Sunday, 30 June 2013

Itch and Simon Mayo

At the ASE conference I had the please to be in a session where Annette Smith (the CEO of the ASE) interviewed Simon Mayo about his books. The books are about Itch, a boy who discovers a new element.

Annette began by asking Simon why he wanted to write a book with science as a main theme. Simon Mayo replied that while he was working at radio five he interviewed a lot of scientists and gained an interest in science. Then his son (aged 10) became obsessed with science. Simon tried to find something for him to read and found nothing. So Simon decided to write his own story for his son and that became his first book. At the same time, Daniel Radcliffe sang the periodic table song on Graham Norton and this spurred Simon Mayo on to publish as he realised someone else would spot the gap in the market.

Annette asked Simon about science at school. The audience were all science teachers after all. We are interested in learning from the experience of our pupils. Simon Mayo said that no one inspired him in the area of science at school and it is quite a departure to now be going to schools talking to young people about science.

The character Itch is an element collector. Simon Mayo was keen to ensure that the science in the books was real. The characters get themselves into and out of trouble because of the element. Simon Mayo talked to Professor Paddy Regan and Professor Andrea Sella and learned about the theoretical 'island of stability', where elements will reach a size big enough for them to be stable for days, weeks or months. Long enough for the story at least. He also learned he could get away with it if he said the new element was made in a supernova.

Someone did comment to him, that the most unrealistic thing about the books was the speed at which the new element (126 in case you are wondering) got its official name.

Simon Mayo stated that making science cool was not the intention when writing his book, he believes that kids will spot if if you try to trick them into liking science. He just wanted to write a good story.

Simon then went on to describe the session he delivers to students when he visits schools. Firstly, there is augmented reality on the front on the covers. Download the app, point it at the cover and amazing stuff happens!

He said that there was a debate between his editor, agent and himself about how much explanation of the periodic table do you add to the book? He read the section that introduces the periodic table from the first Itch novel to illustrate his point.

Simon said he tried to bring the Itch books back to elements when possible. He was inspired by this banned book on chemistry experiments:

Which Itch is too. It cost Simon £400 on eBay. He said that the kids he visits are often more interested in this boom than the Itch booms by the end of the visit!

He also told the audience that the hiding place for element 126 is a real place, although he took some poetic licence. The building is no longer a school, but it is in the books.

At the end of the hour Annette gave Simon the 'be safe' book from the ASE bookshop!

An engaging hour, and I can recommend the books as I have read them.

Did you know that if you ingest tellurium you smell of garlic for months.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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