November 2022

Hi there,

This week, I made a commitment to some friends to finish rewriting my six-part TV series script, Tag, by 31 January 2023, and now I’m making the same promise to you. The 31st happens to be a Tuesday, so if I don’t announce in that morning’s newsletter that I’ve finished, you should feel free to harangue me by email or on any social media platform that’s not in flames by then.

Of course, my brain wants nothing to do with the whole endeavour, not least because I came up with a really good idea for a YA novel which feels to me like it has real commercial potential. All my brain wants to do is play with that idea instead. Bad brain.

But there’s no point starting if you don’t finish, so I’m going back to my “do at least five minutes a day” Atomic Habits promise, and will damn well get the thing done.

Win a copy of The Year in Space!

Cover of The Year in Space, featuring a spectacular image of a spiral arm galaxyWould you like to win a copy of The Year In Space, written by Dr Becky Smethurst, Izzie Clarke, Richard Hollingham and Dr Robert Massey, the team behind the Royal Astronomical Society‘s Supermassive Podcast, the No 1 space podcast in the UK?

All you have to do is retweet this tweet from Ada Lovelace Day before 13:00 GMT on Monday 5 December, after which we will draw names from a hat.

The Year in Space highlights the most exciting space news from the past twelve months and looks forward to the year ahead. Packed with features, interviews, in-depth explainers and stunning photography, it covers everything from the deployment of the James Webb telescope to the search for extraterrestrial life and the effort to get astronauts back to the Moon. You’ll also find practical tips on how to get the best results when stargazing and what to look out for in the night sky in 2023.

Event: See Neil Gaiman in conversation, 5 Dec 22

Headshot of Neil Gaiman, wearing his customary black and set against a lurid orange backgroundIf you’re a Neil Gaiman fan, as I am, then you need to hotfoot it over to Eventbrite to pick up a ticket for next Monday’s Guardian Live Book Club event, when Gaiman will talk to Guardian books reporter Alison Flood about The Sandman.

The Sandman comic series launched in 1989 and follows Dream who, after being held captive for 70 years, has to rebuild his now-decayed kingdom. In 2020, it was adapted into an audio drama with parts two and three coming out in 2021 and 2022. And it became a Netflix series this year with a second series now confirmed.

I discovered The Sandman when the graphic novel versions came out, mostly because I was always crap at remembering to buy individual issues of the comics I loved. It was also a time when I was a bit poor, so I ended up only owning issues 1-6 (plus an extra copy of book 6 for some reason), because I didn’t have the money to keep on collecting. Then that specific cover design was retired and I couldn’t bring myself to buy non-matching books. I guess I should just trawl through eBay for second-hand copies until I’ve completed the set.

This is an online event, with tickets starting at £7.92, so you can join from anywhere if you have the internet and are awake.

Tip-top tip: Let Bert’s Books help you find your comps

One of the worst bits, for me, of submitting a book to agents is working out what your ‘comps’, or comparable titles, are. Comps help agents work out where in the shop your book would be shelved and how they can sell it to readers. Whenever you see “If you’re a fan of X,  you’re going to love Y”, that’s a comp.

I find deciding on comps really difficult, because when I’m writing something I avoid reading anything that might be even slightly similar. My comps for Disease X (for which I really need a better title) are:

  • Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel which I disliked so much I didn’t even finish it. I was delighted to get rid of it when we moved back to the UK.
  • The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton which I read as a teen and still think is frankly a bit shit.
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. The only brilliant book of the bunch, this one’s non-fiction so not a natural shelf-mate for my novel. It is a damn good read though, I highly recommend it.

But now help is at hand! Artist and writer Richard Hall tweeted that Bert’s Books in Swindon will come up with a selection of comps for you.

Querying writers, are you struggling for comps? Contact @bertsbooks  send them your synopsis, then buy a mystery selection of how many you want. The booksperts in store will curate comps for you and ship to the UK or internationally

#WritingCommunity #amquerying #writersoftwitter

I shall be doing this in January, because I clearly need it!

Review: The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

The cover of The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak, featuring a stylised fig tree in amber and blue with purple figsThe Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time.

Defne, a Turkish Cypriot Muslim, and Kostas, a Greek Cypriot Christian, fall in love. They keep their forbidden relationship a secret throughout the worsening political turbulence with the help of the owners of a tavern in which a fig tree grows. But when violence erupts, Kostas is sent away to the UK, leaving Defne bereft. Many years later, their daughter has to come to terms with her mother’s death and heal the growing distance between her and her father, whilst she tries to understand her dual heritage.

Much of the story is told from the point of view of the fig tree, which observes not just the blossoming love between Defne and Kostas, but the entire history of the island. From the fig tree, as well as Defne and Kostas, we learn about the 1974 conflict between the Turks, Greeks and British (who still had a presence on the island after it gained independence from the UK in 1960).

Shafak treats her multiple storylines and the tragedy of the conflict with thoughtfulness and compassion and the result is a novel shot through with tenderness and poignancy. It’s a love story, but also a political story, a tragedy but also story of hope and reconciliation.

I didn’t know much about the history of Cyprus before I started reading, but Shafak provides enough background to create understanding, though never so much that it turns into a history book. Instead, the detail turns the island and its people into another core character, adding depth and richness to the narrative.

Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

The cover of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, a dark blue background with an illustration of a magical device.The first book in Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy, A Deadly Education introduces us to the kind of heroine I can get right behind. El Higgins is a ridiculously powerful magician, but if she uses her gift to its full extent she could kill everyone trapped in school with her. But if she doesn’t use it at all, then she and a lot of other people will die at the tentacles/claws/maws of ‘mals’ – magical predators that lurk around every corner and under every desk.

El Higgins is a defensive, emotionally bruised loner who doesn’t know how to make friends because she’s never had one. Despite everyone judging her by her cover, it turns out that El’s biggest secret power is not magical, it’s seeing people for who they are and treating them as individuals.

It’s always a joy to read two great books in a row, and I devoured A Deadly Education as fast as maw-mouth can eat a classroom full of tasty teens. It’s a huge amount of fun, a great page-turner, and has some smart stuff to say about how we treat other people and how easy it is to be blind to one’s own privilege because it’s always just been there.

Obligatory cat picture

A friend of mine sent over two cat caves, as his cats had spurned them. Our two were straight in. Copurrnicus seems to have decided that he owns both of them, mind you, but I am sure we will straighten that misunderstanding out in due course!

All the best,



Grabbity's tail extending out of the entrance to her grey felt cat cave.

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Hi there,

As the weather turns cold and wet here in the UK, we are stocking up on hot water bottles and getting all our blankets out of storage. This house would be really cosy if we could afford to have the heating on all the time, but just like everyone else, we’re rationing it as much as we can. I’m generally happy that we moved back to the UK, but this winter would be warmer and cheaper if we were still living in Cleveland. Oh well. Them’s the breaks.

Tip-top tip: Jill Tew on inconvenience

Jill Tew, adult and YA author and Afronauts podcast host, has a great thread on Twitter about how to add richness to your writing.

I’ve been reading a lot this month, and it occurred to me that there’s one simple thing the best writers do that makes their stories feel real and three-dimensional:

Their characters inconvenience each other.

As has been said before, people are more interested in how your characters’ relationships develop than how they change as people, and having one character chuck a spanner in another’s plans, and then seeing how they react, is a great way to develop the depth and richness your readers want.

Read the rest of the thread on Twitter.

Locus Magazine needs support

Locus Magazine, which covers science fiction, fantasy and horror, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help secure their future. Like many publications, they’ve been hit by the advertising downturn and rising costs. They’re looking to raise $75,000 (£63,000) so that they can pay their staff and contributors, continue to publish a print magazine, and cover their core costs. Rewards start at £4, with just over three weeks left to go on the fundraiser.

Read this: How to handle rejection letters

Journalist Alex Johnson, author of The Book Lover’s Joke Book amongst others, talks about dealing with rejection, something every writer needs to do at some point or another.

My personal favourite, one of the few I’ve kept, was the chap who scribbled on the top of the returned manuscript “This is not a book.” He kindly added a coffee ring on the front page, maybe to drive the point home. Nice.

Opportunity: Tor open to article pitches

Contemporary speculative fiction publisher Tor is looking for new book critics and essayists for next year, and is particularly interested in hearing from marginalised voices. Take a look at their submissions guidelines.

Review: She-Hulk finale doesn’t stick the landing [spoilers!]

If you haven’t already seen the finale of She-Hulk: Attorney At Law and you care about spoilers, then you should probably skip ahead because this section is going to be spoiltertastic.

At the end of Episode 8, we saw She-Hulk at a gala dinner, receiving the Female Lawyer of the Year award (along with, seemingly, every other woman in the room – a nice bit of cultural critique about how unwilling society is to reward women’s brilliance without finding a way to undermine them at the same time). But after anti-She-Hulk hate group Intelligencia hack the backdrop screen to show footage of her having sex, she loses control, smashes up the venue, scares the crap out of the crowd and is arrested.

Now, you’d think that this was all to set up some sort of finale where Jennifer Walters tracks down Intelligencia, brings them to justice, redeems herself and proves her worth (as opposed to the worth of She-Hulk). After all, Walters’s fight for recognition as a woman and a lawyer is what the whole series has been about. She is a woman who has to literally change into someone more masculine – bigger, stronger, musclier, more… green – in order to be taken seriously. Walters herself is not viewed as intelligent, capable or attractive and has to subordinate herself to She-Hulk in order to win any success.

Instead, that is all glossed over in favour of a rather meta exploration of Marvel’s historic storytelling weaknesses via the medium of a shattered fourth wall and some annoyingly self-referential in-jokes. The episode ended up bemusing, rather than amusing. In all honesty, it felt like this was a finale written by the writing room for the writing room, with little thought given to how it would actually land with the viewers. I wish that at some point, someone in the room had asked, “Who, exactly, are we writing this for?”

She-Hulk has been a deftly crafted look at sexism in the workplace and the challenges women still face when they want to be taken seriously in male-dominated industries. It is funny, never feels preachy, and presents Walters as a character many women (and probably some men) can relate to. But just as it is about to tackle the impact of toxic masculinity and incel culture via the Intelligencia attack, it shies away, cracking weak jokes to cover the hole where bravery should have been.

Krutika Mallikarjuna has a great analysis of the flaws with She-Hulk’s finale over on BuzzFeed which is worth your time.

Now, I could go on, but here’s the thing: Endings are the most important part of writing. If your ending sucks, you might as well not bother with the beginning and the middle, because the ending is what people will most clearly remember. If there’s a lesson for writers here, it’s that you need to clearly understand the promise that the first third of your work has made to your audience – not the promise you think it’s made, but the promise your audience actually hears – and then come through on that promise in the final third.

Joining Hive Social

Last week I mentioned that I’m experimenting with Mastodon, so this week it seems only fair to say that I’m also experimenting with Hive Social. It’s a very new social network with apps available for iPhone and Android, but no desktop version (bah!).

If you join Hive, I’m @suwca, so please do follow me. Apparently there’s a burgeoning book community there, so we’ll see if it grows into something worth sticking around for.

Christmas is a-coming

If you’re of a mind to buy books for Christmas this year – whether for other people or, you know, sneakily buying a few for yourself – take a look at my bookshop on! Every time you buy a book from my bookshop, I’ll get a little commission and you’ll be able to sleep peacefully knowing that you’ve avoided the evil behemoth that is Amazon. It’s a win all round, if you ask me!

Obligatory cat picture

It’s always awful when a pet falls ill. I have a sneaking suspicion that Copurrnicus ate a slug or something else that he really shouldn’t have, because last Wednesday he started throwing up and his stomach liquified.

We kept an eye on him throughout Thursday, but Friday it was clear he needed to see the vee-eee-tee. He had a thorough examination and thankfully there was no blockage, which is the important thing as an obstruction in the gut can rapidly become fatal, and he wasn’t dehydrated. He had an antiemetic injection, which perked him up for a bit, but he was still feeling very sorry for himself on Saturday.

We picked up some probiotic kaolin paste to help settle things down, but that stuff smells so grim that he gagged just sniffing it. It was a bit of a fight to get it down him, but with two of us – me holding him down, Kevin squirting the paste into his mouth, or approximately in the mouth area – we managed. He hated it, but it helped.

Sunday he perked up a bit, but was still wanting a lot more snuggles than usual. This morning he’s pretty much back to normal. Phew!

That’s it for this week!

All the best


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Hi there,

Last week, my husband Kevin and I spent some time with his cousins in Fort Myers, Florida, which was hit badly by category 4 Hurricane Ian at the end of September. The extensive damage is still evident in the heaps of debris waiting to be picked up, the piles of boats along the waterfront, and the vast number of blue tarps covering wrecked roofs. Downtown is still half-closed, though the damage seems almost random – shops and restaurants that have had to be gutted next door to ones that have come through unscathed.

We got a hint of what it must have been like to sit through 30 hours of Hurricane Ian when Hurricane Nicole came through. Thankfully she was only a Category 1 when she hit the east coast and had weakened to a tropical storm by the time she reached us. We had 24 hours of howling wind and rain, but it was a relief that Nicole didn’t seem to do any further damage to Fort Myers.

Being stuck inside did, however, give me a lot of opportunity to read!

Tip-top tips: Nanowrimo fast draft tips from Kyra Nelson

It is Nanowrimo again and Twitter is chock full of writing tips, so here’s a thread from Kyra Nelson about how to get unstuck in the middle of a fast draftThis is a great one, regardless of the speed at which you’re drafting:

The first technique I use is the Set It On Fire trick. The fire isn’t usually literal (although sometimes it is) but if I’m stuck, my next step is usually to ask “How can I make things worse for my main character?”

Read this: The six-hour scene

In his Inneresting newsletter, John August talks about struggling with a single scene that, in the end, took him six hours to write. It’s not always possible to spend so much time on a single scene, but whether you’re a screenwriter or a novelist, you’ll be familiar with those scenes that just refuse to behave.

After writing three comparatively easy scenes, I took another stab at it. I asked some obvious-but-necessary questions:

  • Was I starting at the right place?
  • Was I ending at the right place?
  • Could another character drive the scene?
  • Would changing the location help?
  • Did it need to be two scenes, rather than one?
  • Did the scene even need to exist?

The answers confirmed my frustration: it was the right scene. It was just a beast to write.

Read the newsletter to find out what the solution was!

Read this: The ecology of world-building

J Diane Dotson, author and science writer, talks about how to uses ecology to enhance your genre fiction.

Ecology enriches the worlds you create. By applying principles of ecology to genre (or any) fiction, you can make your world(s) more believable, anchoring even the most fantastical settings with realism.

Other benefits of using ecology in world-building include providing new ways of raising the stakes for your characters. For example, characters faced with hostile environments must deal with their surroundings in addition to other threats.

Read this, too: Clive Thompson on his favourite writing tools

I’m always fascinating by the tools people use to write, whether that’s fiction or non-fiction (for me, the two processes are remarkably similar and I use the same tools for both). Journalist Clive Thompson runs through his “go-tos for reporting, research, and writing”.

Many of Clive’s favourite programs, such as Scrivener, I’m familiar with. I’m writing this in Scrivener, in fact, and I use it for almost everything – I even have a massive Scrivener file with 14 years’ worth of Ada Lovelace Day notes in it.

I also use Dropbox and Google Docs a lot, in part because I spent a year or so working on a Macbook Air that had a tiny hard drive, so had to offload the majority of my files to the cloud. But the rest of Clive’s tools are new to me!

Tip-top tip two: How to stay sane – a writer’s guide

Agent Jonny Geller’s thread on how to maintain your sanity as a writer has some great tips in it, but the one that caught my eye was, “Do not compare your work, your success or your world view to any other writer. Protect yourself from fear of comparison. Every story is different.”

Comparison is the thief of joy, but it can be incredibly hard not to compare your career with that of others, or your manuscript with books you’ve read. Indeed, I fell into a short funk after finishing Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary, which I loved. But then I read two books I hated, one of which had been nominated for a prestigious prize, and that reminded me that it’s all subjective and that comparing my work to that of other authors is a waste of energy.

A quick word about Twitter

If you’re a Twitter user, or even just vaguely online, you’ll have seen that Twitter is turning into a dumpster fire after its acquisition by spoilt billionaire brat, Elon Musk, and that lots of people have fled to Mastodon. I do have a Mastodon account, and if you want to follow me I’m I’m not particularly active there, however, and won’t be unless Twitter actually disintegrates and becomes unusable.

I know that Musk’s actions have encouraged arseholes on Twitter, but I value the people I’m connected to there and an active mute/block list plus a bit of self-control means that I don’t have to deal with the trash. I don’t want to cede ground to Musk’s acolytes by leaving, so I’ll stay there until the bitter end. I’m @suw if you don’t follow me on Twitter already.

Obligatory cat picture

Our visit to Fort Myers was made delightful by Stella, our cousins’ eleven year old cat, who welcomed us with cuddles and purrs. She was very friendly, allowing us to pick her up for fusses. Despite having been traumatised by Hurricane Ian, she remained pretty chill throughout Nicole. Brave girl!

That’s it for this week!

All the best,




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Hi there,

It’s grey and wet here at Word Count HQ, and we’ve just learnt that the flat roof on our back dormers needs replacing. We’re renting for the moment so it’s not our problem, but it is going to be a pain in the arse. Thankfully the leak isn’t significant, no need for bowls to catch the water, but I’m not excited about having to work through the noise.

Stop, look, listen: London Writers’ Salon, Ep 30 – Harriet Minter

Given that I’m in the middle of a massive career change, Ep 30 of the London Writers’ Salon with author, journalist and working from home expert, Harriet Minter was very well timed. I’ve been working from home for most of the last 24 years, so I’ve got the productivity stuff nailed. But where I found Minter’s conversation interesting was in her tips on networking, which as an introvert I’ve always found extremely difficult.

She talks about splitting networking into three categories: Paid, earned and owned. Paid is subscriptions to communities of like-minded people; earned is when you volunteer in a community; owned is the network you build around yourself by, for example, being very active on social media. It’s an interesting structure, and one I’ll have to think about with respect to my own networking efforts.

Minter also has sage advice about working out what your values are, ways to make writing a non-fiction book easier, how to ask for lots of money (and yes, I struggle with that too) and much more. It’s definitely worth a listen. I might have to get her book, WFH: Working From Home as well!

Read this: The Norwegian library with unreadable books

I’m pretty sure that everyone reading this newsletter loves a good library, but what if the was a library populated with books by some of the world’s greatest authors that you couldn’t read?

The Future Library is a 100-year art project by artists Katie Paterson and Anne Beate Hovind which is collecting new and unread books by writers such as Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Karl Ove Knausgaard, along with “the Icelandic poet Sjón, Turkey’s Elif Shafak, Han Kang from South Korea, Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong” and “Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga”.

The project started in 2013 and every year more books are locked away in Oslo’s main public library, not to be seen until 2113 when they will be printed on paper made from Norwegian trees that are currently barely more than saplings.

It might be a little frustrating to think of all those books that we can’t read, but what an amazing treasure for future generations to look forward to. And, for those of the authors who will be dead long before anyone can read their books, what freedom!

Read this as well: Poisoned book discovered

Poisonous green bookLeeds librarian Rhian Isaac discovered a 1855 copy of My Own Garden: The Young Gardener’s Yearbook, the cover of which was dyed a vivid green with arsenic. Isaac cross-referenced books in the library’s collection with the Poison Book Project, which lists books that are known to have been bound with book cloth or that include paintings coloured by dangerous chemicals. The emerald green colour comes from copper acetoarsenite, which is an extremely toxic pigment.

Oh, and this: Shawshank bible goes under the hammer

The leather-bound Bible, with a hollow for a rock hammer, that was used as a prop in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemptionwent on sale last week.

Poisonous green bookEarly in the film, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is given the Bible and told, “Salvation lies within” by Warden Norton (Bob Gunton). When Norton discovers the Bible after Dufresne’s escape, he finds the inscription “Dear Warden, you were right, salvation lay within” and the hollow where the rock hammer was hidden.

Only one was made, because cutting out so many pages to create the recess for the hammer was so time-consuming. The prop was expected to sell for £100,000-£150,000 and bidding started at £100,000. After just 22 bids, the lot went for an astonishing £387,500.

Tip-top tip: How to write a really fast draft

You’ve heard of a ‘vomit draft’. Well, author Saint Gibson has perfected the projectile vomit draft, writing 23,535 words in just one week. Her Twitter thread details how she approaches this kind of intensive writing, but I think her third tweet is actually the most important:

And fast drafting IS a muscle, so be patient and gracious with yourself as you work to build the muscle.

Speed isn’t everything, but it’s a nice skill to have in your toolbox when you need it, so let’s dive in to some ways you can boost your daily wordcount without burning out.

She also links to a similar post by Jeff Vendermeer about how he wrote a Predator tie-in novel in just two months.

Fast drafting isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you’re a plotter and you love structure, it could be a very productive way to get a novel going.

Obligatory cat picture

TFflwff, a black and white cathis week, I’ve dug back into my archives to find this photo of Fflwff from 2007. She adopted me when I lived in Reading just after the turn of the Millennium.

She hung around in the garden for a week or so, spending much of her time sleeping on my doorstep. I wasn’t supposed to have cats, but one day I opened the door and she hurtled in before I had a chance to stop her. She hid behind the sofa for three days, so obviously I gave in.

Fflwff knew she needed a human to look after her – she had terrible fleas and chronic diarrhoea that took a month of vet visits and drugs to clear up. Had I not adopted her right then, she might not have made it.

She moved back to Dorset with me not long after, and when I headed off to London she stayed with my parents and lived out her days very happily.

That’s it for now!


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Hi there,

Welcome to this week’s Word Count! It’s been a delightfully science fictiony week which has taken me right back to my reading roots and reinvigorated my love of SF.

Event: The Clarke Award 2022

I grew up on science fiction, graduating at some point in my early teens from Nancy Drew to my Dad’s collection of mid-century SF paperbacks. I’d read anything and everything, from AE van Vogt to Robert Heinlein to EE Doc Smith and everything in between (though sadly, there were no female writers in Dad’s collection).

When I first had the chance to go to the Arthur C Clarke Award ceremony, many years ago, I was delighted. I’m not going to say Clarke is my favourite SF writer – that honour belongs to Anne McCaffrey – but I still love science fiction and I love seeing modern SF celebrated.

Last Wednesday, the Science Museum hosted the 36th award ceremony and the first in-person ceremony for three years. The winner was Deep Wheel Orcadia, a novel that sounds utterly fascinating: “a science-fiction verse-novel written in the Orkney dialect. This unique adventure in minority language poetry comes with a parallel translation into playful and vivid English, so the reader will miss no nuance of the original.” Congratulations to author Harry Josephine Giles.

Clarke Award director Tom Hunter did a spectacular job of organising the event, even arranging for attendees to visit the special exhibition, Science Fiction: Voyage To The Edge of Imagination. (More on that below).

Congratulations must also go to the other shortlisted authors:

That’s my reading list sorted!

Event: Science Fiction at the Science Museum

Science Fiction: Voyage To The Edge of Imagination (tickets £20) has recently opened at the Science Museum and I was lucky enough to be able to go, ahead of The Clarke Award ceremony.

The exhibit is a fun romp through various aspects of science fiction. You’re guided through by short monologues from an alien AI seeking to understand what humans mean when we talk about ‘science fiction’. Funnily enough, I’ve been thinking about that a lot myself, recently. (More on that below, again!)

The exhibit has some really fabulous artefacts, including some original props from various iconic films and TV shows. I loved the EVA suits from Sunshine and Alien, just to see the variation in how EVA suits have been imagined compared to how they were built for the Apollo mission. They also have Nichelle Nichol/Lt Nyota Uhura’s uniform from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and a replica tricorder.

I arrived a bit later than I wanted to, so had to rush through a little bit as I was worried about missing the ceremony, but it was a fun exhibit. I suspect I’ll go back with my husband and take it all in much more slowly.

Sunshine eva suit Alien eva suit

Book reviews: The Martian and Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

The MartianI’ve been intending to read Andy Weir’s The Martian since hearing him interviewed by Francesca Steele in Ep 2 of her Write-Off podcast. I’ve also been intending to unpack the final boxes of books that were marked for the house, rather than storage, and bingo, there was my copy.

I’ve seen the film, so I know what happens, but I still really enjoyed the book. There’s enough tension to keep you turning the pages, but enough humour to leaven the suspense. Not all of the plot from the book made it into the film, which meant that there were a few surprises for me, especially in the final third. The book also leans harder into the science, so there’s a lot more detail about the problems Mark Watney encounters and how he solves them than in the film.

Project Hail Mary is Weir’s third book and its set-up is very similar to The Martian: A man has to use every last scrap of scientific knowledge he has to survive in space. The protagonist, Dr Ryland Grace, is very similar in personality to Mark Watney, the basic plot for both books is very similar, and Weir’s approach to the science is similar, but that’s not a bad thing at all, because why break something that works so well?

Grace has a lot more to deal with than Watney – he’s not just got to save himself, he’s also got to save humanity from a star-munching galactic bacteria. And just when you think he’s managing that, things all get quite significantly more interesting.

Project Hail Mary has a much more bittersweet ending than The Martian, not to mention more emotional depth. Grace stops being so concerned about his own survival and focuses more on other people’s wellbeing, which is a significant part of his character development, (something The Martian lacks).

If you loved The Martian, you’ll love Project Hail Mary. If you haven’t read either but love science, then I expect you’ll enjoy both of them.

Science fiction vs science in fiction

Inspired by The Martian and Project Hail Mary, I have spent the last week or so mulling over a question that has been lurking in my head for many years. Is there a difference between science fiction and fiction with science in it?

I finally sat down and thrashed the question out in a blog post, which helped me not just understand what I was really asking, but why it has bothered me for the best part of a decade. Because it’s not just about whether we should have another genre, a sort of ‘meta-genre’ that collects together all fiction with science in it regardless of whether it’s ‘science fiction’, it’s about why we should care about including more science in all sorts of fiction. Read more!

Obligatory cat picture

Orion, the ginger and white cat from Men In BlackOK, this might be slightly cheating, but I couldn’t resist!

This little kitty was near the entrance to the Science Fiction: Voyage To The Edge of Imagination exhibit at the Science Museum, so it’s obvious I had to include him! I didn’t see a note to explain his presence, but I’m assuming that he is Orion from Men in Black.

The most famous cat in science fiction has to be Alien’s Jonesy, but he was a solid ginger tabby and didn’t have white socks, so it can’t be him!

All the best,


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