Why I will always be deeply Dippy.

I know that love at first sight exists, because it happened to me.

I grew up pretty poor and, by any standards, I had a tough childhood that was very much grounded in realities. We didn’t have a lot when I was a child, but I was lucky enough to live a bus ride from the Natural History Museum. It was a long way, but I could save up my meagre pocket money and gather enough together to buy myself a Red Bus Rover and head into London to spend a day hanging around in the free museums.

When I was very little Dippy lived in a side gallery at the museum and, the moment I saw her, I knew that I was in love. I looked up into that doleful skull and I knew with absolute certainty that I would love her forever.

I’m not alone.

In 1979, when I was twelve, she made her lumbering way into the main hall (known as the Hintze Hall) of the museum and I felt that my darling dinosaur had finally come to her perfect home. In this hall she could truly show off her magnificent size and her long long long tail. I could stand back and see exactly how big she was, and I could even walk up the stairs and see right down into every part of her skeleton.

I’ve remained faithful to my first love and, when I took my own toddler to the Natural History Museum, I got to watch my daughter fall in love with Dippy too. She is now twenty-one and she still loves that dusty old dinosaur.

Now the museum plans to remove Dippy and replace her with a whale skeleton. Lots has been said about how (ahem) “discreet” the plans to do this were, and as a regular visitor I certainly knew nothing about these plans until writer and illustrator James Mayhew drew it to our attention.

There have been arguments about how Dippy is a model and the whale is a real skeleton and so that makes it more important….

Let’s deal with that argument first. Yes, Dippy is a model. An accurately constructed model in perfect scale, but she’s a model and there is no denying it. But so is the T-Rex in the next room in case anyone hadn’t noticed (unless people believed that they actually have a large lifelike “real” T-Rex) and the museum is full of other models. Models are important for children as they help them to understand a creature that they can’t possibly see anymore. We can throw out the “it’s only a model” argument. Oh, and in case anyone is wondering….those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park? CGI.

The next argument is that the whale represents a species at risk and to display a real whale skeleton will be important for the promotion of species preservation.

Hmmm…sounds interesting and slightly more persuasive, but hold on, isn’t this the Natural History Museum? Surely it’s not the Natural Species Preservation Museum? The whale is already well displayed in the museum, and the Mammal Rooms are very impressive, and well loved by visitors. There is also the issue that the whale is nowhere near as at risk as it was a decade ago, and so do we really need to have a display that is there solely to preserve a species? Is the whole rest of the museum going to go over to displays that are entirely about species preservation? If so, there is a whole bunch of taxidermy that is heading for the dump!

I’m not against whales, I love whales, but I love dinosaurs more.

One of the other arguments is that the Hintze Hall has housed many exhibits since it opened in 1881 and that Dippy is just another one of those. Really? Nothing has been displayed as long, or regarded with such awe and positivity as Dippy, so why change it? In this 21st Century world of branding and marketing most organisations would sell their souls for something so iconic and easily identified with. Multinationals would pay millions to be able to have a uniquely emblematic image, and immediately identifiable object for their organisations. It certainly seems foolish for a charity to remove something that is such an incredibly successful part of their identity.

That’s not the key issue though, the key issue here is that the real people affected by removing Dippy have not been consulted. The plans (apparently) have been displayed in the side entrance (yes, I know that many of you will not even be aware that there is a side entrance) where academics and sponsors and the like enter the museum. They are not the REAL people who matter here. In 2013/14 the museum had over five million visitors – I kid you not! FIVE MILLION!! Those are impressive figures for any organisation, for a museum it is mind-blowing. That’s as many as the Science Museum and the Tower of London added together.

According to their own evaluation the vast majority of visitors come to see the dinosaurs. The dinosaur exhibits were, by a very long way, the most successful and popular exhibits at the museum. In fact the museum had to operate a timed queuing system for the exhibits due to extraordinary popularity. The dinosaurs have always been the most popular exhibits at the museum, right from the day the doors opened. In fact the creation of the museum itself was largely due to the new science of archaeology and a need to house larger exhibits.

Who are dinosaurs most popular with, and therefore who should be the most important visitors?

Children, that’s who. I have tried to find out exactly how many children use the museum each year but the figures are (apparently) “not broken down that way.” That is a great shame. Last year I was working on the sequel to my book, Brotherhood of Shades, and there is a long scene set in the Natural History Museum. Whilst I was working on it I went and sat for a whole day in the main hall and on the upper landings. I watched the visitors ebb and flow through the hall and I’d say around 70% of the visitors were young children.

It was absolutely wonderful watching the children enter and crane their necks up to look at Dippy. I saw children react with pure joy as they looked up at her. Small people with their arms outstretched and their mouths wide open with wonder. I saw children shaking with excitement and on the edge of tears with amazement. More importantly, I watched them fall in love with the possibilities of the natural world.

That is what has been missed here. Dippy and the awe that she inspires lays an indelible mark on the life of every child that sees her, and yet these are the only group that have not been asked about the change. Every child that sees Dippy becomes suddenly aware of the scale of something that once walked the earth, and of the infinite possibilities of our gloriously blue and green planet. Seeing Dippy is humbling, thanks to her location in the Hintze Hall of this remarkable building children feel small, and insignificant, and acutely aware of how much can change. Dippy allows us a glimpse into the past and therefore sets our feet firmly in the present – nothing exists like her anymore and nothing ever will.

Children are blown away by Dippy and you can see how profoundly she affects them, and yet no one has asked the children what they want.

Before you take Dippy away and erase that wonder from all of our lives, and the lives of future generations, ask them. Ask the children. Conduct a survey in every primary and infant school in the country and ask them what they would like to see in the Hintze Hall – a whale or a dinosaur.

I can guarantee you that I already know what the answer will be.

#savedippy

Sign the petition to save her here.

Tardis Destinations – Part Three. A party, London, 1774

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Our destination today is a London party somewhere around 1774 hosted by the genius John Joseph Merlin. This extraordinary man was talented at creating clockwork devices from a very early age and was plucked from the Academie des Science in Paris aged twenty five by the Spanish Ambassador who decided that the young man’s gift […]

A brilliant bundle of questions from Burlington Danes.

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Every year during the week of World Book Day we authors get out and about doing all sorts of book related things. One of my visits during this week was to Burlington Danes Academy in North London. I’d read a lot about the school before I went and was greatly looking forward to visiting an “Outstanding” school.
I had lots of contact with school librarian Elizabeth Gardner before the visit, and so I was confident that I would be visiting a well run library and some keen and eager pupils – and I was not wrong. It was easily one of my favourite school visits and I felt very welcomed. I had two sessions with year seven, and in the middle a brilliant picnic lunch in the library with the pupils who make up the school’s Literacy Squad. I must say, I love the idea of the Literacy Squad. They help out in the library, go on buys for library stock, and work hard to keep up the profile of books and reading in the school. The Squad are a mix of all sorts of people and they were superb fun to spend lunch with. As we ate and chatted they wrote down their questions for me and I was handed a bowl full of slips of paper. The questions were brilliant, but sadly we ran out of time before I could answer them all and so I’m putting them all here on my blog with my thanks to the dazzling pupils of Burlington Danes Academy, and their wonderful library staff.
Thank you so much!
A few people asked what influenced or inspired me and where I get my ideas.  (Felix, Aishni, Polinu, Maisie, Jai, Christian, Mariam, Zahra, Beth, Kareem)
I love stories and my whole life has been spent either hearing them or telling them. To me the best stories are the ones that lift you from your world and place you somewhere else. I’ve always written stories, right from when I was small, and writing them is one step better than reading them! To read a story is to be Somewhere Else, to write a story is the be the master of the Somewhere Else. 
I find my inspiration everywhere, but the best inspiration comes from the world around you. I think it’s important to keep your eyes open and your head up and spend as much time as you can in the real world. The world is strange and amazing and in it you’ll find all the inspiration you’ll ever need.

What are your favourite things to write about and what’s your favourite genre? (Felix)
Even though Brotherhood is fantasy, I feel that I’m still writing about real people and their varied life (and death!) experiences. I like to write about real life, but with a twist. I like to think of it as the world out of the corner of your eye – the world that might possibly exist if only you could see it. I write in my favourite genre and so the books that I read are along these lines too.

When you write and read scary stories does it scare you at night? (Polinu)
Fear is a strange thing, and we are often most scared of things that can do us no harm whatsoever. Human beings are incredibly brave and can overcome the most extraordinary things. I am sometimes scared at night, just like everyone, but it is possible to take those fears of things that are unreal and turn them into a thrill and enjoy it. It’s a bit like that fear that you feel at the peak of a rollercoaster just before it plunges down. I think it’s important to understand that fear is part of our lives and can make us stronger.

What would you tell a pupil who wants to be an author? (Jai)
Oh that’s easy- write down all the things! Writers write, all the time. When you see something interesting, funny, intriguing – write it down. When you get an idea – write it down. When you have a flash of inspiration – write it down. You need to have a big store cupboard of ideas so that you have the ingredients to write a story when you need it. It seems like a big task when you start but writing and reading are habit forming and if you let them into your life it all becomes a habit and no longer seems like work.

What influenced you to write about ghosts? (Christian)
I’ve always loved ghost stories and love any story about the unknown and the unexplained. The world is full of the most amazing mysteries and I’d love to write about lots more. I think that we all secretly want to believe that there is more to the world than what we can see, and that makes for great stories.

What do you like about horror? (Moo ha ha ha! Evil laugh from Mariam)
To be honest I’m not a huge fan of what people think of as horror because I’m a total wet blanket and easily scared. I find that the horror genre is full of blood and gore and I’m not a splatter fan. I do like creepy suspense that makes me jump and makes me wonder what that movement was in the shadows…. I’d like to read a lot more horror that wasn’t just about slaughtering teenagers and was more about spooky situations and creepy mysteries. There is a lot about, and most of the best stuff is written for young adults so it’s a great time to be a fan of that kind of book.
Oh-and I don’t do zombies (*shudders*) because there is just no reasoning with them, and now they can run!! Ghastly.

What is your objective with your books? Do you want to entertain or change things in the world? (Reece)
Hmmm, that’s a tricky one. I think that every writer wants to do a little of both, but if pressed for an answer to that question they would really just want to tell a good story. The other details come in later when we are refining the story and thinking about the mechanics of it. At the heart of it we get an idea for a story and grows and grows until it’s all we can think about, and then we want to tell it. I think that maybe if you started off trying to tell a story that was designed to change the world it could end up preachy and patronising.

How do you publish your stories and where do you go for this? (Johnley)
First of all, finish your book. That’s the best advice I can give you, actually finish it properly. Then give it to other people to read. Make sure that these are people who you can trust to give you an honest opinion and not just say nice things about it!
There is a wonderful book called the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and you can find it in every good library. It will give you all the advice you’ll ever need to get your book out to publishers and it has lots of great contacts.

How do you feel when you finally complete a book? (Tamara)
Relieved! Honestly, it’s hard work writing a book. It’s not hard work like digging holes or building houses, but it’s hard work on the head and eyes, and you don’t get much time for socialising and fresh air. The first thing I do when I’ve finished a book is take a day or two off and catch up on some sleep and seeing friends. Then I start with the editing process and so it’s a deep sigh and back to the beginning!

What has growing up been like? (Tamara)
Not always easy, not always hard. It’s been a challenge at times but challenge in your life makes you a better person. If everything was easy in your life you would be a dull and boring person. We need lots of different things to happen to us in our lives to make us interesting people.
I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question as I’m not sure I’m quite grown up yet!

How long does it take from a publisher agreeing to print your book, to it reaching the store shelves? (Aaron)
Well, that’s a question with many answers! It can take a few months, it can take a couple of years. Publishers try to think of the best time of year to publish books and so that might mean that you have to wait for several months for them to get your book out. There is a long process before a book is published too – all the editing and design stuff – and that can take a very long time. One of the first things you learn when you start working in this area is that you need to be very very patient.

What do your parents think about your book? (Jamal)
Honestly, they could not be more proud. I think that my dad’s friends are probably sick of hearing about me as he talks about me all the time. My parents have both been incredibly supportive and they love my book – but then they would say that, they are my mum and dad!
I’m very close to my sister, Angie, and she’s great at making me get out of the house and away from my computer. She keeps my feet on the ground and is great fun to be with. She is proud of me too, but never let’s me get too big headed and I love that.

What do you have to do to get in “the zone” with your writing? (Maisie)
One of the most important things to writing a good story is to spend a good deal of time just thinking about it. I’m a great believer in the importance of daydreaming and staring into space. I often find music that ties into the work that I’m doing, and I sit and stare into space listening to music. When I’m clear on my ideas then I have a splurge of writing lots of things down. When I’m doing my writing I have to make sure that I’m not facing the window. Human beings are fascinating, and if I am facing a window I will end up sitting watching the world go by instead of paying attention to what’s going on in my head!

Do you have a favourite book? (Jordan, Juliana)
I have thousands! I have books for every mood and every season, and what is my favourite one day might not be my favourite on another. I do love classic Gothic novels, so books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are pretty high up on my list of favourites.
As a child I loved Edgar Allan Poe, but that’s a bit on the creepy side. I really enjoyed writers like Ray Bradbury and John Christopher as they wrote about these amazing worlds that were completely different to my life, and for the longest time I wanted to go and live on another planet.
Generally speaking my favourite book is usually the book I’ve just finished reading. If I don’t like a book then I don’t usually stick with it to the end, that means that if I’ve finished a book I must love it.

What tips would you give when trying to create suspense in writing? (Alice)
Firstly, don’t give your reader all the details. Hold back some of the key details so that your reader can speculate and guess at some of the things going on. Give them some spooky suggestions that things are going on behind their back, and then let their imagination fill in the details. Generally speaking people are very good at scaring themselves!
Secondly, make your villain just human enough to believe in, and then take away their humanity. It is our humanity that makes us good people with a sense of right and wrong. If you take away a character’s humanity, their ability to judge what’s right and wrong, then the normal rules of society don’t apply to them and that’s very scary.

If you could have a super power (that is not invisibility) what would it be? (Jamal)
Gaahhh!! I was going to choose invisibility! I’d love that. Hmmm, let’s think… I love to travel and have been lucky enough to visit some amazing places around the world, but getting to places is incredibly tiring and expensive so I think I’d like to be able to travel by just clicking my fingers.
I was going to think of something noble and world improving, but I’ve opted for something thrilling and fun instead!

Essential School Library Training – London – November

 

 

Moving English Forward

Paperwork, Policies, Performance and You

Friday, 29 November 2013 – 9:30am

In 2012 Ofsted published the document ‘Moving English Forward’.  This report set out to answer the question: how can attainment in English be raised in order to move English forward in schools?  But what does it mean to you?  This course aims to address some of the key issues raised by this document, and to support you in your CPD and your school library policy documents and development.

The day will consist of a morning talk and presentation from our speaker (Adam Lancaster) followed by an afternoon of workshops and development activities.

Speaker – Adam Lancaster (School Librarian of the Year 2012)

To book a place contact sconstantinou@apsch.org.uk putting SLG Winter Course as the subject line and giving your contact details.

The cost of the booking includes lunch and refreshments.

The training will begin at 9.30am and end at 4pm.

Booking Information

Event Cost: 
£80 for CILIP members.
£100 for non-members.

 

 

 

CILIP
7 Ridgmount Street
London
WC1 7AE
TEL 0207 255 0500

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