Category Archives: Education

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.

Leave a comment

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


Tags: , , , , ,

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:


Leave a comment

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


Tags: , , , , , ,

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


Tags: , , , ,

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!

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 13, 2016 in Education, Media


Tags: , , ,

Mining Memories with Primary Two


What would it be like to be a canary called CoCo working down the Kinneil Pit? Or a pit cat? Or a pit pony? Or an 11-year-old boy on his first day down the mine? Five and six-year olds from Bo’ness Primary School imagined they were the animals and children down the mine. They wrote these amazing stories:

I’ve been working with the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative to create digital stories about mining with primary school children. I’m writing a series of blogs to share their mining memories. This first post is stories by Primary Two at Bo’ness Public Primary School. I’ll tell you a bit more about the project:

Digital Stories

Digital stories are short audio sound tracks (less than 3 minuets) with still images over the top. They’re personal stories in the story makers own voice. I previously worked on three digital story projects with Britain from Above, The Govan Reminiscence Group and with Historic Scotland’s Trinity House. You can read about that project here.

This was unusual because it was creating digital stories but imagining the perspective instead of it being a storymaker telling their true story. It was also working with primary two children (age five and six) instead of adults. And we imagined we were animals!

Primary Two

The project started with storytelling workshops in class – we chatted about what makes a good story and using our imagination and memories to come up with lots of ideas. I told them an animal story and set them a brief to create their own short stories from the perspective of a pit animal. At first the pit ponies were wearing sparkley tutus and loved dancing but we talked about how great their use of imagination was and what a good idea it was to think about things like clothes and feelings – what would a pit pony wear to go down the pit? How might they feel going down the mine? They got back to work and learned one of the most important lessons about writing – it’s all about rewriting!

The class went on a visit to the National Mining Museum Scotland and had a talk about the roles of animals and children in the Mine from the Maria Ford, Chairperson of the Friends of Kinneil Trust.

They had budgies in the classroom so we talked about how the budgies might feel and what it would be like to be a canary. Then the children worked with their class teacher Mrs McNab to create beautiful books:


And amazing canaries in cages:

Photo 11-03-2016, 12 59 00

And 3D pit ponies with coal carts: Photo 11-03-2016, 12 55 52

And fields for the pit ponies to play in:


I’d popped back in to see how they were getting on half way through the project and was amazed by their new and improved stories and all the beautiful artwork.I came back again at the end of the project to photograph their artwork and to record the children reading their stories.

After that I edited the audio soundtrack and images together to create the YouTube stories shared above. We screened them along with stories from other classes at the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness. It was so good to see the children’s amazing stories being celebrated in style on the big screen in a cinema!

This post is part of a series sharing the work from the Mining Memories Project. The next post in this series will be sharing primary five and primary six digital stories about the miners strike from the perspective of pick axes, bits of coal and even Margaret Thatcher!


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I am a Dinosaur


I’m a dinosaur in a spoken word show in the Science Festival. It’s an adult show.  I’ve written a monologue from the perspective of Dracorex Hogwartsia. If you’ve not heard of her, well I am.. or I was a really awesome dinosaur with spikes and horns. The name translates to dragon king of Hogwarts – yeah.. the Harry Potter dinosaur.

But they discovered I was actually a juvinile Pachycephalosaurus. The dinosaur more commonly known as a bone head. Which really sucks. The cool spikes and horns disappear when I get older.

The show starts with my relegation from dinosaur status. I’ve been demoted like Pluto when he lost his ‘planet’. And I’ve arrived in some sort of limbo where the demoted dinosaurs rant and drink tea. It’s a support group. Or something like that. And that’s our show. Based on real science. Questioning what it means to exist and what happens when science gets it wrong.

So who are the demoted dinosaurs? 

  • LIBYCOSAURUS (the ever optimistic) played be Beth Godfrey, written by Sarah Thewlis
  • AGROSAURUS (hater of humans) played by Sian Hickson, written by Sian Hickson
  • ARCHAEORAPTOR (the missing link) played by Lewis Hou, Written by Lewis Hou
  • AACHENOSAURUS (the sarcastic philosopher) played by Andrew Blair, written by Andrew Blair
  • UNICEROSAURUS (the preacher) played by Ricky Brown, written by Ricky Brown and Nerd Bait Band
  • DRACOREX (the confused) that’s me

The show idea and direction come from Sarah Thewlis. Co director and tech support comes via Chris Scott. Hope to see you there!

The Illicit Ink show ‘Linnaean Limbo: The Dinosaurs That Never Were’ is at the enatomy lecture theatre at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival on Monday 4th April. Tickets are £8.50. Get tickets here.


Tags: , , , , ,

World Book Day 2015

Happy World Book Day! All over the world children went to school dressed as their favourite book characters and people celebrated reading through events!

I spent the morning at Danderhall Library in Midlothian. We got everything set up ready for the children to arrive for a Can’t-Dance-Cameron event:


After dancing, science experiments, smells, football pine cones and a story with the children, we had a chance to drink tea and eat this lovely cake:


They asked me what my favourite cake was and baked it especially for the visit! What a welcome and thank you Rachel, it was delicious! Speaking of cake, the library made this cake out of books to celebrate their birthday:


They also made some wonderful jellyfish out of plastic bottles and bubbewrap:


Wee Write and the BBC

Earlier this week I was at the lovely Aye Write‘s Wee Write festival in Glasgow.

Again they were so welcoming and friendly. After the events I was interviewed by BBC learning. They asked what my favourite book was when I was a child. The video was published today, in time for World Book Day, you can find it online here.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 3, 2016 in Education, Events, Film, Media, storytelling


Tags: , , ,

Scotland Writers FC

a stramash in the goalmouth of literature

Cultivating and Creating

A life of joy and celebration.

Tartan Kicks - The Magazine For Scottish Women's Football

The Magazine For Scottish Women's Football


Jem Bloomfield on culture, gender and Christianity


Writer, Reader, Kind of Spritely Looking

Gill Arbuthnott: Children's Author

children's website


words and pictures


Words inspired by moving images


subjects, objects, verbs

Great Big Jar

A great big jar of bloggyness


on Scotland's West Coast


A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Yay! YA+

Scotland's First Festival Dedicated To YA Fiction...And More!

Scotland's Nature

Scottish Natural Heritage

The Accidental Monastic

Reflecting. Relating. Living. Obeying.

Lou Treleaven

Children's author and playwright

Scran Salon

Edinburgh's monthly food shindig

%d bloggers like this: