The Many Worlds of Albie Bright was published on the 14th January and I’ve been absolutely thrilled by the reception it’s received so far from readers. Just ahead of publication, The Times chose The Many Worlds of Albie Bright as their Children’s Book of the Week and Albie’s also received some lovely reviews from magazines and book blogs too.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s read and reviewed The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. Last night, Frances Hardinge was awarded the Costa Book of the Year for her amazing novel The Lie Tree, and in her acceptance speech she described how it is a fantastic time to be writing children’s fiction and invited readers who might think that children’s books are not their thing to come and explore because ‘there’s a beautiful jungle out there.’
I love this image of the ‘beautiful jungle’ of children’s fiction, a world filled with wonder and excitement, where writers of real ambition such as Hardinge have made their home. Reviewers of children’s books are the indispensible guides to this ‘beautiful jungle’, leading readers through the thickets and vines to discover amazing books and fantastic authors, and I’m so grateful to all the reviewers who have shared their thoughts on The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. And if any reviewers felt able too to cross-post their review on the websites of online retailers such as Amazon, Waterstones etc. I’d really appreciate this, as sometimes these websites are where new readers take a first peek at the ‘beautiful jungle’ that’s out there.
Here’s the round-up of reviews and if you’ve reviewed The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and would like me to add a link to your review to this list, just drop me a line and I’ll update this blogpost.
"An accessible, inclusive delight of an adventure, with a bittersweet centre - that will take readers as far as their curiosity dares them to go" Teach Primary magazine
Finally, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Samira Ahmed for Front Row, Radio 4’s premier magazine programme about the arts, earlier this month, and you’ll be able to hear me discussing quantum physics, children’s fiction and The Many Worlds of Albie Bright when this is broadcast on Front Row at 7.15pm on Thursday 28th January. Here’s the link to the podcast of the programme which should be available shortly after broadcast.
I love music. I can’t listen to music when I’m writing. This is a source of great frustration to me.
But even though The Many Worlds of Albie Bright was written mainly in silence, punctuated only by the occasional sound of me banging my head against the laptop keyboard, there is a soundtrack to the book. These are the songs that in some way inspired me as I was writing or which now take on a new meaning as I think about Albie’s story.
I really envy songwriters and musicians their almost supernatural ability to evoke an emotional response not only with lyrics, but also wordlessly with a melody, a key change or a fading chord. Music connects on a primal level. And the music that soundtracks your life can become freighted with new meaning when something happens that completely changes your world.
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is a story about a boy trying to come to terms with the death of his mum and tells how he uses quantum physics to journey to parallel worlds in search of her. There’s sadness in its pages, but I hope that readers find hope and wonder there too. I wanted Albie’s story to tap into the emotions that these songs hold for me, to move people and remind readers that, no matter how dark things get, the stars still shine in the sky.
You can listen to the Spotify playlist here and, if you want to read along with the soundtrack, the tracklisting at the bottom of the page indicates the chapter each song belongs to. I won’t tell you about every tune, but here’s some of my favourite songs from the soundtrack and why I chose them.
Do You Realize?? by The Flaming Lips – A beautiful song about the miracle of life and the inevitability of mortality, filled with science and wonder. I couldn’t have started the soundtrack with any other song.
Death With Dignity by Sufjan Stevens – From Carrie and Lowell, an album of songs inspired by the death of Sufjan Stevens’ mother, for me this haunting track evokes the loneliness and loss that the death of a parent can bring. In this article from The Guardian, the journalist Danny Wright writes movingly of the solace this album brought him when his own father died.
Shroedinger’s Cat by The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger – Finding a song about quantum physics isn’t as easy as you might think, but in this track from Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, the physicist’s metaphorical cat muses on love and mortality.
Intergalactic by The Beastie Boys – Now I don’t want you thinking The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is a total sob-fest. From a stolen stuffed platypus to a kidnapped psychopathic cat, there’s a lot of humour in the pages of the book and this joyous tune from the Beastie Boys literally soundtracks a pivotal scene in the story.
Come Home Baby by The Charlatans – From my album of 2015 comes this beautiful song filled with love and yearning. In my mind I hear the lyrics as an ode to a newborn baby. It’s a song I can imagine Albie’s mum singing to Albie as he lay in his cot and years later it’s a song that could fuel Albie’s search for his mum through parallel worlds, and maybe even bring him home.
P.S. You Rock My World by Eels – One of the key inspirations for The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics which proposes that parallel worlds exist. This theory was created by the US scientist Hugh Everett. His son, Mark Everett, is the lead singer and songwriter of Eels, and made Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, a fascinating documentary about his father’s theory and the relationship they had. In this song, the key refrain of ‘Maybe it’s time to live’ echoes the strength that I hope readers find in Albie’s story.
The Prettiest Star by David Bowie – The soundtrack ends with a triptych of songs about the stars, with pride of place taken by this beautiful song from the great David Bowie. And in tribute to an icon whose music brought such inspiration to me and millions of others, here’s a line from The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. Shine on, Ziggy.
“There’s a piece of heaven inside you and there’s piece of heaven inside me. We’re all made of stardust.”
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright – a chapter-by-chapter tracklisting
1. Do You Realize?? – The Flaming Lips [Chapter 1]
2. Death With Dignity – Sufjan Stevens [Chapter 2]
3. Silent Sigh – Badly Drawn Boy [Chapter 4]
4. Galaxy of Emptiness – Beth Orton [Chapter 5]
5. Shroedinger’s Cat – The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger [Chapter 6]
6. Across the Universe – Rufus Wainwright [Chapter 6]
7. Inner Meet Me – The Beta Band [Chapter 7]
8. Rings Around the World – Super Furry Animals [Chapter 10]
9. Intergalactic – Beastie Boys [Chapter 12]
10. Race For The Prize – The Flaming Lips [Chapter 13]
11. The Scientist – Coldplay [Chapter 15]
12. Stay – Bernard Butler [Chapter 16]
13. Come Home Baby – The Charlatans [Chapter 16]
14. P.S. You Rock My World – Eels [Chapter 16]
15. The Prettiest Star – David Bowie [Chapter 17]
16. Stellify – Ian Brown [Chapter 17]
17. Shine Like Stars – Primal Scream [Chapter 17]
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright was inspired by quantum physics, specifically the Many Worlds Interpretation of parallel universes. This concept is brilliantly explained at the 2 minutes 45 seconds mark in the above video by MinutePhysics. (Check out the MinutePhysicsYouTube channel for more ace explanations of physics-related topics from filmmaker Henry Reich.)
The idea of parallel worlds is a staple of children’s fiction from the world of Narnia to the multiverse explored in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I recently created a list of my Top 10 parallel universes in fiction for the Guardian Children’s Books website and you can find this here. As I say in the article, what’s beautiful to me about the idea of parallel worlds is the fact that science suggests that they might actually exist. As storytellers we no longer have to climb through the wardrobe to take our readers into parallel universes, but can use science to show how these worlds could be real.
Both science and fiction help us to make sense of the world, with all its wonder and possibilities as well as its inevitable pain. Scientists such as Professor Brian Cox have used their expertise to popularize science using TV and radio programmes to help audiences in their millions understand more about the incredible Universe we live in. Professor Cox has been quoted as saying, "Science is too important not to be part of popular culture" and I believe children’s books have a role to play here too.
It was important to me that all the scientific concepts mentioned in The Many Worlds of Albie Bright are real and accurately described, so I had the manuscript checked and approved by a friend who's a Professor of Particle Physics and also works at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. I hope this scientific authenticity might encourage a reluctant reader or someone who’s maybe stuck in the non-fiction section to pick up a novel for the first time.
Other children’s writers have used science as a jumping off point to create exciting plots and wondrous stories. In his high-octane Itch series, Simon Mayo tells the story of Itchingham Lofte, an ordinary 14-year-old boy whose quest to collect all the elements in the periodic table pitches him into perilous adventures. Collaborating with her father, the famous physicist Stephen Hawking, Lucy Hawking has authored several books including George and the Big Bang, using fiction to explore theories about the birth of the Universe. And in this article in The Guardian, the author Tim Lott writes about the inspiration that can be found in science and how this helped to inspire his novel How to Be Invisible.
Science explores the big questions about life, the universe and everything – the same questions that can underpin the very best fiction. Why are we here? What makes us human? What comes next? Science can help to create a real sense of wonder. A gift for storytellers.
To celebrate the publication of The Many Worlds of Albie Bright on the 14 January. I’m running a Twitter giveaway to win a signed copy of the book. All you’ve got to do is #ScienceUpABook in a tweet. This can be a picture book, a children’s or YA novel, a classic text or even a comic book – all you’ve got to do is add some science to the title! Here’s a few suggestions to get you started:
The Rationally-Explained Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton #ScienceUpABook #AlbieBright
Pipette Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren #ScienceUpABook #AlbieBright
Tabby McTat meets Schrödinger's cat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler #ScienceUpABook #AlbieBright
The Ragged Trousered Paleontologists by Robert Tressell
Hubble by Non Pratt #ScienceUpABook #AlbieBright
Don’t forget you need to include the hashtags #ScienceUpABook and #AlbieBright in your tweets for a chance of winning a signed copy of the book. The winner will be chosen at 11am on 12/01/16. Good luck!
For me the build-up to publication day is similar to how I imagine actors feel before the curtain goes up on opening night, filled with nervous anticipation, so it’s been really heartening to hear some early reviews of The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. Thank you to @bookloverJo and @chaletfan for these fantastic first reviews:
It’s been amazing too to hear some really positive feedback about the novel from authors I admire and I want to thank Piers Torday for his quotes about The Many Worlds of Albie Bright that grace the cover of the book and the title of this blogpost.
I’ve got some exciting stuff planned for the rest of the month, so keep checking back for updates. You can read my Top Ten list of parallel worlds in fiction at the Guardian Children's Books website. And if you’re interested in finding out more about the real-life science behind The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, check out the Pinterest board for the book.
Wishing you all a very happy new year. I hope your world in 2016 is filled with hope and wonder.