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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.

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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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Dancing Capercaillies

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Tickets for Edinburgh International Book Festival go on sale tomorrow and I would like to invite you along to my event ‘Dancing Capercaillies‘ at 13.00 on Monday 18th August. I’m excited to be bringing my debut picture book:

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Here’s what page 75 of the book festival programme says about the event:

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If you come along you’ll be at my first public reading. There will football with giant pinecones, a naughty squirrel squirting water, sounds recorded in the cairngorms forest, video footage of real capercaillies dancing and a few other surprises. By the end of the event you’ll know some genuine capercaillie dance moves. You could try them out at a wedding?

Schools
If you are a school group, I’m also doing a schools event on 21st August, I wrote about on the blog here.
 
Love Birds
I love the Edinburgh International Book Festival bird graphics – Cameron the Capercaillie will feel right at home in Charlotte Square.
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Capercaillies

Capercaillies are rare Scottish birds – there’s only around 1000 of them left in the wild in Scotland. They dance every year and I’ve got up very early to try to see them the last three years in a row. Here’s how I got on

Watch to the video on youtube here

 

BUY THE BOOK

Can’t Dance Cameron is published this September by Floris Books as part of their Picture Kelpies range. Advance copies of the book will be available in the Edinburgh Book Festival Shop in Charlotte Square Gardens during the book festival. So that’s the only place you can get a copy before 18th September.

BUY TICKETS (with Oscar!)

Hello, I’m Oscar the cat – there will be a video of me impersonating a character from ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ during the ‘Dancing Capercaillies’ event. You should totally come along to see that. Invite lots of friends. Especially the smaller noisy people (aged 4 – 7 years) but grown ups will enjoy it too. Get tickets from 8.30am tomorrow on the book festival website. Log into your account before then here (to make it quicker tomorrow).

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Thanks to everyone at Floris Books, especially my brilliant editor Eleanor Collins and to Katie Pamment the illustrator – what beautiful illustrations.

Also, big thanks to the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland – the first version of this book was written thanks to them during my writing retreat (via the Reader in Residence post at Leith Library).

And thanks to Mairi Wilson who let me stay at her house in Ullapool for my writing retreat, she was the first person to hear Cameron’s story. Back then, he was called Colin.  

Read about Cameron dancing in the Floris Book Catalogue here.

 

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Super Science Sleepover

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with two groups of teenagers to help them to write and perform science shows. Tomorrow the pupils perform their shows to family audiences at the National Museum of Scotland and you’re invited to join them. Details below:

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The pupils are from Apex Inclusion Units at Braeview Academy, Dundee and at Dunfermline High School. They’ve been working hard on the scripts during workshops at school and at the museum here in Edinburgh. I can’t wait to see their final performances.

Pilot

I first got involved in the Museum2Go project during the pilot last year, I wrote about it on my blog here. Read more on the National Museums Scotland website here. Or watch this video, it really captures the heart of the project:

Museum2Go: Alex’s Amazing Adventure from National Museums Scotland on Vimeo.

The Museum2Go project was funded by The Robertson Trust. I have been working on this project with Science Made Simple in partnership with the National Museums Scotland

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Education, Events, Film, Science, Writing

 

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Kelpies Book Catalogue

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The new Kelpies Scottish Children’s Book Catalogue arrived in the post from Floris Books. I got very excited when I saw it sitting on the mat. I got even more excited when I turned to page 10…

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A Can’t Dance Cameron double page spread! Katie Pamment’s lovely illustrations of the capercaillie lek (that’s a dance) on one side:

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A description of my first picture book on the other… it is really happening:

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Next week I’m going to see the full colour layout of the whole book. That’s when we make any last changes to text. It will be the first time I see the illustrations (apart from the ones here in this catalogue). I can’t wait!

I had a look at the rest of the books in the catalogue. These ones are next on my ‘to read’ list. I’ve already read the Daemon Parallel and I’m very much looking forward to Roy Gill‘s sequel:

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The catalogue finishes with a map, all the books from Floris are set in Scotland. I felt proud to see Can’t Dance Cameron dancing in the Highlands:

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Find ‘Can’t Dance Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story’ on the Floris website here. Read about taking Cameron to the Edinburgh International Book Festival here. Read about trying to spot a capercaillie dancing in real life here

 

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2014 in Education, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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