The prince without a kingdom has always lived under the stars.
(from Macchiatos, My Friends and Other Things I Can’t Live Without)
So have I.
There are two places I associate with childhood happiness: the Budapest Planetarium and the Museum of Natural History.
So when I was in the early stages of discovering the personality of Isaac, the main love interest in Macchiatos (Pinterest board), I wanted him to be reassuring and full of wonder – the way the Planetarium made me feel – so gave him a job in the Greenwich observatory. This helped me unlock his essence. I built his whole personality around his love of the sky – he is very nerdy in his clothing he has a T-shirt with the solar system, a Nasa one (bought in the Natural History Museum of New York), pyjamas with a portrait of the astronaut Tereshkova and a beautiful soft sweater with the winter constellations of the Northern Hemisphere.
I have a thing that I call writer’s OCD – I must get details correctly. I have this lingering feeling that if I include things that are factually true, it somehow makes the story more real – as if anchoring it in reality.
So what details did I look up and what do they have to do with astronomy?
I browsed the websites of the UK universities offering the best astronomy/astrophysics MAs and chose one that corresponded to Isaac. I felt really like an anxious mum sending her son off to school, into the big world. (He goes to Imperial College London, if you want to know.)
I checked the moon phases so when I say there was a waxing moon, it is factually correct for that date. (Most of the story is set in 2020 – but in an alternative universe without Covid).
There is another scene during a road trip when Isaac is reading articles on his phone. I checked the scientific publications that appeared around then and this is how I discovered that black holes in the heart of galaxies usually go in couples. If you want to have a look, you can do it here.
It has sentences like this so it completely stole my heart:
“If indeed the supermassive black hole has a friend revolving around it in close orbit, the center of the galaxy is locked in a complex dance. The partners’ gravitational tugs will also exert its own pull on the nearby stars disturbing their orbits.”
There is also a sweet scene in spring when Isaac goes out to hike in the countryside to observe a celestial event far from the light pollution of the city. For that I researched what interesting things happening in the sky and found this.
But Isaac wasn’t my first character interested in the stars and he is definitely not the last.
Glasgow, My Love (Pinterest board) is a slow, poetic novel about how a fleeting meeting can touch and shape lives. The idea came to me in the middle of a night in 2014 when I was a bit overdosed on David Tennant. The story tells the three sides of a love triangle from three different point of views with three different endings. Otto, the husband is a professor of astrophysics. He also happens to be one of Isaac’s teachers because #FLU. He was in a way also his predecessor, my first tall, quiet scientist. Otto has a lot of beauty inside him, but he doesn’t know how to express it. He is used to equations and not elocution. I wanted his storyline to be that of loss but also of discovery. He loses his wife but finds his voice and starts to write subtle poems with scientific imagery. (It’s called a Theory of You and I really like its concept. Oh because I have written it. #FLU)
To understand him better I listened to Hawkin’s A Brief History of Time. I like following my characters in their interests because they teach me a lot about the world. Learning new things is one of the primary joys in my life.
I was fascinated by the concept of Red Shift so I wrote this poem that I later gave to Otto.
In the depth of deep space
expanding worlds move
towards the trembling horizon of
It’s only a snapshot,
a star-buttoned, empty night,
eternal and constant
like the knowledge
that nothing is knowable.
Last summer we looked at
trails of shooting stars,
lying in the arms of galaxies,
forgetting that as part of the system
we were also following apart.
You dance in a reddening light,
as you break from my gravity.
I’ll stay here, running on orbit
while you float towards infinity.
There are also a lot of stars and science in Our Best Friend’s Alien Boyfriend (Pinterest board) and its spin-off Her Majesty’s Alien Spy (Pinterest board) but I will talk more about them under W for Women in Science.