Skip to main content

The Joy of Festival

One of the best bits about being an author is the chance to turn up at book festivals (and as a science author, I get a double bite of the cake with science festivals).

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to two very different festivals, each with a very special feel. I've done a couple of the big numbers (Cheltenham and Edinburgh), but for me, small and mid-size festivals like these are far more charming.

The first was Taunton Literary Festival, run in a very friendly, relaxed fashion from Brendon Books, an impressive indie bookshop that mixes new and used books on the shelves with refreshing abandon. As the event was actually in the bookshop, I was expecting a tiny audience, but somehow organiser Lionel Ward managed to cram in a good 60 seats, all of which were filled by an appreciative audience. I've done my Reality Frame talk a few times, but never quite so intimately with my audience. I particularly enjoyed a moment when I was waiting to start, sitting on children's book table near the front. A lady on the end of the nearest row of seats asked me 'Have you come across this book?' enabling me to reply 'Erm, yes, I wrote it.'

Science in my granny's sitting room at Folkestone
By comparison, the Folkestone Book Festival was a significantly bigger production in the towns' delightful Quarterhouse theatre. We were booked in for two nights at the nicely renovated old Burlington Hotel, giving a chance to explore a town that had always been just somewhere we passed near on the way to the Tunnel.

On Friday I had two sessions with year five and six children (aged 9-11) - each with around 200 children packed into the theatre. They were impressively well behaved, seemed to enjoy the activities in the talk and could be relied on to come up with a whole host of questions after, from deeply serious ones about black holes to 'Which came first, the chicken or the egg?'

Interview at Folkestone
Saturday saw me switch to an adult audience for a talk based on my latest book Big Data. With over 120 in the audience, it was still a good number, and the mix of talking and a few demonstrations seemed to go down well - again featuring a good range of questions at the end. It was the first time I'd done this talk, and was interesting to see how amazing the quality of iPhone video is - I played my clip of trying to get Alexa to play Schoenberg, which looked impressively professional on a cinema-sized screen.

I'd certainly recommend Folkestone if you've never been there - there's a whole lot of art going on from the organisation also behind the Quarterhouse and the literary festival. The only festival I've attended before that did as much for its authors as Folkestone was the Isle of Man Festival - I don't know if it's something about being by the seaside, but both treated authors as someone special to pamper, rather than an irritating necessity as some of the larger festival seem to feel.

A really excellent week...

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

On the Fringe - Michael Gordin *****

This little book is a pleasant surprise. That word 'little', by the way, is not intended as an insult, but a compliment. Kudos to OUP for realising that a book doesn't have to be three inches thick to be interesting. It's just 101 pages before you get to the notes - and that's plenty. The topic is fringe science or pseudoscience: it could be heavy going in a condensed form, but in fact Michael Gordin keeps the tone light and readable. In some ways, the most interesting bit is when Gordin plunges into just what pseudoscience actually is. As he points out, there are elements of subjectivity to this. For example, some would say that string theory is pseudoscience, even though many real scientists have dedicated their careers to it. Gordin also points out that, outside of denial (more on this a moment), many supporters of what most of us label pseudoscience do use the scientific method and see themselves as doing actual science. Gordin breaks pseudoscience down into a n

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth - Henry Gee *****

In writing this book, Henry Gee had a lot to live up to. His earlier title  The Accidental Species was a superbly readable and fascinating description of the evolutionary process leading to Homo sapiens . It seemed hard to beat - but he has succeeded with what is inevitably going to be described as a tour-de-force. As is promised on the cover, we are taken through nearly 4.6 billion years of life on Earth (actually rather more, as I'll cover below). It's a mark of Gee's skill that what could have ended up feeling like an interminable list of different organisms comes across instead as something of a pager turner. This is helped by the structuring - within those promised twelve chapters everything is divided up into handy bite-sized chunks. And although there certainly are very many species mentioned as we pass through the years, rather than feeling overwhelming, Gee's friendly prose and careful timing made the approach come across as natural and organic.  There was a w

Michael D. Gordin - Four Way Interview

Michael D. Gordin is a historian of modern science and a professor at Princeton University, with particular interests in the physical sciences and in science in Russia and the Soviet Union. He is the author of six books, ranging from the periodic table to early nuclear weapons to the history of scientific languages. His most recent book is On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience (Oxford University Press). Why history of science? The history of science grabbed me long before I knew that there were actual historians of science out there. I entered college committed to becoming a physicist, drawn in by the deep intellectual puzzles of entropy, quantum theory, and relativity. When I started taking courses, I came to understand that what really interested me about those puzzles were not so much their solutions — still replete with paradoxes — but rather the rich debates and even the dead-ends that scientists had taken to trying to resolve them. At first, I thought this fell under