Writing a book is a dream for many people, and there are no doubt plenty of us with an unfinished manuscript languishing in a drawer at home. For most people, this is never more than a dream. But for a few of our researchers, the dream has become reality.
Much of a researcher’s work involves getting published in various scientific contexts. It may seem like a small step from scientific publication to producing a book, but as astronomer Marie Rådbo points out, writing scientific texts and writing popular science are two very different things.
“As a researcher, you’re used to writing everything in chronological order and concluding with the results. When writing popular science, you have to capture the reader’s interest immediately.”
She started by writing children’s books about astronomy, since she was unable to find good books on the subject at an appropriate level for children. But starting to write wasn’t an obvious choice for Marie. She remembers the dread she felt at having to write essays at school, and thought for a long time that she couldn’t write.
“But I decided that maybe I could write a little children’s book.”
That first children’s book led to many more, and now she writes books for both children and adults. Despite the fact she’s currently working on her 13th book (“or maybe my 14th”), she avoids calling herself a writer.
“Once you’ve written two books you get called a writer, but I’m not a writer. I’m an astronomer who has written books.”
But how does she manage to write books while also researching and teaching?
“If you think something’s important, you’ll prioritise it. And the one discipline complements the other. Sometimes I get ideas for a book during a lecture, or I think of something to include in a lecture while working on a book. All popular science is good for academic work.”
Her passion for passing her knowledge on to others and inspiring children and young people to read about science is what motivated her to write her first book. The same driving force has resulted in her continuing to write books, even though she insists that her current book will be her last.
“I want to convey what we do in the academic world, and to find different ways of doing this. Writing books has been one arena among many others.”