I’m very fond of a newsstand magazine called BBC Focus.
It’s had a chequered history, veering from gadget geekery (my favourite part of the mag is ‘Objects of Desire’) to almost a lads’ mag, but under the editorship of Paul Parsons and now Jheni Osman, it’s become a pin-sharp science and technology monthly accessible to all, and with a strong teenage appeal – teenagers being the hardest demographic to reach, and yet the most vital for the future of science. Anyway, Crox Minor (aged 11), proud to be a geek, loves it.
BBC Focus asked me to be on their Editorial Board a few years ago, and I had been conscious that I had done very little to earn that honour, apart from writing book reviews for them as often as they asked. So a couple of months back I was well chuffed to be asked to be one of their regular columnists, under the title ‘The Insider’. My first effort appears in issue 205, the Summer 2009 number. That’s the one with this cover, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landings.
Do let me know what you think.
Starting a column from scratch is tricky. Columns that are successful always have a distinctive tone, a voice that’s instantly recognizable. Pitching the first one is quite hard. First, what do you write about? The subject for my debut column was chosen for me by BBC Focus News and Features Editor Andy Ridgway – that the European Parliament is thinking seriously about the policy implications of innovations in human enhancement. My first draft was too light. My second, too heavy. So Andy applied the Goldilocks Principle and glued them together.
In the end, I realized that one reason Focus asked me was the tone of my blogs, which are, in a sense, columns, with their own bacterial culture. I am sure they didn’t ask me by virtue of a scurrilous rumour circulating on Twitter and elsewhere that I am the next Stephen Fry. I’ll admit to being larger than life, with a tendency towards bipolarity and a brain the size of a planet, but I am neither famous, nor gay. Nor am I a gifted novelist, actor, comedian, raconteur or TV presenter. I don’t drive a decommissioned London taxi. And, ladies, I don’t have Hugh Laurie’s phone number.