Summer School


On 16 September, 7 of the ABSW's finest minds gathered in a dark pub on King Street in Bristol. Thanks to new funding for regional meetings, drinks were at the expense of the Association. (And thanks to the excellent value offered by the King William, there is still enough in the kitty for another round).

Amid much talk of the recent World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) in London, there was discussion of the identity of the British Science Association and of forming links with Bristol's Festival of Ideas, as well as the next WCSJ in Egypt.

A third meeting is planned before the end of the year. Any members in the region who are not on the South West list can email Hayley Birch at hayleymbirch [a]

Those who attended: Matin Durrani, Carolyn Allen, Liz Kalaugher, Julie Clayton, Jon Turney, James Dacey and Hayley Birch.

This year's ABSW events kicked off with a workshop on how next generation web tools are helping today's journalists.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a total technophobe, but for a while I thought that RSS was something you got from too much typing. Hashtags sounded like an embarrassing medical condition. And if I had experience with a search engine then I was pretty sure it had stalled. Permanently.

Thank the gods of technology then for the ABSW’s Journalism 2.0 workshop, led by our very own Mike Nagle.

ABSW member are invited to a special meeting on Monday 29th June, from 6-7pm at the Dana Centre (165 Queen's Gate, South Kensington). We should like to discuss the future of the ABSW, the revamped newsletter, our new website and the awards. We should welcome ideas for events and activities as well as setting our priorities for the future and talking a bit more about how we hope to operate. We should also like this to take this opportunity to show our appreciation to Ted Nield and Barbie Drillsma for all their work and dedication to the ABSW.

Natasha Loder, science correspondent for The Economist and next chair of the ABSW, and Colin Blakemore, President of the ABSW, will host the discussion. The Studio of the Dana Centre can accommodate up to 100 members. To register for this event, please fill out the form

The first 30 folk to register will also be invited to attend the Media Reception of the World Conference of Science Journalists, being held nearby at the Science Museum, from 7-9pm.

ABSW members are invited to attend a training seminar on Tuesday May 26th. Bring along your laptop and be brought up-to-date with some of new methods of working and collaborating using the internet. RSS feeds & readers. Twitter. Pimp your Browser. Collaboration with Google Docs and more. In fact, anything you want - just email Mike your questions beforehand. (Note it isn't intended for broader hardware or software problems with laptops). To take full advantage of this session members need to bring a laptop equipped with working wifi.

The event will be on the Tuesday 26th of May, at Wellcome's meeting rooms on the Euston Road. The event is 6.30pm for 7pm start, and will finish at 8pm, and likely end up in the pub. There is a 2 pound booking fee to secure a place at this event. Light refreshments will be served. This event is likely to be very popular so please book early as numbers will be limited.

To book this event, please complete the form.

Directions to Wellcome.

By Edward Wawrzynczak

The first of a new series of ABSW Briefings kicked off in style at The Geological Society in London on March 13th with a capacity audience keen to learn How To Write A Popular Science Book.
L to r: Gabrielle Walker, Peter Tallack and Richard Hollingham. Picture: Ted Nield

How strange is the world of popular science book publishing. Celebrity scientists get massive advances and publicity, although publishers cannot guarantee to sell enough books to cover their costs, while the rest of us struggle to get published and can only hope to make a bean or two along the way.

Publishers plan their marketing years ahead yet, if a topic is hot, they commission ‘crash’ books with deadlines so short they threaten to reduce their writers to jabbering jellies. At the same time, editors cannot agree what makes popular science books successful and seem to have little idea who actually reads them.

Is it any wonder that budding authors find the prospect of writing the right sort of book and finding a publisher so daunting? To help steer a path through the confusion, the briefing’s panel of experts shared their experiences, offered sound guidance, and answered questions from the floor.

Peter Tallack, author, editor, one-time publisher, literary agent and proprietor of The Science Factory, considered what commissioning editors look for in a popular science book. He stressed how important it is to write a really meaty proposal that stands out and makes an immediate impact. He outlined all the essential points that a proposal needs to address and highlighted the key pitfalls to avoid.

BBC presenter and writer Richard Hollingham (How to Clone the Perfect Blonde, and Blood and Guts in the pipeline) described his experience of writing popular science and the satisfaction involved in covering a subject in depth. He pointed out the key role of narrative, the need to plot out stories and link characters between chapters, and the importance of allocating the time needed to bring everything together.

Finally, Gabrielle Walker, freelance broadcaster and author (Snowball Earth, An Ocean of Air, The Hot Topic, and a new book about Antarctica on the way) discussed writing different types of narrative, offered her perspective on what makes a proposal successful, and amplified the vital role played by the agent. She also made pertinent comments about what the writer can do for the reader.

People are keen to know about the world. They want to venture behind the ‘twitching curtain’ to grasp what interesting and amazing things lie beyond. The writer who understands science and tells good stories can open a window to this hidden world, an exciting world the reader would otherwise be to unable to see into. If you believe it’s worth doing, make sure you convey that sense of excitement.

Edward Wawrzynczak is a freelance science writer based in Surrey.

ABSW Calendar

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