Building a new world

World building. The most important part of science fiction and fantasy writing, to create a world that is incredible yet believable, strange yet familiar. This excellent article gives some insight into the art of world building that I hadn’t consciously considered up until now. As I discovered writing my last short story, building a world in less than 4,000 words and then still finding time to create a story with a beginning, a middle and end, and with characters who you can have a relationship with, is not easy.

I wrote a couple of thousand words a few months ago, to tackle this same subject. I intended it to be the opening to a novel, and began world building almost as soon as I put pen to paper. I’m not sure if it’s too rushed – but then again, I’ve read plenty of sci fi that really should have got a wiggle on with the plot rather than wax lyrical for three chapters about the setting, so maybe it’s better to move the story along and build the world from within. This is a longer term project that I intend to develop over an extended period of time, to complement my non-fiction portfolio which is the current focus of my work. It’s an attempt to discover if I really have the stamina for novel writing. I can’t promise when Chapter Two will appear but I’d really rather like it to. I’ve grown quite attached to Ashira already, and have several notions about where her journey will end. So take a look; I’ve posted it here for your comments and feedback.

Moku – Chapter One by Louisa Brann

Something for the weekend – A comedy sci-fi

I promised after I published ‘Chosen’ last month that I would try something a little lighter next. So I’ve switched genres and gone all ‘Hitchhikers Guide’ on you…please welcome ‘Tastes Like Chicken’,  a short piece of science fiction based on an idea I had whilst researching my article on stem cell meat. It’s aimed squarely at Douglas Adams fans; a fantastical and faintly ridiculous story about Moxie and her I-Bot, Morgan, working against the clock to save the human race from starvation.

The temptation when writing sci fi is to hurtle straight into world-building and end up telling everyone about where your story is set and how it got to be set there without ever getting to the ‘showing’ part where characters actually speak or do anything. In a short fluffy piece like this, it’s almost impossible to justify more back story than you can scribble on a fag packet, as I found out early on in the process. Indeed, I’m particularly thankful to my mum, who read the first draft and told me she ‘felt like it went on a bit’. She was right: it did. It’s now 800 words lighter and much better for getting straight to the point. I hope you agree, and again welcome feedback and comments if you have any.

Tastes Like Chicken by Louisa Brann

Have a great weekend, wherever you are.

Dance your PHD

So, here’s a great idea: a competition to dance your PHD. Science and performance art combining to produce something intricate yet comprehensible; serious yet entertaining; researched, rehearsed yet beautifully spontaneous. I thought I would share this with you, because it occurred to me that this is not just an innovative and exciting way to get people to understand each other’s ideas better, but in turn, something that might help turn science fiction to science fact just that little bit faster.

The originator of the competition, John Bohannon, explains it rather eloquently during his Ted Talk, but I’ll add a little thought of my own. Imagine if we could all learn from dance what we find so daunting in textbooks, if we could search ‘Wikidance’ for all the amazing things in the world that are so hard to understand. Imagine if we all shared our knowledge in this incredibly creative way, across Youtube and Vimeo and in universities and laboratories, how powerful and persuasive we could be, and how much more we would know. And how much we would enjoy knowing it.

Unfortunately I don’t have a science PHD. just a GCSE from 1990. But I have a great sense of rhythm and a nice line in lycra lurking somewhere in the back of the wardrobe. So if anyone out there has something they’d like to enter but is a little short on dance moves, I’m not too old to break out my jazz shoes…


Free your mind

I have discovered something disturbing: I am left-brain biased.

This is not all bad, but in terms of career choices it’s pretty devastating: the left side of the brain is the logical, analytical, objective side that deals with language, reasoning, logic, numbers and critical thinking. What is right brained thinking? Well, it’s the intuitive, thoughtful, subjective processing; the stuff novels and plays and music is made of. The right is flighty, concentrating on expressive and creative tasks, and including things such as intuition and colour. The left is a fan of organising things according to size and having all the facts at hand prior to making any kind of decision. We tend to use either side of our brain for different things as appropriate, but each of us has strengths and weaknesses within both hemispheres that make up the sum of us. And most people, myself included, have a bias towards one or the other. Read More

Dinner’s in the lab, dear

Whether you know it or not, cow farts are a big problem. According to latest estimations, they produce at least 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That means, for every 10 breaths we take, two of them are full of bovine bottom pops*. That can’t be good. And that’s just one of the food supply issues we face as the population of the world continues to expand. As a writer imagining what a future world might look like, I have to think about what we might like to eat, and what will be available. It’s worth considering that the food we enjoy today – our organic, GM-free, locally grown, ethnically sound produce – is probably not anything much like our grandchildren’s grandchildren are likely to serve up. Read More

Something for the weekend: A Tuscan Fantasy

This is Civita de Bagnoregio. It’s an abandoned town in the ancient volcanic regions of Tuscany, populated these days by cats and tourists, but dating back to Etruscan times. While we were visiting, we witnessed one of the most terrifying thunderstorms I can remember; then, in desperation to get back to our car before dark, we walked through the storm over that impossibly steep and somewhat narrow causeway. Not a jaunt for the faint hearted, I promise. It’s the inspiration behind this short story, a small fantasy piece that occurred to me while I edged my way back to the safety of the visitor car park.

‘Barra’, my Tuscan ‘heroine’, is named after St. Barbara, an early Christian saint and martyr whose legend is associated with lightening. The story is not set in any particular time; maybe long in the past or far in the future. I had some interesting tussles with Barra’s character; although I felt sorry for her at the start, she ended up being less of a heroine than I’d originally intended. The decisions I made about her made the story finish on a dark note I wasn’t expecting.

‘Chosen’ by Louisa Brann

Have a read and please leave a comment or drop me an email to tell me what you think. Writing improves faster with feedback!

Rise of the machines

…actually, just one particular machine. The 3D printer has become a source of fascination to me in the past month. Like buses or boyfriends, they have come from nowhere and are suddenly everywhere. Useful for a somewhat limited number of applications right now, I’m pretty convinced that what we are seeing is just the beginnings of a revolution. In ten years I have no doubt

we will be looking back at our early attempts to self-manufacture trainers and hand guns in the same way as we smile fondly at the memories of Betamax video and Commodore 64s. No doubt we will mull it all over whilst sitting on a 3D printed sofa downloaded from IKEA (hopefully supplied with more instructions than a set of cartoons and an allen key).

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Failing to succeed

I watched an interesting talk online this week, given by Seth Godin last year on ‘Art and Science and Making Things’. It was a thought-provoking discussion on the business of taking risks and failing in order to create new things. Forgive me if I am late to the party, but I have just discovered Seth, and the more I read, the more I appreciate his articulation of the same thoughts that so often scramble about in my head in such splendid disarray that I can’t seem to ever pin them down to paper.

Seth puts forward the often-touted but largely ignored view that our current society is based on an ‘Industrial System’, where education, both in school and the workplace, is about learning things we already know. It is a system designed to produce people who Read More


We just arrived at our home in Tuscany for the next five days. It’s like the place was made  for me:

Scrap metal cow sculpture: check

Scrap metal cow sculpture: check

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Sunflowers and lavender

…and what better place to visit at this juncture than the origins of the Italian Renaissance: Florence. I’m not quite there yet;  we are staying a few kilometres south and planning to pay a visit next week when we’re refreshed and relaxed. There is only so much city life anyone can take, wherever it is. After the stifling heat and humidity of Dubai, the fresh air and sprawling vineyards lining the Tuscan countryside are a miraculous gift, and although I can barely wait to walk through the streets and squares of the great city itself I am relishing this time to reacquaint myself with this most beautiful part of the world.

Nostalgia tends to grip me at times like these; it’s as though my brain collects Read More

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