Category Archives: Science

Do You Know About Science?

It’s out now! I’ve written a new book that’s filled with science questions and answers!


Each double page spread is a question, answer and extra related facts:


The book is divided into the following sections:

  • The living world
  • Human body
  • The material world
  • Energy
  • Forces and movement
  • Our planet

I asked Oscar to choose his favourite spreads, here he is reading them:

The book is aimed at children aged 6 – 9 years old. My role was to answer each question by coming up with visuals and words to answer the question for each page. I was given the list of questions and I worked with the senior editor Lizzie Davey, to reword some of the questions or come up with new ones to cover certain topics. For example we needed a spread to cover the structure of the inside of the earth so I came up with the question

‘How deep can a hole get?’

You can read more about the process of writing a children’s encyclopedia on my blog here. Really hope you enjoy the book!

Do you know about science is published by DK and available in all good book stores. 

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Posted by on March 14, 2018 in Education, Science, Writing


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The Book That Explains Everything…

IMG_20171025_123822_960Well, almost everything! It’s a bold claim for the cover of a book but I guess it makes sense for an encyclopedia. I’m excited to see it in print because it’s the first book I’ve worked on for DK. I grew up reading DK science books. I love them. I still can’t quite believe I wrote the science and human body sections of an actual DK book!

The Children’s Encyclopedia is aimed at children 5-9 years making it the youngest full encyclopedia DK have produced. We were creating something new with it’s own style. It was exciting to be working on a groundbreaking project.

Each topic had to be explained in one page with very few words. That’s a huge challenge – explaining all of gravity or the brain or evolution in just one page and so that a five year old can understand it. I think that’s what makes it such a good book for adults too. I’m excited about reading all the sections I didn’t write – because I get to learn about everything in the world in easy to digest summaries!

The Process

So how do you write an encyclopedia? I’m sure there are many ways but here’s how I did it. First I was asked if I’d like to write it. I said YES – WOOHOOO – YES! In a slightly more professional way. My agent helped negotiate the contract and we were off.

Reviewing the topics

Next I was given a list of the science topic headings by the chief commissioning editor Lizzie Davey. I reviewed these and pitched some new ones and we finalised the list. Some spreads got dropped later – it depended on the North American market and space. But our final list was 37 science pages.


I checked the school curriculum for each topic to see what was covered at primary and secondary school. I read books and did research and started to write page plans. I had a good understanding of some topics already – for example I wrote book a whole book on light – but that actually made it harder when I was trying to write the light page and fit an entire book into a page – you can’t really do that. I had to start fresh – review light as a whole – choose the most important elements and also think about a good central image. Here’s how the final page turned out:


DK books are so visual and the image ideas need to be really strong. I had a few sections to work with, an intro, three small stories, a wow fact and an extra info box. It’s like doing a puzzle – working out how to explain something from first principles keeping it correct, engaging AND fitting it into the format. The human life cycle page is an example of one of the human body pages I ended up writing too.

Writing page plans

My page plans were made up of bullet points saying what I’d cover in each small section. They also included suggested images. Sometimes I’d add examples of images but say ‘like this but with this and this added’. Or other times it was less complicated –  for the page on gases, the suggested main image was a party balloon. I sent my first few page plans in and they really liked them so I was asked to write the human body section too. Which was another 19 pages – hurrah! Here’s an example of one of two of the science pages I wrote:


Reviewing page plans

Page plans went to the editor and she made suggestions. We changed them until they were the best they could be and then they went off to the design team.

Writing final text

The design team sent pages back looking all beautiful and I wrote the final text to fit into the specific word limits the pages allowed, once all the visuals were in place. Then it went back to the editor for suggestions and finally to the copy editor. Last of all the final pages came back to me for final checks. 

Here’s an example of how I tried to think of images that were relevant to children – using chocolate as a solid:



The writing and checking process took place over 6 months. And now, here it is, a real book in print with a golden case!

Defining emotions

One page I’m pleased with is the page on ‘Feelings’. Emotions are something I’m continually learning about and find fascinating. Scientists don’t agree on what emotions actually are or how to define them so it felt like an exciting challenge and a privilege to attempt to define them for children. I wanted to make sure they felt okay about having and expressing feelings too. I discovered there was one thread in the research that scientists around the world did agree on. An agreed set of facial expressions that are recognisable in every culture – they have even been tested with remote tribes. Therefore facial expressions are universal in communicating emotions. So I asked for the central image to be a face wheel and then I wrote about each emotion.


I found the intro so difficult – in under 40 words define emotions! But I’m super pleased with it – it’s about the reason for emotions as well as what they are. And covers inner and outer world contributing to feelings. They did a photo shoot to get the faces right and I think it looks great!

I really love working out how to explain something complicated in a way that makes it seem straightforward – so this book has been a joy and a huge challenge for me.

Buying it

It’s available online and in all good book stores around the world. Hope you enjoy it. Oscar the cat asked me to say you should read the page on cats but I didn’t write that! If you’re reading it and want to check out my pages they are the red and dark pink marked pages. And I also wrote the story of energy, story of colour and story of sciences double page topic specials. These had to cover a topic using every other section for example art, people, living world, Earth etc! So the red circle is human body and dark pink is science and all the other sections have a colour code too:


I wrote 20% of the spreads in total, there are other authors listed at the front in the experts section. Yep, I’m really in there! I’ve never been listed as an expert in a book before! Don’t worry if you know me, I’m not planning to pull out the “Well are you an expert?” card in the pub – ha ha!

Hope you love it!

Thanks to everyone at DK for your help and support, especially to Lizzie and the editorial team and to my agent Lindsey Fraser. Also thanks to Patrick Thomson for expertise on the cells page and to Manuel Breuer for reviewing the evolution page – you both get credited at the end of the book.

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Posted by on October 31, 2017 in Education, illustration, Science, Writing


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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.


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. 


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


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.


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:


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


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:


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:


And important things like the problems faced when locating turbines:


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


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:


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!


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

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:
Ollie and the Otter launch

I came up to say hi:

Ollie and the Otter launch And throw fish at folk

Ollie and the Otter launch

Rory the otter squirted water…
Ollie and the Otter launch

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

Ollie and the Otter launch

People asked questions

Ollie and the Otter launch Ollie and the Otter launch

And folk bought books Ollie and the Otter launch

We signed them (for ages!)

Ollie and the Otter launch
Ollie and the Otter launch

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

2011-12-10 13.54.12

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


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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