stephenpalmersf

Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Writer’s Lab Session 3

Four photos from the third session of Writer’s Lab at Shrewsbury Library. A great time was had by all!

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Session Two Writer’s Lab photo

Just a photo (courtesy Shrewsbury Library manager Katherine Berry) of the second session of the Writer’s Lab. Session three is on Tuesday 2nd July at 5.30pm.

Writers Lab Session two

Quantum by Manjit Kumar

One of the best scientific histories I’ve read for a long time, this book matches insight into the characters and lives of all the great players in the quantum mechanics debate with the theory itself. Too many authors get this balance wrong, but Manjit Kumar gets it just right. He’s especially good at leading the reader from the character of somebody (Niels Bohr springs to mind here, but he’s also good with Schrödinger and Heisenberg) to their scientific insight. I really enjoyed this book: well written, detailed, insightful, interesting.
quant

Writer’s Lab Session Two

A second terrific evening of writerly chat! Many thanks again to Joe Shooman, and all the writers who turned up.


 

 

Writer’s Lab Session 2

Next Tuesday…

The Prehistory Of The Mind by Steven Mithen

When I first read this book I really enjoyed it, but perhaps didn’t quite ‘get’ it. A second reading has persuaded me that it is a very significant piece of work.

Mithen’s objective is to piece together a viable evolution of our mental abilities from the archaeological (and some other) evidence available to him. This is quite an ambition, given that often it’s quite difficult to piece together archaeology from archaeological evidence… But you have to admire the man’s insight and courage.

This is in fact a remarkable book, whose central hypothesis is that three or four naturally occuring kinds of intelligence – visible in chimps, our nearest living relatives – evolved over about six million years. Using a clever analogy, that of chambers a cathedral, he shows that these separate intelligences could have evolved in social circumstances into something far more complex, which then, perhaps only in the last 40,000 years, but certainly not before 100,000 years ago, came together in ‘cognitive fluidity.’ Mithen follows Nicholas Humphrey’s social intelligence theory, using it with verve and skill to show how consciousness evolved only for the social intelligence of primates, not the technical or natural history intelligences, but then overlapped with the other kinds of intelligences so that all our insight and understanding flowed out into the non-social world.

Quite an achievement then. Certainly a significant and enduring contributing to our understanding of how we evolved.
mithen

Istanbul by Bettany Hughes

This is a very good large-scale history of the great city Byzantium / Constantinople / Istanbul.

Although it suffers in a few places from Francopan-Montefiore Syndrome (chapters listing men killing each other in wars, which in times past used to be how history was taught) there is much more by way of social and cultural history here, which is all to the good. Add to that Hughes’ engaging style of writing and you have an absorbing book.
I enjoyed it.

instan

Writer’s Lab Session 1

We had a terrific hour at the opening session of the Writer’s Lab yesterday. A really great, positive, happy and generous group of about 20 writers, with whom Joe Shooman and I worked. Very good vibes for the remaining sessions!

 

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Writer’s Lab, Shrewsbury Library

Today is session one (of six) of the Writer’s Lab series being hosted at Shrewsbury Library by myself and non-fiction writer Joe Shooman, who works part time at the library. The event is aimed at all those looking to improve their writing skills, get inspiration, and generally pull all the threads together!

Event is 5.30pm – 6.30. Session two will be in a fortnight.

writers lab Shrewsbury

Dorothy Rowe RIP

I discovered Dorothy Rowe and her work by accident. Reading Erich Fromm and Nicholas Humphrey at the time, I was attracted by book cover quotes citing the humane quality of her work, her interest in meaning and uncertainty, and her capacity for compassion for those in psychological distress. As Fay Weldon put it: ‘She sets us on the road to personal and political utopia – if only we would take it.’

Born in Australia, ill during childhood, and suffering difficult family circumstances, she somehow had the inner strength not only to come through those times but to use her experiences in her work. A trailblazing explorer of depression, she came from an entirely different place than her overwhelmingly male counterparts, explaining that depression was a condition of meaning, not necessarily of biology.

As a feminist and an atheist she was fearless. I loved her quote that the Christian church “… gave her plenty of work as a psychologist.” She derided the way men run the world and did a huge amount for the feminist cause, for which we all, male or female, should be grateful.

Her books were amazing. Gifted with a clarity of prose that matched her insight, every book was full of gems. Beyond Fear was of particular importance to me, although the true significance of its message didn’t reveal itself to me until I was a bit older. Her work on money, meaning, success, and the nuclear bomb was all groundbreaking.

Alongside Fromm and Humphrey she was one of my great influences, which was why I dedicated the second volume of the Factory Girl trilogy, The Girl With One Friend, to her. Alas she was not as well known as she could have been. Her books were as complex and hard-hitting as real life, which meant she did not find the wide audience she deserved. She offered no easy answers because she grasped that life is difficult, requiring effort and persistence in order to find peace, love and happiness. Truth therefore was fundamental to her, and she realised that our best interests lie in facing up to it, not ignoring it or pretending some random spiritual belief system to be true. But even at the height of her writing success that was not an easy sell to those used to the platitudes of Californian self-help gurus.

We are fortunate to have so wonderful a legacy as the work of Dorothy Rowe. Perhaps in years to come her books will be reassessed and made more popular by those who, like me, consider the truth of our human lives to be the benchmark for a compassionate, peaceful, just and wise society.

dorothy