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Category Archives: Writing

Can’t Dance Cameron

I’m finally allowed to share the news – my debut picture book

Can’t Dance Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story

comes out this summer and is published by Floris Books as part of their Picture Kelpies range.

I’m also really excited to tell you I’m taking Can’t Dance Cameron to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. You can read more about the book in the Schools Programme, page 18: can't dance cam

I’m very pleased to see I’m next to the awesome Matt Haig in the programme too.

Come Along

If you’re a teacher or if you know a teacher, tell them to come along with their class to the event if they like the sound of

  • dancing (genuine capercaillie dance moves)
  • a naughty squirrel throwing nuts and squirting water
  • a giant foam pinecone and some football skills
  • video footage of my cat
  • the sounds of the forest (I actually went to the highlands and recorded them)
  • and a few surprises..

Thanks to Chris Scott for the book festival programme photo and to everyone at Floris Books, especially my brilliant editor Eleanor Collins.

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.  

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

 

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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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Lunchtime workshops at the Lighthouse

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I’m facilitating a series of half hour creative writing workshops over Friday lunchtimes at The Lighthouse in Glasgow. The workshops take place in the beautiful Britain From Above aerial photography exhibition. The photos are part of the unique Aerofilms collection of aerial photographs from 1919-1953.

How did I get involved?

I’ve been working with the Govan Reminiscence Group over several months creating digital stories for Britain from Above. I’ll blog about that project soon.

The Friday Lunchtime Workshops

I’ve chosen one photo as the focus for each workshop. For example there’s a picture of The Clyde Foundry – thought to be the biggest glass clad structure in Europe at the time – it’s now demolished. The theme of that workshop will be windows. Windows on the past, windows on the future. Looking out and looking in…

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Each workshop is just half an hour so you can come on your lunch break and they’re free. I’m hoping to record some of the participants reading their work at the end of each workshop so we can add audio clips to the photos online on the Britain From Above website. Participants can continue their work at home and add it to the website later too.

I’m facilitating workshops on 28th March, 4th April, 11th April and the 18th April. Poet Towona Sithole is facilitating the workshop on 25th April, they’re all from 12.30pm – 1.00pm in the Britain From Above Exhibition at The Lighthouse.

Book a Place

You can book a place on any of the creative writing workshops here.

These workshops are part of a series of free workshops running in the Britain from Above exhibition at the Lighthouse including drawing, glass etching and felting. Find out more about the other workshops on The Lighthouse website here.

Stay Connected

Follow The Lighthouse on twitter @The_Lighthous. Follow Britain From Above on twitter @AboveBritain. Find out more about the Britain From Above online.

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Thanks to Brian Wilkinson from Britain From Above for helping me to research the photos in advance of the workshops. 

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2014 in Education, Events, poetry, storytelling, Writing

 

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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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Annual General Review: 2013

2013 has been a challenging year for many reasons. People around me weren’t well. A few days building work took five months. Near the end of the year I was in severe pain and on three types of prescription pain killers. At one point I actually thought I was going to die.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. Isaiah 43:2

Through all of that, people were amazing. They dropped round with meals, someone gave me a £50 shopping voucher. Friends and family looked after me. I felt grateful despite the pain and strangely, at the point when I was least able to work – work came in. Commission after commission for the year ahead. It was a little overwhelming.

I’ve had help to get writing equipment too, an electric desk and a good chair. My back is much better and I’m off pain killers. The building work is done and I have a safe place to call home. I appreciate life more than I ever. I value my health and the need for rest more than ever. I appreciate people more than ever. I’m also really pleased we’re in 2014.

Last year was a year of firsts too. My first appearance in the Edinburgh International Book Festival, my first screen credit (that’s my name at the end of television show with the title ‘writer’) and I ended the year by signing a contract for my first picture book.

I’ve summarised the highlights in a countdown from ten…

TEN days in New York City 

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In February I visited New York to attend the Kidscreen Summit. It’s a huge children’s TV market and conference. I’ve always wanted to go and it was exciting to be pitching an eco comedy drama I’d developed for Visible Ink Television. I wrote about it here.

I also attended the Little Airplane Academy. It’s a three-day intensive course in all aspects of how to create a great pre-school television series. It was brilliant!

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NINE New Workshops 

I wrote about some of these workshops on my blog so just click the links above to find out more.

I start phase two of creating digital stories with the Govan Reminiscence Group next week so I’ll blog about that project soon – I can’t wait to share some of the moving stories they created with you.

Here’s the Filmpoem created when I worked with children aged 5 – 10 during the Film Poem Festival in Dunbar. I ran a poetry workshop and walk while Artist Alastair Cook was capturing film and composer Luca Nasciuti recorded sounds. What I love about this is that the words are entirely the children’s own:

Filmpoem Workshop – Shaking Shells from Filmpoem on Vimeo.

EIGHT Finalists in a poetry competition

I felt honoured to be asked to judge the EuroStemCell creative non fiction writing competition. I judged the poetry category. There were eight excellent finalists, read more about the competition here and find the winning entry here.

SEVEN Live Performances

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The highlight was being part of the Illicit Ink graphic fiction event during the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I read a story I’d written about an otter who’s an artist, while Guardian cartoonist and author Stephen Collins drew the story live (Thanks to Chris Scott for the picture above). I wrote about it before and after the event.

There were a few other live performances in 2013, see my gigs section for all of them. 

SIX Children’s Television episodes broadcast

Earth Explorers

I saw my name for the first time at the end of CBeebies science show Nina and the Neurons. It was exciting and strange to see it. I realised it made me a professional screenwriter but I didn’t actually feel any different to how I was before.

I was the screenwriter for two episodes about engineering and later in the year I wrote four episodes about space. I also worked on storylines and development for the series. Read more here.

FIVE Leith Library Residency highlights

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Here’s the Leith Library top ten highlights blog I wrote when the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland residency finished in the summer.

FOUR weeks on a writing retreat

Thanks to the Creative Scotland and Scottish Book Trust Residency at Leith Library, I got to go on my first ever writing retreat. Half of it was spent in Ullapool (thanks to my writer friend Mairi) and the other half was cat sitting at my sister’s in Lancashire. I wrote about it here.

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THREE pages on otters

I was commissioned to write a double page spread on otters but it expanded into three pages for a children’s magazine when I added a few ideas for otter fun – think dot-to-dotter…

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TWO Outdoor adventures:

The Capercaillies (rare scottish bird) dance very early in the morning so I had to get up at 4am. I live tweeted the adventure – I know, no one was awake to see it but I wanted to do it anyway. Here’s a picture of the amazing sunrise from the RSPB Loch Garten hide:

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And here’s the video I made about it:

Read more about the capercaillie adventure here.

On the subject of outdoor adventures, I also went canyoning (jumping off rocks into the river in a forest) and I watched a friend do the Great North Swim. Here’s a picture blog about going wood foraging for the first time.

ONE picture book contract signed

I can’t say much more about this just now but I can say it’s being published with Floris Books and will be out in July. It’s one of the books I wrote on my writing retreat so I need to say a massive thanks to the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland. I was funded for nine months in the Library and three months to do my own thing. Without that funding I would never have been able to take a month off to write.

What Else?

I went to three weddings and no funerals. My best friend from primary school got married in Brighton. There are four of us who have been best friends for over twenty years. Two of us were bridesmaids, one was a bride and the other was the vicar! Our vicar best friend sat on the top table and was somewhat of a celebrity.

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Earlier in the year we all went to see the vicar (Hannah) run the London marathon. I wrote about that here.

Some Priorities for 2014

  • Health
  • Rest
  • People
  • Writing

I want to write three books and a new sitcom. I wrote three and a half books last year and a sitcom the year before so I’m hoping I can do it! I lost four months being ill in 2013 so if I’m healthy I figure that gives me some more writing time.

Exciting and New in 2014

I’ve got new glasses and I’m starting the year with a cat called Oscar.

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Just now I’m writing for CBeebies, two scripts down and one to go. I can’t say which show it’s for, sorry!

This week I launch a positive news blog called Common Good Edinburgh. I’ve been funded for a day a week for six months to work on this project and I’m really excited about writing about some of the amazing things that are happening in our city.

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Next Week I start phase two of running digital story workshops with the Govan Reminiscence Group for the Britain from Above Project.

Next week I’m also starting a project writing science shows with young people from a secure unit with the National Museums of Scotland and Cardiff based company Science Made Simple.

Last week we launched Forest Families in Gorebridge, I’m the storyteller for the project – more here.

The week before last I piloted a new nursery workshop I’ve written called Timmy the Turbine – I’ll blog about that soon.

Thanks

I want to say a massive thanks to everyone who’s been part of my 2013. Thanks to friends, family and colleagues for laughter, support and encouragement. I’m looking forward to 2014.

My Annual General Review 2012 is here. My Annual General Review of 2011 is here.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2014 in Education, Events, Film, Media, poetry, storytelling, 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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The Perfect Notebook

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What am I looking for in a perfect notebook? I’ve been looking for years. In that time I’ve come to desire ten things from my book. Perfect notebook you have to be:

1) Not too fancy

There are writers who only write in moleskin books. If my notebook were that nice, I’d never dare write anything in it for fear of spoiling it.

2) Not too cheap

There’s the other extreme. If it says ‘A5 Ruled Notebook’ on the cover it has no soul and I can’t take it seriously.

3) Not too big

It needs to be A5 or just below. Mostly because it has to fit in my handbag.

4) Not too thick

I don’t want to lug some hulking brick of a phone directory about everywhere I go. My keys are heavy enough!

5) Not too small

If you’re a writer people buy you notebooks as presents. It is a lovely thoughtful gift. Often they are very pretty and very little and I love looking at these notebooks. IMG_20131202_165401

The problem is they’re just too lovely and quite frankly too tiny to write in. If I wrote and rewrote a poem I’d have to use 16 pages or more of one of these tiny books. How is that sustainable? I’d have millions of little notebooks all over the place all with different things in them and what if I needed to go back to something. Do I just wheel around a trolley full of them in case?

6) Without false claims

If it says ‘Great Ideas’ on the cover I’d feel like I was betraying the book if I wrote anything normal like a to-do list. Plus I’d feel like a show off whenever I took it out of my bag. Writing is hard enough as it is without notebook imposed barriers.

7) Soft but not too soft

This is mainly due to point 4 about weight but I do use hardbacks. I just prefer covers to be somewhere in between solid and flimsy.

8) Lined

My writing is messy. My brain works faster than my hand so in a bid to keep up my writing gets even more messy. I need something to help rein it in. Give me height restrictions at least. Lines are essential.

9) With a little elastic band

I love those bands. Picture going in to your bag to find pages of your notebook have folded in on themselves or worse still there’s a stowaway satsuma skin hiding in there. Elastic bands keep out stowaways and also can be used as a book mark. Multifunctional.

10)  A notebook that makes me smile

I need to love it. I need to want to open it, want to carry it, want to write in it. I will make compromises on some points if point 10 stands. Like my new notebook, there’s no little elastic band. But it’s covered in woodland creatures and right now I’m writing a few things featuring woodland creatures. So I like it enough to get past the fear of potential stowaways:

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The story behind why I’m writing this blog is I’m finding it hard to say goodbye to my last notebook. I realise now he might have been just perfect for me:

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Stitches on the outside - I love that you can see how he’s made. That thought bubble was so full of promise – asking to be filled but with no false claims. He’s aged well and I like him better for it. Aged by ideas, meetings, hopes, achievements, workshops, figures, prayers and to do lists. My life in simple ticks and now all so shabby chic. I added the Charles Rennie Mackintosh turquoise rose paperclip.. okay it might be just a swirl but I like to think of it as art in stationery form. I need to show you inside too – secret stripes!:

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He was with me on my first writers retreat. He held on to me during my first appearance in the Edinburgh Book Festival – I held him high and read. Now it’s over. He’s full so it has to be. Over.

Feels like I’m being unfaithful. He has to watch while the newer, more shiny woodland creatures model takes his place. Touched less and less, needed less and less.

What I want to say, beloved notebook is you were and are perfect. The perfect notebook.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2013 in Writing

 

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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

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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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