Rest in peace, my old friend

This weekend, I found out that an old friend of mine passed away.

I like to think that I’m good with words; however, when it comes to grief, my vocabulary feels awkward and stunted. And inadequate. So, so, inadequate – woefully so. How, I wonder, can words adequately express the confused mix of memories, thoughts and emotions that run through my mind? They all push to the forefront simultaneously, clamouring for attention – demanding it, even – without order or structure. How to put that on a page in a fashion worthy of such a heavy subject?

Perhaps it’s easiest to start with the basics.

Continue reading “Rest in peace, my old friend”

Little Daydreamers

Those who know me best know that I am a daydreamer. I’ve always found that I think of the best ideas when I’m daydreaming – and, more importantly, the best questions.

It is partly in celebration of daydreaming, and partly in celebration of my three-year-old daughter Abigail, that I recently started writing children’s fiction. As of last Thursday, I am now represented by Wordlink literary agency for ‘Abigail and the birth of the Sun’, the first in what I hope will be a series of books aimed at encouraging scientific literacy and curiousity among children in the pre-school age bracket.

‘Abigail and the birth of the Sun’ is the story of an intensely curious little girl who seeks answers to some of life’s biggest questions – in this case, where the Sun and the planets came from. The answer to that question involves a supernova, a journey through interstellar space, and the subtle yet pervasive force of gravity.

I’ve been writing since I could first hold a pencil, and while I’ve had some success in publishing non-fiction, this is the first time a literary agent has agreed to represent me for my fiction work. Although it’s still early days, I’m excited for the future. So, watch this space!


My promise

20 week scan

I think of you every day, every hour, every minute – and yet I have never seen your face.

You live deep within me, permeating every corner of my heart and mind – and yet I have never held you in my arms.

Excitement, joy, wonder, fear, worry – they all war inside me, competing yet complementary, and all drawing my mind back to you.

I wait, impatient, heart aching;

to see your face, to hear you cry, to witness your first breath.

I think of your first word, your first step;

I think of you meeting the world with open arms and an open mind,

soaking in all the world has to offer, with my gentle hand to guide you along the way.

Nothing has ever felt so right.

And yet, the way is littered with pitfalls, wrong turns, and all manner of dark things:

on the outside, the oft-cruel menagerie of life, merciless and apathetic;

on the inside, the piercing cries of a troubled mind, bearing down upon you with the weight of generations.

Will you be safe? Will you be happy?

Will life give you everything that I dearly hope it does?

I can make you but one promise:

I will love you, fiercely and completely.

No choice you make, no step you take, will ever break that promise.

When the sun shines, I will be there to share its rays with you;

when the rain pours, I will bring an umbrella to shelter you.

I will wrap you in an impenetrable cloak of love,

For now, and for ever.

On writing (and not writing)

“I don’t like writing – I like having written.”

This over-used and widely attributed phrase is by far the most succinct summary I have ever heard of the sublime agony that is writing. Despite what popular culture would tell us, writing rarely flows from the fingertips like grammatical gold. It’s hard. Like, really hard.

You sit and stare at your computer, willing the embryonic ideas swimming around in your brain to present themselves on the page in a neat and orderly fashion. A sentence comes to mind, then a paragraph, and occasionally a page or two. Sometimes you love what you’ve written, and you can sleep easy knowing that your place in the pantheon of brilliant writers is secured. Other times you agonise over every word, worrying if you’ll ever get it right. Doubts circle over the carcass of your prose like vultures, waiting to feed on the thin veneer of your self-esteem. Why is it so hard? My last book/story/article/chapter was so much better – am I losing my knack? So-and-so writes so much better than me – why would anyone want to read my tripe? And perhaps the biggest doubt of all – why does everyone else find it so easy?

I can answer the last question with two simple words – they don’t.

Continue reading “On writing (and not writing)”

Dear Website

Dear website,

I’m sorry I haven’t been around much lately. It’s not you, it’s me – I started a new job at the Waitangi Tribunal in July, and ever since then my life has been divided between the forty-hour working week, thesis work in the evenings and on weekends, and the occasional nap or two. Still, that’s no excuse for being neglectful, and I will try to be a better… er, website guy… from now on.

Continue reading “Dear Website”

My beef with the Drake Equation

I’ve got some issues with the Drake Equation.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the Drake Equation is a mathematical statement designed to estimate the number of detectable intelligent civilisations in our galaxy. It was devised in 1961 by Frank Drake, Emeritus Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, and it assumes the following form:

N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L


N = The number of civilizations in The Milky Way Galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.
R* =The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.
fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.
ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.
fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.
fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.
fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.
L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

When Drake first proposed the equation, he and his colleagues calculated that there were ten intelligent civilisations in the Milky Way at any given point in time. Since then the Drake Equation has been one of the cornerstones of speculation on extraterrestrial life, both in fiction and non-fiction.

But here’s the problem – many of its variables cannot be adequately estimated based on our current knowledge of the universe. In other words, the Drake Equation is an exercise in guessing.

Continue reading “My beef with the Drake Equation”