… and also edits

When I’m not writing, I’m available for consultancy and editorial work. Throughout my career I’ve been privileged to work on ambitious projects with some very talented authors, and over the past decade, I’ve also been a partner in Pikaia Imaging, a small packaging outfit specialised in creating illustrated reference books in science and beyond. While Pikaia has now wound down, I’m still proud of the huge range of work we did. So here are a few of my personal editorial highlights…

Pretty much everything… in Minutes

Between 2012 and 2018, we packaged a staggering 24 titles for Quercus’s …in Minutes series – deceptively compact books that are nevertheless dauntingly comprehensive, written by experts in the field and covering 200 key topics across 416 pages. That’s 16 short of 10,000 pages in total, or pretty much a bookshelf’s worth!

After starting out with Big Ideas in Brief (Ian Crofton), Maths in Minutes (Paul Glendinning) and Science in Seconds (Hazel Muir), sanity prevailed and we knocked the alliteration idea on the head. Subsequent topics included:

  • Philosophy (Marcus Weeks), Economics (Niall Kishtainy), Physics (yours truly)
  • World History (Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail), Astronomy (GS), Psychology (MW)
  • Management (Philippa Anderson), Art (Susie Hodge), Politics (MW)
  • Genetics (Tom Jackson), The Periodic Table (Dan Green), Architecture (SH)
  • Quantum Physics (Gemma Lavender), Human Body (TJ), Religion (MW)
  • Evolution (Darren Naish), Myths (Neil Philip), The Brain (Rita Carter)
  • The Ancient World (Charles Phillips), The Solar System (GS), Countries of the World (Jacob Field)

Although I copy edited the majority of these, I can’t claim to have handled every last word myself (I’m not sure that would be humanly possible!) In reality Dan Green and Anna Southgate offered capable (and sometimes sanity-saving!) assistance over the years. Couldn’t have done it without them – or, of course, my former Pikaia colleague Tim Brown.

50 Ideas You Really Need to Know…

After Quercus was bought out by Hachette in 2014, we were entrusted with some of their ongoing illustrated book projects, including two titles for their long-running 50 Ideas… series – 50 Chemistry Ideas by Hayley Birch and 50 Biology Ideas by JV Chamary. These longer, larger-format books presented a different but still enjoyable editorial challenge, looking in more detail at a smaller number of more complex topics. Subsequently the powers-that-be decided to continue the series with four further titles, so we put together 50 Science Ideas (Paul Parsons and Gail Dixon), 50 Capitalism Ideas (Jonathan Portes), 50 Islam Ideas (Mona Siddiqui) and the inevitable 50 Astronomy Ideas (by yours truly).

100 Places You Will Never Visit

A fun but also challenging packaging project, this book by Dan Smith proved to be the first in a series of four (the others being 100 Things You’ll Never Do, 100 Things You’ll Never Find, and 100 Things They Don’t Want You to Know). Although titles like that are designed to appeal to the aficionado of the unexplained, the books themselves still had to strike the right balance between the informative and the outré. Dan’s one of those writers whose text is always a pleasure to edit, so our main challenge lay in coming up with suitable pictures and/or illustration concepts for things that are, by their very nature, rarely if ever photographed!

Evolution: The Story of Life

In 2008-9, I came aboard this ambitious Mitchell Beazley project – a vast overview of evolution to commemorate the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Reminiscent of the old-school publishing epics of the 1970s and 1980s, the heart of the book is a vast artwork by the brilliant Peter Barrett, illustrating thousands of individual species in a continuous panorama spanning a multitude of environments and the entire history of life on Earth.

My role involved pulling the disparate parts of the project, from Douglas Palmer’s detailed briefs and authoritative text based on up-to-the-minute research to Peter’s artwork and the in-house design elements, into a coherent whole, including a vast glossary listing all the featured species and a vast tangled evolutionary cladograms. It was quite a struggle, but the end result was well worth it…

Animals: A Visual Guide to the Animal Kingdom

One of our most enjoyable and rewarding book-packaging projects was this huge natural history book, published in Quercus’s giant coffee-table format in 2009. Author Keith Laidler was great to work with and provided wonderfully informative text, and we enjoyed running amok through Frank Lane Picture Agency’s astounding collection of wildlife photography. Nailing an editorial structure that represented the true complexity of the Kingdom Animalia, however, was still quite a challenge!

Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed

Shortly after leaving the relative security of Dorling Kindersley, Nic Cheetham recruited me to edit a number of pop science books for Weidenfeld and Nicholson. This was certainly one of the most enjoyable and I recall telling people at the time what a pleasure it was to edit such a lucid account of a complex subject from an unknown author. So it’s no surprise to me that Jim Al-Khalili has gone on to become one of our most popular science broadcasters…

The Ancestor’s Tale

Another enjoyable Weidenfeld project was Richard Dawkins’ illustrated journey through the history of life, based on the fascinating conceit that all species alive on Earth today can be linked by just forty common ancestors (‘concestors’) with the origin of life itself. Dawkins prose, with contributions from his research assistant Yan Wong, was as good as you’d expect from a science communicator of his stature, so this was another pretty straightforward job, but nevertheless a fascinating one…

DK Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life

After several years as a jobbing editor and sometime DK desk-jockey, I took a proper plunge into the freelance world with this hugely enjoyable book, published in (I can hardly believe it!) 2001. Tim Brown and I worked together as outsources to deliver a substantial chunk of this ambitious encyclopaedia, working with palaeontologists including my good friend Darren Naish (@tetzoo), conceptual artists such as the great Luis Rey, and 3D modellers to deliver what was, for its time, a state-of-the-art guide to the prehistoric world. I’m sure Darren could explain to me how half of it has since been proved wrong by subsequent discoveries!