Ectopic scribblings

It occurred to me this week that I’ve written various things in other venues that I’ve never linked to from this blog, and that it might be a good idea to compile some sort of list to try and mitigate the increasing entropy of my online presence, such as it is.

I wrote a book!

It’s on Amazon and everything!

Well, I co-wrote a book, way back in 2007-2008. Some people who’d recently left the biotech company where I was employed at the time to start their own company were approached by a publisher to write a textbook about stem cells for the US home-school market, and asked me to help them. I’d just got married and was already interviewing for the job I ended up doing from 2007-2012 (I actually signed the book writing contract on the same day I resigned from the biotech company), so it was a bit of a crazy year…

I ended up writing about 30% of the content of the first version, and also edited the other three authors’ chapters for grammar and consistent language. The entire process took about three months, and I was basically a total hermit for the entire time; I wrote all weekend every weekend, and edited every weekday morning before work and most evenings. All this while learning the ropes at a new job! I even wrote all day on Boxing Day 2007, even though we had a house full of in-laws who’d unexpectedly stayed overnight after it snowed during the Christmas dinner we were hosting, and who seemed strangely reluctant to go home. My then-teenage niece berated me with the words “you’re supposed to be Auntie Cath, not anti-social!”, which was highly amusing but not persuasive enough to make me leave my lonely desk in the spare room and come out to play Trivial Pursuit.

Once we’d finished the text we handed it off to the publisher, who edited and compiled everything into their usual format. We updated the text in 2010, at which time it was also converted into a non-textbook version by the Genetics Policy Institute, whose website seems to have closed down (but the book was always hidden behind a log-in system for some reason anyway). We found out earlier this year that yet another version had been released and was available on Amazon; this is the version I linked to above.

Overall, the experience was great, and I learned a lot. The financial gains have been much more modest (as in, my share is just barely into four figures – I wasn’t expecting a lot, but was nevertheless disappointed!) We’ve also all found the lack of communication with the publishing companies involved to be a bit of a problem – for instance, we’ve asked many times to be sent a few free copies of various versions, but in the end I had to buy my own from Amazon. It’s all been a little bit unsatisfying to be honest, but as I said I gained a lot of valuable experience and, most importantly, I can say “I wrote a book!”

I wrote a short story!

I know, I’m as surprised as you are!

I hadn’t written a single word of fiction since high school English homework, and never for fun, but then the idea for “Crisis Management” got into my head and, like Boxing Day in-laws, just wouldn’t leave*. (The idea was born, as so many great ideas are, during an after-work pub session; specifically, a conversation with a colleague who is the real life “Dr. Hutch” from the story. I would like to point out that the real Dr. Hutch’s research methods are 100% traditional and ethical). I was trying to write a serious science piece for the Guardian, but would find myself thinking about my story idea instead, and eventually I realized I was just going to have to write it so I could concentrate on other things. It turned out to be tons of fun, and I’m really glad I finished it!

I’d like to once again thank official fiction writing consultant Vanessa and official subject-matter expert Beth for their comments on an earlier version, which helped to improve the story immensely, and of course Jenny for publishing the story on the LabLit site. You rock, ladies!

I wrote two more pieces for Occam’s Corner!

Unbreakable: do superheroes, impervious to cancer, walk among us? explores genetic resistance to cancer, and made it (briefly) onto the front page of Digg;

Epigenetics 101: a beginner’s guide to explaining everything does what it says on the tin, and features what I think is my best analogy to date.

Many thanks to my new writing group – Jane, Catherine, and Anne – for their suggestions on improving both pieces, and to Jenny (again) and Richard for further suggestions and Grauniad-wrangling, respectively.

OK, I’m done! For now, anyway.


*I love my in-laws! I always say I have the second-best in-laws in the world (Mr E Man has the best). I was just grumpy that Boxing Day 😀

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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13 Responses to Ectopic scribblings

  1. cromercrox says:

    Margaritas, all round, I say.

  2. chall says:

    woho indeed! Must be a fun feeling seeing your name as “author” on a book.

    As for the finacial gain, my mother is a writer and there are a lot of negotiations on the educational books…. the % of sales being the key part. Even if the book sells a little it does add up (if it is kept up through the years). That said, certain books have probably longer shelf life than stem cells /biotechnology etc? In any event, good luck with future. I really liked your gardian pieces and lablit!! More! MORE!

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Thank you! Yes, it’s a good feeling 🙂

      I didn’t know that your mother’s a writer! Luckily, I do know a few people who’ve been published, so my financial expectations were pretty low.

      The book’s written at a pretty basic level, and the basic levels of even the fastest-moving fields don’t change that much over the course of a few years, so I think there may be another year or two of tiny royalty cheques to come…

      • chall says:

        I’m not sure you cal lher a writer in English but in Swedish it’s the same word when you do educational books used in school (like math).

        I would like to write more, mainly because I will never get better unless I practice and write and write and write and take critique….

  3. Alyssa says:

    That’s awesome!! Congrats!

  4. I very much liked both of those OC pieces, Cath. I fear I may pass on the stem cell book, though… 😉

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      yeah, I doubt it would teach you anything you don’t already know! And thanks, I had fun writing those articles 🙂

  5. bean-writer says:

    Late congrats on your prolific writing, Cath. That is AWESOME that you get to see your name on the cover of a book! (And the first name listed, no less! On a real, hardcover textbook!)

    And I absolutely loved the two Guardian pieces you link to. And the LabLit story, too =)

    Looking forward to seeing your output over the next year. . . =)

    • Thanks!

      My latest motivational method is to imagine that I am George RR Martin, and that there are millions of people cursing me right now because I haven’t published anything new for so long. The results have been mixed.

  6. bean-writer says:

    If you want to emulate George R. R. Martin, you could try writing on an ancient computer using DOS-based 1980s word processing software (WordStar) like he does.

    I think I actually remember WordStar!

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Geez, no wonder it’s taking so damn long!

      The ASOIAF fans in my office can’t be the only ones musing about implementing some kind of Misery-esque scenario, surely…? 😉

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