Bank Holiday Hayday
It’s been a bit of a dream bank holiday weekend. It started on Saturday when I opened the Review section of The Guardian to discover that Imogen Russell Williams had included The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day in her monthly round-up of the best new children’s books. You can see the review from the print edition below and the longer version of the review is online here. It was so great to be included in this round-up alongside brilliant new titles from Lauren St John, Sophie Anderson, Philip Reeve and David Almond, and truly thrilling to read Imogen’s wonderful words about The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day.
Then on Bank Holiday Monday I headed west to the Hay Festival, where I was appearing alongside Robin Ince in an event entitled ‘Science in Stories’. I’m a huge fan of Robin’s work from his brilliant stand-up to the freewheeling Book Shambles podcast he hosts with Josie Long. Robin is also, of course, the co-host of The Infinite Monkey Cage, Radio 4’s award-winning series that brings together figures from the arts with leading scientists to discuss questions such as ‘What is Reality’ and ‘How to Build a Universe’ – which is also the title of the brilliant book by the Monkey Cage team of Robin, Professor Brian Cox and Alexandra Feachem.
In the acknowledgements page at the back of The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day, I thank The Infinite Monkey Cage for helping to expand my understanding of the universe. In our society we often confuse seriousness with intelligence, but what makes The Infinite Monkey Cage so brilliant and utterly unique is the fierce intelligence and joyful silliness it brings to the subject of science, capturing I think the true sense of joy and wonder that lies at the heart of so much scientific endeavour. On the show mind-boggling topics such as infinity are explored in such an entertaining way that, for me, it made researching The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day a real delight. So I was hugely excited to have the chance to talk to Robin on stage at Hay.
I must admit this sense of excitement took on a slightly nervous twinge as I stepped onstage at our sold-out event to see 750 faces staring back at me, but with Robin seated to my right, the audience were soon laughing with delight as his comic skills and boundless curiosity took us on a tour of the universe. Our conversation explored how science and stories both help us to make sense of the world, touching on topics such as the Large Hadron Collider, Schrödinger's cat, extraterrestrial life and the nature of reality, whilst Robin revealed that the best way to get him to stop talking is to apply a strong magnetic pulse to the left-side of his brain! (A feat accomplished by Professor Sophie Scott in her 2017 Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution.)
At the end of the event when Robin asked for questions, a forest of hands was raised with those hands held highest belonging to the youngest audience members. From them we fielded questions about the significance of human existence, the possibility of parallel universes, the chances of alien life and whether we should colonize Mars. It was so wonderful to see how their imaginations had been fired and it reminded me that young people’s hunger for wonder is one of the reasons I write children’s fiction. For those questions we didn’t have the chance to answer, Robin invited the questioners to come along and ask them at the book signing after the event, which I think explained the epic length of the signing queue!
As Robin and I chatted to readers it was brilliant to hear about the different ways in which science inspired them and how they were channelling this inspiration, from taking part in after-school science clubs to writing their own science fiction stories. I must admit it made me feel proud to think that books like The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day are helping in some small way to fuel this excitement about science and stories.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Julia Eccleshare and the team at Hay for inviting me to be part of this year’s festival, to Robin Ince for agreeing to take part in the event and being such wonderful company, and a huge thank you too to everyone who came along, especially the youngest audience members. I think Spaceship Earth will be in good hands with you at the helm.
And for anyone who wants to put a little more science and wonder in their life, I’ve just got time to let you know about a couple of events that are taking place in June. On Friday 15 June Robin Ince and Chris Hadfield are hosting Space Shambles at the Royal Albert Hall, a star-studded evening of comedy, music and science. You can find full details of the stellar line-up for this event here and I think there are still a few tickets available for what’s bound to be an amazing evening.
Then on the evening of Saturday 16 June, I’m hugely excited to be appearing at the Royal Institution where I’ll be joined by cosmologist Andrew Pontzen and the scientist and BAFTA-nominated science presenter Fran Scott at an event to illuminate the exciting physics and cosmology that can be found inside The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day. The Royal Institution is describing this as “the perfect event for science enthusiasts and bookworms alike!” and to say that I’m absolutely thrilled about it would be a bit of an understatement! You can buy tickets for the event here and I really hope to see you there.