Don’t Be Tricked by the Nixie: Science Writing Lessons Gleaned from Fairy Tales

Bronze statue in Bremen, Germany by Gerhard Marcks.
Bronze statue in Bremen, Germany by Gerhard Marcks.

If I close my eyes, I can just conjure a hazy vision of the copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that I had as a child. It was a large, hardcover book, with a pen and watercolor painting of browns and yellow-oranges serving as the cover art. The top right corner of the book was worn, with layers of cardboard poking out from the frayed cover.

My mom’s favorite story of the collection, and the one that has stuck with me as well, was “The Bremen Town Musicians” (The Musicians of Bremen).  In his notes on this story,  (in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version ) Philip Pullman comments  “When a tale is shaped so well that the line of the narrative seems to have been able to take no other path, and to have touched every important event in making for its end, one can only bow with respect for the teller.”

According to Pullman “The Musicians of Bremen” is a perfectly crafted story.  Actually, with Grimm, we have a collection of amazingly crafted stories. Drawing on my experience from a ScienceOnline 2013  workshop led by David Dobbs and Maryn McKenna describing what science writers can learn from genre writing, I began to wonder:  Can a writer of science stories can learn something from the Brother’s Grimm and their latest curator, Philip Pullman?

The answer is “yes”, and here are a few of the lessons I learned: Continue reading “Don’t Be Tricked by the Nixie: Science Writing Lessons Gleaned from Fairy Tales”

The Where, The Why and The How: A science writer and a graphic designer have a conversation

0the-where-the-why-and-the-how-75-artists-illustrate-wondrous-mysteries-of-scienceWhen I first learned that I had won a copy of The Where, The Why and The How in the book lottery at ScienceOnline 2013, I couldn’t believe my luck. I never win anything, at least not anything that I actually want. And I wanted a copy of this book.

The book is beautiful to hold. The linen binding is beautiful, reminiscent of bygone days when book binding was a practiced art. The paper is thick and smooth, a tactile pleasure as you turn each page; the pages themselves sound substantial as you flip through the book. Even the smell of the book is delightful—bringing to mind the stacks of old books filling a great library, even though what you hold in your hand is a new work. The science paisley inside covers of the book are a delight to look at, comprising various science icons intricately woven into an astounding tapestry.

I was expectant when I opened the book for the first chance for a serious read. Continue reading “The Where, The Why and The How: A science writer and a graphic designer have a conversation”