Saturday, 19 October 2013

Litfest 2013

Litfest, Lancaster's 35 year old annual celebration of Literature, is a highlight of my year. It's ace.

At last night's event, writer Sara Maitland and physicist Rob Appleby discussed Science and the Short Story, hosted by Jim Hinks, an editor at Comma Press.

Sara, a brilliant writer I can't rave about enough, read a story from her new collection Moss Witch. Moss Witch is a collection of stories springing from Comma Press's Science into Fiction series. Sara's is the first solo collection to be made up of science into fiction fusions, where each of the fourteen stories in the collection comes from conversations with consultants at the cutting edge of their various scientific fields. The premise is just so deliciously ambitious. I've been looking forward to getting my paws on it for ages.

Sara read 'Dark Humour' from the collection. It made me cry (the auditorium was dark, thankfully no one noticed). Read it and see if it does the same for you. The story is about a couple, reunited after time apart due to work commitments. Both physicists, in differing fields of work, they grapple with the four elements; earth, air, fire and water. The story explores physic theory through the lens of human emotion and interaction. Grounding these theories in this way, to me, makes them more accessible and processable. I feel it gives readers an 'in' - a hook on which to begin to grow understanding.

Sara spoke about the challenge of finding the narrative in the scientific fact and that some stories sprang more easily than others from the scientific root. There was a fascinating discussion about pattern and rules; the pleasurable symmetry of physics, particularly, that can make it comparable to the structure of poetic forms such as the sonnet. There was lively discussion about the story's exploration of the romantic, and less romantic, names given by the physics community to physical aspects; quarks, gluons, neutrinos, as opposed to NGC 406 and H11.

Rob Appleby, the physicist consultant on this story in the collection, followed Sara's reading by expanding on some of the theory in the story. Rob spoke with passion about the theoretical principles of matter, of particle physics. Rob talks with his hands. I love this. I think things are easier to grasp when people use their hands to further illustrate what they're saying. Perhaps it makes for a better teacher; having an ability to clarify spoken word with physical gesture. Many of us have bad experiences with science, often stemming from it being taught poorly at school (perhaps down to a restrictive curriculum). It can feel like the penny dropping years later, as an adult, when things are explained with such clarity, energy and helpful imagery as Rob Appleby did at last night's reading. I have been doing some research into physics recently, particularly thought experiments, and suddenly I've started noticing things in everyday life that are fundamentally connected to these principles. Seeing things a little differently. My ears prick up when the Hadron Collider is on the news and I understand why Walt White chose Heisenberg as his pseudonym.

Brilliant event, Litfest. Thank you to Sara Miatland, Rob Appleby with all the other consultant scientists and Comma Press for this exciting and important collection. And to Litfest for organising a
great do.

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