Archive for the ‘Worms’ Category

Ultimate procrastination

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Thanks to John Naughton I have just stumbled upon a site which appears to list every public or semi-public talk being given in or around Cambridge University. It is a glorious searchable toyshop of interesting ideas and almost the best thing about it is that each talk is accompanied by a sidebar listing others that seem almost entirely random. So I went from

And a whole lot of other stuff I have already forgotten. See? It’s like Google, but with real learning at the end of it.

“Once upon a Time” in Japanese

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006
An unexpected heavy parcel today contained five copies of the Worm book translated into Japanese. I had entirely forgotten this was going to happen. Here. in celebration, is some of the opening sentence. I have long been proud of writing the only pop science book that starts “once upon a time” and now I know, I hope, what the phrase looks like in Japanese.

acid slug drool

Monday, July 19th, 2004

There was a scare last weekend that gardeners would be prosecuted if slugs can be shown to feel pain. As far as most gardeners are concerned, the problem with slugs is that they don’t feel enough pain: compared to the exquisite torment suffered by the cauliflower which is eaten cell by cell, dissolved in acid slug drool over a period of weeks, the brief horror of sprinkling salt is merciful. But this is not the time to ask who in this discredited government will speak up for the cauliflower. The question is whether there is any truly humane way to deal with the animals that want to eat the plants which we would also like to eat, or even to admire.


rubber-legged in anticipation

Monday, June 7th, 2004

I’ve just been sent the programme for the Aventis bash next week. There is a photocall for the authors at five, and then a steady programme of refreshments until eight, when the prizes are announced. After that, they feed us. Is this entirely wise? A dozen authors, locked up for three hours with friends, rivals and unlimited booze, waiting to see who among them will win small fame and a large cheque: this sounds like the plot of a Frayn novel. Those convinced that they will never win might drink to provoke their own bonhomie; those who think they might win will drink to calm their nerves — and one way or another there is, it seems to me, a fair chance that whoever gets shovelled up on stage to make a speech of less than one minute as the programme says in bold, will be scarcely able to find the mike stand.

Shortlisted. Hot gerund damn!

Tuesday, May 11th, 2004

I just saw in the Times that the worms have been shortlisted for the Aventis Science book prize. Francis Spufford got his book on the shortlist too. Can it be true, as he tells me, that you get £1000 just for being on the shortlist? There’s £10,000 for the winner, but that will be either Bill Bryson or Matt Ridley. [update]. Yes. It is true. This year, the money’s just gravy, but I have wanted to get on this shortlist ever since I started writing science books, and it is really something to have got there as well as winning the Templeton prize for religious journalism. It ought to have made selling the big science-and-god book easier, too.

Good news

Sunday, April 18th, 2004

I’ve only just discovered this, but the worm book has been long-listed for the Aventis Prize. It won’t win, of course, but it would be nice to make the shortlist alongside the likes of Dan Dennett, Matt Ridley, Francis Spufford (who told me about it), Bill Bryson and Simon Baron-Cohen. I’m surprised and dismayed that Oliver Morton‘s Mapping Mars didn’t make it. The prize for the most ambitious title, in the face of stiff competition, goes to Sex, Botany, and Empire, a book about Joseph Banks and Carl von Linné. Botany I can see. Empire, I can see: without it, Banks would not have got breadfruit, and Linnaeus got no further than Lapland. But sex? Did the two men exchange genetic material?

It’s out

Friday, October 10th, 2003

And it’s beautiful. All you American readers, go and buy this book at once. Columbia University Press have done a wonderful job on the worm, including illustrations, which Simon and Schuster never bothered with in the English edition. This is the best produced and published that I have ever been. Naturally, I can’t find the damn thing on The cover is there, and the publisher is correct. But it appears from their text that I have co-written, with John Updike, a history of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Perhaps there’s something in the AA catechism about this: “Have you ever woken one morning to discover you have written a book with John Updike? Has this happpened often?”

They like me; they like me; they really really like me!

Wednesday, September 10th, 2003

So to a worm party in Cambridge, where almost all the people I wrote about have gathered for a 25th anniversary bash. Sydney Brenner was there, and Sulston, of course, and Bob Waterston, Phil Anderson, Judith Kimble, John White. Some people I hadn’t met, among them Cynthia Kenyon, who said “Ah yes, I’m reviewing your book for Nature”. Bit of a conversation stopper, that.


What can we learn from the worm

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

I have just been filling out an incredibly long and detailed author questionnaire for Columbia University Press. One test was to provide half a dozen questions for journalists to ask who are too lazy busy to read the book. I should have sent them Peter Cook’s take on worms, scanned in below.


good press

Monday, March 24th, 2003

Just when I thought the worm book was over in this country, along comes a delicious review in the Sunday Times. And I caught three trout over the weekend, but that is a subject for a later entry. First to finsih an obituary which is a year overdue. I’m very happy about that. It’s someone I like and esteem. I don’t want her to die. But it would be good to have the damn obit filed away.

It occurs to me that I am starting this week writing an obituary for the Times, and will finish it with a supper at the Athenaeum. Also the Oxford Union wants me to speak as “one of Britain’s best-known atheists”. Shit! Mother! Where did I go wrong? I don’t want to be respectable. Solvent, yes. Able to travel — that’s a necessity. And — all right, admit it — I want to turn down a knighthood, as Neal Ascherson did.