New Book: Light


I’m super excited to say my new book ‘Light’ is out now! It’s an educational book published by HarperCollins and aimed at ten-year-olds. Here’s what’s in it:


Here’s are some sample spreads:



I love the way the graphics and layout team at Collins make the book look so beautiful. I’m really proud of it – please buy it for all the ten-year-olds you know! I think adults might enjoy it too.

It includes some advanced physics but explained in a normal way. So like this spread is all about light years, looking back in time and the speed of light:


To read more you can request it from your local library or buy it from all good book stores. I recommend supporting your local independent book store and using ethical online book store the hive.

Happy reading!

Thanks to my amazing Editor Leilani Sparrow and my agent Lindsey Fraser and to everyone at HarperCollins for helping make this book happen!

Read about the process of writing non-fiction here.

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Posted by on October 21, 2016 in Education, Science, Writing


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Chairing at Edinburgh International Book Festival


This year was my first year of chairing at Edinburgh International Book Festival.

If you’re an author who’s appeared in the book festival but you’ve been too shy to tick the box that says ‘would you be interested in chairing?’ – well I would very much recommend you consider ticking it.

I was shy for three years and I finally discovered this year, I totally love chairing. I much prefer it to doing my own author events but they help. If you’ve been there as an author you’ll know what it’s like to feel really nervous because you’re about to bring a new book to the world and you’ll know how to make it more enjoyable for someone in that position. Also if you work regularly with schools, you’ll know how to interact with an audience so this might be the thing for you!

The chair makes sure everything goes smoothly for the author before, during and after their event. The role includes:

  • Meeting and greeting the author before the event in the authors yurt
  • Taking the author to their event venue
  • Introducing the author on stage with enthusiasm and knowledge (to get the audience excited about the event)
  • Fielding questions and answers with the author and the audience if required
  • Finishing up the author event on stage and reminding the audience they can buy books and get them signed straight after the event
  • Taking the author to the signing tent and shielding them from any over enthusiastic audience members on the way (they can get books signed and ask more questions AT the signing tent – not before!)
  • And finally you escort the author back to the yurt after the signing

But it’s more than these practical things. It’s about making people feel welcome, valued and important at the festival. It’s about helping them to relax and focus on their event because you’ll take care of extra things like orientation.

So here are my top tips for chairing.

1) Introduce yourself and explain your role

You’ll be meeting your author 45 minutes before the event for a public event or 30 minutes before for a schools event so don’t overload them with information. You’ve got a while so mix what you need to get across with being interested and listening to them – put them at ease. After an enthusiastic introduction and chat you could introduce your role like this:

I’m going to introduce you on stage but I’ll also take you to the venue and take you to the signing tent after and we’ll come back here once everything is finished. So if you’ve got questions, I’ll find out the answer for you or if you need anything I can make sure it happens, I’ll probably send someone else to get it for you because my role is to stay with you the whole time so you’ll always have someone from the book festival with you if you need anything.

2) Be enthusiastic

Tell them what you love about their work and be specific  – which book, something you particularly loved. READ THE BOOK THE EVENT IS ABOUT. This may seem really obvious but I was once chaired by someone who told me they hadn’t read the book when they met me – that’s just going to be discouraging and it’s not good enough.

Don’t gush or fan girl / fan boy them. Just one sentence is fine and if they seem to enjoy it say more but they might really want to sit quietly with a coffee before the event so you don’t want to be like Donkey in Shrek with way too much chat. If you’re not sure you could ask “How do you like to prepare for events, do you enjoy chatting or prefer quiet?”

3) Be kind

Ask helpful questions like:

Can I make you a tea or a coffee?

How are you feeling about the event?

Is there anything I can do for you to help during the event?

Listen if they start to tell you about something, don’t be all about your agenda and miss being present and responding to the person. They are the most important person there. If  you’re dying to ask them about their process or why a plot twists happened in book 5 of a trilogy, maybe wait until after the event.

4) Cover everything required

There are chairing notes that get sent to you from the Edinburgh International Book Festival so read them and don’t miss anything. I made a wee check list on a postcard and at some point I said something like “there’s a few things I need to check with you” and I got my list out. I’d already covered most of it but I did things like check the facts I’d researched about them and explained I’d use them as part of their intro on stage. You need to ask if they would like you to field questions and answers at the end of the event or if they would prefer to do it themselves.

It’s really important the event keeps events to time because there’s likely to be another event straight after so you need to mention it. I said something like:

“I have to make sure we keep to time, there’ll be a clock in the venue but it’s quite strict so would you like a five minute or one minute warning before we need to end the event? I’ll come on at around five minuets before the hour to finish up and remind people to buy books and to get everyone to give you a big thank you”

5) Create a buzz about the author and the book

The chairing info suggests looking up some interesting facts about your author. Google them! When I chaired Horrible Science author and illustrator Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles I introduced their books, got very excited about science and then I shared some facts I thought would be relevant to the audience:

Nick Arnold once broke his arm during a Horrible Science author event like this one…. and after the event he signed 75 books and then was rushed to hospital in an ambulance. So boys and girls, whatever happens today… you’ll get your books signed!

Tony used to get told off for doodling in school but now he gets paid to do it and he’s famous for it so if there’s something you love doing now, you never know, even if your teachers tell you off for it… it could end up being your job in the future!

When I was chairing Tim Warnes it was for a younger audience so I wanted to say less and be more visual. I still shared a fact (that Tim and his wife have illustrated over 200 books between them – wow amazing!) but then I used something from the story.

In Tim’s books ‘Dangerous!’ and ‘Warning! This Book May Contain Rabbits’ there is a character called mole who loves labeling things. So I made some giant labels with what I thought about the books. There was ‘Brilliant!’ and ‘Fun’ and I stuck them up and held up the books and said what a treat we were all in for and finally I said we had one label left, it was ‘Tim Warnes’, but where was he? And that’s how we brought him up onto the stage.


6) Sell books

Before and after each event I told the children that they could get a signed copy of the book  at Edinburgh International Book Festival after the event. I held up the books and talked about how great they were.

With the schools event I told the children at the end of the event that they all had £3 vouchers so they could get £3 off the book and I explained that even if they couldn’t get the book today, they could come back with their Mum or Dad or Grandad or Grandma or Aunties and Uncles and use their voucher to get this brilliant book because it would still be in the shop!

If you don’t explain this the children will go into the brilliant shop with a voucher and millions of books to choose from and they might choose one they’ve not read or one that’s for older children or one that’s got a game with it. But if they get a book signed by the author they’ve just seen they’ll remember that forever! So it’s okay to make a big deal about the fact that there’s a chance to meet the author and buy a book and get it signed. That’s what book festivals are all about. I did this at both events and everyone bought lots of books and the publicists were very pleased and thanked me for it!

7) Be yourself!

You being genuinely you will put them at ease. It’s a chance for you to meet an awesome creative human being.

So that’s my top tips for chairing. If you’re a seasoned chair I’d love to hear you tips too! And if you haven’t chaired before, I hope this will encourage you to do it!

I’ll leave you with the lovely books the authors signed for me, after their events:


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Posted by on September 30, 2016 in Education, Science, Writing


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Made on Our Land: Aboyne


I felt a bit scared when I received a commission to write and perform a piece of spoken word responding to a nine minute silent film from the fifties. These were my thoughts:

Are you sure you got the right person? What if two minutes is the maximum poem length I can write? What if there’s not enough time to craft the words before the performance? What if I can’t write it? What if it’s rubbish? What if I perform it and everyone hates it?

I also felt a tiny bit excited – it was a new challenge, a chance to learn and grow. Shona had seen a previous film poem I’d written, and she loved it enough to ask me to respond to something she was working on. She wanted to pay me. That’s got to be a good thing, right? I chatted to my sister and she said:

You should have at least as much faith in your writing as the person who is commissioning you, they’ve seen what you do and they think it’s good.

So, after asking to see film footage… I eventually said yes!

I think writers often think you’ve got the wrong person – especially if we’re asked to do something new. That’s every new book by the way. But at some joyful point during the process you’re totally alive and loving it. And then you think maybe you just got carried away in the moment and what you’ve written actually isn’t that great. And you spend a long time rewriting. And you just have to get on with making it better because it’s your job. If you’re a fire fighter there’s not time to mess around thinking “What if I’m not good enough to put out this fire?” You just use your experience and do your best. And it’s like that with writing. But with much lower stakes – no danger of death – just a looming deadline.

I was also asked to be a panel guest, after the event. I was okay with that bit. Chatting is easier than writing.

The Event

Around eighty people with an interest in local history and archive film came to the cinema in Aboye in Aberdeenshire. They watched a wartime film encouraging people not to leave the Highlands in search of the big city and another film encouraging planting crops in allotments to make the most of the land we have. They were brilliant and really entertaining!


Guests were encouraged to chat about the films while they watched. Then came the two Taggart films. A mother daughter film making duo. The Taggart family moved from their family business at the granite yard in Aberdeen to a rural farm and rural life. The films documented their new life on the farm over the first year. Planting, building, celebrating and working the land.


I’d been thinking a lot about origins and geological time.  I’d just been to see ‘Deep Time’, the spectacular opening ceremony of the Edinburgh International Festival. Projection of volcanoes and stars documented the history of Edinburgh and the Earth itself with music from Mogwai.

I loved the theme. I’d listened to podcasts and read articles interviewing researchers and professors about it. I studied geophysics so I had a bit of background knowledge but it was great to build on that. I decided to make the piece about origins and geology – with a focus on granite because of the Taggart’s move from the granite yard and with Aberdeen being the granite city.

I watched the film a few times and researched granite. The potatoes reminded me of the brown potassium feldspar crystals. There was a section of the film where a pyramid roof was being lifted up onto a building, just with people and long wooden leavers. It was amazing to see them do it like that – it made me think of the ancient Egyptians building the pyramids and how granite and marble cutting is the oldest known industry in the world. I decided to start the piece with a quote from Isiah which is about looking back to where you’ve come from – it was written after the Israelites had left the granite yards of Egypt. It’s also about digging – there’s lots of digging in the film.

Every day I watched the film again, searching for meaning. I worked on crafting and shaping the words and timing them to fit with images. I finally got the words organised into three acts. I sent this summary to Shona:

1: Where are we from?
All about origins. Where are they from? (the Granite Yard) and where are we from as humans. Layers in the landscape and in geological time. Establishing the family came from Granite. This was the rock that built them. Missing the former things. What granite stood for. What it made for them. How they underpinned everything. With metaphor of granite as the baserock for all our continents – everything.

2: Where are we now?
Building again – starting something new. Building on the former things. Renovating. Comparing and contrasting the new rural life with the old one.

3: Living in the present
Coming to acceptance of the new thing. Realising the beauty in agriculture and yearly cycles of time instead of the vastness of geological time. Being present and grateful in the moment. Celebrating the small things. Ending on the beauty of the question and a question about the origin of everything – refers back to the big bang.

Off to Aboyne

On the way up to Aboyne, the curator of the project, Shona Thompson read my words while she prepared questions for the panel discussion. She was excited – she thought they were beautiful. If she was pleased, I was okay. After that, I relaxed.

That evening I was munching fish and chips in the car in Aboyne in the rain (yes, welcome to Scotland) and I realised something.

I used to be so nervous before event, I couldn’t eat a thing.

I said that to Shona and she laughed and made a comment about how that had clearly changed! I chuckced the chip papers into the bin and we drove to the cinema.

And I still felt nervous but not ‘about to vomit’ nervous. I loved watching the other films and when it was time for me to perform along to the last film I felt okay. I’d done my best in the time I had and I’d really enjoyed the writing process along the way.

Since the performance I’ve had a lovely message through my author facebook page:

Hi Emily,

I attended Made on Our Land event in Aboyne recently and really enjoyed both the films and your poem. I am gearing up to enter my third year at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen and have been thinking about the imagery of granite you used and its potential to form an element of a painting. I wondered if your poem is available online anywhere as I would be interested in reading it.

So that’s super exciting! I love the idea that Shona responded to some archive film by curating a cinema screening and tour and I responded to Shona’s curation and to Deep Time with words and now someone else wants to respond to all of that and my words with a painting.

So I’m putting the words up on my blog for that person who got in touch. These words were written for performance not page, plus it’s not the same without the film but hopefully this will be useful and maybe even enjoyable. I wrote it in two weeks so there’s potentially bits I’d change and add but here it is.

Made On Our Land: 

Look at the rock from which you were cut,
and to the quarry from which you were dug. (Isiah 51:1)
Beneath gables and in dry stone walls, stable.
The lines that mark the edges of our land.
Built over time.
Hand over hand.
Lines and layers in rock.

From the latin, granum or grain.
The earth that poured forth potatoes in coarse grained granular form.
Muscovite. Biotite. Hornblendtype amphiboles.
We carried them in bowls. The potatoes.
On our first year on Marywell farm.

I missed the quarry.
Cutting the basement rock of our land.
The batholith that crumples continents into mountains.

I could hold time gone by
captured in crystals that grew as the rock cooled.
Felsic, intrusive, igneous.

Look at the rock from which you were cut,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.


We needed to keep building.
Renovating outbuildings, along with our patterns of thinking.
Laying rock upon rock in our new lives.

We planted seeds and removed stones that once served us.
Stones that were now a stumbling block.
We shared the food we grew, giving thanks for as long earth kept on giving.

We cut farrows in fields, instead of lines in continental bedrock.
Those were good times.

I missed the dust in my fingernails,
They were brown now with earth.
Calcium meets potassium feldspar.
And I long to touch granite again…

Cut by the Ancient Egyptians
into the blocks that made the pyramids strong.
Cut from Alisa Craig
to make curling stones that glide along ice towards gold.
Cut into headstones and polished to commemorate
what once was and once… had meaning.

It’s past, it’s all in the past now.
Could the present ever lead us back there?
Looking back through time, looking through windows.
Looking close.
Plain polarised granite in thin section.
Light revealing so much beauty
in the ordinary of our lives.
We crushed the wheat to make flour for our daily bread.

They say time is a healer.
In time I saw the joy in cultivating the land,
our land, Scotland.
The rewards came for our toil.
We didn’t just take, we planted.
It felt kinder somehow, than the quarry.

I smelt the hyacinths in our sheltered window.
They made me smile.
The sun was warm through the glass
as photons met chlorophyll and became sweet food inside the plant.
I watched the same process out in the field
The harvesting of sunlight mixed with carbon dioxide and we have all growth and life.
All of that plant and the plants to come in one small seed.

As straw and turnips grew strong, the sheep returned our offerings with wool for the jumpers we needed to keep warm.
They kept us warm when the first snow fell, and lasted until spring.

“Can something come from nothing?” He asked.
He was wearing his sky blue woolly jumper.
“No no” I replied. “It started as a seed”. I laughed a little at his question.
“But seeds are so small, how can something this big come from something tiny?”
And I realised all at once,
all my certainty had made me miss
the wonder and mystery
that comes within a question.
Like plain polarised granite in thin section.
The closer you look,
the more questions you ask
the more beautiful it all becomes.

Made on Our Land is part of Britain on Film, a major project from the BFI National Archive, Regional and National Archives and rights holders from across the UK that reveals new and unseen stories of our lives through the history of film. Unlocking the UK’s film and TV history – our national collection, much of it previously unseen – the season will open up our local histories and provide unprecedented online access to our screen heritage. As part of a major programme of digitisation, which started in 2012 and continues until the end of 2017, Britain on Film offers ways to discover, explore and engage with the newly digitised films. Britain on Film is supported by Unlocking Film Heritage awarding funds from The National Lottery.

Thanks to Shona Thompson for having the faith to commission me and to Joey for asking me to share the words online and to everyone involved in the project. Find out about Made on Our Land and the ongoing tour here.

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Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Uncategorized


Adventures in Sketching

I recently spent a lovely week visiting relatives in England. I set myself the challenge of sketching every day. Mostly because it’s a fun, relaxing thing to do on holiday. But also because I’d love to illustrate my own books and I want to get better. My illustration mentor, John Fardell has been telling me to sketch every day for a long while. So finally I made the time to do it. Here’s how I got on:


The day before I left a stylus arrived – I had my first go at sketching on my ipad with the notes app:

Then I downloaded the paper app to try that next…

DAY ONE: WOBBLY OTTER (all the pens, paintprush and pencil)

wobblyotterI sketched this on the train so it’s not precise. It was my first go with the paper app and only my second go at sketching on an ipad so it was all about getting used to it. I enjoyed trying the different pens and colours and seeing which ones blend and which override the one below. I love otters!

DAY TWO: SCOTTIE DOG (Dip pen and a little bit of pencil)

scottiedogI’m writing a book about a worm and a scottie dog just now so that’s why I chose to draw him! I google image searched for ‘scottie dog’ and chose one I liked. He was on my phone while I sketched on the ipad. I was really pleased with the result.

DAY THREE: OSCAR (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)

oscarI was missing my lovely cat so I thought I’d draw him. He’s all black so that was a challenge but I realised the great thing about digital drawing is, you can add lighter colours over the top of darker ones. In real life that doesn’t really work so I made the most of that, building up the dark colours first and adding the light after. It even looks like him (:

DAY FOUR: QUICK MINI (Dip pen) AND A NEPHEW (Dip pen, paintbrush)mini

My sister picked up an amazing new mini! I love minis and really enjoyed sketching the light on something shiny!


I also tried to sketch my nephew from a photo but it went a bit wrong and aged him by about ten years – he looks like someone else:nephewI tried to get the mouth right so many times and eventually gave up and just did a little line! So I learnt mouths are hard and maybe I should stick to animals.

DAY FIVE: BROUGHTON FOX (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)


The Broughton Spurtle were having a competition to find foxes in Broughton and I noticed a fab photo of a fox by Camera Stellata:

I thought I’d go for some colour this time, I really loved building up the colours in layers and adding texture and inking over lines. I was really pleased with this – it looks 3D and I like his face!

DAY SIX: PTARMIGAN (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)


I love rare Scottish birds – I’ve written books about a black grouse and a capercaillie. Earlier this year I had a wonderful experience sitting next to a pair of Ptarmigan up Cairngorm. Here’s a picture I took with my phone of one of them:


They have white feathers in winter and black feathers in summer and they change to half and half in spring and autumn. They’re pretty cool as birds go! Here’s the lovely photo by Ben Dolphin that I sketched from:

I also added some lettering – my writing is quite messy, I’m a bit dyslexic but I’ve been encouraged by illustrators like Oliver Jeffers who use messy letters as part of their illustrations and thought I’d have a go – I like it!

DAY SEVEN: QUICK WILLOW (Dip pen, ball point pen, paintbrush)


I had a lovely day on my Dad’s canal boat. I just had ten minutes after lunch to sketch one of the willows before we moved on along the canal (and I was needed for locks!). It’s an impression but I think it could work as a style for a background in a picture book? If you screw your eyes up it suddenly looks real so I like that about it! Here’s the canal in real life:


20160718_112458 (1)

DAY EIGHT: NIECE (Dip pen, ball point pen, paintbrush)IMG_20160720_003611My final day of the trip and I’d forgotten to sketch until the plane ride home. A friend had said they thought I should try people again so I decided to give it one more go and sketched a picture of my niece in the time it took to complete the journey. The only problem is my style went a bit realistic rather than children’s illustration. It’s a bit too intense. Then I tried to make the eyes less realistic. But it’s just a bit of a weird mishmash of styles.

One of the best bits is the clothes and I just did them really quick! But one good thing is, her mouth! It looks like a real mouth so at least I improved at something. I ran out of time to finish this but it’s something I can come back to. People are hard!


I’ll keep going. The best thing was I totally loved doing it. I improved. I got excited every time I finished a sketch and I wanted to show someone – kind of like being a kid again. It’s nice to feel that. Thanks to the people who encouraged me when I sent photos and posted them on my facebook page, twitter and instagram.

Sketching made me get up earlier to sketch before the day started. I felt happy and excited. Even if I never illustrate my own books – I think I’ll make sketching part of life!

Thanks to John Fardell for all the illustration encouragement. And to Elspeth Murray for being an awesome Ipad sketcher and making Ipad sketching a thing.  And to Stuart for convincing me a stylus would work on my Ipad, even though I’d tried five and even called the apple help line (who said a stylus was ‘unsupported’ on the ipad mini). Turns out you can even use sausages

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Posted by on July 29, 2016 in illustration, nature, Writing


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Before the Light Came

Sometime in 2014 I was invited to respond to a short section of archive film with creative writing. The request came from Filmpoem artist Alastair Cook. I’d responded once before to a 20 second Filmpoem (20 poets – 20s of film each) back in 2012 and really enjoyed the challenge. I also worked with Alastair and children at North Lights Arts Festival to help the children create their own film poem, Shaking Shells.

This time I was one of several poets who responded, we each got given a section of silent film and none of us saw each other’s footage. The short film has now been published with Rachel McCrum‘s beautiful voice narrating the piece.

At the time when the request came, I’d been listening to a series of podcasts about the illusive nature of happiness, if you try to chase after it or hold onto it – it slips through your fingers. I work with children lots and they laugh loads more than we do. I was thinking about how they seem to be better at happiness. They create things, like a lovely piece of art, and then they give it away. It goes something like this:

I love this star. I made this star. YAY it’s finished! I want you to have it! See you later…

2011-12-10 13.54.12

And then they’re off, doing something else. I studied physics so I often think about science when I’m writing too. In my piece of film there were people fishing – it looked like they were trying to catch light. I thought about the nature of light and it being like happiness and I thought about the things we try to do to prepare for happiness – when I get this job or this house or this relationship… I’ll be happy. But actually that doesn’t work.

So my poem is about chasing after happiness – trying to contain it and keep it. And how children just give it away and we need to be more like them if we want to be happy. With light as the metaphor – because it’s a wave (travelling through) and a particle. And we’re all made from stars:

Before the light came, we travelled in straight lines, with sunglasses in our bags.
Later, when it arrived we tried to catch it in our hands. Our jam jars labeled ‘photons’.

She was only three, but she knew how to share. Almost as soon as she held it, she gave it away. Without fear. Without loss.

She stayed bright, while the rest of us turned to shadows.

You can see my section as part of the beautiful Filmpoem Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared):

Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared) from Alastair Cook on Vimeo.

It was amazing to see how well the individually written pieces worked together as a whole. Here’s how Alastair describes the complete piece on his website:

Watch Alastair Cook’s brand new film, three years in the making, with new writing by twenty of the world’s best poets, sountracked by composer Luca Nasciutia and read by poet Rachel McCrum – screens worldwide from Autumn 2016. New ekphrasis work by poets John Glenday, Vicki Feaver, Stevie Ronnie, Janie McKie, Brian Johnstone, Jo Bell, Andrew Philip, Linda France, Dave Bonta, Angela Readman, Michael Vandebril, Gerard Rudolf, George Szirtes, Emily Dodd, Ian Duhig, Rachel McCrum, Robert Peake, Polly Rowena Atkin, Pippa Little and Vona Groarke.

All images and films are copyright Alastair Cook 2016 unless expressly indicated otherwise.

My next book is a science book for children and by coincidence, it’s about Light!
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Posted by on June 2, 2016 in Film, poetry, Science, Writing


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Cover Reveal: Light

I’m excited to share the beautiful front cover of my new book ‘Light’ published by HarperCollins for Collins Primary:


It’s a science school book for children age 10. I’ve been working on colour proofs the last couple of weeks – that’s when the manuscript you’ve written comes back with all the photos and diagrams on it. All the text is laid out beautifully around the pictures and you make any last changes to text or diagrams.

The book includes shadows, reflection, prisms and discoveries by famous scientists like Einstien, Newton and Galileo. It covers the speed of light, lightning, light years, eclipses, bioluminescence and light in the future (inventions to bend light and make us invisible and laser stitches!).

I was expecting the cover to be the Northern Lights – but I was super excited to see the trees. I love that it captures the beauty of science, that’s what the book is about – light is amazing! Everything we see we can only see because of light. Everything in the world depends on the speed of light. I’ve also got a thing for woods and light, this is my bedroom wall:


The book will be published in September. You can pre-order it online now.


Posted by on May 27, 2016 in Education, nature, Science, Writing


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Blame or Vulnerability?

If someone says or does something that hurts us it’s easy to react with blame. It usually starts with the word ‘you’ and is often delivered in an angry voice:

You’re causing me to..
You’re making me…

It’s unfair to blame anyone else for our feelings because only we are responsible for our reactions to situations. Blame is damaging to others too. So what alternatives do we have? Should we just pretend we’re fine?

Vulnerability is sharing how you feel without making the other person responsible:

When you say XXX, I feel XXX because…
It hurt my feelings when…

I feel angry

It might seem a subtle difference but blame is an attack that pushes others away whereas vulnerability is being real enough to trust a person with how something effects you without holding them responsible. It gives them a chance to explain, it gives them a chance to understand, it gives space for misunderstanding to be uncovered on both sides, it gives them an opportunity to say how they feel and it ultimately brings people closer together.

I came across a brilliant video that illustrates the difference between blame and vulnerability, it’s a short talk by shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown. She says we’re all blamers but blame sabotages relationships. I love this video because it’s insightful but also really entertaining:

I’ve been thinking about the other options we have. Blaming others is easy, vulnerability is hard and scary. But what else do people do?

Overlook an Offense
Research shows that anything that causes a strong reaction is 70% your past and 30% the current situation. So you’ve been reminded subconsciously of something that happened before, it hurts because it’s an old wound. This new situation and new person didn’t inflict the level of pain you’re feeling. If you start to notice patterns, perhaps you could talk to a friend you trust or get professional help from a counselor?

On the other hand, research also shows successful couples have a lower threshold for talking about issues. By talking about small things that bother them when they’re small, they don’t become big issues further down the line. So perhaps it’s about being aware of your past if a reaction seems disproportionate to a situation and being willing to be honest and real with the people you’re close to.

I expect my closest friends to tell me if I’m doing something that bothers them.

Talk about Them

This is an easy option and classic workplace scenario. Someone disagrees with a decision or is offended by a comment but instead of talking to the person about it, they moan to everyone else. It’s unfair because the person may have no clue you’re upset with them and they may not have meant to offend at all. The whole thing could be a misunderstanding and they’re not there to defend themselves. Based on the principle that most people are trying to do their best, it probably wasn’t intended to hurt you.

Go to Them: Vulnerability

I find this scary but I agree with Brene, it’s the right thing to do if you care. If it’s a small thing I’ll ask a question on the spot “did you mean..?” to resolve the issue there and then. But if it’s upset me I’ll wait a bit in case I’m reacting to something disproportionately and I don’t want to say something I regret in anger or blame someone and hurt them.

I try to write down what I want to say and get it into three bullet points so I won’t bore someone or confuse them with irrelevant details. I also try to write some positives about the person too. That process helps me feel better and I’m in a much better place to speak to them if I still feel it’s an issue that will come up again if it’s not resolved.

Writing it down also helps me not to blame when I speak because I can phrase things the way I want to.

A wee tip I learned on a course recently is if you want someone to do something for you in response, ask them to meet a need rather than tell them how they’ve not met it. It’s much easier for people to respond to a request.

Try and do it in person. I’ve not always got this right, I’ve maybe texted because I don’t think it’s a big deal but it’s easy to misread tone in texts and the other person can’t ask questions and I’ve offended or been offended.

Think about timing, they might be busy, wait until they’re ready.

Assume the best.” I’m sure you wouldn’t mean this..” might be a good start.

Get help from someone you trust if you’re unsure or just need help in working out what you’re thinking and what the issue is. They will be able to offer an alternative perspective and might help with your blind spots. But still go to the person because otherwise you’re just doing the ‘talk about them’ thing above.

Having one of these conversations doesn’t usually take more than 5 minutes. It’s scary but loving so I do it even though I’m uncomfortable. I’ll even say “I find these conversations a bit difficult so bear with me.” I don’t have them very often and  I usually treat myself to something afterwards too – a mini celebration. The good thing is, most of the time I’ve been amazed at how well people respond to you trusting them enough to be vulnerable like this. And the issue and other issues get resolved in the process. Some examples of feedback:

I really appreciate the directness of this conversation – this is brilliant! (Male colleague)

Thanks for loving me enough to have this conversation, most people wouldn’t! (Female friend)

In one situation I spoke to a manager because everyone was feeling that their work wasn’t good enough because he only said what was wrong. After the chat he got cake for the team to let them know how much he appreciated their hard work. I didn’t speak on behalf of others, just myself but his reaction resulted in everyone being happy. We also became much better friends afterwards too. Plus I got to eat cake! I didn’t request cake- he just did that!

Lastly, not everyone will be able to receive a conversation like this due to a number of factors but a major one of those is their insecurity. They may start shouting, attacking or blaming you. They may agree to speak but make it clear how unwilling they are to hear you and how much you’re bothering them before you even get to the conversation. They’re hurt or scared but haven’t learnt how to be vulnerable. You’re better off leaving it – some people defend any perceived threat through attack. If you’re being blamed, attacked or rejected emotionally when you’re trying to be vulnerable, it’s like being kicked when you’re already down – it’s hurtful and damaging to who you are. Retreat and learn who safe people are and keep yourself safe too. Good luck!

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Posted by on May 13, 2016 in Education, Media


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