Tag Archive: Sue Guiney

What happens when you put an astronomer and a medical historian with poets and novelists?

What if the historian is also a poet?

And if the astronomer works in public engagement?

What if the novelists write about science, and one poet reviews for New Scientist?

Five voices from the arts and sciences discuss credibility in science:

 6-7 pm, Wednesday 26th October, Room 221

Lord Ashcroft Building, Anglia Ruskin University

 Part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2001

Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich

    •  Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory Greenwich

    •  Sue Guiney, Poet, Novelist, Writer-in-Residence, SOAS, University of London

    •  Richard Barnett, Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Fellow

    •  Laura Dietz, Novelist, Science Writer, Anglia Ruskin University

    • Kelley Swain, Poet, Reviewer, Writer-in-Residence, The Whipple Museum of the History of Science

Followed by a workshop on writing stories from science:

1-3:30 pm, Thursday 27th October, Whipple Museum of the History of Science

For the Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2011, in collaboration with Anglia Ruskin

  • Led by Laura Dietz & Kelley Swain, with an introduction by Richard Barnett and a guest appearance from Sue Guiney

Photo: Whipple Museum

The Cambridge Festival of Ideas is quickly approaching, and I’m co-hosting a 2-part event with Laura Dietz, a talented historical novelist and Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin.

On Wednesday 26 October, I’ll be hosting a discussion panel on reputation and credibility in science & in art inspired by science. The panel will consist of Laura, as well as poet and novelist Sue Guiney, and Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. All four of us have written about and communicated the crossover between art and science before. Laura, Sue and I have written or are writing novels that deal with a scientist as a character. And Marek’s job is to communicate the public understanding of science – the ROG’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year Award is an excellent example of the art/sci connection. The discussion will take place at Anglia Ruskin University.

On Thursday 27 October, Laura & I will host a workshop at the Whipple Museum, drawing on themes from the previous evening’s discussion. How do new concepts go from ‘fringe’ to ‘canon’? How are old certainties challenged? We will consider the stories of scientists who changed our ideas of the possible. We will create new poetry & fiction inspired by items from the Museum collection.

Both events are free.

If you’re interested in science-literature crossover, in historical fiction, and/or in any of our fascinating speakers, do attend!

Guest Blog

The Whipple Main Gallery before refurbishment.


I’m delighted to say that my friend, poet and novelist Sue Guiney, invited me to ‘guest blog’ for her about my Residency at the Whipple.

Thanks to Sue for the invitation, and for her inspiring blog, where she interviews other writers, and describes her own writing process.

Read it here!

Writing & Reading

Available from Ward Wood Publishing

Please pick up the latest New Scientist (Issue 23 April) and turn to page 50!  The first (wee, ickle) review I’ve written for NS, in print: hurrah and cheers.

That’s the writing part.

The reading part: Suffering a cold and subsequent sinus infection does one (and only one, as far as I can tell,) good thing: it forces me to stay in one place and read books. This is because I don’t have the energy to do anything else.

So, over the past week, I read Sue Guiney’s novel, A Clash of Innocents. I’m very lucky to know Sue, and so you may argue that this is biased, but I was really impressed. Her characterization is a strong point: Sue manages to use just a few, well-placed, details to give her characters great personality. The novel also enjoys revelling in a sweeping, painterly style to describe the textures and colours of its setting, Cambodia. I’m sure Sue’s skill as a poet comes into play here. Finally, I admire the restraint Sue exercises in telling a realistic story, which, while it engages with a great many vivid, gruesome, and difficult subjects, does not ever slide into melodrama.

I’ve been noticing (and I’m going to stereotype big time here,) a tendency for Americans to need really big, in-your-face drama, and I admit to the temptation to feel that my novel ‘needs’ to include a ‘blow-things-up’ moment. (Fortunately the Herschels did blow things up!)  Some novels I’ve read since coming over here first made me think: hmm, nothing much happens. But I’ve learned that there can be an awful lot that happens in a subtle way. It doesn’t need to be Hollywood. (And in fact I’ve become increasingly sick of Hollywood movies, too, because of the in-your-face nature of the story-telling.)

So, to move on to the other novel I read whilst ill: Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. Wow. Talk about the art of subtlety. Of having an awful lot go on while nothing much happens. Of having the action, the drama, take place mostly offstage, or ‘before,’ but having that affect the story enormously. And of setting, place, mood. Brr. Amazing. Housekeeping has immediately joined Tinkers (Paul Harding) at the top of my list of Favourite Books, or If I Could Write a Novel Like This I Might Never Feel the Need to Write Again.

So, I hope you are all healthy, dear readers – either way, go forth and read: The latest issue of New Scientist, A Clash of Innocents, Housekeeping, and Tinkers. Enjoy!

Questions on Genre

Thanks, Summer, for pointing out this really interesting interview with Lee Gutkind on Creative Nonfiction. It is a healthy reminder of how many challenges the genre has gone through to earn a respected place, especially in academia. Though I think there is a good point in that readers have been reading creative nonfiction anyway, it just may not have been going by that name. I tend to think of it as ‘good, true stories,’ or maybe ‘travel writing,’ or ‘nature writing…’ genres blur quickly.

It also strikes me that ‘creative nonfiction’ never seemed new or unusual to me when I completed the excellent BA in English with a focus in Creative Writing at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College,) perhaps because our skilled professors were (and are) talented and published in a variety of genres, including novels, poetry, and environmental (creative) nonfiction.

Sue Guiney's book 'Dreams of May' is a poetry play.

That, coupled with my predisposition for doing what I pleased (from birth: my mother will attest,) meant I didn’t question genre too closely when writing. I do remember being absolutely certain, as an undergrad, that I could and would write poetry and creative nonfiction, but that I needed to stay away from fiction as I was rubbish at it, especially dialogue. And now I’m working on a third novel manuscript. These things take time.

While the aforementioned manuscript is under critique and before I delve into serious revision, I’m working on a different project, and I’m not quite sure what it is yet. Poems, dialogue, and narrative are all coming out around a particular theme in (surprise,) the history of science. There is a clear story, and distinctive characters, as well as a lot of strong imagery and tone. There is also a very specific setting, certain artwork and a particular music album that is influencing the writing. I wish I could weave something that employed all of these (though I don’t know about copyright permissions!) It almost feels like a play; a performance. I know so little about any of these (besides reading a lot of Shakespeare in Uni,) that I don’t quite know what to do with the material. For now, I’m writing. We’ll see where it goes…

My friend Sue Guiney has written a novel as well as a poetry play. She also works with a charity that puts on plays. Multi-genre talents!

 So, dear readers, I would appreciate your thoughts. What genre(s) are you writing in? Do you feel you can write in some but not others? Have you moved around or are you a devoted poet, novelist…What about cross-genre writing? A play in poetry, or a novel with poems in it? An entire verse novel? A sequence that can be read/performed but also works as a book?


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