Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Theory of Everything - where art meets science

How do you make a life-affirming film about a brilliant mind trapped in a body that does not work the way it should? You make it into a romance with a brave young heroine, add a few mind-blowing theories about black holes, and invite God to the party - then give everything a good spin, preferably reversing time as you go.

I enjoyed this biopic the same way I enjoyed the film Titanic - knowing what lies ahead for the characters just makes the early part of the story more poignant. Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease while he was a 21 year old student at Cambridge, and given two years to live. Now 73, he has defied medical science and continues to amaze the world with his theories of the universe.

The film begins as a fairytale romance between Stephen, the slightly nerdy Science student, and his sweetheart Jane, a church-going Arts student who becomes his wife. It does not shy away from the tragedy of Stephen's condition, and I found myself looking away from the screen a few times during the medical procedures. The first time he falls down, I think the whole cinema winced. It's a powerful story, and also a clever one with the use of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time to give the film an extra dimension. (No, the unicorn is not telling you how - you'll have to go and see it yourself!)

There is much to be learned from films like this that do not rely upon special effects and huge budgets to attract audiences, yet somehow still do. It has that extra dimension that transforms the basic story from a tragedy/romance into something bigger than we are. Whether you call that something God or the Big Bang, whether Stephen Hawking is right about the universe or not, does not matter. It brings art and science together, and has reminded me about a novel I was trying to write a few years ago about a famous mathematician that contains the same themes. But you don't need to be a mathematician to enjoy this film. The Theory of Everything leaves you thinking about... well... everything.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Long Live Libraries!

No. 1 title in UK libraries

It's that time of the year again, when PLR (Public Lending Right) payments are made for loans of books from UK libraries. These payments refer to loans made between June 2013 and June 2014, and the unicorn always finds it interesting to see how the loan figures compare to sales of those books over the same period.

I did a blog post here on my best-selling and top-earning (not always this same thing!) ebook titles.

Here are the unicorn's Top Ten loaned titles:

1. Sword of Light (Pendragon Legacy) - 3293 loans
2. Crown of Dreams (Pendragon Legacy) - 1013
3. Lance of Truth (Pendragon Legacy) - 558
4. Grail of Stars (Pendragon Legacy) - 525
5. The Cleopatra Curse (Seven Fabulous Wonders) - 488
6. Song Quest (Echorium Sequence) - 429
7. The Mausoleum Murder (Seven Fabulous Wonders) - 309
8. The Great Pyramid Robbery (Seven Fabulous Wonders) - 306
9. The Amazon Temple Quest (Seven Fabulous Wonders) - 294
10. The Olympic Conspiracy (Seven Fabulous Wonders) - 207

It's good to see my recent Pendragon Legacy series about King Arthur's daughter at the top of this list, with both the hardcovers and paperbacks loaning well in UK libraries. "Sword of Light" was in the Summer Reading Challenge when it was first published in 2012, which might account for the greater number of loans for that title... more copies stocked means more possible loans?

Surprisingly, the Seven Fabulous Wonders are still loaning solidly, if unspectacularly, more than ten years after their publication. Since these were paperback originals, I just hope the library copies are not getting too grubby! Song Quest is in there too, but is cheating slightly since it has had five different paper editions since its first publication in 1999. It also won the Branford Boase Award.

"I am the Great Horse" has been knocked back to 12th place in the UK library stakes this year, yet remains my current top selling (and top earning) ebook worldwide. Does this suggest Alexander the Great's horse might be more popular in America? Or that ebooks might be replacing library loans for titles read by adults as well as younger readers?

Two of my books had zero loans - Dark Quetzal (Echorium Sequence #3) and Magical Horses (my pop-up illustrated title). But the library figures are sampled so it's possible you have read one of these books in a library that did not take part in the sampling this year.

Seeing my PLR statement always makes the unicorn eager to write more children's books, whereas catching a glimpse of my royalty statements usually makes him want to gallop off into the enchanted forest to bury his glittery horn in a dark hole... not sure why, since the rate per loan is (usually) quite a bit less than the author's royalty share per book sold. But writing books is not just about the money, is it? If it were, there would be no unicorns left in this world. It's about the readers out there, still enjoying these books so long after publication. And it's about the libraries, who are clearly still providing a valuable service for those young readers who might not be able to buy the books or download the ebooks.

Long live libraries!


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