Special thanks to Becky Crew for answering 6 questions about her recently featured book – Zombie Tits, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals
I’m a Sydney-based science writer, award-winning blogger. I am the author of ‘Zombie Tits, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals’ (NewSouth Press), and blog at Scientific American and Australian Geographic. I am a contributing editor for ScienceAlert. – Adapted from Becky’s Homepage
#1 – You have been writing blogs and online content for a while now. What made you decide to write a book about the world’s weirdest creatures?
The opportunity to write a book actually came out of the blue; one of my Running Ponies posts was selected to be included in the first annual Best Australian Science Writing anthology in 2011, and Jane Jane McCreadie from NewSouth Press – the publisher responsible for the anthology – liked it enough to email me and ask if I’d ever thought about writing a book. Of course I had, every writer thinks about it at some point, but I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d get the opportunity before I turned 40! So I’m really lucky that the opportunity came to me, I really feel for the great writers who still have to slog it out to find a publisher for their work.
#2 – What were the challenges/benefits/difficulties of moving from one writing style to another?
Again, I was fortunate that the idea for the book was 50 profiles of weird animals, with different aspects of weirdness, ie sexual things, weird body parts or behaviours, which isn’t too different from what I was doing in the blog, but it still needed to feel like a whole book, a complete experience, basically. I’ve chatted to writers who went from blog writing to a more traditional style of book and that would be so tough! It’s great that because people are so busy right now, there’s a real market for the kind of book you can pick up and put down, and maybe not finish for weeks or months. I think Zombie Tits is great for that kind of person.
#3 – How did you draw the line about which animals to include and exclude?
That was the most fun part. I basically compiled my list of 50 for the book proposal, and over the nine months I had to write it, would continuously be chopping and changing the list, looking out for weirder animals to include, or recently discovered species. The selection process was mainly about which animals have a real story behind them that I can tell, whether that’s a cool experiment, a fascinating historical background, or that their weird aspect is ridiculous enough to sustain a meaty profile. The most frustrating part of it, and still in my blog writing now, is when you find an incredible, truly bizarre animal, but there’s barely any scientific literature on it, so you’re kinda stuck for content and have to drop it.
#4 – Many people have highlighted your anthropomorphising and your narrative histories of the animals in your book. Was this your strategy? Was this a good way of getting people engaged with the lives of these animals?
I think it’s certainly a good talking point and something that makes the book stand out among the other ‘strange animals’ literature out there at the moment. It’s fun to be able to think about the weirdness of animals in our terms! I think the publishers really recognised that I was doing something no one else was really doing with Running Ponies, and knew that there’s an audience for new ideas in science writing, both within the scientific community, and the general public. Some people love it, for other people it’s not their thing, but for the latter, most of the book is still solid science writing, so I’m confident they can still get something out of it. And for those who love it, I’m really glad that there’s an audience for kind of oddball ideas in Australian science writing!
#5 – It’s been over a year since the book came out. What has been the response to your book in this time?
It’s been really great. Like I said above, some people have baulked at the anthropomorphising, and I expected that because it’s not for everyone, but I’d rather take a chance on a weird idea than put out something that’s been done before. I think most readers have really enjoyed it. Big highlights so far have been Australian Geographic stores stocking the book – I was able to speak at their national sales conference, and their store managers are an amazing bunch! – and it won the 2013 Scientific American Summer Science Reading Poll, along with books by two incredible science writers, Virginia Morell and Scott Barry Kaufman. Oh and it was picked up by an American publisher, Adams Media, and it’s been published in lovely hardcover over in the States!
#6 – Are you working on a new book/project that you can tell us about?
I’m hoping to write a kid’s science book at some stage, right now I’m trying to fit in writing the proposal along with everything else I’m trying to get done! A new project is I’ve just launched a new blog with Australian Geographic called Creatura (http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/creatura), where I’m profiling a new strange animal each week. You’d think I’d have run out of weird animals by now, but I’m not even close! I count myself so so lucky to be able to write about such a cool area in science.