Writing Science

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, but since I last wrote I have written two science readers for 8th and 9th graders. One should be forthcoming later this year, the other next spring. To explain a little more about how this came to be and why it is so unexpected, let me share a piece I wrote earlier this year for ASJA’s The Word.

From Science Dunce to Science Writer?

I was never a good science student. While I excelled at other subjects, science made my eyes glaze over. When I took my last chemistry class at the age of 13, I left in my wake the remnants of so many failed experiments. I continued with physics just long enough to get my one basic qualification at 15. Never would I have to do science again.

How, then, do I now find myself with a forthcoming book on, of all things, nuclear fusion and fission? And why have some of my most rewarding (financially and mentally) writing projects involved the very subjects that once filled me with dread?

It all started a few years ago when an environmental consortium at the University of Kentucky approached me about a book project, charting the history of a gaseous diffusion plant. I explained that I knew nothing about the science and perhaps they might want to find someone with more experience in that particular field, but they replied that they knew exactly who they wanted. Me! In their words, “We have plenty of scientists. What we don’t have is someone who can turn their work into the stories that interest people.” I spent the next few months compiling histories of the plant and its employees. Sure, there was physics and chemistry. This was after all the era of the Manhattan Project. But that was just one part of a much larger story about how a nuclear plant changed an entire community. And I was surprised to find myself interested in the science. Once it was taken out of a classroom and put into a human context, it became something I could relate to.

That experience led to my being asked to write a science book for 9th graders, again on the topic of nuclear science. This time, there was much more hard science involved, and more than once I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Yet again, I found that if I focused on the stories of the scientists and their discoveries, the physics became easier to explain. I wasn’t writing for an audience of Nobel Prize winners; I was writing for 14 and 15 year olds. I needed to present the material in a way that they would both understand and enjoy. A few days after submitting the manuscript, my editor responded: “You knocked this out of the park!”

Do I now claim to be a science author? Not in the least. But I no longer shy away from the topic and I can hold a lengthy conversation about the history of nuclear discovery. Because, even with science, it’s about telling the story.


“Great Discoveries in Science: Nuclear Fusion and Fission” will be released by Cavendish Square Publishing later this year. Look out for “Space Systems: The Universe to Scale” next year.

10 Odd Jobs of Yesteryear

Looking back, it’s interesting to see how my love of genealogy has led to some intereMr_Bumble_1889_Dickens_Oliver_Twist_character_by_Kyd_(Joseph_Clayton_Clarke)sting writing opportunities. It was my membership on a genealogy listserv that led to a publisher contacting me back in 2007. As a result of that contact, I wrote Lexington: Then and Now, a book which put me in good stead for attracting another publisher and writing two more books.

Last week, my love of tracing my family’s roots allowed me to publish my first piece with Titled 10 Odd Jobs of Yesteryear, I offer a look at some of the oddest titled and really quite grotty jobs from historic Britain. If you have ever wondered what a knocker-upper does, or perhaps whether you should quit your office job to become a purefinder, this article is for you.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


My Husband the Fashionista

I learned over the weekend that this short piece had received an honorable mention in the latest HumorPress contest, so here for your amusement is…

My Husband The Fashionista
Fiona Young-Brown, Kentucky

I recently made a shocking discovery about my husband. Something that shook me to the core and has changed all my preconceived notions of him. After thirteen years of marriage and an additional six years of friendship, I thought I had little more to learn.

Sure there were occasional moments when I exclaimed “Why did I not know this about you before?” I have learned to live with the knowledge that he is wrong in the ongoing Sammy Hagar vs. David Lee Roth debate. And one day he will accept that my duck billed platypus could defeat his deadly coral snake in our hypothetical critter death match!

But this new discovery went far beyond that.

How had I gone for so many years without knowing that my husband is, in his own words, “a heterosexual fashionista”? Yes, the –ista ending is female but I am not about to interrupt this previously unknown genius with a linguistic technicality.

This is the man who, let’s be clear, often displays a startling lack of personal fashion sense. Hawaiian shirts and camo shorts (together!) are de rigueur summer wear. Top to toe denim strikes him as a sensible, well put together combination.

How could such a man possibly be a hidden style maven of such magnitude?

I hate shopping for clothes. Loathe it. For years, I clung loyally to one store, buying two or three matching items at once. But the day came when my beloved store closed and I had to go to a conference…in Manhattan! After much gnashing of teeth, pulling of hair, and punching of pillows, all accompanied by a toddler-like whine of “I don’t wanna go to the mall!” my husband convinced me that this must be done.

I inched nervously toward the sliding doors. Inside, men slept on chairs as they waited for their wives. Couldn’t I just join them? Shoes, accessories, lingerie. Each department edged perilously closer to my living nightmare: women’s clothing. Row upon row of choice that, quite frankly, confused me. I was never a girly girl. Give me a book and I’m good.

“See anything you like?”

“Don’t know” was my pouty reply.

And then it happened. A transformation that, had it not occurred before my very eyes, I would never have believed. My husband, Mr. Zombie T-shirt, was gone. In his place was a whirling dervish of color and cotton, spinning through the racks, grabbing things in a seemingly random manner. He returned with a handful of items which, I have to admit, were very nice. I was even more surprised when I tried them on. They fit. Even better, they looked (pardon my French) freaking awesome!

I stepped out into the store to show him my latest outfit and found him laden with more to try. “This goes with this and this. Those both look good, but obviously not together.” As he offered his insights, women gathered around, asking where he had found such and such, what color would he recommend, did he think she could get away with wearing a knee-length…. One elderly woman clutched my arm. “I don’t know where you found him but he’s good!”

After a mere thirty minutes, I left the store, armed with three new skirts and three tops in cheerful colors that my staid British self would never have dared try. Sitting contentedly in the car, I heard him say, “And you may not have noticed but each top is interchangeable with the skirts so you have nine possible combinations.” I believe I fainted at that moment.

If anyone would like to rent a husband for their next shopping trip, call me. Reasonable rates. Satisfaction guaranteed.

© Copyright. No unauthorized reproduction or redistribution is allowed.

Joseph Beth Hosts an Evening of Kentucky Food

With the holidays approaching, Joseph Beth booksellers in Lexington has put together an evening that promises to be tons of tasty fun!

This Tuesday (December 9) at 7pm, I will be appearing alongside three other History Press authors:

Not only will we each be talking about some of the wonderful foods in our books; we will also be bringing some samples with us. I’ve heard rumors of a local cheese, some fabulous country ham, and some beer. And I am thinking of making up a batch of potato candy.

But that’s not all. The Bronte Bistro has put together a special event menu, featuring some of the dishes from the books.



So come on out next Tuesday. Grab a bite to eat, come hear us, and then take care of your Christmas shopping by picking up copies of our books for everyone on your list! I can’t think of a better way to spend a Tuesday evening.





A New Review, and the Birth of a Story

It has been a busy few days as I prepare for a book signing and seminar at this Saturday’s Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show. My seminar will be on the subject of the apple stack cake, and I will be providing samples. This means that I have been busy drying apples, making fillings, and making the cake, which is currently setting up.

Thanks to several years in Toastmasters, I feel confident about the speaking portion, but am much more concerned that the cake should turn out properly.

With perfect timing before Saturday’s event, I was delighted to find that local food blogger Alan Cornett posted a review of A Culinary History of Kentucky today on his blog, Eat Kentucky. Please head over to check it out, and be sure to explore the rest of his blog. I assure you, my mouth waters whenever I read about his latest food adventures.

A story of mine was recently published in Nutraceuticals World, and that story had its genesis at last year’s Incredible Food Show. I happened to attend a seminar on the subject of blackberries, thinking I would pick up some handy tips on cooking with them. Instead, the presenter was a local businesswoman and entrepreneur by the name of Paige Shumate Short. She shared some fascinating medical research that was being done by her company Four Tigers. I’ll direct you to the story here, but suffice to say I am very proud of the story and I think the research being done could have some great benefits for many of us.


Mafia Jam Cake

Jam Cake

Jam cakes are a popular feature of any Southern bake sale, and this one is always a hit whenever I make it. Almost as good as the three layers of blackberry jam cake, filled with thick caramel frosting, is the story behind this particular recipe. You see, this is known in my husband’s family as Mafia Cake for a reason: it has alleged links to gangster Al Capone via a Clay County couple who traveled to Chicago to seek their fortune.

I’m not going to share the entire story or the recipe here. Suffice to say, you can find both in A Culinary History of Kentucky, which is available at your local bookstore. If you try it, be sure to let me know what you think.

Changes and Updates

As you will have noticed, the site is undergoing a few (well ok more than a few) changes.  There is more info to come and I’m sure over the next few weeks I will discover broken links, make minor tweaks and so on.

So please bear with me and, if you notice a problem, let me know.