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.
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!
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 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.
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.
As the snow falls in April, thoughts inevitably turn towards summertime and festivals!
I'll be at the Hay Festival on Thursday 2 June at 2.30pm, taking part in a fantastic event with Time Travelling with a Hamster author Ross Welford, where we'll be exploring the wonder of science as a way to explain some of the mysteries of the world. Tickets are £6 and you can book these here.
As well as these literary extravaganzas, I'll also be representing the world of children's books at some fantastic music festivals this summer.
I'm back at the Wychwood Festival this year, and if you head to the Kids Literature tent at 6.00pm on Friday 3 June, you'll find me explaining exactly how to travel to a parallel universe.
I'm also incredibly excited to have been asked to appear at Tim Peaks Diner at Kendal Calling and Festival No.6. In case you haven't heard about it, Tim Peaks Diner is a festival within a festival, created and curated by Tim Burgess from The Charlatans. In this unique space you'll find amazing bands, book readings, DJ sets, science talks, dance classes, great tea and coffee, and now children's literature! Read this interview with Tim to find out more and if you're at Kendal Calling or Festival No.6, I hope to see you at Tim Peaks Diner.
Since its publication back in January, The Many Worlds of Albie Bright has been receiving some wonderful reviews. As well as being chosen by The Times as their Children’s Book of the Week, The Many Worlds of Albie Bright has been described as “heartwarming” and “a touching story” by The Guardian, "Moving, and exploding with scientific ideas and wonder" by The Herald, and has also received some lovely comments from authors I admire.
"Back to the Future for the Large Hadron Collider generation. Hilarious and full of heart." Piers Torday, author of The Last Wild trilogy
"I'd love this book in all the worlds. Heartbreaking, heartwarming, heartstopping. Amazing." Holly Smale, author of the Geek Girl series
"A beautiful thing. Moving, funny, twisty, wise and deserves to be remembered." A.F. Harrold, author of The Imaginary
"A delightful story to excite children about quantum mechanics - and adults should learn a thing or two as well." Robin Ince, comedian, writer and co-presenter of the BBC Radio 4 comedy and popular science series 'The Infinite Monkey Cage'
“Christopher Edge’s warm-hearted writing sucks you in from the start with a sparkling take on parallel worlds, fuelled by a delightfully fresh understanding of quantum physics and a fearless ability to take on life, loss and dreaming big while never talking down to his readers. Bananas will never be the same again. I have one complaint about this book. I wanted it to be longer.” Samira Ahmed, writer, journalist and broadcaster
You can also read a round-up of the latest reviews of The Many Worlds of Albie Bright on the Toppsta Children's Books websitehere and I loved taking part in the #KidLitReaders chat about the book which is storified here. 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 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 the places where readers learn about new books for the first time.
Finally, I’m thrilled that The Many Worlds of Albie Bright has been shortlisted for the New Children’s Fiction Awards, run by Teach Primary magazine. It has been shortlisted in the KS2 category alongside some wonderful books and authors, so please keep your fingers crossed for Albie! The winners and runners up will be announced in the June edition of Teach Reading and Writing magazine.
Last week the nominations for the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals 2017 were announced and, thrillingly, The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017. At the time of the announcement I was buried under an avalanche of deadlines, so didn't have time to write this blog then, but to say that I was thrilled about this news would be a serious understatement as you'll see if the video ever leaks of the Intergalactic dance moves I busted out when I heard about the nomination.
The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards are described as 'the gold standard in literature and illustration for children and young people' and one of the key reasons for this is because they are chosen by the experts in children's literature and illustration - librarians.
Every writer is a reader and the books that turned me into a writer were the ones I found on the shelves of my local library, as I explained in this blog post from five years ago where I talked about the inspirations that set me on the path to becoming an author.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know about authors; my brain was full to bursting with their names. I was the Incredible Book Eating Boy before Oliver Jeffers had even drawn him, devouring the shelves of my local library. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, John Wyndham, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Cormier, Ursula Le Guin. With every book I took out, a new favourite author could be discovered and I’d then eagerly seek out everything that they had written.
At a time when even the idea of the library seems to under attack like never before, and librarians battle against cuts and closures, I'd like to thank every single librarian for the vital work that they do in inspiring new readers and writers, and the way they still make time to celebrate children's literature with the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals and help share the amazing worlds that can be found in its pages with young readers everywhere. As I tweeted when I first found out about the Carnegie nomination:
Growing up, my local library was a portal to an infinity of universes. Librarians opened the door to so many amazing worlds.Thank you #CKG17
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!