Interview With Author Brian Clegg

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

I’m Brian Clegg, a science writer with a sideline in murder mysteries, who lives in Wiltshire, England. I’ve been writing full time for around 20 years and have written a wide range of popular science and math books on subjects ranging from infinity to quantum entanglement and from inflight science to what makes you the person you are.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I have always been fascinated with science and studied natural sciences, specialising in physics, at Cambridge University. At the same time, I have always written – I think some people are just unable not to write. Initially I mostly wrote stories, but after my Masters I went to work on Operational Research (mathematical problem solving) at British Airways. This job involved a lot of use of IT and I began sending articles to IT magazines. When I left BA I ran a small creativity consultancy, but realised I enjoyed writing more than anything else and saw an opportunity to make use of my passion for science by focusing it on science communication. Far too many people were put off by the way science is taught at school – I was inspired to present science to the public in a way that I hope is accessible and interesting. However, my enjoyment of story writing did not go away, and I do regularly write science fiction short stories and murder mystery novels, simply because I also love reading them.

# How do you deal with creative block?

As someone who taught creativity techniques for a number of years, I don’t really think there is any such thing. Two things get in the way of writing. The biggest problem is prevarication. It’s really difficult to get started, and some people’s ‘blocks’ are more about lacking the motivation to get started. For me that motivation is there because this is how I earn my living. I find the best way to get round prevarication is to have quite set times for working. Forget waiting for the muse – I make sure I have three segments of writing time each day – but with enough time to do other things to get variety. The other issue can be struggling with ideas. There are plenty of techniques to help with this – I find simply going for a walk works almost every time. But if all else fails you should force yourself to sit down and write anyway. It might be worthless and need replacing, but it gets you started, and that is always the biggest problem.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

It depends what you mean by negative feedback. I am very happy to have constructive feedback from my editors which always improves the quality of my writing. I generally ignore bad reviews. The most important thing is not to respond to them – I was given this advice by a publisher many years ago. It does you no good and gives you a bad reputation. Inevitably some people won’t like what you’ve written – that’s life.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I write with myself in mind as a reader – so it is my personal satisfaction, but not in terms of what’s enjoyable to write, but what I’d like to read. I hope that reflects what other readers look for in a book. In terms of science writing, I think the most important thing is to get a balance between under and over simplifying. A lot of working scientists who write struggle with this. They either assume too much technical knowledge and use lots of terms that go over people’s heads, or they don’t bother to explain things which they think are too complicated for the reader to get their head around. I try to answer the questions that would spring up in the reader’s mind when they are introduced to a subject.

# Do you have any creativity tricks?

As someone who taught creativity, plenty, but I don’t make use of many of them in writing – they are more useful in business problem solving. I find mind maps can be useful for structuring ideas, and certainly with a non-fiction book getting a good outline together before writing is essential. When, for example, I’m coming up with an idea for a new science fiction story, I will jot down ideas as and when they come to me over a couple of days – often it will be when I’m out walking or last thing at night. I let it percolate for a bit before pulling it together. It’s also good to find your best writing environment. I can edit with music playing, but I need silence to write new material. It’s what works for you – experiment!

# What are your plans for future books?

I’ve always new books on the go. I’m currently just finishing a book on game theory which, despite the name, is more about how we make decisions and interact with other people than traditional games. I’d love to write a sequel to my puzzles and ciphers book Conundrum ( and I’m currently planning book looking at whether science is broken. As always, I write about what interests me.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

My great, great, great (give or take a great) grandfather was the first person to be killed by a steam roller.



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