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Scottish Library Energiser Launch

Last week was a week of royal baby stories and election coverage. But there was also the launch of the Scottish Library Energiser competition on page two of the Herald:

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Yes that is actually me! I’ve never been page two of a paper before. I was taking Can’t-Dance-Cameron to the launch of the competition at the beautiful newly renovated central children’s library with the Royal Mile Primary School as special guests.

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The children’s library has shelves all over the walls in the shapes of tree branches and a tree house you can read books in! There are paintings taken from book illustrations and funky lighting too.

If you have good ideas to make your school library more exciting or maybe a list of books you would like your school to buy then why not enter the competition?

The Scottish Library Energiser competition is run by the ScottishPower Foundation and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It gives schools a chance to win a £2000 makeover for their school library. Find out how your school can enter here

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Education, Events, Media, storytelling

 

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The Grouse and the Mouse

I’m super excited to share the front cover of my new picture book ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ with you!

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‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ will be published on the 16th July. I added a countdown to the side of my blog!

I’m also super excited to let you know I’ll be taking ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ to the Edinburgh International Book Festival on the 1st September. Here’s my page in the schools programme:

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The Book Festival released their schools programme last week and schools can book tickets now.

I had a lovely time taking my first picture book ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ to Edinburgh International Book Festival last year so it’s wonderful to have been invited back with my second picture book.

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Thanks to Alan and the team at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park for their help researching black grouse for ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’. I wrote about black grouse in a book for grownups called ‘Tales from our Wild Park‘ so that really helped me to find out more about this iconic Scottish bird as well as giving me a setting for the book.

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Thanks to everyone at Floris Books for their help with ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’, especially to my brilliant editor Eleanor Collins and to Kirsteen Harris-Jones for the illustrations!

Pre-order a copy of ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ at Waterstones, Amazon or on my personal favourite ethical book store – The Hive

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Education, Events, nature, Writing

 

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The Wave Project

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The Wave Project Scotland started their surf courses for young people this week. I’m a volunteer surf mentor for the project. That means I buddy up with one young person to help them to reduce anxiety and gain confidence through surfing. I’m not a surf instructor – Coast to Coast Surf School provide that expertise. My role is more about high fives, enthusiasm and standing in the water while my buddy learns to surf. It’s about encouragement.

Surf Holiday

I’m going to surf school soon myself. I’m off to Cressy’s Surf Academy in Porthcawl, Wales next month. I’m certain the process of learning will help me to be a better surf mentor and I’m really excited about learning something new.

This is the first proper holiday I’ve had in FOUR YEARS! I know, that is ridiculous. Going on holiday was one of my new years resolutions. I’ve just not had much money or time since I’ve been freelance so it feels extra special to be able to finally afford to make holiday plans in 2015.

Adventure Holidays

I used to go on adventure holidays, before I became a freelancer. I was once snowboarder. An actual snowboarder who did four seasons of snowboarding. This is me and that is snow:

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Then I retired. Mainly because I spent most of the last trip in a neck brace, while everyone else had fun on the slopes.

I remember being ordered by a nurse to ‘Undressa!” in the Italian hospital reception. I looked around at all the other people – was that really how things worked in Italy? They nodded in assurance. She said it again much louder and with her hands in the air and I stared to undress. To be fair I had concussion and she was super scary so I wasn’t thinking straight. She just wanted my address for the computer. Thankfully my friends came to the rescue (and put my clothes back on).

I’m hoping surfing will be less dangerous, less embarrassing and more fun.

Loving Water

I’ve always loved water. I’d spend most of my time on family holidays in the sea or in the swimming pool. Our family holidays were in the UK so that got me used to cold water. I still go wild swimming now (I wrote about that here).

Surfing In Hawaii 

I have surfed once before, ten years ago when I went to Hawaii to meet NASA. I had one day off while I was there and I went for a surf lesson:

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The instructor taught us the basics on the beach. He also explained how the coral reef was delicate and endangered and so you can’t jump off your board feet first. If you touch the coral it dies and it cuts you.

We went into the water. A wave was coming and he told me to try getting up. And I did. I did it just the way he said and there I was, standing up and riding on a wave. He wasn’t expecting me to do it. I wasn’t expecting me to do it.

At first I thought ‘this is brilliant. I’m surfing’. But then I realised I didn’t know how to steer or stop and I was heading for a whole bunch of surfers waiting for waves. I started to shout “Excuse me!” and “Sorry” and “I can’t steer!” as people paddled and dived out of my path (you go quite fast) and in between my polite but loud warning calls and smiles, I was shouting much less politely to my instructor “HOW DO I STOP!?” and “WHAT DO I DO TO STOP?!” and “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO STOP!” I kept thinking I can’t jump off, the coral will die.

The instructor shouted “Jump and land with your legs on either side of the board!” That seemed like a really bad idea. So I stayed standing for a little longer and said a few more excuse mes to the children who were now being pushed on their blow up beds out of my path by parents. He shouted again “Jump and land with your legs on either side of the board!”

I was getting closer to the shore and realised I needed to do something. So I jumped. I landed with my legs either side of the board. It hurt a lot. I ricocheted off the board and into the water. I touched coral. I cut all of my legs on the flipping delicate coral. I killed the coral.

And from then onward I didn’t stand up, not properly. I sort of lost my confidence. I didn’t really have a desire to stand up. It seemed like a really, really bad plan. Plus my bum was killing me.

I pretended to try to stand to appease my instructor and I fell off sideways before I got anywhere near the bit with the reef. I just wanted the lesson to be over. My instructor was very keen for me to stand again, I was his best pupil since I’d stood up first time. Here’s a picture of me standing a bit to appease him (the man with the cap).

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No one got a picture of me at the beginning. The photographer comes at the end. There is thankfully no dangerous and endangered coral reef in Wales so I’m hoping I might find my inner surfer once again. If I have an inner surfer that is. Perhaps it was just a fluke?

Surfing Teenagers

I didn’t surf as a teenager but I went body boarding just once. I think I found my inner surfer then too. I remember thinking it was the best day of my life. This is me at the end of that day with my best friend Marianne. We were 14:

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It was properly fun and at the age when all the things you had fun doing are suddenly for children and you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be doing anymore.

I loved wearing a wetsuit. I think it’s because I used to be fat. When I was around 13 I suddenly grew really fast and went really thin. I hated swimming at school when I was fat because people made fun of me. And then when I went super thin they called me daddy-long-legs. I had big feet and long legs. As soon as I had a choice I stopped swimming. I hated being in a swimming costume.

But that day, the body boarding day, I was just happy. Happy in a wetsuit. Happy with my best friend. Happy learning something new and having fun and in the water.

And now I’ve started swimming as an adult in the pool with a swimming costume. I got a bad back and swimming was good for me. At first I used to need take a deep breath in the changing rooms and say “You don’t have to be beautiful”. And now I swim most weeks. I’ve overcome my fear.

Surf Mentor

And that’s why I want to be a surf mentor. I remember being 14 and wanting to disappear. And I remember being scared. And I remember that day on the body board and being happy and not caring what other people thought and feeling good about myself. So I hope I might be able to help some young people to have fun and feel that good too. It felt like freedom.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Education, Environment, Events

 

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Writing Science Shows with Young People

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I’ve been working with secondary pupils to help them to write and perform science shows in a project called Museums2Go. The pupils were based in Apex inclusion units in Braeview Academy Dundee and Dunfermline High School. I was working for the National Museums Scotland and in partnership with Science Made Simple.

The National Museums Scotland have just published a new video with some highlights from the project:

Museum2Go2 from National Museums Scotland on Vimeo.

The Project

The pupils trained to become science communicators, they chose the science demonstrations from a menu (put together by Science Made Simple and based on the themes of the new galleries) and finally they wrote their own scripts. They also practiced and performed their science shows at the National Museum of Scotland.

I worked directly with groups of pupils through several school visits and day visits to the museum. My role was to facilitate the choosing of demonstrations, writing the scripts and practicing / performance too.

Challenges

I think the main challenge for the pupils was one of confidence – these pupils had to leave mainstream education for various reasons. I kept telling them that they could achieve something brilliant if they put the work in.

Rewards

The pupils worked hard to write and practice their shows. They came up with brilliant ideas for the stories to link the show together, they had ownership over their shows. There were a few fall outs but that’s all part of working in a creative team and relying on each of the team members to do their bit. They presented to and entertained a live audience in the National Museum of Scotland with a show that they had written – that’s a huge achievement!

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I enjoyed getting to know the pupils throughout the project and seeing them improve in confidence and build ideas as a team together. I also loved working with the National Museums Scotland and Science Made Simple.

Pilot

I was part of a pilot for this project where we trained Holyrood High school pupils to become science presenters. They didn’t write their shows but they did do an awesome job of presenting Alex’s Amazing Adventure at the museum. I wrote about my experience of the working with the pupils here. There’s a lovely video on this stage of the project too:

Stanley Mills

The exciting thing is I’m now about to run science communication workshops for a new age group – this time it’s with primary school pupils at Stanley Mills in Perthshire. I’m excited about sharing science communication skills and tips with younger ones – some as young as age five. I’ve been planning fun ways to get basics across and also to make them laugh by doing things well and then doing things wrong (obviously safely – I mean like talking really fast or folding my arms and looking grumpy) and getting them to tell me how to improve. I’ve planned some fun games to cover the basics of presenting and they’ll all get a chance to do some science presenting too. I’ll be running workshops at Historic Scotland’s Stanley Mills tomorrow and Thursday.

The Museum2Go project is funded by the Robertson Trust. Read more about Museums2Go on the National Museums Scotland website here.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Education, Events, Film, Media, Science, Writing

 

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Travelling in Time and Space

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On Friday a mad lady scientist took her time machine through history to pick up some lady scientists and bring them to the Dundee Women in Science Festival. The resulting ensemble was called the Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch. This was the fourth performance since the Illicit Ink spoken word show began a year ago at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

I’ve loved being part of it – sitting in a sewing circle with such wonderful characters. These wonderful characters are wonderful writers too – they each researched a character from history and wrote and performed a piece as that character. I’m mostly quiet during the show while the scientists talk about who they are and why their achievements matter. I play Emma Darwin, she is brought along by accident (The mad lady scientist was going for Charles but he was stuck in the privy). The other scientists dismiss Emma but right at the end I speak to question if any of it matters. I talk about having kids and knowing loss and about the fear of loving someone who has completely different views on the most important things in life. I wanted to get to the heart of what really mattered to Emma:

“I’m not a scientist, does that matter? I am a woman, does that matter?

Read about the Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch in the Dundee Courier here.

Lost Among The Stars

And now it’s happening again, a collaboratively written Illicit Ink show. But this time I’m lost in space, not time. Again I say very little until the end. Again there are many different beautifully written characters. Some performed by the writers and some performed by actors. I’ve written and am performing as Tara the astronaut. She’s the one who gets lost. In Space.

Getting Into Character

I found it quite challenging – trying to imagine I’m alone in space and about to die. I listened to astronauts talking about their experiences on Radio 4. I looked at pictures of the earth from space. I had to record a few audio sections ahead as part of a conversation with mission control – but it didn’t smell right (I was slow cooking sausage casserole at the time – space shouldn’t smell of sausage casserole).

But when I read the heartfelt, beautiful monologues written by Tara’s boyfriend Jeffrey (I keep calling him ‘my imaginary boyfriend’ but that sounds a bit odd! His name is Ricky in real life) and the piece by Tara’s sister, who’s kind of half hates her but also loves her too (that’s written by Mel and acted by Roanna) – when I read their work I realised, it isn’t about being lost in space. It’s just about being human. So I managed to write a response to other human’s beautiful words with space as a geographical location. It’s about being real with stars. And I’ve always loved stars. I studied physics, I’m a planetarium presenter, I’ve written space episodes of Nina and the Neurons, I was making rockets on mothers day – I’m still kind of geeky with all things space. Maybe I’m more like Tara than I realise.

Space Wobbles

I’m pretty nervous about my writing and the performance. We had a rehearsal last week and I was totally impressed with everyone’s pieces. There were proper professional actors who were really good. Even the voice of mission control sounds like he’s actually working for NASA! I’m hoping I won’t spoil it with my bit. I’m hoping I won’t pee in my space suit. If I were an astronaut, that would be okay – they wear giant space nappies. The thing is, I will actually be wearing a space suit. But not a giant astronaut nappy. I expressed my fears to show producer Babs, she reassured me that they asked me to do this part because I can write sentimental without being crass. I keep trying to remember what she said.

ANYWAY, this isn’t the first time I’ve written a last address to the world, just before gruesome death. Last time it was for another collaboratively written Illicit Ink show during a zombie Apocalypse. You can read about that and see a video here.

AND this isn’t the first time I’ve written about being lost in space. Here’s a comic, created by me age 11. Okay so it’s about a dog going into space but use your imagination. I needed to go somewhere after giant nappies and zombie apocalypses. Meet Space Dog, yes I know – classic school ending to the story too (sorry!):

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Sadly there is no happy awakening at the end of Apollo 21. And no dogs. There will be space and music and humans. I may or may not make it back to Earth. 

Apollo 21: Lost Among the Stars will be performed on the evening of Wednesday 15th April at The Royal Observatory Edinburgh. Get Tickets from the Edinburgh International Science Festival website here. The Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch sold out at the Science Festival Last Year so get your ticket early to avoid disappointment! 

 

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Rockets and Dancing in Dundee

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I’ve been working through in Dundee running science events as part of Dundee Women in Science Festival. On Mother’s Day we ran a Can’t-Dance-Cameron event for under sevens (and Mums!) in the morning. In the afternoon we ran ‘Love you to the Moon and Back’ rockets show and workshop for over sevens / families. Photographer Alan Richardson took some fab pictures at both events. My favourite photos were of the dancing:

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I love the photos that showed the children’s reactions too:

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There’s one of me looking highly uncool with head set and safety goggles:

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And finally the book signing at the end:

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Next up we have the ‘Love you to the Moon and Back’ rockets show and workshop:

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Making and testing rockets for the competition:     WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

The competition:

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The happy winner:

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And our grand finale, launching a water rocket in City Square:

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The best way to see the rocket launch is via a video:

Evaluation

The drawing of me launching the rocket (and getting wet) was on the back of one of the evaluation forms. My favourite comment on the forms was from the boy who won the rockets competition. When asked what he liked most about the event his answer was:

Winning flowers for my Mum

Big thanks to everyone at Dundee Women in Science Festival and to everyone who came along to the events.

Video: Ana Ranceva. Images: Alan Richardson

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling

 

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Women and Science Festivals

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I’m excited to be taking part in Dundee’s Women in Science Festival this month. The festival is all about celebrating and supporting women in science, engineering and maths. I’m also off to Dunbar Science Festival this Friday on a similar theme – it’s a science spoken word night to celebrate international women’s day.

I’m doing seven events in total – for schools, families, mothers and other adults too. There’s a science poetry writing workshop and some spoken word and comedy shows. Men are also very welcome!

Here’s a wee summary of what’s coming up with links to get tickets, hope to see you at an event soon!

Wednesday 11th March: Can’t-Dance-Cameron school events

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Hillside Primary School, Hillside Nursery and Gowriehill Primary School in Dundee. Part of Dundee Women in Science Festival.

Friday 13th March: Rally and Broad, Dunbar Science Festival

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Rally & Broad are delighted to be coming to Dunbar Science Festival on Friday 13 March (8:30 – 10:30pm, Dunmuir Hotel, Dunbar)! We’ll be celebrating ‘Women in Science’ alongside Scots singer songwriter Kirsty Law; science writer and performer Emily Dodd, poet Russell Jones and the surreal musical stylings of Zara Gladman. Come with open ears…

More info and tickets here.

Sunday 15th March: Mother’s Day Science Shows (for families – Dad’s also welcome!)

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Can’t-Dance-Cameron tickets and info hereLove You to the Moon Rocket tickets and info here

Sunday 22nd March: Sparking Ideas From Science (writing workshop)

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I ran this workshop last year in the National Library of Scotland as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Really excited to be running it again using the D’Arcy Thompson collection for inspiration.

 Friday 27th March: The Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch

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Tickets and info here.

FIND OUT MORE

Find Dundee Women in Science Festival online here and on facebook here. Download a copy of the Dundee Women in Science Festival Programme here. The twitter hashtag for Dundee Women in Science Festival is #womenscifest and you can follow the event organisers on twitter here

Find Dunbar Science Festival online here. Find them on facebook here and on twitter here

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Education, Events, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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