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Lucy Hawking: Kids, here’s the key to the universe

  • Published at 04:40 am November 22nd, 2014

Lucy Hawking, children’s book author and daughter of Stephen Hawking, talks about her book series and the challenges of writing science fiction.

After studying French and Russian literature, how did you transition to writing science fiction? Quite naturally in fact. I studied arts and I grew up with a scientist. The books are a fusion of storytelling and scientific information – I have the creative writing and adventure story background, and my father inputs the scientific information. So in a sense it works perfectly.

How much does your father’s work influence your work? I think I have made something new out of it. For example, the Goerge’s series is really the first attempt that I know of to try and explain the universe through adventure stories for children. So it’s something quite new that I have taken those two elements and made something original and different out of it.

As a literature student myself, I find writing for children is one of the most difficult types of storytelling. Yes you identified the main issue. How do we get enough information into the books? How do we phrase it simply enough? How do we keep the adventure story moving fast enough so we don’t lose readers? That is something we work on all the time.

Tell us about the George’s series. There are four books in print and the fifth and final book is coming soon.  The first one is George’s Secret Key to the Universe. It’s about a boy named George who lives with his parents in an ordinary house in a small town. One day, a new neighbour moves in named Eric, and he is the world’s greatest living scientist. (He is modelled on my father as a young man, and that’s what he looks like in the drawings). 

Eric has a supercomputer called Cosmos, which can open doorways to anywhere in the universe. So the books are the adventures of George and his best friend Annie. Each time they go somewhere through the doorway, you learn something about the place.  We put in as much info as we can. We also have essays written by leading scientists for children, writing about topics that we touch on in the story line. There are quite tight constraints about what I am allowed to do. Because we have never met an alien, I can’t have one in the book.

What do you have to say to critics who say sci-fi is low literature? Yes there is a significant amount of snobbery towards science fiction as a genre within the literary canon and it is never going to be considered high art, but it is very vibrant and exciting, and people love it.

There is a massive appetite for it. For kids, what is more exciting than getting into a spaceship with your friend and going off on a journey, where you are the commander of the spaceship, and who knows who or what are you going to meet along the way?  It is doesn’t bother me at all if there is literary snobbery towards it. 

How could sci-fi books like yours be incorporated into school curricula? Well there are lot of things you can do.  The first book for example contains a lot of information, because where a topic is mentioned in the storyline, we included extra information about that in a box. These boxes are very educational.  The books give teachers a way to keep students engaged without getting bored. Teachers can also ask students to write their own stories based on the books.

I can’t help but ask: Have you seen the movie Theory of Everything? Yes I have. I actually talked about it in my panel. It’s beautiful, very beautiful. It’s very odd for me to watch it, but I quite liked it because people always ask me what its like to have Stephen Hawking as a father. Now I just will ask them to go see the movie.