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Category Archives: Science

Let There Be Light

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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.

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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:

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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!

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

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

 

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The Grouse and the Mouse: Reviews

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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

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

 

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Book Week Scotland 2015

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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.

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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!)

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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:

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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!

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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:

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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!

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

 

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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! 

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

 

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August

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Edinburgh International Book Festival Children’s Events

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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

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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.

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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:

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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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