Please feel free to contact me to ask me any questions. These questions and answers will be posted and answered on this page.
Are your natural science books useful for students enrolled in university-level science courses? What about their suitability for students of high school science?
I am often asked this question about the level at which my books are pitched, or who should be reading them, perhaps because of their stunning page layout or sheer abundance of photographs and maps. They are certainly far more colourful than your standard university level text and a great deal less expensive. My simple answer is that they are suitable for everyone. Every one of them can be found on display in my kid's school libraries.
There is a general perception that once a person grows beyond childhood, becoming proficient at reading and absorbing information via the written word, there is no longer any need to "entice" or "entertain" them visually, or via their other senses. For that reason, plus a need to keep the production costs down, limited-edition university texts are often plain and uninteresting.
It is indeed fortunate that the world class publishing houses I have had the privilege of working with, the likes of Reader's Digest, Weldon Owen and Millennium House, do not think in this way. These publishing houses excel in putting together the best production teams from around the world; science writers, artists, photographers, page designers and printing presses; led by the best publishers; the likes of Sheena Coupe, Gordon Cheers, Margaret Olds and Janet Parker, and managers/editors, including Loretta Barnard, Sue Burk, Fiona Doig, Catherine Etteridge, Greg Hassall, Lynn Humphries, Heather Jackson, Carol Jacobson, Lynn Lewis, Rosemary MacDonald, Deborah Nixon, Anne Savage, Jennifer Taylor, Marie Louise Taylor and Dannielle Viera. These sizeable teams of in-house and consultant specialists, who come together in cyberspace (often only meeting face to face at Christmas parties) are not afraid of presenting some of the most up to date scientific concepts known, advanced and challenging research-level material — but they do so skilfully, in a way that is accessible to all readers, creating a product that is an absolute delight to each of our senses.
Imagine the feel of authority as you pick up one of these weighty tomes; sometimes, as in the case of Millennium's Earth Atlas, a book so large and heavy that it is impossible for a single person to lift alone. Imagine the smell of fresh ink as you slip off the cover box and crack open its hard covers for the first time, sliding and fanning the thick, glossy pages between the tips of your fingers. Imagine the visual delight as you turn the pages, each one bursting with colour and life; skilfully laid out with world-class photography, maps, artist's impressions of Earth's incredibly long geologic past or scenes from the immense cosmos; images printed to the page's very edges, bleeding skilfully and delicately into the subtly-placed surrounding text. Finally then, after settling comfortably into a quiet corner to read, imagine how you will find each masterfully written and edited spread of the book a joy to read — a complete capsule of the most up-to-date and interesting information known to humankind.
From there, just like many a university student, you feel inspired, your mind bursting with the awe of new discoveries, to step forward into the unknown, open-minded and searching for new knowledge and wisdom.
How did you become a writer? What were your inspirations?
Becoming a writer was something that just seemed to generically grow into place; a series of coincidences and chances of good luck or fate, one after the other, perhaps combined with an awakening enthusiasm to share the wonders of the natural world and pearls of wisdom I have come across in my journey through life.
I never planned to become a writer; English was not my favourite subject at school — science and geography were. It always bothered me how it could be possible to write something in so many ways, the random nature of having to choose which way was the best, and then to be arbitrarily judged on that choice. Like a judge having to select a winner from a range of completely different artworks. Language seemed so subjective compared to the rigours of scientific experimentation and mathematical certainty. Since then I have developed a trust in the inner workings of my mind to sense and guide me to that best way, so that now, with practice, the words just seem to magically fall into the right place. It is common-sense really; the best way to write about something is in the clearest and simplest way that will be easily understood by a majority of the readership; presented with a style that will encourage and inspire. There is really nothing to fear if you endeavour to write openly and honestly, straight from the heart. Let your words flow onto the page, filling it, bothering not how they may look and feel the first time round. Ideas must be allowed to pour out freely, unimpeded and uninterrupted. Think about your beautiful ideas you are letting fly free, not the inadequate medium you are trying to use to express them. The words themselves may appear shamefully gauche, ill-chosen and ugly, something should be hidden away from view, but there will always be plenty of time later to deliberate over each single word and its synonyms, and those fine details of voice, structure, grammar and punctuation. These details can always be honed and shaped, a mechanical process, and your editor will always help find what you have missed, assisting in the best way forward for the project.
The opportunity to write presented itself as a chance incident, during a tour Dr David Roots and I were leading in the Blue Mountain wilderness west of Sydney. We were showing our guests the details of the region's geology, demonstrating how the beautiful vertical cliffs of 230 million year old Sydney sandstone, the area's deep slot canyons and unique vegetation and wildlife, and how they were all linked together by the unique theory of Plate Tectonics — all driven by Earth's inner forces. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Weldon Owen's Project Editor, Fiona Doig was a member of our tour group, and was so impressed by the simplicity and elegance of our presentation that she later approached our small company, The Broad Horizon — Australian Academic Tours, asking if we would take part in a Weldon Owen project — production of the book, "Rocks and Fossils". Naturally Dave and I jumped at the opportunity, working together with Arthur Busbey III, Paul Willis, Priscilla Wrubel, founder of the Nature Company, and astronaut Harrison Schmitt, first geologist to land on the Moon, who wrote the book's introduction. With the resounding success of that first Weldon Owen effort, published around the world in multiple languages, it was forward from that moment on.
Later, through Fiona Doig's contacts, I came to work on other exciting writing projects with Weldon Owen, Millennium House and Reader's Digest — the birth of my career as an author.