HERE

There will be:

  • Football with giant foam pinecones (more about that here)
  • Videos of actual dancing capercaillies at RSPB Loch Garten
  • Beautiful Scottish wildlife images thanks to Laurie Campbell
  • A naughty water-squirting red squirrel
  • Science experiments

You can also expect sounds effects, stickers, smells and a few surprises. We’ll be learning capercaillie dance moves along the way and dancing to music composed especially for the event by Sam Gallagher. Here’s a wee sample of the track, click play below:

About the Story

Can’t Dance Cameron is a book about a capercaillie called Cameron who can’t dance. His family, the MacFeathers are the best dancers in the Cairngorms but sadly, when Cameron wiggles everyone giggles.

Cameron meets a new friend, a red squirrel called Hazel Nut who takes him on a journey through the forest…

If you want to know what happens next you’ll have to come along!

Signing

We’ll finish the event with a signing. Here’s me getting some practice in at Edinburgh International Book Festival earlier this week:

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My Illustrator

I’m really excited to hear my illustrator, Katie Pamment is coming along to the event too. She lives in the highlands and I love how her pictures have captured the feel of the place so well. We’ll be meeting for the first time at Inverness Book Festival.

Other Events

There are loads of brilliant book related events at Eden court from now until Saturday evening, find out more on the Inverness Book Festival website. I’m really looking forward to the event on writing for children and young adults with Keith Charters and Gillian Phillip at 3.30pm – get tickets here.

Read about ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ on the Floris website here. You can buy it at the Inverness Book Festival or from your local bookstore. 

 

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Tales From Our Wild Park

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This is me holding a giant copy of the book I’ve written for Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. It’s called ‘Tales From Our Wild Park’ and it launched yesterday at Glasgow Queen Street station.

The Launch

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That’s Paul Wheelhouse the Environment Minister in the middle and Fiona Logan (Chief Executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park) on the left and the park convener Linda McKay on the right – getting their photos taken at the launch. They were interviewed by the BBC too, you might have seen it on Reporting Scotland last night?

Behind them to the left is the green screen. It was used to create portraits of people in the park. For example, I stood in front of the green screen and cupped my hands and…. here I am holding a red squirrel in the Trossachs Forest!

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You can see all of the photos created by the green screen on facebook here. Read more about the launch on forargyle.com here.

Tales from Our Wild Park

It’s so exciting to see the book in print! It looks absolutely gorgeous. The designers (Create 48) and project manager (Aelred Nicholas) have done an amazing job in putting it together. This is one of my favourite spreads:

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John Muir’s quote, the designers beautiful word art, an amazing photo of the bog cotton and my writing.

The publication is 52 pages long. It focuses on five wild challenges:

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Half of Scotland’s population live within one hour’s drive from the park so really, the park belongs to all of us and this book is written for you. It sets out the priorities for the park over the next ten years and it invites us to get involved. It invites us to visit the park and experience the beauty of nature for ourselves:

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The book is free and is available at outlets across the Park. You can download it here.

My Brief

My role was to make the 150 page biodiversity action plan as relevant, engaging, exciting and easy to read as possible. I needed to write for someone with no background knowledge of the park. I read the action plan several times. Some sections, for example ‘our woodland habitats’, were several pages long. My challenge was to condense seven pages into the equivalent of two. Other sections like ‘red squirrels’ or ‘black grouse’ only had a few paragraphs so I needed to take what was relevant and research the topic elsewhere. I thought a lot about how to make things relevant to the public and proposed a general format for each wild challenge of:

  • Relevant quote
  • Descriptive intro
  • Why it’s important / why it matters
  • What we’re doing
  • How can you get involved / what can you do to help
  • Where can you see it / them (location and travel info)

Aelred loved this format and so I set to work on a sample spread. I wanted to check I was on the right track before I wrote the whole thing. I chose peat bogs first. I read the action plan section a few times and researched bogs in books and online. I spoke to a natural history expert, Kenny Taylor to find out more.

I submitted my first spread and received feedback. The good thing was the tone and style were just right but there were things I needed to work on. The team wanted more excitement and adventure. What is it like to climb the mountains and visit a peat bog? I’d suggested visiting Flanders Moss – the most famous bog in the park but this was the wrong type of bog.

This initial feedback was really useful and helped me to understand what the team were looking for. It also helped me to request the information I needed instead of coming up with it myself – like locations for mountain bogs (since there weren’t bog locations in the action plan). I asked for clarification on the angle of each section – for example with invasive non-native species I suggested as an intro we started off all gentle and beautiful and then switch to the destruction of the plants taking over. They liked that.

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I had to think about the best way to get key points and information across. Not everyone is interested in invasive plants (they’re not cute like red squirrels) so I didn’t want to use lots of text writing about each specific plant. Instead I suggested photos and a table.

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I wrote the rest of the sections and simplified the vision and overview. The feedback was good – just some minor changes and a suggestion to find some alternative quotes (apart from John Muir). I’d chosen John Muir because I love how he captures the heart of the beauty of experiencing nature with so much simplicity. Also, he’s from Scotland, he founded national parks in the US and it’s the year of Scotland’s homecoming. But taking the feedback on board, I found some other relevant quotes and they’ve really added something – like Billy Connolly’s quote about a sexy raincoat!

Aelred asked partner organisations for quotes too – they really bring the topics to life.

I love that about the creative process. When others contribute ideas and vision it makes the whole thing so much better as a result.

Feedback

The style is completely different to anything the park has published before. Feedback and so far has been really positive. One staff member told me how she cried when she read it. It’s been described as a publication that engages with the head as well as the heart. 

I’d be interested to hear what you think too!?

Edinburgh International Book Festival

I’m really excited to say ‘Tales of our Wild Park’ is going to all the teachers visiting Edinburgh International Book Festival School Gala Day on the 26th August. I’m doing three events at the book festival this year including an event at the Gala Day. I’ve written another book that came out this week, this one is for children but it also features a red squirrel and a forest! It’s called ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’. Read more about it here.

Find out more about Wild Park on the Wild Park 2020 website.

 

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Nina and The Neurons: Get Sporty

I’m off to see the athletics final in the Commonwealth Games today:

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Around the time I’ll be arriving at Hampden Park, one of the episodes I’ve written of BBC Science show Nina and the Neurons will be broadcast on the CBeebies channel. It’s all about the science of gymnastics (why do we bend our knees when we land?).

The new series of Nina and the Neurons is called ‘Get Sporty’. It’s about the science behind sport and it’s been created to coincide with the Commonwealth Games. In each episode children investigate the science behind a sport with Nina through fun interactive experiments. One of the exciting things about this series is, we get to meet professional athletes in every episode too.

Nina

You can catch up on all of the episodes including the ones I’ve written on BBC Iplayer here.

Here’s when you can watch the episodes I’ve written live:

Gymnastics: Friday 1st August, Wednesday 20th August: 4.15 – 4.30pm CBeebies

Football: Wednesday 23rd July, Thursday 7th August: 4.15 – 4.30pm CBeebies

Sprinting: Monday 28th July, Thursday 14th August: 4.15 – 4.30pm CBeebies

I helped develop some of the ideas behind ‘Get Sporty’ in 2012 so I was really pleased to be asked to write on the series after it was commissioned. It’s amazing to now see it on TV.

I’m looking forward to going to Glasgow to see the athletics final too – especially now I know more about the science behind it.

Read about writing for previous series of Nina ‘Earth Explorers’ and ‘Go Engineering’.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2014 in Education, Events, Science, Writing

 

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