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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.

Research

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:

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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:

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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:

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Timescales

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.

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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:

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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.

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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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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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Cover Reveal: Light

I’m excited to share the beautiful front cover of my new book ‘Light’ published by HarperCollins for Collins Primary:

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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:

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

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

 

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I am a Dinosaur

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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.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2016 in Education, Events, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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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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