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Magazine Interview: Become Junior

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

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

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

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

 

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Tsunamis and Wind Power

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

Tsunamis

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

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

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

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

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This is what the back cover says:

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

Wind Power

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

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And important things like the problems faced when locating turbines:

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

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

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This is what the back cover says:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ollie and the Otter Book Launch Pictures

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

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

Ollie and the Otter launch And throw fish at folk

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

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

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

We listened to the story

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

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

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

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People asked questions

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And folk bought books Ollie and the Otter launch

We signed them (for ages!)

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

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

 

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Black Holes and Hot Chocolate

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I’ve written my first radio story. It’s about space and mental health and it’s aimed at upper primary school children.

A friend who listened said he thinks it’s a helpful way of talking about mental health for adults too.

I wanted to write about what it’s like for children and families when one family member disengages. Here’s a wee section from the middle of the story, Ben and his mum are stargazing but Dad has stayed at home:

She poured him a cup of hot chocolate and they sipped together. It tasted good.

“It feels like he doesn’t like me” said Ben.

“That must be so hard Ben. But it’s not true, we both really like you a lot – we love you Ben!

Ben sipped his hot chocolate. He didn’t look at Mum.

“When your Dad sips hot chocolate, it doesn’t taste good to him just now. So it’s not just you, he just doesn’t enjoy things like he used to, because of the way he’s feeling. It’s not because of anything you’ve done and we can’t fix it”

“I wish we could. That must be rubbish for him” said Ben “I love hot chocolate”

“But sometimes he does enjoy things though, like the other night when you laughed so much that milk came out of your nose?”

“Yeah, that was gross. Dad really laughed. I wish he was always like that!”

“Me too Ben……         Do you see the moon?”

Ben forgot they’d come here to look up.

“We can only see a bit of it, but is the rest still there?”

“Of course!” said Ben

“But how do you know it hasn’t gone, you can’t see it?”

Ben thought for a moment.

“Well because the crescent is enough of the moon to know there’s a moon. The rest is hidden in shadow but I know it’s there”

“Well it’s the same with Dad. He’s with us but we might just see bits of the old Dad, the one who laughs lots. But he’s still here. And in time – he’ll be back to his old self”

Listen to Black Holes and Hot Chocolate on the BBC Scotland Schools radio website here, play from 9 minutes 20s.

The commission was to write something for KS2 with a stargazing theme and a link to Australia. I set it on Blackford Hill in Edinburgh but it could be any hill near a town or city in Scotland.

Half way through writing the story, physicist Stephen Hawking gave a lecture to celebrate his 70th birthday. He talked about black holes and compared them to depression. I’d pitched black holes as a metaphor to the BBC before Stephen did his lecture (tiny bit annoyed he got there first!) but I loved his beautiful words:

Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up – there’s a way out.

Stephen Hawking

Read more about his lecture on ‘Image’ here.

Here’s how I wrote about black holes in the story, They’re looking at the constellation signus the swan:

“Signus is where the first black hole was discovered. It’s called Signus X1. The X means black hole…

“And one because it’s the first one?” Said Ben

“Right. It’s kind of darker than the surrounding area – can you see?”

Ben could see a sort of dark shape but he wasn’t sure if he was just imagining it.

“It sucks everything in, even light.”

“Do you think that’s how it feels for Dad?” asked Ben.

They were quiet for a moment, staring at the stars.

“Maybe, sometimes” said Mum “I think sometimes he feels like he’s in a dark tunnel but he’s holding on. Like if you’re on a train – you don’t jump off when it’s dark, you wait until you come out of the other side.”

“Do things come out of the other side of the black hole?”

“Well, not exactly… they get squashed.”

They laughed.

“I prefer the idea of a tunnel” said Ben.

“But things can’t just disappear. No one knows what’s on the other side of a black hole. Energy can’t be destroyed, it just changes from one form to another. There’s always hope Ben.”

The BBC team tested the story in school at different stages and I worked hard to rewrite it while keeping the story to it’s 8 minute broadcast length. We knew this was a potentially difficult subject to engage children on, I was asked to give it a happier ending. We also knew that one in three men in Scotland suffer from mental health problems in their lifetime so this is something children in Scotland will have come across, even if they’ve not talked about it. That’s why it’s important people do talk about it.

So often it’s the stories of people with metal health problems we hear but there’s also the story of those around them. Their story is just as important.

The school curriculum in Scotland has relevant outcomes that all children are required to learn in school from nursery age upwards including:

  • I am aware of and able to express my feelings and am developing the ability to talk about them.
  • I know that we all experience a variety of thoughts and emotions that affect how we feel and behave and I am learning ways of managing them.
  • I understand that there are people I can talk to and that there are a number of ways in which I can gain access to practical and emotional support to help me and others in a range of circumstances.
  • I understand that my feelings and reactions can change depending upon what is happening within and around me. This helps me to understand my own behaviour and the way others behave.
  • I understand the importance of mental wellbeing and that this can be fostered and strengthened through personal coping skills and positive relationships.
  • I know that it is not always possible to enjoy good mental health and that if this happens there is support available.

I’m so grateful for a school system in Scotland that supports conversations like this one. I really hope you enjoy it. Please pass it on to any teachers you know who might be interested.

Listen to the whole program for a fab space story from author Gill Arbuthnott proceeding mine, it’s called ‘A Long Way From Home’. Black Holes and Hot Chocolate starts at 9.20. Both stories were first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 22nd March 2017. Listen to the whole episode here.

Thanks to Rob Pearson, Producer at BBC Scotland Learning; Angela Darcy and Terence Rae who read the story; to the school children who fed back on the first version, to my agent Lindsey Fraser and to everyone else involved. Finally – thanks to you for listening. 

 
 

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The Enchanted Forest

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I was invited to Riverside Primary in Stirling to be part of their ‘Enchanted Forest’ storytelling session. It was funded by the First Minister’s Reading Challenge Inspiring Classrooms Award. We had a wonderful time and it was something totally different to my usual events so I wanted to tell you a bit about it.

The teacher, Mrs Gemmell and the children in Primary Four decided they wanted to use their outdoor classroom space for the first time – they wanted a magical outdoor storytelling evening and they wanted to invite their families too. The school bought blankets for the event and everyone wore warms clothes.

We’d checked sunset times and worked out we’d start in the light and it would get dark by the end of the session. The children all enjoyed a hot chocolate and then I did some interactive story activities with the group.

We met the animals in the forest and learnt more about their behaviour as we re-enacted it. We created the smell of the forest and there was a football challenge with a giant football pine cone. I shared the story of Can’t-Dance-Cameron and everyone joined in on actions. Then it was time to toast marshmallows on the fire. I got to do one too!

After that I did a few more activities (including a rocket to make the pop sound of a capercaillie and a camouflage demonstration) and we finished on the story of The Grouse and the Mouse.

I know my books off by heart and I realised it would be distracting to turn pages in an outdoor space and much more intimate to share them as a storyteller. This was the first time I’ve told them that way and it worked really well. I used to do a lot of storytelling before I became an author so it felt good to be doing that again.

The whole event lasted an hour and there was such a lovely sense of community. The children and parents were brilliant fun and we all shared a love for stories. I signed books and postcards at the end and everyone headed home.

I’m glad the First Minister’s reading challenge is encouraging schools to come up with creative ways to enjoy stories – I really loved being part of something so special that night! Thanks to Mrs Gemmell and everyone at Riverside for having me!

 
 

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Top Fives: Reflecting on 2016

On new years eve I was having dinner with friends and someone suggested we do top fives. You take it in turns to say one highlight from the year past. It made a change from talking about the state of politics or how many great people had died in a shocker of a year that was 2016.

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There were five of us and we shared stories together until it was time for fireworks. After I’d shared number three a friend said:

Wow, you really challenged yourself this year didn’t you!?

And I realised, every story I’d shared had a pattern.

  • It was something I was scared to do
  • I didn’t think I could do it
  • I did it
  • I enjoyed myself because I realised I could do it after all

I was doing mini Rockys (you know the films with Sylvester Stallone?) all year and the hard work had led to my highlights. Had I never taken the challenges, I’d never have got to the highlights.

I’m writing a children’s book just now about a character who is afraid of something so he just doesn’t do it. And he thinks he’s fine. In some ways he is, he’s comfy enough. But his friend suggests he might be missing out and tries to encourage him to try and do the thing he’s afraid to do.

All through life I’ve been scared of things so I wanted to show children that courage isn’t the absence of fear, courage is something you need because life is scary. It’s not a magic potion that makes fear disappear. It’s a choice to act when you’re not comfortable, you’re not sure you can do it, you’re not sure others will like it and you might look like an idiot. That’s what courage is.

When I write for children my characters have a habit of reminding me of things I need to remember. It’s like in my head I think ‘I want others to know that’ and then I realise I really need to know it myself. I’ve been like the character in the book where I think I’m fine but my world is limited because I’ve let a boundary of fear define how far I’ll go or how much I’ll try. I’ve chosen comfort above courage because I’m afraid of looking stupid or failing or being rejected. That’s not how we start off in life. That’s not how we are made. If it was, we’d never learn to walk.

Looking back over the year was a good reminder that trying new things and learning and growing is what we’re made to do. Our brains make new neuro pathways as we learn, because they’re designed to work inside changing, problem solving creative humans. That’s all of us.

So if it’s daring to be honest or signing up to try and keep trying something new or having the courage to really enjoy the present or just the courage to do something everyday when you’re feeling so bad that just going to a shop seems like a mountain to climb…

Whatever it is for you, you can do it!

TOP FIVES FOR 2016 :

Playing an International for Scotland Writers in Italy (and being the only Woman on the Team)

Image Credit top left: Adrian Searle 

This was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my life – starting in a stadium, in Italy in a Scotland kit felt amazing! Also I need to thank the friends who told me over and over I should go. One even texted me every day asking if I had booked flights. I was scared because I didn’t know the guys well and I was the only woman and I thought I wasn’t good enough. But I had the most brilliant time! Also I really worked on my fitness the month before so I could play okay in 29deg heat. Italy had a woman on their writers team too and both teams were lovely. Here’s the captain Doug’s fab match report (warning- there’s lots of swearing in it!).

Chairing at Edinburgh International Book Festival

Totally one of my favourite jobs ever! I got to look after brilliant authors and illustrators TIm Warnes, Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles. Read about it here.

Becoming a Chaplain to Hutchison Vale Semi Professional Ladies Football Team 

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Yes I am wearing a giant manager style coat and look twice as big as everyone else! I really enjoyed supporting the team in 2016.

Mining Memories: Creating Digital Stories with Children via the Perspective of Animals

One of my favourite school projects with the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative and Boness Public Primary – read more about it here.

Being a Dinosaur in a play for adults in Edinburgh International Science Festival

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Image Credit: Chris Scott

This was the dress rehearsal. It was like AE but for dinosaurs that have been debunked. We wrote our parts too – as part of Illicit Ink. Read more about it here.

New Challenges for 2017

I wrote three books which are coming out this year – I’m planning events now. You’re invited to the Book Launch of Ollie and the Otter on 9th March, 6.30pm at Waterstones Princes’s Street, Edinburgh.

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I’ve finished the season of chaplaincy so I can work on music related stuff.

I’m working on a new non-fiction book project and I’ve recently written my first radio play for BBC Scotland Schools radio. It’s about space and emotions and will be broadcast in March.

I’m working toward my first illustrated book (I’m an author of other books but I’d like to illustrate too). You can read a bit more about the journey towards illustration here and here. Here’s one I drew over Christmas on my ipad:

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Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Education, Events, illustration, Science, Writing

 

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New Book: Light

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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:

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Here’s are some sample spreads:

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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. For example this spread is about light years, looking back in time and the speed of light:

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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 to make this lovely 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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