Q&A: Lucy Hawking is an author and the original creator of the George Greenby books, a series of adventure stories which aim to explain complex science to a young audience through dramatic storytelling. She has also written two books for adults – Jaded and Run for your Life. Lucy spent a year as Distinguished Writer in residence at the Origins Project, ASU where she was also Visiting International Scholar at the Institute of Humanities Research. She is also a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in recognition of the work she has done in explaining science to a young audience. Lucy Hawking, who is also the daughter of the scientist, Stephen Hawking, will be attending the upcoming Mountain Echoes literary festival.
You’ve written stories for children based on science. How did you end up choosing this particular genre? What motivated you?
I wanted to make science accessible and entertaining for young readers and young audiences. I grew up surrounded by scientists, able to ask any question I wanted and get an answer. I wanted to find a way to share this enormous privilege with children everywhere.
Why is it important that children be exposed to science at an early age?
It is important that children have access to science at an early age, while they are still naturally fascinated with the world around them and curious to understand how it works. At a young age, children are finding out about the world in all its diversity – they are not dividing up questions into different scientific disciplines but looking for answers which are simple but satisfactory. In general, children have not yet come to see science as something distant, scary, difficult or unwelcoming. Introducing science into education at an early stage increases confidence and familiarity and hopefully helps students to proceed with their studies in an enjoyable and fruitful manner.
Science, some may feel, is a complex topic. How do you combine your story telling and messages in a way that children are able to understand easily?
Einstein said that you only truly understand a topic if you can explain it to a 6 year old! Obviously, that is a difficult thing to do and as hard as we try, some topics resist very simple explanations. However, the idea I hit upon was to use story telling as the gateway to scientific explanations. Humans naturally resonate and identify with stories while most of us, apart from the ‘Einsteins’ of our population, struggle with abstract concepts. It is still not at all easy to tell a story which illuminates a scientific truth and it takes a lot of work, research, discussion and several drafts to arrive at a synergy between the creative art of story telling and a simple explanation of scientific fact.
In Bhutan, culture and tradition is deeply valued. An offshoot of this is that superstition, belief in psychics, religious personalities, and the paranormal, is strong, even among the young and educated. Would you say, as a proponent of making science more attractive to youth, that this is not a desirable situation, or can the two spheres co-exist?
Personally, I do not advocate a world in which science arrogantly assumes that belief and faith are null and void. I believe that traditions and cultural differences should, on the whole, be respected. But I would like all children to have access to science in education from an early age so they can critically consume information and come to their own decisions.
While in Bhutan, besides the Mountain Echoes literary festival, will you be interacting with any schools or students to provide talks on science and reading?
Unfortunately I am only in Bhutan for three days and with my commitments to the Mountain Echoes Festival, won’t have time for school visits. However, I look forward greatly to meeting the audiences at the festival.
This will be your first trip to Bhutan, what will you be looking forward to learning more about when here?
I am very excited about my first visit Bhutan and looking forward to the cultural and natural wonders for which Bhutan is famous!