On Thursday 28th January I appeared on Front Row, BBC Radio 4's live magazine programme on the worlds of arts, literature, film, media and music. It was a real honour to be interviewed by Samira Ahmed and have the chance to discuss quantum physics, children's fiction and The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. You can listen to or download the whole programme, which also featured the Elizabethan magician and spy John Dee, the sixties comedian Marty Feldman and the textile designer Tibor Reich, here and listen to the interview below.
Last week, the author SF Said launched the #CoverKidsBooks campaign, calling on newspapers to feature more children’s book reviews in their print editions. Sales of children's books currently account for 30% of the UK book market, but the campaign's research shows that children's books receive a much smaller fraction of the available review space in print newspapers. The #CoverKidsBooks campaign has already received an enthusiastic response, with the TES announcing on Friday that they are bringing back children's books reviews to give pupils a platform in the newspaper to write about the books they love.
Commenting on the importance of the #CoverKidsBooks campaign, Charlotte Eyre, the Children's Editor at The Bookseller, writes that when new children's books are featured in the review pages of national newspapers they are putting children's fiction "in front of hundreds - and even thousands - of adults who, and I think this is a very crucial point, weren’t looking for children’s book reviews in the first place." This serendipitous discovery is vital, perhaps prompting adult readers to move on from memories of their own childhood favourites and encouraging them to discover new authors and future classics with their own children.
Children's books are the wellspring of so much of our popular culture and a vibrant part of it too. Thank you to Samira Ahmed and Front Row for helping to show this.
Last week I appeared on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours talking about the popularity of science-based children's fiction and you can listen to the programme again here. My interview starts at the 30 minutes mark.
Both The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and my forthcoming novel The Jamie Drake Equation were inspired by science, but, as I say in the interview, science lessons for me in school were mostly a battle for control of the gas taps between the kids who wanted to blow up the Science block and those of us who wanted to live. Any experiments we did get round to performing involved rolling marbles down slopes or heating salty water to boiling point and usually went wrong anyway as most major scientific laws didn’t seem to apply in Salford in the 1980s. In the real world, the Voyager spacecraft was flying past Saturn whilst the space shuttle zoomed in and out of orbit, but science in school kept my eyes firmly fixed to the blackboard and didn’t spark for me any sense of wonder about the universe.
It was a different story on my paper round. There, at the bottom of a bag bulging with tomorrow’s chip papers, I discovered 2000AD. This weekly comic was filled with stories of space exploration, alien invaders, genetically-engineered super soldiers, and time-travelling paradoxes. In comic strips such as Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog and Tharg’s Future Shocks, I found stories inspired by theories and discoveries at the cutting edge of science, and used to paint exciting and terrifying pictures of the future. And every week, I’d eagerly flick through the pages of 2000AD as I traipsed round my paper round, my mind whirling with thoughts of alien life and parallel worlds, until the time came to push the rain-spattered copy of the comic through the letterbox of the poor kid who had ordered it.
Unfortunately the interest in science sparked by 2000AD wasn’t enough to prevent me getting a grade D in my GCSE Physics exam, but it did lead me to E.T., The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Back to the Future and Doctor Who. In the world of fiction, I found real scientific ideas sparkling with a sense of wonder that science in school had kept hidden.
On Saturday 11th February, courtesy of prize tickets from Geek Syndicate, I made a pilgrimage with my brother to London’s Hammersmith Novotel for 2000AD’s 40th Anniversary Festival to say thank you to the writers and artists whose imaginations lit up my childhood in the pages of the galaxy’s greatest comic and helped plant the seeds of an interest in science that eventually blossomed into the books that I write. It was a real thrill to meet Pat Mills, the Charles Dickens of British comics, whose vision for 2000AD and timeless creations have helped to inspire generations of readers.
So thanks for the inspiration 2000AD and here’s to the next 40 years!