Q&A on Einstein and literature in the Guardian

Courtesy of Stuart Clark and his great blog on the science bit of the Guardian’s website, I’ve written a Q&A about Einstein and short stories.

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Edge Hill Short Story Prize longlist

My short story collection ‘The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space’ is long-listed for this year’s Edge Hill Short Story Prize, the UK’s only award for short story collections. The shortlist will be announced in May.

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Suffrage Science award

I’m thrilled to be nominated for this year’s Suffrage Science award – an annual award organised by the Medical Research Council to honour women in science around the world. Each year around 10-12 women are nominated for this award by previous nominees, and we each ‘inherit’ a beautiful piece of jewellery similar to those worn by the suffragettes.

I was nominated by Jenny Rohn, biologist, writer and editor of the website Lablit which champions the sort of fiction I write – fiction inspired by real science.

Find out more about Suffrage Science and all the nominees here.

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Mission to Mars!

I’m performing a specially commissioned short story about Mars exploration at the Edinburgh International Science Festival on 1 April, together with other previous New Writers Award winners Olga Wojtas and Basil Davies.

These stories are based on fictional candidates for a future Mars expedition – as created by the general public.

Come along, listen to the stories and chat with us about space missions.

UPDATE – you can now read all three of our stories on the Scottish Book Trust website (many thanks to them for organising this event!)


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‘Writing in the Stars’ lecture at Glasgow Planetarium

I’m giving a lecture at Glasgow Planetarium on Thursday 3rd March, about astronomy in literature. This’ll draw upon work by Brecht, Hardy and many other authors: see here for more info.


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One of the Herald’s Favourite Reads of 2015

My short story collection ‘The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space’ was chosen as one of the Herald’s Favourite Reads of 2015, by the wonderful novelist Alice Thompson.

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‘I Am Because You Are’ in the Indie

I wrote an article about the background science to our anthology ‘I Am Because You Are’ and why I wanted to celebrate the anniversary of general relativity in short stories. You can read it in the Independent.

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‘I Am Because You Are’ on BBC Radio Scotland

Tania Hershman and I were on Janice Forsyth’s show on BBC Radio Scotland, to discuss our anthology ‘I Am Because You Are’. (We’re speaking about 24 minutes into the show!)

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‘Nature’ article about science and fiction

A recent edition of ‘Nature’ has a nice long article about writing science-inspired fiction, based on interviews with authors Alastair Reynolds, Jenny Rohn and me.

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What have apples got to do with it?

I seem to be a bit obsessed with apples, they’ve appeared in my writing in all sorts of different ways.

The first apple was fairly obvious. I was writing a short story about Alan Turing and it’s known that he died as a result of cyanide poisoning. Andrew Hodge’s biography suggests that this was suicide, Turing dipped an apple in cyanide after becoming overwhelmed by his criminal conviction for homosexuality and subsequent treatment with hormones. Other people think this his death wasn’t so clear-cut; he enjoyed experimenting with chemicals at home and it may simply have been a terrible accident. But what about Snow White? It’s well known that Turing adored this story and he could have taken inspiration from the make-believe poisoned apple.

But then I discovered that this was not actually the first apple, there was one several years beforehand. Robert Oppenheimer, before he became a brilliant theoretical physicist and scientific director of the Manhattan project, was a PhD student at Cambridge University in the 1920s. This was the era of quantum physics and European physicists were coming up with new theories and ideas practically every week. But the physics department at Cambridge was more focused on experimental work and Oppenheimer struggled to find his feet. His PhD supervisor was Patrick Blackett, renowned for his work in the laboratory and development of pioneering equipment. Blackett and Oppenheimer were very unalike, and Oppenheimer started to sink fast. He had some sort of breakdown in which he tried to poison Blackett – with an apple.

The final apple is really the archetype – Newton’s famous thought experiment in which he realised that an apple falling from the tree to the ground is obeying the same laws of physics as a planet orbiting the Sun. This apple leaves behind a gap – picture an apple-shaped void hanging off the branch. It took Einstein to realise that the apple and the space around it were actually connected. In his general theory of relativity he showed how an object’s mass curves space-time, and in turn this space-time tells the object how to behave.

For me, this deep connection between apparently unrelated entities is mirrored in our use of words to represent things. Language is a unifying principle, just as Einstein’s equations are. And perhaps I write words because I can’t do maths.

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