RSS

Category Archives: Science

Before the Light Came

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

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

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

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

2011-12-10 13.54.12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My next book is a science book for children and by coincidence, it’s about Light!
 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 2, 2016 in Film, poetry, 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:

lightCover

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:

20150921_221101

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

 
3 Comments

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

 

Tags: , , , ,

I am a Dinosaur

20160328_140305

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: , , , , ,

Let There Be Light

DSC_0102
I can’t wait for spring…

New life pushing up out of the cold dark earth. It gives me hope that however cold and dark it seems – things will change. Things always change. There’s always hope.

We were made to change. But sometimes we just want it to hurry up, we want to see the shoots in our lives. But change takes time and there’s always more going on beneath the surface, more than we can see from the outside.

I made a Christmas tree out of sticks. To save money, mostly, but also because I wanted to create something beautiful. Something out of nothing. But that’s not really true is it? I didn’t make it out of nothing. I used old broken sticks, an idea and decorations and light.

20151217_204120

I’m working on a picture book just now and it got me thinking, books are a bit like that. You create something out of nothing, you create characters and a story:

20151217_013537

But that’s not really true either is it? You use old broken ideas and things you’ve experienced and help from others. When a story finally comes there’s been a process going on beneath the surface for a good long time before you got to that point.

Light

I’ve got some good news. I’ve got a book coming out in September 2016 and it’s called ‘Light’. It’s a science book for ten year olds and it’s published by HarperCollins. The final text got signed off just before Christmas and it’s with designers and illustrators just now. I’m looking forward to seeing the colour proofs soon, alongside my words.

I studied Geophysics and then Science Communication – I love physics. Some say it’s the most complicated science but I just think it’s just the most poorly explained. It’s not that complicated and it’s incredibly beautiful. Sir Isaac Newton, the great scientist who discovered many of the fundamental principles we now know about the nature of light said:

It is the perfection of God’s works that they are all done with the greatest simplicity.

He also said:

I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.

That’s what I love about physics. There are simple rules hidden beneath the surface and you can explain them and put your faith in them. You drop an apple and it falls. Gravity is reliably present and consistent. Unlike people, we change. But that’s what we were made to do and that’s why we need to ask questions. Which kind of brings me back to science. And the Light book. And spring. So I guess what I wanted to say is:

May your year ahead be filled with hope, light, change and questions. Happy New Year!

20151229_001519

Oscar would also like to wish you a new year, this is his philosophical, paws crossed, thinking-about-the-year-ahead pose.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 3, 2016 in Education, nature, Science, Writing

 

Tags: , , , ,

The Grouse and the Mouse: Reviews

19598538370_cdae03474a_h (1)

The Grouse and the Mouse was recently reviewed in the Herald as part of a Christmas books special ‘Best Picture Books’ by Vicky Allan. It was super exciting to see it in there, just before Christmas and with the likes of Mog an Elmer:

And, if you like your creatures resolutely Scottish, there is always The Grouse And The Mouse, by Emily Dodd & Kirsteen Harris-Jones (Picture Kelpies, £5.99) which follows Bagpipe the puffed up and pompous grouse and Squeaker the wood mouse, as they find out just who really is the most magnificent animal in Scotland.

I also discovered a lovely review on the Scottish Natural Heritage Nature Bookshelf blog:

Youngsters will enjoy reading, or having read to them, the story of The Grouse and the Mouse. Emily Dodd’s last title ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ proved very popular and the tale of Bagpipe the Black Grouse is destined to be equally well received. There are starring roles for Red Squirrels, the Scottish scenery and a Highland cow in a book that is illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones.

Lastly, a parent posted the following review on the books section of my blog. This feedback is what makes it all worth while:

My 2.5 year old daughter has fallen deeply in love with The Grouse and the Mouse – she has never got through the bathtime routine at the lightening speed she is now, knowing that she will have it read to her (usually repeatedly). So thank you Emily, please write another book of enchanting Scottish creatures soon!

You can read and listen to the first reviews that came in for the Grouse and the Mouse here. If you enjoyed reading it, I would totally love it if you reviewed it on Amazon!

Image Credit: Chris Scott

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 17, 2015 in Education, nature, Science, Writing

 

Tags: , , , ,

Book Week Scotland 2015

BookWeekScotland2015

I loved Book Week Scotland 2015! It was a busy week – I traveled 560 miles, met 440 children, inspired 65 multi-feathered multicoloured pine cone capercaillie creations, visited five local authorities and performed eight events about three books. Here are the highlights:

Number 35

The Scottish Book Trust announced a list of the 50 most influential novelists on twitter in advance of Book Week Scotland and to my surprise, I was at number 35! Was really good to see many children’s authors on the list.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Leith Library: Edinburgh

The first events I did were with the lovely St Mary’s Primary School at my local (and favourite) library, Leith Library.

I added a Poo or False quiz to the ‘Grouse and Mouse‘ interactive story event so this was a chance to test it out. I may have slightly overdone the number of samples for this first session and have since added many more science links (e.g. when trying to count black grouse you may instead look for these droppings!)

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Leith Library was home for nine months when I worked as the Scottish Book Trust / Creative Scotland Reader in Residence. It was lovely to be back and to see the familiar faces of staff – thanks everyone for having me!

Find Leith Library on Facebook here.

Read-a-Licious Book Festival, Peebles

It was lovely to be at Read-a-Licous Book Festival for a second year with two new book events. I did a Grouse and the Mouse with 120 very excited nursery to P2 pupils:

12247827_953677634708722_6533192174314837089_o

Image Credit: Read-a-Licious Book Festival. Find the Eastgate Theatre on Facebook here.

Followed by my first Volcanoes and Non Fiction writing show with 60 Primary 4 and 5!

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Carrbridge Primary School in the Cairngorms

I took the Can’t-Dance-Cameron interactive story event to Carrbridge for a whole school assembly and then we made capercaillies out of pine cones with the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage:

20151124_152545

I met a child who had a female capercaillie visit his house! I still haven’t seen one myself yet.

Carrbridge is a caperaillie conservation area so engaging the local school by sharing about these amazing birds was a real privilege. Plus now every child in Carrbridge can dance like a capercaillie.

Sinclairtown Library and Newburgh Library, Fife

I had the most lovely welcome from staff and children in Fife!

20151126_112433

I saw 120 children over two events. One girl called Emily (not me – it was a child!) knew all about owl pellets – she proudly shared her expert knowledge during the now improved, poo or false quiz. I was very impressed with the overall enthusiasm for wildlife in Fife. We also sold around 80 books that day so I hope many children and parents are enjoying wildlife themed bedtime stories!

Day Off

Friday was amazing – a lie in, then afternoon tea at Mimi’s and in the evening it was ‘The Lady in the Van’. I’m still recovering from a bad back so was really tired after lots of driving and events. This day made all the difference.

20151127_140223

The Language Hub, Glasgow

Saturday was my final event, a trip to The Language Hub for a family Grouse and Mouse event. It’s a lovely wee venue in Glasgow:

12291957_1126169427400739_6647540204035205479_o

Image Credit: The Language Hub, find them on twitter here and Facebook here.

I’d like to say a big thanks to everyone who helped organise events and to the children and grownups who came to celebrate reading with me for Book Week Scotland!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 1, 2015 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Writing Non-fiction: Volcanoes

I was so excited when I first saw the colour proofs of my new book Volcanoes. The book is published by HarperCollins and is a school book aimed at children aged 8 and 9 years. I’d written instructions for photos and diagrams but the result on the page was visually far more beautiful than I could have ever had imagined:

20151022_135013

Team Effort

That’s what I love about writing books – the culmination of lots of people’s creativity comes together to make an end product far better than the sum of its parts. So many people are an integral part of the process, my agent (Lindsey Fraser), my editor (Leilani Sparrow), the illustrator (Ann Paganuzzi) and people like my brother-in-law (Greg Holland) who checked over the science and my parents, who helped spell check my first drafts.

The Process

I learnt loads during the process of writing Volcanoes. I wanted to share a bit of that with you, in case you’re interested in writing non-fiction for children. I’ve broken non-fiction writing down into five stages:

  • Pitching
  • Planning
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Graphics

I’ll try to share as much of the process with you as I can.

Stage 1: Pitching

My agent Lindsey Fraser got in touch with a few of her writers to say HarperCollins were looking for someone to write a book on volcanoes. It included details about what was required:

  • word length (2800 – 3000 words)
  • number of pages (48)
  • age aimed at (8-9 years)

Was this something I would be interested in?

YES WOULD I EVER!?

Was the answer.

Except I wrote my answer in a more expanded form via email. If you get a chance to pitch for something you want to try to demonstrate why you might be the perfect person for the job. I wanted to show a mixture of experience, passion and background knowledge. Here’s what I put:

Hi Lindsey,

This sounds brilliant – I’d love to pitch to write ‘Volcanoes‘. I’d need a clear brief and samples of the style they’re looking for but assuming this would follow? In terms of timing this is perfect – I’ve got weekend events and book festivals in October but could write during the week on this. Here are a few points I think are in my favour:

I have relevant background knowledge with a degree in Geophysical Sciences and a Masters in Communicating Science.

During my 2 year post as Education Officer at Our Dynamic Earth Edinburgh I created and presented shows and workshops on Earth Sciences (including volcanoes).

My original educational writing is a best practice case study on Education Scotland: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/sharingpractice/p/percythepuffin/introduction.asp

I have written science show workshops for National Museums Scotland, Dynamic Earth Edinburgh, Edinburgh University, Changeoworks, Edinburgh International Science Festival and the Scottish Seabird Centre.

My commercial non fiction writing includes a dinosaur kids club magazine, toilet science posters and developing new ideas for science shows for the BBC and for independent production companies.

I created the series treatment for CBeebies Science Show Nina and the Neurons for an earth science based series ‘Earth Explorers’ – this series was commissioned based on my work and I worked as a screenwriter for four of the episodes.

I wrote an Eco Power Pack for upper primary school children (published by Changeworks).

I most recently wrote a 50 page non fiction book for adults – ‘Tales from Our Wild Park’ for Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. This engaging biodiversity action plan launched in Glasgow Queen Street Station with the Environment Minister in August 2014. The John Muir Trust describe it as the best example of biodiversity writing they have ever seen and are now giving copies to everyone who does the John Muir Award. More about that here: https://auntyemily.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/tales-from-our-wild-park/

I can drop a copy of ‘Tales from Our Wild Park’ in on the way to the Lit Salon later? Around 5? If you like I can show you my sketch book too (:

Also I’m doing a science writing event at Porty Book Fest with Anna Claybourne – she wants to get into TV science writing so I think she’d help me with the pitch for this if I helped her with a TV pitch in the future (assuming she’s not going for this too). See https://auntyemily.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/dundee-literary-festival-2014/

Thanks loads for thinking of me,

Emily

Unfortunately it took me a couple of hours to put this mixture of passion and experience together and by the time I’d done it, the job had gone to someone else. I was gutted. But Lindsey sent my email on to HarperCollins for future reference and that was that.

A couple of weeks later, the person got the job decided it wasn’t right for them and at that point HarperCollins asked Lindsey if they could have me. Suddenly I was in with a chance. With the first hurdle over, the hardest bit started. Creating a plan for a good book!

Planning

Volcanoes cover

I had the title, ‘Volcanoes’, that was all.  Now I needed a structure, that’s chapter headings and content for 19 double page spreads. The whole book needed to flow and each spread build enough knowledge for the next one. For example you need to know about the structure of the Earth and the tectonic plates before you can understand why lava comes out of the Earth in between plates.

I got all the HarperCollins Big Cat series books for that age out of the library so I could see the style I was writing to. I also ordered all the books on Volcanoes on Edinburgh Libraries system and I read them all.

I researched the school curriculum for key stage two, I drafted and redrafted my plan.

I asked Anna Claybourne for help. She’s a brilliant non fiction writer I’d met because we were on a panel together talking about science writing at Portobello book festival. I wanted to see a synopsis for a book and she kindly sent me one of hers for the same series. This was so helpful because I got to see the style of a successful pitch.

Because I was new to the publishers they wanted a double page spread writing sample as well as a synopsis. The synopsis contains chapter headings and a description on what specifically would be covered in each spread. I chose the introductory spread ‘what is a volcano’ and I wrote the next spread too because it was good practice for me.

I worked on the synopsis and samples spreads and sent them to my agent and then to my editor at HarperCollins. They made suggestions and I worked on these and when the editor was satisfied she sent it to her boss, the commissioning editor for feedback.

It came back with some suggestions, bits they liked about the book for example ‘volcanoes in space’ and case studies of volcanoes illustrating the science – could I add more of these? And bits they didn’t like for example, could I take out a spread because it seemed too young or reword another because it seemed too advanced.

The same happened with my writing sample. There were bits I needed to take out e.g. treacle as an analogy for lava (because it doesn’t work in translation and this book is translated into 40 languages) and bits I needed to clarify or explain better. In general, I was too expressively excited, there were too many funny bits and I needed a more straightforward writing style.

I found this stage the hardest because it was me learning to write less like me and more in their style. It’s hard to delete or change ideas you’ve spent a long time getting right. But as my agent reminded me, it’s a popular series of books around the world and it has to be right in their eyes not mine – one bad book could cause a country to pull out of the series all together. I needed to change to their way of doing things and not the other way around. So I did just that, I learned to write the way they wanted me to write and where I believed something was essential for the book I justified why I thought we should keep it, the relevance of the science or why it was needed to build knowledge but it wasn’t about me, it was about making the book as good as possible for the series.

And although this was the hardest process it was also really rewarding when I got into the zone of writing the way they wanted me to and the new versions of the synopsis and my text for Volcanoes were signed off.

20151022_122521

Then it was time for the next big task, writing the book!

Writing

This was my favourite bit. I had a clear plan and I just needed to get on with it. I had a few weeks to write it and I sent versions to family members to check for spelling and to my brother-in-law (who lectures first year geology at University) to check the science.

I love the challenge of explaining advanced science in a simple way but without losing the science. It was brilliant to get feedback from people who didn’t have a background knowledge – just a question like “what does that mean?” was enough to make me realise I’d assumed a level of background knowledge or not explained something clearly. That’s why working with an editor was great (see Editing section!).

Graphics

The book has pictures and diagrams throughout. I had to come up with what the pictures and diagrams would show to best illustrate the text and explain the science. I also needed to describe any diagram clearly if I wanted the illustrator to draw it. I’d often include a link to something similar on the internet and I’d add notes e.g. like this, but not in 3D.

I’d say what I wanted photos to be but sometimes I’d put a few options because I know they’d need to find photos from a catalogue of images. Certain things though were quite specific e.g. Lava fields in Iceland needed to be just that.

20151022_132403

Editing

My agent checked over it at later stages and then I submitted it to my brilliant editor and she gave me feedback before passing it on to the commissioning editor. We’d often do that in a chat over the phone – I loved those chats – she’d say something that was wrong and I’d come up with a solution or we’d come up with one together. It would remind me that this is what I love doing – problem solving and explaining science.

Once I’d heard back from the commissioner I’d make changes within a week and she’d get back to me again with anything else.There’s not many words per spread so every word matters and if you add clarification somewhere you’d needed to reduce something else to take into account those extra words. For example I had to add captions for diagrams and photos so I used words from within the text because otherwise we’d go over the word limit.

Later I got back colour proofs with all of the photos and diagrams, it was amazing to see it at that stage – looking like a book and so exciting. At that point I made lots of small suggestions like adding an arrow for clarification or moving a photo to the other page on the spread so it was next to the text describing it.

What’s next?

Since writing Volcanoes, I’ve been commissioned to write another non-fiction school book – hurrah! So once you’ve got one written, if you do a good job and you’re a nice person to work with, you’re likely to get more work. I’m currently in the editing process of that book so I can’t tell you anymore then that. I’m also putting together a few pitches for other nonfiction books for children with my agent so fingers crossed for those.

First Reviews

A friend bought volcanoes for her 8 year old son who is doing volcanoes as a topic in school. He got really excited when he opened it – he read the whole thing in one go and asked if he could write a review on amazon!

I hope you write another book because this one is really good.

This was the first time he’s asked to review anything and he reads lots of science books. This was really lovely encouragement for me – thank you Connor, it makes it all worth while. Read his review on amazon here.

If you’d like to read Volcanoes you can request it from your local library or buy volcanoes at your local Waterstones or book shops or buy it online. Thanks to everyone who helped make this book happen! 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Education, illustration, Science, Writing

 

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

quiteirregular

Jem Bloomfield on culture, gender and Christianity

Schietree

Writer, Reader, Kind of Spritely Looking

Gill Arbuthnott: Children's Author

children's books.com website

chaestrathie

words and pictures

Televigion

Words inspired by moving images

sds

subjects, objects, verbs

Great Big Jar

A great big jar of bloggyness

wildswimmers

on Scotland's West Coast

AUTHOR ALLSORTS

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: