Long-time readers of this blog know I’m a huge enthusiast for explaining science and a cheerleader for everybody on the same gig. Today I’m interviewing author and science writer Thea Beckman, who’s just released her first book – Why? Because Science!
Her blog of the same name is a wonderful blend of cool science and sharp humour (don’t drink coffee while reading. I regularly snorted mine).
Matthew: Hi Thea, I figured you’d write a full-length science book, sooner or later. Congratulations! You’ve subtitled it: ‘The little book of bedtime science that unravels life, the universe, and the occasional pair of underpants’. Sounds intriguing. Also a bit awkward if you’re wearing the underpants at the time and the loose thread got caught on something, and don’t notice until you’ve got 100 metres of cotton behind you. Actually that describes writing. Ahem. So tell me about the book – what science does it cover, what journey do you take your reader on?
Thea: Ha! I’d probably notice the breeze in my undercarriage before the loose cotton. Why? Because Science! takes readers on an epic, Tolkein-esque journey through life on planet Earth, minus the foot sores, endless battles, and evil angry eyeball at the end. The book provides entertaining and easy-to-digest answers to some of our most profound questions, such as why is the sky blue? Where do our atoms come from? Why does tequila make me so hung-over? It’s a vast smorgasbord of bite-sized science topics that is so fun and funny to read, you won’t even realise you’re being educated!
Matthew: I’ve never known what causes hangovers. I keep experimenting to find out. Will the book help combat some of the anti-science stupidity that seems to circulate, endlessly, on social media and the rest?
Thea: I sincerely hope so! Ultimately, this book’s noblest of goals is to make science accessible and to abolish the misconception that only smart people with high IQs and non-existent sex lives can appreciate and understand science. You’d be alarmed at the number of people who visibly clam up when I tell them I’ve written a book about science; it’s as though they’re afraid I’ll smite them if they say anything stupid, which, in all fairness, I might. All kidding aside, science is fascinating, it’s everywhere, and it’s our world in motion so to shy away from it is to keep yourself seriously in the dark. And the dark is only sexy in the bedroom.
Matthew: Why science? I know you’ve got a Masters degree in atmospheric science – what drew you to science as a field?
Thea: I’ve been utterly enamoured by nature – animals and birds, in particular – since I was a baby. I spent every afternoon playing in the garden, climbing trees, fashioning crude weapons out of sticks and twine, and generally pretending to be an Amazon. I was guided towards science through my inherent fascination with the natural world and when I hit my early teens, that fascination shifted towards natural disasters. After developing a serious crush on Helen Hunt in the movie Twister, I thought it would be cool to study severe weather events like tornadoes and that ultimately guided me into six years of science education with specialisation in ocean and atmospheric science.
Matthew: Where do you see the humour coming in – is that, like, you being you?
Thea: Absolutely. I have a dirty sense of humour and love a good pun. When I initially started writing the blog, I never intended for my personality to come across in so unrestrained and unladylike a fashion. However, people responded to it and that powerfully positive reaction is why I ended up with a book. Humour is such a powerful mechanism and, if used correctly, can bridge just about any gap, whether it’s between people of different cultural backgrounds or science and society.
Matthew: Can you tell readers a bit more about yourself? Hobbies? Travel? How have these fed into your science writing?
Thea: You’ll find that most of my interests are well addressed in the book. I am an avid bird-watcher (Chapter 8: Birds: making your safari way more awesome) and extremely interested in wine making and drinking (Chapter 10: An ode to wine). I love trying new weird foods, which goes hand-in-hand with my complete love affair with travel, and I’m a die-hard karaoke fan too, but you won’t find a chapter on that in the book; I had to leave something for the sequel. The book is actually bursting with my personality and there’s a really neat little biography at the end of it, so readers should actually feel like they know me by the end of it.
Matthew: Is science education something you’d make a career? I’m thinking of Dianna Cowern’s You Tube Physics Girl channel, or maybe Derek Muller of Veritasium. Any plans to try anything like that?
Thea: Baby steps! Seriously, my mind is so ragged after having published for the first time (and having to figure it all out myself) that the idea of a new endeavour makes the veins in my forehead stand dangerously out. For now, I’m focusing on the book launch and promotion, which is, in itself, a full-time job. I very well may create my own YouTube channel in the future and I certainly plan on resuming my blog writing but for now my highest goal is to be a successful, published author and to have the opportunity to work on the next instalment of Why? Because Science!
Matthew: You mentioned that publishing was ‘utterly terrifying and satisfying at the same time. Very much like nipple clamps’. But you’re there, at the end of that journey. What were some of the challenges? Is there anything you’d do differently next time?
Thea: Hitting that “Publish to Amazon” button is really the first step on an entirely new journey! You’ve just gotten off one long-haul flight and now you’re getting on the next. By far, the biggest challenge in all of this – in writing and publishing a book – is doing constant battle with your inner saboteur – that pessimistic bitch who constantly undermines your efforts with her questions of who’s going to want to read this? What if people think it’s crap? What if my whole life is a lie? You’re putting your heart and soul out there for people to see and it’s hard to sign yourself up for the criticism you just KNOW you’re going to receive. But you’ve got to be brave because the feeling of having achieved such a monstrous undertaking and of leaving behind some kind of intellectual legacy is worth it. Self-publishing for the first time is like the Himalayas of learning curves, so my advice to budding writers is to give yourself time to learn about the self-publishing industry and its demands. Listen to Podcasts, watch YouTube videos, read blogs, and consult Amazon. Here’s hoping I don’t have to do anything too differently next time around!
Matthew: Thanks for the chat – all the best for your new book. Hey, you realise we got through a whole interview without making a single fart joke?
Thea: That’s terribly depressing! Quick – what did the maxi-pad say to the fart? You are the wind beneath my wings! There, the balance of the universe has been restored.
Matthew: Hah! Readers – go grab your copy of Thea Beckman’s Why? Because Science! Available on Amazon from Friday 1st December for only $4.55 but FREE for a limited period from Tuesday 4th to Friday 8th December. That’s right. Free 4-8 December. Go get it now.
Thea: Thanks so much, Matthew!