by Yvonne Coppard
(with absolutely no pics, 'cos I'm still learning and completely failed in my attempts to include them, sorry...will procure the Idiot Guide to Blogging before next attempt...)
I am not by any means a scientist. I failed almost every Science exam I ever took (and I went to the sort of school where you took a shed load of them every year). I couldn’t understand what Doctor Kornfeld was going on about as she chalked up diagrams and chemical formulae on a rolling blackboard (no Internet, no power point, in those days). I argued frequently with her (she was my form tutor, poor woman) about whether or not surface tension, the different qualities of gases and so on, were things that mattered to me. In Physics, I sat in the darkness with my classmates around a ripple tank watching tiny waves begin to form – very pretty, very soothing, but WHY? I still don’t know.
And I was often in detention with my Biology teacher, who firmly believed that I could keep up and do well, if I would only TRY to be interested in the life cycle of a locust or the dissection of a crayfish. (Tip for budding teachers – nagging and imprisoning your pupils will never endear them to your subject. D-uh.)
Five years ago I made a deliberate decision to step away from being a children’s author for a while, and try new things. I went travelling, filling my notebooks with the sights and sounds of nine different countries and cultures. I read books that I would never normally pick up – romance, science fiction, horror. I didn’t stop writing; I wrote articles, a travelogue, book reviews, non-fiction of many sorts, and half a novel for adults (still in progress). It was a great experience, and I am now ready to return to my first and proper love – fiction for children and teenagers – with the kind of enthusiasm I had twenty five years ago when my first book (Copper’s Kid) was published.
Somewhere along the way, I discovered Science.
It came as a huge surprise to me that suddenly, nearly forty years after I jubilantly left school and Science lessons behind, I have begun to devour articles, books and TV programmes on Astronomy, Engineering, Geology – even Chemistry, once – in the quest to answer questions that I belatedly have about the world. How do you make lipstick? How does thermal heating work? Could I really predict when and how I am likely to die by analysing my DNA ? (Would I want to know? The way that traditional science links up with religion, psychology and philosophy was NEVER explained to me at school). Is the truth really out there?
I blame fellow author Anne Rooney, in part. Last year, as a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at the University of Essex, I shared an office with Anne Rooney. Her knowledge of all things vaguely scientific or mathematical astounds me. I read the books she put on our office shelves, books designed for children and therefore pitched at just the right level for me. I loved 1001 Shocking Science Facts
I sort-of understand what a light year is now (title?) And thanks to her ‘Technology All Around Us’ (Franklin Watts, 2005) I’ve almost grasped how it’s possible to communicate with Mars (still a way to go, on that one).
So, these days, I’m devouring a stack of children’s science books and pop TV programmes, hoping to move on to the more complicated stuff once I’ve grasped the basics. It may show up in my writing in the future, it may not. They say education is a lifelong process; they say it’s never too late to learn. I hope that’s true. My Science teachers said their stuff was relevant to my life, whatever I was planning to do with it. I wouldn’t listen, and I fought any attempt to engage me with their world. If you are still out there somewhere, Dr Kornfeld, Mrs Trevass, Mr Cole, Dr Jones...I’m sorry. You were right, and I was wrong.
Is there anyone else out there who wishes they could go back to primary School and learn stuff they missed first time around?
I am currently working on The Arvon Book of Children’s Fiction, with co-writer Linda Newbery, to be published by Bloomsbury (UK and USA) early in 2013. Also in the pipeline are two novels: ‘Amelie’s Secret’, and ‘In the Kingdom of Abbadon’, but no publication details yet. Finally, I am working on my website, to be re-launched in a couple of months with a new look and contributions from young readers, joke tellers, rant-and-ravers and fellow authors. Hopefully it will be finished sometime in November: in the meantime, if you want to know more, there’s still :