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Random Acts of Kindness

My godfather takes pilgrimages to Israel. He’s always done it. And I’ve always wanted to go – every since he brought me back some olive soap from the holy land when I was around 5. I never used that soap – I decided holy land soap was too holy to wash my hands with. It gained a sort of magical status – along with gemstones collected from panning and my Grandma’s jewelry. We treasure funny things in childhood.

I now like the taste of olives, use olive soap AND I’m finally going to Israel – things have changed a lot and it’s all thanks to a random act of kindness. My Godfather offered me his spouse place on a tour in January – his wife can’t make it so he asked if I’d like to come FOR FREE. I still can’t quite believe this is happening.

Then my parents got jealous and decided to come too. Which is super great because we get on well and there are going to be 100 people of the trip – it’s always good to have someone to take photos when you’re floating in the dead sea reading a newspaper (I’m not sure we will actually do this but good just in case!).

I love the bible so I’m excited about seeing where things happened. I might buy some olive soap too.

The tour company, McCabe tours, ask every guest to raise at least £300 pounds towards their educational trust. It goes to help projects in the area. We’re going to be visiting a boys school near Jerusalem and a blind school in Bethlehem – they’re both funded by the trust.

I was telling friends about the trip and my friend Aimerz said she wanted to help raise the money for the trust. She offered her services as a tour guide. She said we could do a bus trip to raise money for the kids. Amazing!

Then Rabbie’s Tours gave us the bus for free and free petrol. Then the Forth Inn in Aberfoyle offered us a free lunch – Aimerz visits their regularly in her day job as a Rabbie’s Tour guide. She also gets amazing reviews on trip adviser – I can’t wait for the tour!

We’re going on Saturday, there’s still a few places left if you wanted to join us. Tickets start from £30. They include entry to Doune Castle and hot lunch at the Forth.

Get tickets, donate and find out more here. 

A few friends said they couldn’t make it but wanted to help so I’ve set up an option for a donation too – again, I’m so amazed by the kindness of others. I’m about at the target of £300 already but hoping to smash through it by Saturday!

Massive thanks to Aimerz, Rabbie’s, The Forth, everyone who’s coming and everyone who’s donating. And huge thanks to my godfather too! 

UPDATE: We raised over £400!

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2017 in Events, storytelling

 

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The Book That Explains Everything…

IMG_20171025_123822_960Well, almost everything! It’s a bold claim for the cover of a book but I guess it makes sense for an encyclopedia. I’m excited to see it in print because it’s the first book I’ve worked on for DK. I grew up reading DK science books. I love them. I still can’t quite believe I wrote the science and human body sections of an actual DK book!

The Children’s Encyclopedia is aimed at children 5-9 years making it the youngest full encyclopedia DK have produced. We were creating something new with it’s own style. It was exciting to be working on a groundbreaking project.

Each topic had to be explained in one page with very few words. That’s a huge challenge – explaining all of gravity or the brain or evolution in just one page and so that a five year old can understand it. I think that’s what makes it such a good book for adults too. I’m excited about reading all the sections I didn’t write – because I get to learn about everything in the world in easy to digest summaries!

The Process

So how do you write an encyclopedia? I’m sure there are many ways but here’s how I did it. First I was asked if I’d like to write it. I said YES – WOOHOOO – YES! In a slightly more professional way. My agent helped negotiate the contract and we were off.

Reviewing the topics

Next I was given a list of the science topic headings by the chief commissioning editor Lizzie Davey. I reviewed these and pitched some new ones and we finalised the list. Some spreads got dropped later – it depended on the North American market and space. But our final list was 37 science pages.

Research

I checked the school curriculum for each topic to see what was covered at primary and secondary school. I read books and did research and started to write page plans. I had a good understanding of some topics already – for example I wrote book a whole book on light – but that actually made it harder when I was trying to write the light page and fit an entire book into a page – you can’t really do that. I had to start fresh – review light as a whole – choose the most important elements and also think about a good central image. Here’s how the final page turned out:

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DK books are so visual and the image ideas need to be really strong. I had a few sections to work with, an intro, three small stories, a wow fact and an extra info box. It’s like doing a puzzle – working out how to explain something from first principles keeping it correct, engaging AND fitting it into the format. The human life cycle page is an example of one of the human body pages I ended up writing too.

Writing page plans

My page plans were made up of bullet points saying what I’d cover in each small section. They also included suggested images. Sometimes I’d add examples of images but say ‘like this but with this and this added’. Or other times it was less complicated –  for the page on gases, the suggested main image was a party balloon. I sent my first few page plans in and they really liked them so I was asked to write the human body section too. Which was another 19 pages – hurrah! Here’s an example of one of two of the science pages I wrote:

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Reviewing page plans

Page plans went to the editor and she made suggestions. We changed them until they were the best they could be and then they went off to the design team.

Writing final text

The design team sent pages back looking all beautiful and I wrote the final text to fit into the specific word limits the pages allowed, once all the visuals were in place. Then it went back to the editor for suggestions and finally to the copy editor. Last of all the final pages came back to me for final checks. 

Here’s an example of how I tried to think of images that were relevant to children – using chocolate as a solid:

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Timescales

The writing and checking process took place over 6 months. And now, here it is, a real book in print with a golden case!

Defining emotions

One page I’m pleased with is the page on ‘Feelings’. Emotions are something I’m continually learning about and find fascinating. Scientists don’t agree on what emotions actually are or how to define them so it felt like an exciting challenge and a privilege to attempt to define them for children. I wanted to make sure they felt okay about having and expressing feelings too. I discovered there was one thread in the research that scientists around the world did agree on. An agreed set of facial expressions that are recognisable in every culture – they have even been tested with remote tribes. Therefore facial expressions are universal in communicating emotions. So I asked for the central image to be a face wheel and then I wrote about each emotion.

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I found the intro so difficult – in under 40 words define emotions! But I’m super pleased with it – it’s about the reason for emotions as well as what they are. And covers inner and outer world contributing to feelings. They did a photo shoot to get the faces right and I think it looks great!

I really love working out how to explain something complicated in a way that makes it seem straightforward – so this book has been a joy and a huge challenge for me.

Buying it

It’s available online and in all good book stores around the world. Hope you enjoy it. Oscar the cat asked me to say you should read the page on cats but I didn’t write that! If you’re reading it and want to check out my pages they are the red and dark pink marked pages. And I also wrote the story of energy, story of colour and story of sciences double page topic specials. These had to cover a topic using every other section for example art, people, living world, Earth etc! So the red circle is human body and dark pink is science and all the other sections have a colour code too:

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I wrote 20% of the spreads in total, there are other authors listed at the front in the experts section. Yep, I’m really in there! I’ve never been listed as an expert in a book before! Don’t worry if you know me, I’m not planning to pull out the “Well are you an expert?” card in the pub – ha ha!

Hope you love it!

Thanks to everyone at DK for your help and support, especially to Lizzie and the editorial team and to my agent Lindsey Fraser. Also thanks to Patrick Thomson for expertise on the cells page and to Manuel Breuer for reviewing the evolution page – you both get credited at the end of the book.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2017 in Education, illustration, Science, Writing

 

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Magazine Interview: Become Junior

I’m on the front cover of a magazine – that’s never happened before! It’s being distributed this autumn to primary school children in the UK who are in care.

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Become charity interviewed me to ask about writing for children and science. I really hope the children enjoy reading it! Click here if you want to zoom to read. 

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Thanks to Dom at Become Charity for interviewing me and to Chris Scott for the cover photo. Find Become Charity online, on twitter and on facebook

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2017 in Education, Science, Writing

 

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Tsunamis and Wind Power

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I’m really exited to share two new science books I’ve written with you, Tsunamis and Wind Power. They’re both published by HarperCollins.  They’re educational books so I’m not having a launch but I wanted to explain a bit about them and show you what they look like inside.

Tsunamis

So first up there’s tsunamis for 7-year-olds. It might sound a bit niche but that’s the reading age it’s aimed at. All the books in this Collins Big Cat series have a specific age, this one is copper band 12. If you’re a teacher that will make sense to you. Tsumamis would work for most primary school ages though and adults seem to enjoy it too!

I read lots of Tsumami books for research and I found them quite hard to read – death and destruction on every page and not much science. I didn’t want to write a book that you left feeling devastated and I was aware this is aimed at younger children. I focused on the physics, things like how tsunamis are different to ordinary waves and the different ways tsunamis can be created:

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I also wrote about how earthquakes happen, natural and man made defenses for tsunamis and predicting tsunamis:

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There are case studies within the book, the boxing day tsunami is in there and there is death and destruction but it’s just not the focus of the book. Case studies illustrate the science for example how landslides can cause tsunamis:

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This is what the back cover says:

What is a tsunami? How do they happen? What effect do they have on people’s lives? Learn about how we can predict them by looking at the science behind them and some real-life case studies.

Wind Power

Next up we have Wind Power. This book is for 8-year-olds and it’s all about how we use wind to make electricity. It includes the science of wind itself:

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And important things like the problems faced when locating turbines:

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And the need to combine renewable energies when wind isn’t constant:

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It’s also covers what you’d expect in a wind power book, how we use wind to make electricity, offshore and onshore wind farms and different ways turbines are used around the world. I love this handy recap map of the examples used in the book:

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This is what the back cover says:

Wind power is used more and more around the world to give us electricity in our homes. But what is wind? How can it be used to make electricity and why is it replacing other forms of energy? Find out in this book.

For both books I had to plan what would be covered in the book, come up with illustration and photo briefs and write the words. If you would like to know more about the process of writing a nonfiction science book you can read about writing volcanoes, the first educational book I wrote. You might also be interested in reading about creating a wind power science workshop ‘Timmy the Turbine’ for children 3 – 5 years.

Tsunamis and Wind Power are available from all good bookshops, I really hope you enjoy them!

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Thanks to my lovely editors Leilani Sparrow (Tsunamis) and Catherine Coe (Wind Power) and to my agent Lindsey Fraser and to everyone at HarperCollins and Collins Primary UK. 

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2017 in Education, Science, Writing

 

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Launching the Summer Reading Challenge

Emily Dodd in Hawick

I had a lovely time in the Scottish Borders last week at the launch of the summer reading challenge. This year’s theme is ‘Animal Agents’, about animal detectives. I visited Melrose Library in the morning:

And Hawick Library in the afternoon:

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Thanks to the families who came along to the Ollie and the Otter (illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones) nature storytelling sessions! There was water squirting, fish catching, bird dancing and giant pine cones. And thanks to the awesome children who were part of the photo shoot at the library afterwards:

Hawick social media

The photographer was Scottish sports photographer of the year Jeff Homes. We didn’t do sport but we did do some bird dancing as part of the storytelling so maybe that counts?!

40,000 children take part in the challenge to read a book a week over the summer holidays. Its a great way to encourage reading for pleasure. You can read more about the launch in the Hawick Telegraph here.

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(I love those wellies! But what is that giant tesco book all about?)

The Summer Reading Challenge is run by national charity The Reading Agency in partnership with Scotland’s libraries and Tesco Bank

 
 

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Blue Dot Days and the Golden Road

I’ve planned the year in dots. I love my colour coded wall planner:

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Yellow is author events. Green is workshops for Historic Environment Scotland. Red is deadlines. Orange is conferences and meetings. The more red, yellow and green I have, the more I need blue dots. Blue dots are rest.

Rest to me looks like:

  • Walking in the hills
  • Cooking and baking
  • Reading
  • Time with close friends
  • Gardening
  • Drawing
  • Slow mornings
  • Cleaning the house
  • Playing football 
  • Watching Poldark with a Gin and Tonic
  • Writing that I’m not being paid to do (writing for fun!)

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(a blue dot day ipad sketch of a stag)

It’s basically doing things that allow me to recharge. The last couple of months have a pretty intense yellow, green and red –go-go-go time. And I’ve not always got the balance right but being aware I need more blue on the wall planner helps. I don’t work properly without blue dots. I don’t think any of us do. The blue dots make everything else possible.

Sabbath

You might call a blue dot Sabbath – a concept that came as a law to 2 million people who were liberated from slavery. The problem was they kept working every day as if they were still slaves. They needed a law to remind them to take a day off.

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(no this isn’t Moses – it’s me on a brunch weekend away to Loch Lomond but it’s in here to remind me to stop, take a day and go up a hill!)

Blue dots aren’t law for me and I can’t often make them Sundays because of working events on weekends. A whole day is preferable but not always possible. But a blue dot morning or a walk to the studio the long way, on the bike tracks and along the river, that’s making blue dots part of everyday.

I’m trying to make it a way of life. To sustain the energy to perform and to write well – I need gaps.

Flexible Dots 
Recently I went on holiday to the Cairngorms – one of my favourite places in Scotland. I’d happily stuck five blue dots onto the wall planner months earlier. But since then I’d had a big book contract and the book was going to print the week after the holiday. I had final proofs of pages coming in every day so I worked around it, I had to. I got up every morning at 6.30am, did a couple of hours reviewing pages and then met folk for breakfast – it worked – it might not be total switch off but it was better than just working. I worked and then enjoyed mountains… and cake!

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Not long after that I was asked to write about being inspired by nature for Books From Scotland – so I wrote about the trip to the Cairngorms – you can read it here. It’s about how places inform writing just as a product of being there – of showing up for a blue dot.

Blue Dot Evenings: Lewis
Last month I was working on an oral history project with a school on the Isle of Lewis – you can read about it on the Historic Environment Scotland blog here. One thing I loved about the team was every evening we went for a mini adventure. We had a walk on a beach, or went to see a stone circle or lighthouse.

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(I loved this cave on Lewis – made me want to swim!)

It was a wee recharge of an evening. And we laughed lots too. That really helped when running workshops four days in a row. The blue dot evenings made the days possible.

The Golden Road: Harris
The project team returned to the mainland while I stayed with a friend for another day and night. I’d planned ahead with a dot. I had a slow breakfast, like really slow! And hired a car to drive to the Isle of Harris. It was just me and my orange bug (car) on an adventure on the golden road – yes the road is really called that!

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Harris is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Like ridiculous amounts of beauty but all squashed into one small place. I stopped every few 100 meters because it was just so flipping lovely everywhere!

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The sheep on Harris did what sheep do, they were standing on the road and siting about. And then I saw these guys. They were different. Organised. In formation. Bleating in harmony. Imagine a Doctor Who episode:

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What do you notice about those sheep?

They’re sheep –white and fluffy? They go baaa. They eat grass.

Look more closely.

They’re all facing the same way? Oh and they’re standing together on rocks. They’re in tune…

Yes. The sheep are organised…

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And they were looking at me. So I drove off!

And then there were the beaches. Normally beaches are beautiful right enough – sand and cliffs and the view of the sea. But it’s usually sea out to sea. Unless…you’re on Harris where there are mountains (and more sheep).

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Like a painter decided to mix all the best elements of a landscape together in one painting that’s really quite unrealistic. But it is real – it’s Harris!

I got the best gin from the Harris Distillery and got my ipad a new jacket from the Harris Tweed Shop. I drove back as the sun set and returned to my friend’s after dark. With memories to take home from the blue dot day on Harris.

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Posted by on July 5, 2017 in Education, Environment, nature, Writing

 

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Ollie and the Otter Book Launch Pictures

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Last month I launched a new picture book, Ollie and the Otter. Lots of lovely folk came along to Waterstones in Edinburgh and Chris Scott took brilliant photos. Thanks to everyone for coming, here’s the highlights:

Editor Eleanor started the evening with a thoughtful introduction:
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I came up to say hi:

Ollie and the Otter launch And throw fish at folk

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Rory the otter squirted water…
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We made the smells of the forest and an osprey caught a magnetic fish and lots of volunteers came out to help.
Ollie and the Otter launch The sparkly water weed wings were placed on Rory the otter…Ollie and the Otter launch

He was pinged on a seesaw branch. Rory flew through the air with his water weed wings, whistling in the wind…

Ollie and the Otter launch Ollie the osprey had a great time making noises and helping with drinks: Ollie and the Otter launch

We listened to the story

Ollie and the Otter launch Some folks followed along with their own book Ollie and the Otter launch

Ollie and the Otter launch And everyone seemed to enjoy it, phew! Ollie and the Otter launch

The illustrator Kirsteen Harris Jones joined us for the Q and A

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People asked questions

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And folk bought books Ollie and the Otter launch

We signed them (for ages!)

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Thanks again so much for coming! If you enjoyed it, please could you review the book on amazon?Ollie and the Otter launch

Ollie and the Otter was illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones and published by Floris Books inprint Picture Kelpies.  See more photos in Chris Scott’s flickr album here.

 

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