Tag Archive: Whipple Museum

Happy 2013!


Sunrise over South London, 2 Jan 2013.

Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone! I hope you had a restful or fun holiday time, or both. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I could sleep until spring. This morning I was awoken by a glorious sunrise. I enjoyed it for a minute, and then went back to bed. Nonetheless, it felt like a serendipitous way to start the year.

It’s the first time I’ve spent the holidays in London, and I’ve enjoyed a most British Christmas: climbing St. Paul’s (where I saw graffiti older than the US of A,) having brunch at Roast overlooking Borough Market, touring my favourite place in Greenwich, the NMM & ROG, exploring the Science Museum, sharing good food, drink, and laughs with friends, seeing the latest Alan Bennett play ‘People,’ visiting familiar faces at the National Portrait Gallery, and wandering around London, my favourite city in the world.

I’m lucky to be able to spend this time like a proper at-home tourist. I’m also very pleased about what’s to come.

In January, a special project is going to host my poetry group, the Nevada Street Poets, in a Masterclass Workshop with Don Paterson, guest Poet in Residence at the Whipple Museum in Cambridge. This is very exciting, and as it develops, you shall hear more.


Work in progress by Nicola.

The Naked Muse, my in-progress memoir about my experiences as an artist’s model, has piqued interest from a few literary agents whom I was lucky to meet at Christmas parties, and I shall be arranging pages and a proposal to send to them for consideration in Jan and Feb. Happily, I cracked my goal to write 100 pages of TNM before Christmas, and wrote 105 pages.

My mentorship with Cinnamon Press will begin in January as well: Cinnamon’s editor Jan will consider my manuscript of Double The Stars (a historical fiction about astronomer Caroline Herschel) and we will work to edit it throughout the coming year.

I’ll also begin to consider edits on Atlantic, my poetry collection that will be published by Cinnamon Press in 2014.

Please stay tuned for updates on all of these projects and more throughout the coming year, and may you all enjoy a productive and peaceful 2013.


In front of Caroline Herschel’s ‘sweeping’ Newtonian Reflector at the Science Museum.

The Rules of Form update

1 of only 100 copies!

Grand news:

Due to demand, The Whipple Museum is printing 50 more copies of The Rules of Form: Sonnets and Slide Rules.

Our limited-edition book had an initial print run of 50 copies, and now there will be 100 books in total in existence.

Please contact me or the Whipple if you are interested in buying a copy (for £6) of this unique combination of creative, academic, and literary work.

Here I’m attempting to show off the unusual size of the book…but I’m also really pleased!

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that my latest project as the Poet-in-Residence at Cambridge’s Whipple Museum of the History of Science is printed and available!

I am proud to be Editor of The Rules of Form: Sonnets and Slide Rules, a book which demonstrates that ‘a proposition of geometry is a fair and luminous parallel for a work of art’.

This art book has been a long-running project, and it is now available to purchase from me, or from the Whipple Museum  (contact: hps-whipple-museum@lists dot cam dot ac dot uk) for £6, an accessible price for the quality and unique contents of the book, if I may say so.

There are only FIFTY copies – it is a limited edition object! (It’s also a real book, as in, it has an ISBN, and will therefore go into the British Library.) If you have an interest in sonnets, slide rules, calculating monkeys, or art books in general, do buy one.

A spread from our collaboration between poet Lesley Saunders and artist Cassie Herschel-Shorland.

Our contributions include poems written for the project by Lesley Saunders, artist Cassie Herschel-Shorland’s response to the Museum’s Maths Cabinet and to Lesley’s poems, illustrator Badaude’s take on the theme (she gives us a taster of her contribution here,) an essay on Consul the Calculating Monkey by Dr Caitlin Wylie, and a brilliant piece on poetry, the Gothic, and constraints, by Dr Joseph Crawford. Original artwork, exclusive to the book, and other pictures are in colour throughout.

Ever since learning about poets and artists collaborating to produce a book, I wanted to create a small, beautiful ‘art book’ – and I’m pleased to consider The Rules of Form: Sonnets and Slide Rules a very special art book.

The form and contents of the object are equally important, and everything in the book was inspired by the Whipple Museum’s collection of mathematical instruments.

A London-based launch is in progress.

Almost pocket-sized, definitely purse-sized, The Rules of Form is perfect for the train…

Following on my last post, I’m very sorry to say that the ‘Dream Cabinet’ event at the Whipple Museum has been cancelled. If you were planning on attending, thank you, and I’m sorry!

The good news is that our art book, The Rules of Form: Sonnets and Slide Rules, is going to print next week, so I should shortly have it in my hands (whereupon I shall post photos). This is the Whipple Museum’s first art book, and I’m proud to have conceived of it and edited it. The book includes original artwork, original poetry, and two very different, very interesting essays – all of the contents is on the subject of, or inspired by, the Whipple Museum’s mathematical instruments. Contributors include artist Badaude, artist Cassie Herschel-Shorland, poet Lesley Saunders, and academics Joseph Crawford and Caitlin Wylie.

I’m looking into arranging a London-based book launch, so please stay tuned…

As part of our art book, ‘The Rules of Form: Sonnets & Slide Rules,’ poet Lesley Saunders and artist Cassie Herschel-Shorland were invited to interpret historic calculating instruments in the Whipple Museum’s collection. The result is a ‘dream cabinet’ of poetry and watercolour. I will chair a discussion between Lesley and Cassie talking about their collaboration, at the launch of the ‘Rules of Form’ art-book.

I’m proud to say that this is the first ‘art book’ the Whipple Museum has ever produced, and I’m delighted to have been encouraged to fulfil this ambition, having proposed the idea, compiled contributions, and edited the book with help from the Museum. I’ve wanted to create a book that is a blend of poetry, writing, and artwork for a long time, and surprisingly, the Whipple Museum’s cabinet of mathematical instruments offered this opportunity.

The event, in which we’ll discuss the creation of a particular section of the book, will be from 6 -7 pm on Saturday 27 October in the Whipple Museum. The ‘Dream Cabinet’ discussion is part of the 2012 Cambridge Festival of Ideas ‘Dreams & Nightmares’ season. It is free, but please contact the museum to put your name on the guest list! Email hps-whipple-museum@lists.cam.ac (dot) uk to sign up.

‘The Rules of Form: Sonnets & Slide Rules’ art book includes essays from Cambridge academics Dr Caitlin Wylie and Dr Joseph Crawford, artwork from Cassie Herschel-Shorland and Badaude, and poetry from Lesley Saunders. It is a creative compendium of responses to the somewhat retiring mathematics cabinet in the Whipple Museum, helping shed new and creative light on calculators and slide rules that have lain relatively silent for years.

The book will be available from the Whipple Museum: further details forthcoming. It will also be available at our event!

Courtesy of the Chislehurst Artists

My latest piece for NewScientist is up here.

As mentioned below, mark your diaries for an eclectic evening of creative teamwork at the Whipple Museum on The Rules of Form, 14 March, 6pm – Free!

Stay tuned to tune in to Resonance FM to listen to my first foray into radio: a curious exploration into bedbugs at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I’ll post when it’s on the air, which will be in the next month or two.

I enjoyed an entertaining, packed evening at Oxfork in Oxford on Thursday night with Badaude, who co-ran a Catalyst event, and Dr Richard Barnett, who spoke on the history of gin, from his new book, the Dedalus Book of Gin, which I highly recommend consuming gleefully with a martini in hand.

I modelled for the Chislehurst Artists Saturday morning. It was unusually chilly in the room, but as ever, they’re a lovely bunch. Biscuits abound. A photo of their work scattered on the floor at the end of the session so they could discuss & critique it.

This coming Friday, I’m running part one of a workshop for the Medical Humanities Students at Imperial College London, along with my friend, the lovely actress Rachael Black. We are enormously excited to run this workshop in the lecture theatre of the private pathology museum at Charing Cross Hospital, and we’ll be working from my poetry play, Venus Heart.

I’m excited to announce our next event at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science for the 2012 Cambridge Science Festival.

It will be an evening of poetry and Oulipo-inspired discussion, playing with ideas of mathematics and measuring the world.

Two excellent guest speakers, Dr Joe Crawford of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, and the talented Badaude of Oxford, will speak about their contributions to the Whipple’s first art-book (forthcoming):

by Badaude

Wednesday 14 March 6:00PM – 7:00PM

Drawing inspiration from the Whipple Museum’s Hutchinson collection of mathematical instruments,we will discuss constraints of creative form in literature and poetry, from Oulipo to the Gothic. Poet Lesley Saunders will share excellent new poems inspired by the Hutchinson Collection.

This event is free but please book by emailing hps-whipple-museum@lists.cam.ac.uk

Contributors to the book, ‘The Rules of Form: Sonnets & Slide Rules,’ which will be forthcoming from the Whipple, include poet Lesley Saunders, PhD student Caitlin Wylie, and artist & designer Cassie Herschel-Shorland, as well as Joe Crawford and Badaude.

 Come along for a fascinating evening with Sonnets & Slide Rules!

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!

Lesley explaining the inspiration for her work.

One week ago I had the privilege of hosting poet Lesley Saunders for a reading at the Whipple Museum. In my previous post, I explained how we’d ended up crossing paths – thanks to Lesley getting in touch - and it was lovely to hear her read from her growing collection of science-inspired poems.

One of the amazing things we noticed was how certain objects had attracted our attention separately, such as the Sunshine Recorder and the Cloud Camera. Lesley has poems about each one, and I’ve particularly noticed those in the past, both at the Whipple Museum and at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, whilst carrying out research on the Herschels. Indeed, the Herschels were another topic we’d both been inspired by, and Lesley has a poem about Caroline Herschel – the heroine of my novel-in-progress. We’d both been amazed by the Dillon Weston glass fungi models; Lesley has a poem sparked by these, and I held the Fantastic Fungus Day at the Whipple because of the Weston models. Anatomical models also separately intrigued us, and my next poetry project is to do with the anatomical wax models at a museum in Florence, whilst Lesley has written about the Auzoux papier-mache anatomical models at the Whipple.

We held the reading in front of William Herschel's 10-ft telescope in the newly refurbished Main Gallery.

Why, we wondered, do some objects in the Museum capture the attention of poets? Or, to be fair, capture the attention – of anyone? Of course, many of Lesley’s poems were inspired by objects I hadn’t taken particular notice of, just as some of the Museum items I’ve been particularly interested in, such as astronomical compendia, haven’t come across Lesley’s path. But there was quite a lot of overlap. It is one of these circumstances where the artist side of me wants to be superstitious, and the scientist side of me wants to find a reason… In some cases, it seems the object itself captivates: the glass fungi or the compendium are pieces of art in their own right, and beautiful, and unusual enough so the function isn’t immediately evident. I might argue that the Herschel 10-ft telescope (in the photo on the right) is also a piece of art, but it’s also pretty clearly a telescope, and is important to me because of the story behind it.

After Lesley took us on a wonderful journey of words through the Museum’s collection, I read some new poems. There was, as one guest said, a complimentary contrast between our work. While Lesley’s selection for this reading were her Museum-inspired poems, my work this time is liminally ‘scientific’.

The poems I’ve been writing this past year are all to do with my family, specifically, with helping my grandparents at the end of their lives. I was home in the States for the autumn and Christmastime 2010 to help care for them; full-on, 24-7 care, and then home in February for my Grandmother’s funeral, and home in June/July for my Grandfather’s funeral. This has meant a seismic shift in my family dynamics, my family history, and my personal life, which is coming out in my writing. Because of my immersion in Herschel family research, most of these poems have astronomical and nautical metaphors, thus creating an unintentional but understandable link with both my novel and the Whipple Museum. It was the first time I shared the poems with a public audience and I’m very pleased at the warm response the work received.

Thank you to Lesley for her inspiring reading; thanks to everyone who attended the event; and thank you to Liba, Claire, and Allison at the Whipple. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Caroline Herschel's sweeper. Photo Credit: Science Museum, London.

I’m delighted to promote a poetry reading at The Whipple Museum of the History of Science in Cambridge, where I am writer-in-residence. The reading is at 3pm on Tuesday 26th July, free, and open to the public – please join us if you’re in the area! Phone ahead to book a (free) space: 012 2333 0906; ask for the Whipple Museum.

Some time ago, Lesley Saunders contacted me, sharing poems she’d written which were inspired by objects in the Whipple Museum. It was a fun surprise to realise we’d both been writing about Caroline Herschel – Lesley, through poems, and me, with my novel.

Lesley is an extremely talented, widely published poet. Her publications include The Dark Larder (Corridor Press, 1997); Christina the Astonishing, co-authored with Jane Draycott and illustrated by Peter Hay (Two Rivers Press, 1998); Her Leafy Eye, with images by Geoff Carr (Two Rivers Press, 2009); No Doves (Mulfran Press, 2010);  and a pamphlet Some Languages Are Hard to Dream In, with images by Christopher Hedley-Dent (also Mulfran Press, 2010). She has won several awards, including joint first prize for a portfolio of poems in the 2008 Manchester Poetry Competition.

Much of Lesley’s recent work is inspired by specific places and associations: Her Leafy Eye was set in the 18th century landscaped gardens at Rousham in north Oxfordshire;  and in 2009 Lesley was visiting scholar and poet-in-residence at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, creating a poetry project around the college gardens.  Last year she had a residency at Acton Court, an atmospheric Tudor house and gardens near Bristol that was built for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn; now she is working on a collection of poems with scientific and medical connotations, sparked off by a visit to the Whipple Museum last autumn.

If familiar with my work, you’ll see that Lesley and I are indeed kindred spirits! Her Whipple-inspired poems epitomize the inspiration which can be gained from science, revealing the art in the material.

Lesley and I will each read from new work and talk about just what scientific forms our muses take.


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