Science fairs and being creative

I have a confession to make: I was a science fair nerd.

Me, being nerdy, at the Canada Wide Science Fair in Calgary, 2003

Yep, back when I was in high school, I got caught up in science fair fever, and twice I made it through the rounds to national Canada-Wide Science Fair. The first time was in Grade 8, when it was part of the science curriculum – so literally everyone in our year had to enter at the school level (and then it progressed to city-wide/regional level, then nationals). The second time was in Grade 12, when I had given up all formal science education (I think my class schedule resembled: English, English Literature, Creative Writing, History, French) but I still loved science on a practical level – hence why I chose to once again enter the science fair in my own time, although with a partner.

So I was completely intrigued when I logged on to Google and saw an ad for the Google Science Fair. This is its second year running, but I must have missed out on the announcement last year. I love their ethos:

Have you asked a question today? What did you do with it?

Did it take you somewhere new? Did it bring you here?

The Google Science Fair is an online science competition seeking curious minds from the four corners of the globe. Anybody and everybody between 13 and 18 can enter. All you need is an idea.

Geniuses are not always A-grade students. We welcome all mavericks, square-pegs and everybody who likes to ask questions. Simply upload your project here to win some life changing prizes.

Everyone has a question. What’s yours?

“Everyone has a question. What’s yours?” What a great line. I think that sums up exactly what I loved about the whole science fair experience. It was the chance to think about a question that wanted answers to, and then the try to find a solution myself. What could be more exciting?

A couple of years ago, the Canada-Wide Science Fair people got in touch with me to find out if I would be willing to talk to young students coming up through the science fair system. I don’t think they realized that I literally had nothing to do with science since leaving high school (whoops). But I think as the Google Science Fair ethos shows, what I’m doing now – writing, reading, asking questions – isn’t so far away from what they’re asking. And that’s probably what I liked most about science fairs, that blend of scientific method with pure creativity.

Plus, I edit science fiction now: does that count?


The music of writing and the third movement of Moonlight Sonata

The past couple of months since discovering that The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is finally going to become a real book have been challenging — writing-wise, that is! I’ve been finding it hard to just sit down and start writing the sequel, especially when I worry about the pressure of creating another work that betters (or, let’s face it, even equals!) the first.

But today I told myself to stop procrastinating and get down to some real work — and, horrah! The first chapter of what is very-tentatively-titled The Unbreakable Vow is now written. (I have to give all my work a title, it makes it feel more real!)

What helped me to get in the groove was tuning in to one of my old favourite playlists on iTunes, one that I hadn’t listened to in quite sometime. It’s made up of a mix of classical, more modern instrumental, movie soundtracks and indie music, most of it as word-free as possible, but varying in drama and tone.

There’s always one song, however, that always stops me in my tracks. I should probably remove it from my playlist, as it’s not exactly the most conducive to productivity, but I leave it in because I find it so inspiring. I play piano to a decent level (Grade 8 in Royal Conservatory of Music terms), and this piece just stops my heart with its complexity and beauty. It reminds me that there is so much to achieve, and so many different levels to attain, that even if I never get there, it’s still worth trying – one word, or one note, at a time. It also proves that sometimes the second, or in this case third, movement of a work can far exceed the first ;):

What piece of music inspires you?


Born to Run: ultra-running and ultra-writing

Okay, so when I said last post that I’d had a ‘word-free’ holiday, I might have lied atinybit. But you didn’t really believe me anyway, did you?

I read the remarkable Born to Run by Christopher McDougall while on holiday. It’s not the kind of book I normally read, but I absolutely loved it. It’s the story of one man’s quest to discover why he was getting so injured while running, even though he wore all the latest high tech running shoes, consulted the best doctors and podiatrists, and followed all the training advice to the letter. When he heard about a tribe of people in Mexico known as the Tarahumara – who long-distance run their whole lives mostly without complaint – he travelled to the Copper Canyons to try and discover their secret.

Of course, being the easily infuenced person that I am, immediately after finishing the book I wanted to become an ultra-marathon runner! One step at a time of course, and the marathon is first! But it did get me to thinking about other ‘extremes’ – what would extreme writing look like, for example? Does anyone have any ‘ultra-writing’ stories they’ve heard from or about famous authors?

Probably the best example of ‘extreme writing’ that I’ve ever read about has stuck with me since high school: Victor Hugo’s writing of Notre-Dame de Paris. I went through a rather extreme French literature-loving phrase after I lived in the south of France for three months on student exchange, and I could consistently be found in the hallways of my high school, back up against my locker, nose in a dog-eared copy of Les Misérables or L’Etranger. (Yes, I admit to being a pretentious teen!) But back to Monsieur Hugo… check out this passage from Victor Hugo: His Life and Work by A. F. Davison:

Thus, with five and a half months before him, Hugo set himself in grim earnest to write Notre-Dame de Paris. Purchasing a large bottle of ink and a thick wollen jersey, he locked away all his clothes to avoid any temptation of going out, and sat down to his writing-table, which he never left except to eat or sleep.
At first it was weary work, this hermit-like seclusion and the oppressive sense of a struggle against time. But soon the author grew into his creation and lived in his characters, becoming insensible to fatigue or cold and working eagerly on with windows wide open to the wintry air. On January 14 the last line was written, the last drop of ink dried up, and Hugo felt as sorry to part with his book as he had been reluctant to begin it. 

I think that’s definitely a story of ‘ultra-writing’ if I’ve ever heard one. But the part that stuck with me the most, is that at the end of his writing marathon, he was so taken by the coincidence that he had written the last word of his book with his very last drop of ink, that he wanted to title the novel: Ce qu’il y a dans une bouteille d’encre (“What there is in a bottle of ink”). Genius.


The language of writing

So I’ve been thinking of querying agents with my MG SF ms this week, but I’m not sure if my MC is the right age? Any advice?

Does the above sentence make sense to you? I’ve been reminded a couple of times this week that not everyone reading this blog has been obsessed by writing and publishing for the past almost-ten years, like me! And sometimes even I get confused by the different terminology. So I thought I’d do a little breakdown of some of the commonly used terms and abbreviations on this blog to help out those less familiar readers!

Querys/querying: a query is sort of like a cover letter for a CV – except in this case, your CV is your novel. For fiction, the query often includes the title, genre, age range (if a children’s book – no need if it’s for general readers) and word count, an enticing blurb (like you might read on the back cover of a book) and a little bit about the author. It is normally the first piece of writing a potential agent or editor will see from a writer, which is why writers spend so much time worrying about it!

ms – short for ‘manuscript’

MG – short for ‘middle grade’ – an age range for children’s books, generally 8-12 years old

YA – short for ‘young adult’ – another age range for children’s books, generally 12-18

ARC/proof/galley – a marketing tool used by publishers, an ARC (advance reader copy) is an uncorrected bound copy of the novel that gets sent to key reviewers to try to build anticipation for a book before its official release date. In the UK, they’re more commonly known as proofs.

SF/F – short for ‘science fiction and fantasy’ – two of my favourite genres!

WIP – short for ‘work in progress’

HC – short for HarperCollins

RHCB – short for Random House Children’s Books

The Absolute Write forums have an even more complete list than this, if all the publishing terminology needs even more deciphering!

And, for those who prefer a bit more epicness in my posts, here is the new Game of Thrones Season 2 trailer:


An evening with Leonardo da Vinci

Last night I went to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square to see the Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan exhibit. I was accompanied by fellow Voyager-ite Natasha, and together we spent an hour ooh-ing and aah-ing over the genius of Senor da Vinci. Despite the ticketed and timed entry, it was absolutely jam-packed. Over five centuries have passed since his death but that man can still draw a full house!

This particular exhibition focuses on his skills as a painter – setting aside for a moment the rest of his talent as an inventor, architect, engineer, mathematician, etc. etc. etc.! One thing that really struck me as I was walking around were the incredible studies he did on the minutest details – from a pair of clasped hands, to the draping of a cloth over a kneeling man, to the exact tilt of a head – everything was meticulously researched, experminted with, and and practised.

All of the notes we saw by Leonardo were written in his distinctive mirror writing. Seeing it in person reminded me that for a period of about six months in high school, I wrote all my journals in backwards writing after finding out that was how da Vinci did it. (I also wrote in ALL CAPS for a while – even in my exams – after seeing a friend do it, so it wasn’t just geniuses I copied… although that friend is now doing a very in-depth PhD so genius might not be too far off!)

Natasha and I belied our cultural prowess by making frequent references to The Da Vinci Code and Everafter, before heading off for some delicious Mexico City-style street food at Lupita.

Yet the most surprisingly and delightful thing about the whole exhibition, for me, was discovering a little Oathbreaker’s Shadow connection: Leonardo da Vinci’s intricate knot patterns. Knots are probably the most significant motif in Oathbreaker and so it was a little thrill to see they inspired the Grand Master too.