Author Interview: Under the Stars by Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith

Monday, 30 September 2019

Under the Stars: Astrophysics for Bedtime by Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith
Released: 1st October 2019
Published by: Melbourne University Press
Genre: Kids Non-Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 277
Under the Stars- Bedtime Astrophysics transports curious kids and inquisitive adults on an incredible journey through the night sky. Explore our solar system from the comfort of your cosy bedroom.

Find out why the sky is blue. Fly around a black hole and peer inside! Learn why Jupiter has stripes.

When astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith isn't looking skyward, she is answering the smart questions of school kids. Her engaging storytelling in this colourfully illustrated book brings the night sky to life, giving amazing new perspectives to young explorers who are always asking, 'Why?'
Author Interview with Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith

What was your motivation for writing Under the Stars: Astrophysics for Bedtime?

I have always had a fascination with the night sky, which blossomed into a wonderful career in astronomy. Aside from my research though, one of the most energising parts of my job has always been visiting schools and talking to kids about space. They are always so excited and enthusiastic and the questions they ask are so creative! I knew that I needed to create a book just for them. 

When you were a kid, what interested you about space?

When I was a child, it was really the beauty of the stars that first captured my imagination. My Dad and I used to go out somewhere really dark and just take it all in. After a while though, I had questions running though my head like, “How many stars are there?”, “How big is the universe?”, “Is there other life out there?”... and the list goes on. So, I began reading books about astronomy and I was enthralled by this amazing new window on our universe.

What are five things about space that still make you go 'Wow!'?

*Astronauts age more slowly in space than they do on Earth, ever so slightly! That's because the Earth's gravity bends our universe and makes time pass more slowly. It's called 'time dilation'. Weird or what?!

*If you got too close to a black hole, your entire body would be stretched by the enormous gravitational forces and you'd become 'human spaghetti'.

*Ever wondered why the sky is blue? It's because the light from the Sun is made up of all the colours of the rainbow. As the sunlight hits our atmosphere, it is scattered across the sky by tiny particles of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide that make up the air. These particles act as millions of tiny mirrors. Blue light is scattered from these particles more easily than red light, so that is why the sky appears blue. 

*Shooting stars are not stars at all. They are actually tiny specks of space dust that crash through our atmosphere as we orbit the Sun. The bits of space dust rub against the air and heat up, reaching a temperature of 1000 degrees and burn up, creating bright streaks of light in the sky. 

*Our Sun is a gigantic ball of gas. Tiny particles crash together in its middle, creating a nuclear furnace that burns at a temperature of 15 million degrees. Four million tonnes of the Sun's gas is burned into heat and light EVERY SINGLE SECOND!

What has been your career highlight so far?

I would have to say that seeing the first pictures from the gigantic telescope I helped to build in remote Western Australia was a real highlight for me. It's part of a global mega-science project involving more than 10 countries and I had worked on the project for seven years before we got any results. After all that time, seeing those first images of distant galaxies was a real highlight for me. Also, on a personal note, touring Australia with Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo 11 astronaut who first set foot on the Moon with Neil Armstrong in 1969 was a real highlight for me. Talking with someone who has explored another world and sharing their experiences, it's just such an incredible feeling.

If you could travel into space, where would you want to go and why?

Since I was about 15, I have dreamed of being the first Woman to go to the Moon. It won't be me, but I'm very excited that NASA has pledged to send the first woman to the moon by 2024. 

What do you think still needs to be discovered about space, the galaxies or the night sky?

The great thing about our universe is that there is so much still to discover! For example, we only understand what 4% of space is made from. The other 96% is completely out of our grasp. We don't know how the universe will end, or if it will ever end at all. We are yet to learn how life began on Earth and whether we are alone in the universe. So many mysteries are yet to explore. 

Please describe a day in the life of an astrophysicist

Astrophysics is a wonderful pursuit. On a typical day I might work with a team of scientists on a scientific problem or make pictures of the sky from information I have gathered from telescopes. I'd read the latest astronomy research and see what other people are discovering, to get new ideas. I might travel to a conference or a telescope in a far-flung region of the world or share my results by writing a scientific report or speaking to fellow scientists about my latest discovery. Then I might work with students and help the next generation of scientists learn and grow in their discoveries. 

What do you think kids will get most out of reading your new book?

Under the Stars: Astrophysics for Bedtime is all about cultivating a sense of wonder and exploration in young children. The illustrations are designed so that every child can see a role model who looks like them. It is so important for girls and boys to engage enthusiastically in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects so that we can build a future designed by everyone that serves the needs of society.

Parents get an opportunity to read fascinating stories about space to their children and help stimulate their curiosity at the same time. As kids get older, they will get a bit of peace and quiet as children get engrossed in reading the book themselves! Older primary-aged kids will love reading the stories again and again, each time learning something new. And don't tell the kids - but this book is also for the grown-ups too! You can have a sneaky read once the littlies have gone to sleep. Learning is a life-long joy after all.  

Please feel free to share any amazing stories or anecdotes about writing this book if you have any!

Writing Under the Stars was a labour of love. Since I work full-time, I did my writing at night, dreaming up stories and crafting the book from my bed. I think that writing at night helped create the dreamy 'astrophysics for bedtime' vibe of the book.  

About the author

Astronomer and Australian Government Women in STEM Ambassador. Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith is an award-winning astrophysicist with a talent for making the secrets of the universe accessible to all. She has spent 15 years conducting astrophysics research at universities and research institutes across the world.

Waiting on Wednesday: New Australian Fiction

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly prompt hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are looking forward to. This week I've picked Kill Your Darlings' 2019 anthology of New Australian Fiction. 

A childless couple find an abandoned baby on the beach. A twilight car accident has a man lost in the bush. Two men on the coast share an unspoken love.

A father is prosecuted by his small-town community. A young woman has a threatening first date.

A writer is terrorised by the ghosts of his fiction. Drugs drive childhood friends apart. City folk visit a room for crying.

 New Australian Fiction features brilliant writers with distinct experiences, voices and styles from all corners of Australia.

Together they showcase the strength and diversity of Australian short fiction at its best. These stories will move, entertain and enlighten you.

As a fan of the KYD magazine, I'm excited to see how this short story collection pans out - it's promising to be timely and insightful, hopefully shining the spotlight on some brilliant new talent on the writing scene!

Releasing 1st October 2019 from Kill Your Darlings

{Guest Post} Strong female characters in YA fantasy By Bronwyn Eley

Saturday, 7 September 2019

What do you think of when I say ‘strong female’? Do you think of an overzealous, over-confident, opinionated and harsh-looking female? I guess some would. Because, for some, women will forever be seen as the ones who love, the carers, the ones you go to for comfort. This is not a bad thing. But women being anything more than that – women who are bold with their emotions, confident with their sexuality, ambitious in the workplace – can be seen as going ‘against our true nature’.

But what is so important to me, when writing, is representing reality. I’ve met women who are as above: caring, homely, sweet, there for you when you need them. I have also met women who are cold, cruel, lost, confused, angry, selfish and vapid. I have met women who are intelligent, brave, ambitious and passionate.

What I believe is that ‘strong women’ encompass many – if not all – of these qualities. That a ‘strong woman’ might still be vapid and cruel at times, but she will have the capacity to overcome those petty emotions and be a better person. Representing strong women in YA – in all books – does not mean we present perfect women. Women who are only brave, intelligent, beautiful and ambitious. Because that’s not realistic. Show me one woman who has never made a mistake – who has never been cruel or selfish – and I will fall over from shock.

Having negative qualities does not mean she is not a strong woman. In fact, having the strength and self-awareness to know when she has made a mistake and overcome it...that is strong.

Elizabeth Bennet (or, rather, Jane Austen) said it well in Pride and Prejudice when Darcy is listing the qualities he believes mark an accomplished woman. That she must have thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages. That she must conduct herself in a manner worthy of respect. Basically, he was talking about upper-class women who must be ‘perfect’ at all times.

When Elizabeth says she is not surprised that Darcy has only met six accomplished women in his life, Darcy asks why she is so ‘severe upon her own sex’.

Elizabeth’s response has, to this day, stuck with me. She says ‘I never saw such a woman, I never saw such capacity.’

The fact that Darcy seems to believe it is a slight against women that Elizabeth doubts finding a woman with such qualities is extremely naive. This is perhaps what Austen intended. Women are complex creatures, just as men are. Humans are complex and just because we have flaws and negative qualities does not mean we aren’t good people, that we aren’t strong.

Relic was my first attempt at writing young adult fantasy and I hope that I’ve done it justice. From the beginning, it was extremely important to me that all my characters – women and men – were represented in a true light. I chose to set my novel in a city that – for the most part – did not discriminate based on sex. I wanted to give my female characters every chance to be who and what they wanted to be. This is one reason I made Kaylan a blacksmith. Being traditionally a man’s occupation, it is not uncommon in the city of Edriast for there to be female blacksmiths. Kaylan is not the first and she won’t be the last. In Edriast, there is no gender segregation when it comes to occupation. Women can be blacksmiths. Men can be nannies. There are jobs. These are humans. They do the work; it’s as simple as that.

This is certainly a personal ideal of mine; something I wish was a reality. It might be someday!

YA is an incredibly important genre because of who it is aimed at. That’s not to say people outside the ‘young adult’ age bracket don’t read YA. I am outside that bracket and I write YA, as well as read it. YA is not just for young people. It is for the young at heart, for people who crave adventure, for people who want to remember.

But, of course, YA is read by young adults... by people whose minds are open and still forming, gobbling up anything and everything in their journey to find out who they are. So the characters that they read can have a huge influence on who they become, on what they see as normal, on what they see as right and wrong. Stories have incredible power to shape us.

YA fantasy is an interesting genre too because it is often set in a world that is like our past – in medieval times. During those times, women were treated like property. Women were seen as the weaker sex. Women were seen as mothers, were seen as a means for pleasure for men and were limited in too many ways. So it’s interesting that in YA fantasy, in a setting so similar, that we often lean towards representing these kick-ass, savvy and powerful women. Strong women in this world is not uncommon, right? But take those all qualities that we desire or expect out of a strong woman and chuck them in the past, in a world without technology, without the comfort many of us are used to and what happens? We get women who can fight, women who are not limited, women who are heard. This is not true of all YA fantasy but authors take this unique opportunity and let their female characters embrace it. As a reader myself, I have come to expect this in YA fantasy. I want women saving the world, going on adventures, being bold, being challenged, making mistakes and rectifying them.

There’s still work to be done with how both women and men are represented in literature. For me, with Relic, creating realistic women was one of my top priorities. Showing how women really are, while also showing that it is not just bravery and skills with a sword that make a ‘strong woman’. Strong women still make mistakes, still cause others pain, still suffer themselves and perhaps they are stronger for it.

About the book

Relic by Bronwyn Eley
Released: 12th September 2019
Published by: Talem Press
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 497
In the city of Edriast, there is no deadlier duty than to serve as the Shadow. As the personal servant of the powerful Lord Rennard, the Shadow's life is all but forfeit. Rennard possesses one of five rare and dangerous Relics – a jewel that protects his bloodline, but slowly poisons everyone else in its proximity.

When the current Shadow succumbs to its magic, nineteen-year-old blacksmith Kaylan is summoned to take his place. It's an appointment that will kill her. As the time Kaylan has left ebbs away, hope begins to fade...

That is, until she discovers a plot to destroy all five bloodlines in possession of the Relics. A rebel force plans to put an end to Rennard's rule and Kaylan suddenly finds herself embroiled in a cause that might just be worth fighting for. But no cause is without its costs.

As her life hangs in the balance and rebellion bears down on Edriast, Kaylan must decide where her loyalties lie – and how she'll leave her mark on the world. Relic is the absorbing first novel in The Relic Trilogy, a thrillingly dark YA fantasy series.

About the author

Bronwyn joined the military right out of high school, where she learnt (among other things) to disassemble and reassemble a rifle blindfolded. After that she spent a lot of her time travelling around the world. Her favourite places (so far) are Scotland, Mongolia, Iceland and Ireland. Bronwyn finally found her natural habitat when she landed her first job in the publishing industry. While she has always been a writer, it was only when surrounding herself with books that she realised her life’s dream was to become an author. Relic is her first novel. Bronwyn lives in Sydney and spends her time eating chocolate, reading and practicing her martial arts.

{Guest Post} Global writing for the next generation of authors By E.J. Miranda

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Today author E.J. Miranda has stopped by on the blog to discuss an important issue for writers - how do you help readers on a global scale connect with your story? Read on to find out more!

How do you, as an author, connect people around the world through your writing? We live in a time where the internet allows us to know what is happening in other countries in just a couple of seconds. We are all connected as a big online community where, with just a couple of clicks, we have information readily available to us. But, how can you take this sense of connection to the next level as a global writer? How do you build a community and generate awareness of other cultures through your stories and characters?

It all comes down to having a real message to the world and educating yourself on how to transmit to create the biggest impact. To be a writer, you must be a good reader. This is a given. You must be curious. You must ask questions and be willing to seek the answers for yourself. You must connect to the people you are intending to write about. It is only when you understand something, when you do your research, when you seek both sides of a situation, that you will truly gain a good sense of what you will be writing about. Otherwise, you will be blindly writing about a subject that you only have superficial knowledge about and this reflects on the writing.

My personal take on global writing is that it allows you to create a sense of cultural awareness, encourage respect to other countries’ cultures, and connect readers of different backgrounds by giving them information and allowing them to make their own conclusions on how different or similar their cultures are. I strongly believe that when people have information and a true understanding of other cultures, they are able to make more educated decisions on their words and actions. We live in a time where it has never been more important to be respectful and aware of the world’s cultural diversity. We can only grow together and evolve as a society if we encourage respect, tolerance, and an open-minded approach to others.

As a writer, each book represents an opportunity to impact your readers and move them emotionally. As an example for you, when I was outlining my first book “Julian Fox, The Dream Guardian”, I knew that I wanted to leave a bigger message to the world. I wanted my book to be more than just an entertaining story, and I wanted to make the readers actually think. My personal way of connecting people around the world is through history and cultural awareness. I wrote about locations and historic events I have spent years researching about.

My take on global writing was creating different characters of diverse cultural backgrounds, aiming to be as accurate and respectful as I could be. I also wrote about characters that not only are from different countries, but they lived through very difficult historic events, such as the Black Plague, the Spanish Inquisition, the construction of the Great Wall of China, among others. I personally chose history as a way to connect people by giving them information on the events that happened and let them make their own conclusion on how these “past” circumstances are still occurring today. These events may have taken place in another country, but learning about them could actually allow the readers to see just how similar we all are and even encourage conversations on global solutions.

As you can see, this is only one approach to global writing, but there are many others you can choose to pursue. The main idea is to always connect your readers to the rest of the world, leave an emotional impact on them, and encourage a positive change through your writing.

About the author

E. J. MIRANDA is an avid reader, an enthusiastic traveler, and a passionate author. Her great sense of humor and love for nature have granted her a rebellious writing style: her approach describes the adventures of life, but in such a way that each reader can have an individual take on the matter. Her inspiration comes from her curiosity about other countries’ cultures and peculiarities. A few countries in particular which spark her curiosity are Colombia, Italy, Costa Rica, England, Belgium, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. 

 Her favorite places to visit are historical sites and museums, locations that allow her to explore important and even overlooked details. She currently lives with her husband in Colombia, but frequently travels to Houston to visit her daughter and son. E.J. Miranda has a degree in tax accounting, but she prefers interacting with people to calculating their taxes. To learn more about her life and work, visit