Category Archives: The Write Reality

Storytelling – and the taxi number

I’ve just finished reading ‘An Indian Clerk’ by David Leavitt, which is a fictionalised account of the life of Ramanujan, during the first part of the last century. He was a self-taught mathematician from India who only came to prominence after he sent some of his work to Hardy, the most eminent mathematician in Britain […]

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Genomics Forum Poetry Competition

Last year, as part of my writer-in-residency activities, I ran a short story competition to encourage writers to be inspired by genetics and genomics. As a result we received some fantastic stories, and so this year I’m repeating the exercise – for poets. The theme of the competition is ‘improving the human’. How does an […]

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An absence, or a vacuum, or perhaps just nothing to say.

Hello, I’m back. This blog has been frozen in time while I went away and started work at the Government. This occupied my mind to the extent that I found I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write about. I could have written some nice blogs about offshore renewable energy (the subject of my Government […]

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More (un)certainty, or do I mean something else?

Following on from my last blog, the event on poetry and astronomy at Royal Observatory in Greenwich went very well. Jocelyn Bell Burnell gave a great talk and invited members of the audience to read aloud the poems on astronomy she had selected. These readings were fantastic; and I think helped the discussion with the […]

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Dark matter – clear poetry

The Royal Observatory Greenwich is holding a public event on 10 November to discuss poems about astronomy. The astronomer Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the poet Kelley Swaine, and I will be speaking at it. There is a lot of poetry written about astronomy, and I find this surprising for a couple of reasons. First, because […]

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Why we should resist the urge to classify everything

Recently James Kelman has been letting off steam about the fact that genre fiction outsells literary fiction and is far more likely to be reviewed in the so-called literary supplements of the newspapers. But both he and many of the people commentating on his criticisms seem to have a curiously simple-minded approach to the literary […]

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Tiny galaxies, enormous atoms, and people at the centre of it all…

Literary fiction usually only portrays human characters. This type of fiction places humans at the centre of what is an inhuman universe. It hasn’t absorbed the lesson of the Copernican revolution. In contrast, since Copernicus’s models and Galileo’s observations, science thinks it fully understands that the universe was not built for us (leaving aside any […]

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Madame Curie’s transformation

My favourite essay in ‘The Faber Book of Science’ (edited by John Carey) is ‘Shedding Life’ by Miroslav Holub, who is a poet and immunologist. In this essay he recollects mopping up the blood of a recently shot muskrat, and he ponders on the exact nature of death. The death of an organism as a […]

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Intuition about mice and quasars

‘Intuition’ (by Allegra Goodman) takes place in a cancer research lab where one of the junior workers, Cliff, thinks he’s found a virus which can cure cancer in mice. The lab is in financial trouble, so its directors are grateful for the chance to publicise these results and use them to raise funds. However, it […]

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Madame Bovary on a beam of light

I’ve been rereading ‘Madame Bovary’ and am struck, all over again, at how Flaubert lets us draw our own conclusions about Emma Bovary’s actions, without forcing any ‘morals’ down our throats. Flaubert was one of a set of nineteenth century writers, along with others such as Zola, who were very influenced by the rise in […]

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