Posts Tagged ‘reading’


October 9, 2020

          Until my family moved to the city when I was ten I had never been in a library. Thereafter Kings Norton Public Library became the theatre of all my dreams and ambitions; real teenage life in Birmingham seeming tame by comparison. Books became my wings and I soared off like a young albatross in search of its destiny. One day, so I dreamed, I would become an Explorer, a World Traveller and, of course, ‘The ‘Great Novelist’.
          Then I had a stroke of luck , though it certainly didn’t feel like that at the time. At thirteen I was diagnosed with a “ progressive and incurable disease of the spine” and incarcerated in a ‘hospital for incurable children’ deep in the countryside. There I aged 30 years in 6 months and suffered a mid-life crisis early enough to really do something about it. Having had my dreams so nearly snatched away I emerged from hospital implacably resolved to live them out. Although cured, the problem was that I was too late: I learned that every bloody corner of the Globe had been explored already !
          Then Sputnik came to the rescue. To Hell with the Earth; I would explore the Universe instead. And so, eventually, it came to pass. The dreamy boy became the dreamy astronomer who travelled the world in order to observe his beloved galaxies from remote mountain-tops from The Warumbungles to the Russian Caucasus. But even they weren’t high enough and the dreamy astronomer became the luckiest man alive when he was invited to join the team that would design, build and eventually use The Hubble Space Telescope. What an adventure that would turn out to be: disputes, disasters, surprises and discoveries the equal of any experienced by Marco Polo or Ferdinand Magellan. That Space Telescope saga is a tale that has to be told, and could only be told convincingly, by one of the lucky crew. But life was now far too hectic and thrilling to leave any time to do more than keep a diary of the events. Indeed the voyage turned out to be far more exciting than the romantic boy had ever dreamed in that quiet library long, long ago: a beautiful princess rescued from behind the Iron Curtain; a tiny warbler whispering profundities in his ear in mid-Atlantic; the secret of the Scientific Method appearing down on a coral reef off Tonga… you couldn’t make it up; nobody could. And yet it all really happened; it did.

          Eventually however the frenetically busy astronomer semi-retired with his princess and sat down to write… and write … and write. The intended Great Novel became instead a saga of four – the quartet “Written in the Stars” (WITS). It had to be semi-fictional because a factual account of a voyage lasting fifty years would be far too tiresome to read. Elisions had to be made, shortcuts taken, complexity simplified, continuity of character and narrative maintained, while the true cast of thousands was pared down to a manageable caravan of family, friends, colleagues, rivals and enemies travelling through time together. Anyway the story insisted on writing itself. Year by year the characters took over control, while the cheeky Imps which sit on every author’s shoulder intervened from time to time and sometimes couldn’t be denied. However I did manage to insist that at least the Scientific side of the venture should be utterly faithful to the facts. In any case why fictionalise that science when the facts exceeded anything that fantasy could conjure up?

          Prospective readers might be put off by books with a scientific background, imagining that they will be full of Frightfully Clever nerds doing Frightfully Clever things. But mine definitely are not. I am not FC myself (failed 11 plus) while, in my experience, successful astronomers are exceptional only in their outsized curiosity, their enjoyment of their occupation, their dogged tenacity and perhaps their search for some meaning to unusually obsessive lives. As the physicist Steven Weinberg put it: “The effort to understand the Universe is one of the few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy”. Being Frightfully Clever simply doesn’t cut it. However I do confess to a fascination with characters who do, or try to do, very hard things, whether it be climbing a precipice, rescuing a spacecraft or operating in an almost hopeless case. So there are many such in my books. I suppose the fascination here is that they too are explorers, but of the far deeps of the human heart and mind, looking down there for connections that the rest of us up here cannot see. Thus Henri Poincaré, the true inventor of Relativity, confessed that he did the best of his very great works when he was fast asleep.

          Although the saga took a dozen years to write I am almost ashamed to admit that I really enjoyed the process and was sad when it came to an end. I hope that enjoyment comes across to the reader as something we can both share. My iconic novel is “The Wind in the Willows”– in which a group of friends explore their world, have adventures together and enjoy a great deal of reflective fun. Isn’t there a bit of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad in all of us ? There certainly is in me – mostly Toad I regret to say. And I can assure you, having done a great deal of both, that simply mucking about in telescopes is even more fun than simply mucking about in boats.

          My third boyhood ambition was to Travel to wild and romantic places, and observational astronomy allows one to do that in spades. Practically anywhere on Earth is on the way home to Britain from Chile, New South Wales or The Cape. So I indulged myself and in WITS include many adventures and encounters which took place in faraway places such as Cherkessia, the Rub al Khalid, the Bay of Fires, Garafia, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Castel Gandolfo, the Masai Mara, Ootacamund, Immarettia … By contrast most of us also have a profound need for a territory of our own. Far too many Brits simply do not appreciate how bloody lucky they are in their home land. Having been ‘nearly everywhere’ I contend that our island has no superior as a territory in which to live, especially Wales where I come from and reside. I have thus tried to convey, throughout WITS, that widespread sense of ‘longing for home’, which the Welsh call ‘Hiraeth’ . If we are not proud of our home territories, we won’t look after them properly, as we desperately need to do, especially now so much of the world is rapidly going to hell.

          I am an old man now, born in 1937, with eight books on Amazon, rather rushed out during 2020/1 when Covid 19 struck. The next big challenge is to get anybody to read them. I am convinced that one book could change the world (‘Thinking for Ourselve’s or TFO), optimistic that five could entertain it (WITS & Strangle), and hopeful that one (‘Pterodactyl’s Blood’ , PB ) might save some of those wonderful species that mankind is hurrying towards extinction. I’m afraid that I’m hopeless at marketing – indeed feel it is a faintly shameful activity – especially when one is trying to peddle one’s own stories, as here. But I’m bound to try – otherwise what was the point of ever writing them down? The Odds can’t be good but… who knows?

If you want to see the author talking about Cosmology and galaxies there is a 45 minute Youtube video of him being interviewed by the Physicist and Author Alexander Unzicker about 3 years ago at