Category Archives: Science



August was a little bit overwhelming. It included nine lots of airbnb guests staying in my old flat, three Edinburgh International Book Festival events, two events at the Green Man festival in Wales, one event in the Cairngorms, a visit from my sister, niece and nephew and three writing deadlines.

I’d launched a book and moved house at the end of July so I didn’t start August in the most relaxed place either. I’d also borrowed money and had a large amount on a credit card and had friends who were going through difficult situations. So I was feeling overwhelmed but then I had a mini revelation at a conference.

Firstly I felt like I should make a list of all the good things that had happened in August. I used to write things I was thankful for in a book at night – a gratitude diary. But I’d somehow got out of that habit a few months back. I’d stopped remembering to be grateful.


So I made that list.

And then the speaker was talking about his three-year old daughter. They were in a lift and more and more people were getting in and it was hot and the people were smelly and the wee kid said “pick me up Daddy, it doesn’t look good down here”.

And so the Dad picked up his daughter. And the situation hadn’t changed, they were still squashed into a lift but the child had a different view and that changed everything. So I looked back at the list and realised I’d lost perspective – I’d been too crowded by circumstances and I’d stopped noticing the good things.

So I thought I’d share a few of the good things here in pictures:

A Visit from Family

I had three days off just doing nice things like making this mermaid:


Unbound at Edinburgh International Book Festival

On the subject of mermaids, a group of Illicit Ink writers each took a fairy tale and rewrote it with a twist. This is the Wee Mermanny:

Illicit Ink: Happily Never After

Chris Scott took some amazing pictures of this event. I’d rewritten sleeping beauty but with cryogenic freezing:

Illicit Ink: Happily Never After

Green Man Festival

Wales, camping! I did a Cameron kids event in a tent and then some science spoken word for a soggy Sunday afternoon huddle.


Edinburgh International Book Festival Children’s Events


I enjoyed meeting families at ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably‘ and doing a schools event for Gala day to promote ‘The Grouse and the Mouse‘.

Loch Garten and the Giant Black Grouse


One of my favourite things had to be taking Can’t-Dance-Cameron to the Loch Garten Osprey Centre in the Cairngorms. This was the place that first inspired me to write a story about a dancing capercaillie.

There was a wee girl at the event called Islay. It’s always children who remind me of the important things in life. She was four with curly red hair. She’d been to see me do Can’t-Dance-Cameron at Dundee Literary Festival last October. Now she’d brought her older cousins and her younger cousins and several families. I soon realised she was the most excited and enthusiastic audience member I’d ever had. When we got to learning the dance moves she triumphantly shouted her catchphrase “I know that!”.

So I got Islay up to the front to help show everyone how to dance like a capercaillie. She was so happy dancing there and when the music stopped I asked the audience to give her a round of applause. The entire Osprey Centre started clapping. All the adults who had been busy at the telescopes during the session had stopped to watch her and now they were clapping so hard . Islay smiled back at everyone. It was really wonderful.

The thing is, going off to the cairngorms by myself was a little daunting. Whenever I do events I feel well… alone. It’s a bit weird. I think it’s maybe because my greatest fear was and probably still is standing up in front of people. I did an MSc in communicating science ten years ago to try to conquer that fear, to learn the skills I needed to stand up in front of people. But it’s not like those feelings ever go away. I get nervous. If I’m on the stage I’m being me so it feels kind of vulnerable. If I’m sharing something I’ve written that’s also me, so it’s double me in front of people and it often makes me feel sick! But when I’m in front of kids I’m so I’m busy making sure they’re having a good time that there’s not really time to think about me. And Islay was having the time of her life so I guess I realised it was all totally worth it

The staff at the Osprey Centre were so welcoming and excited too (not quite as excited as Islay, but still pretty up there). They wrote about the event on their blog here. One of the rangers, Nimrod dressed as Bagpipe the black grouse from The Grouse and the Mouse. He learnt all the Cameron the caercaillie dance moves and came out after we finished the story to join us for one last dance. Unfortunately – the arrival of a giant bird caused three of the children to cry! So he danced at the back instead. He was very complimentary about the session:

“What you’re doing for conservation is astounding!”

Again I was reminded it is all worth it!

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After the event I went for a two-hour walk in the forest and it was so beautiful! And I didn’t feel alone even though it was just me. I felt happy.


And that night I had curry with the rangers, the Education Officer Jen cooked up a feast. Nimrod arrived and said he couldn’t believe that I was there with them and it was just really lovely to eat and find out more about wildlife.

And Now?

One of the writing deadlines I had during that busy August was a synopsis for a non-fiction science book. I heard last week it’s been signed off. So now I’m writing and that’s a new book on the way. I finally put the forest up in my office / room:


I guess it’s a reminder to stop, and reflect and breathe. And to know it will all be okay. Sometimes we just need a new perspective.

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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing


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Nina and the Neurons: Get Building

I’m excited to let you know a new series of BBC Children’s science show Nina and the Neurons begins on the CBeebies channel today at 4.30pm. The series is called ‘Get Building’ and it’s all about exploring how structures are made, both man made and in nature.

Nina building

I loved writing for the series, I’ll add the times and titles of my episodes below once they’ve been released. I hope you enjoy them!

Wed 23rd Sep, 4.30pm: Arches

Mon 28 Sep, 4:30pm: Living Underground

Read more about previous series I’ve worked on by clicking the links below.

Get Sporty

Earth Explorers

Go Engineering

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Posted by on September 7, 2015 in Education, Media, nature, Science, Writing


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The Grouse and the Mouse Book Launch

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Earlier this month I launched my new picture book ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’, illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones. Here are the highlights of the launch thanks to photographer Chris Scott (and to all of you who tweeted your own pictures too!).

We arrived at the venue to discover these amazing birds were already waiting for us:

Eyebrows were painted red, just like Bagpipe the black grouse by Katie Smith. Katie is the friend who the book is dedicated too – read more about that here:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

My lovely editor Eleanor Collins introduced the evening:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch
I introduced the audience to the characters from the story, Squeaker the wood mouse, Bagpipe the black grouse and also some of the minor characters – this is the fox from the story:

The Grouse and the Mouse launch

I had some help to demonstrate how camouflage works:

The Grouse and the Mouse launch

The Grouse and the Mouse launch

I introduced the highland cow from the story, MacMoo with a true of false quiz:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

Most of the audience think what I’m saying to them is MacMoo True:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

But this statement is definitely Poo False:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

Then it was time for the story with actions (Squelch Squelch):
The Grouse and the Mouse launchRound of applause from a lovely audience: The Grouse and the Mouse launch

And then it was a Q and A hosted by poet and friend (with red eyebrows) Elspeth Murray:
The Grouse and the Mouse launchThanks to everyone who asked questions: The Grouse and the Mouse launch

And there were lots of thank yous to be said:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

And then it was book signing, I got to meet my illustrator Kirsteen Harris-Jones for the first time that night too! We signed books together:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

Here are some of my favourite tweets about the event:

Huge thanks to everyone who came along and made the evening so lovely! Special thanks to the children, seeing your reaction and enthusiasm for the book made my night.

Thanks to photographer Chris Scott for these wonderful photos. You can see more photos in the album from the book launch here

The Grouse and the Mouse is published by Floris Books in the Picture Kelpies range. It is for sale now at all good book stores. Help your local independent book store by buying it online from the Hive. If you enjoyed it, please review it on Amazon! You might also enjoy ‘Can’t Dance Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story‘.


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Ready to Launch

Tomorrow I launch my second picture book, The Grouse and the Mouse:


I don’t want to say to much about the story in case you’re coming tomorrow, so for now I’ll just share the text from the back cover:

back cover

Today I’ve felt pretty nervous, I went for a swim earlier to try to swim off my nervous energy. That helped a bit. My friend Katie arrived later today, that helped a lot! This is Katie:


She’s the friend I’ve dedicated the book to. She cried when she first read the book (in a good way). The Grouse (Bagpipe) thinks he knows what’s best for the Mouse (Squeaker) and keeps trying to get him to change the way he’s doing things

“It must be awful to have such a bendy tail, you need a stick to straighten it out”

and so on. But he’s looking at things from a grouse perspective and his advice isn’t right for a mouse. Squeaker, thankfully, is happy with the way he is. He’s confident enough not to let his friend’s strong opinions persuade him to be anything he’s not.

I’ve not always been confident enough to stand up for myself like that, I’ve found myself being shaped by other people’s opinions (especially people that matter to me) but to the point where I’m not being me. Which isn’t good! It’s something I’m working on – I guess I’m trying to be more like Squeaker the wood mouse. And that’s a journey Katie has been on too, she’d been becoming more and more like Squeaker so that’s why I’ve dedicated the book to her.

Earlier today the stickers arrived, they’re to remind everyone to ‘Be yourself’


Stickers via

I’m more or less ready for tomorrow. My presentation includes Laurie Campbell’s beautiful wildlife photos, here’s a sneak preview of one of them:

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) male displaying at lek in late snowfall, Spey Valley, Speyside, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, April 2002

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) male displaying at lek in late snowfall, Spey Valley, Speyside, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, April 2002

And I’m excited to be using this piece of audio at the launch too – Martin Garnett’s black grouse recording. They sound quite spooky don’t they?:

(click the orange play button)

There will be a chance to get your eyebrows done in grouse red or any other colour you like. And there will be wine and nibbles and black grouse style bum wiggling and an opportunity to hear the story. The illustrator, Kirsteen Harris-Jones is coming too so you can get your book signed by her and me. Hopefully see you there!

If you don’t have your ticket already, get one here.

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Posted by on July 15, 2015 in Education, Events, Media, nature, Science, Writing


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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.


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.


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!

Sequence 02.Still009

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.


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.


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


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Travelling in Time and Space


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!):

20150331_234414 (2)


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


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:




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

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR  WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR





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


And finally the book signing at the end:


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




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:

WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

The happy winner:



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



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


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


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


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