Beautilicious Competition Winner

The winner of the Beautilicious competition sponsored by Walker Books and Baylis & Harding is:

Emma Sherriff

Congratulations, please get in touch with your address so we can send your prize to you!

Government says no to making school libraries statutory

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make school libraries statutory.”

Details of Petition:

“We, the undersigned, call on Her Majesty’s Government to accept in principle that it will make school libraries, run by properly qualified staff, statutory and to prepare the necessary legislation in consultation with the appropriate professional associations and trade unions.”

Read the Government’s response:

School libraries are a key resource for pupils and teachers. They support the National Curriculum by providing books and ICT equipment, and at their best they are a valuable asset to teachers and a source of enjoyment and learning for children and young people.

However, the provision of a school library is not a statutory requirement, and there are no current plans to alter this and change the legislation.

It is the Government’s policy to put as much money as possible directly into schools’ budgets, allowing schools to target resources appropriately and to make their own choices about their school library provision and book resourcing.

Authors to watch in 2010: Tamsyn Murray

I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. When I was four, I wanted to be Princess Leia from Star Wars when I grew up, but only if I got to marry Luke Skywalker – I was totally disgusted when I found out they were brother and sister. At the age of six, I decided I’d like to be a vet, until I realised it wasn’t all cute kittens and fluffy bunnies. In fact, over the years I’ve tried all sorts of jobs, from fruit picking to burger flipping, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I realised suddenly everything I’d done before was just research for my real career – writing.

I started off this new career by writing a short story. It was about a woman planning to murder her husband for snoring (can you guess where the inspiration for that came from?) and it was funny for all the wrong reasons. But the more I wrote, the better I got so that by the time I tried my hand at writing my first novel, titled My So-Called Afterlife, I sort of knew what I was doing and some of the comedy was actually intentional. Someone else thought so, too, because before I knew it I had an agent and then a publishing deal. I’m still pinching myself over that.

My So-Called Afterlife tells the story of Lucy Shaw, a fifteen year old ghost trapped in the men’s toilets on Carnaby Street in London. It isn’t until a lighting engineer called Jeremy walks in and she realises he can see her that things start looking for Lucy. Once he helps her find a way out of the loo, she discovers that there’s a whole afterlife waiting to be explored. Together with her new best friend, Hep, and the divinely snoggable Ryan, Lucy tracks down her killer. But she also finds that catching him comes with a hefty price. Will the ultimate cost of closure be more than Lucy is willing to pay?

My So-Called Afterlife will be available from 26th February 2010 you can read the first chapter here: . You can find out more about me at

Teen Librarian Monthly January 2010

The January edition of Teen Librarian Monthly is available to download here

Meteorite Strike by A.G. Taylor

A meteorite has struck earth without warning, unleashing a deadly alien virus. Thousands fall victim… but not Sarah and Robert.

Instead they develop strange side-effects – psychic abilities. And that makes them targets for the the Hyper-Infectious Disease Response Agency (HIDRA), a rogue international agency determined to turn them into lab rats, just like the other kids they’ve already captured – kids who can control fire, create storms and tear steel with their minds.

If they can work together, these kids might stand a chance against HIDRA…

This is the debut novel for A.G. Taylor and has made the shortlist for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize for 2010. Meteorite Strike is the first book in the Superhumans series, with a second book Alien Storm due out later this year.

On their way to Australia to live with a father they have not seen in years, Sarah and Robert are typical siblings that bicker and argue. When their aeroplane is brought down in the aftermath of a meteorite strike they have to depend on each other and a parent they have no reason to trust to stay alive. Pursued and captured by HIDRA they are soon caught in the middle of a power struggle between the senior echelons of the agency to determine the core functions of HIDRA – saving lives or creating human weapons of destruction.

It is easy to see why Meteorite Strike has made the Waterstones’ short list as it is a gripping, well told story that takes the time-honoured staple of children gaining superpowers and polishes it up for a new century. Throw in a corrupt multinational agency an unknown disease and you have the makings of world class sci-fi! It is not all science fiction though – space-borne plagues are a possibility, and there are some theories that alien diseases have already reached the Earth.

On a personal level I found Meteorite Strike to be an extremely enjoyable read, the characters were well-written and believable and overall it set the pace for what I think is going to be a fantastic series, the strands that were left dangling at the conclusion make me want to get my hands on Alien Storm as soon as possible.

Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide by William Hussey

Posting a review of a horror book on Christmas eve may be a bit odd but seeing as it is the season to be jolly, I have entered into the spirit of things in the writing of this review…

Jake Harker is an outsider, a loser whose nose is always in a horror comic. That is until horror stops being fiction and the Pale Man and his demon Mr Pinch stop Jake on a dark, deserted road. That night, under a tree called the demon’s dance, Jake will learn the true meaning of terror . . .

‘Twas the day before Christmas
and as I lay on the beach
Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide
Lay within reach.

I picked it up
to read a few pages.
Next thing I knew
I had been reading for ages!

In each generation
blood must be shed.
All this and more
I learned as I read.

Demons lie trapped,
they wait to be freed
by a coven of witches
a dangerous breed!

The Elders oppose them
the Demontide to deny.
To halt the invasion
an innocent must die!

Jake Harker (aka Horror Boy Harker) is a 15 year old loner and horror fan and makes a credible hero of this new series that combines magic, demonology, horror and cutting edge science. Jake will appeal to readers of all ages and genders but will grab the attention any readers who feel like outsiders (and seeing as this is written for teens there will be many).

No punches are pulled in the telling of this tale, the horror is visceral but never feels forced and none of the characters are two-dimensional caricatures. The lack of black and white morality makes the story far more interesting as shades of grey always have more depth. The story twists and turns like a spider on a pin and I was never sure of the motivations of all the players until the closing chapters. Dawn of the Demontide is a chilling read on a hot summers day, it will be even better late at night with a winter storm howling outside the window.

William Hussey is being heralded as one of the new masters of dark fiction, and with this book his ascent begins.

Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide
by William Hussey will be published in March 2010 by Oxford University Press

Be Beautiful with Walker Books and Baylis & Harding

At some point, every girl is going to come up with a whole bunch of questions about her skin, her hair, her looks … and when Alice’s daughter, Molly, started asking, there seemed to be so many, you could write a book. With chapters about hair, make-up, spots, skincare, hair removal, manicures, pedicures and how to look good in pictures, this fabulous beauty bible extends a sympathetic helping hand as it guides teenagers through the minefield of often inappropriate beauty advice in a friendly and informative way.

To celebrate the launch of Be Beautiful by Alice Hart-Davis & Molly Hindhaugh, Walker Books in association with Baylis & Harding is giving away a Beautilicious beauty pack to one lucky visitor to Teen Librarian.

To win this stunning prize, simply submit your favourite beauty tip in the comments field. A winner will be chosen at random on the 15th January!

Where in the world is Marcus?

There seems to be no rest for globe-trotting scientist extraordinaire Marcus Chown.He will take a short breather after hanging around the Teen Library all day yesterday but will pop up again at Super Collider Weekly on the 15th January.

If you are interested in finding out where he is going (and where he has been), you can find his blog tour schedule here.

Be sure to visit his website at

Science Test

I have a spare copy of the excellent We Need to talk about Kelvin that I am offering as a prize. To be entered into the draw for this amazing book you will have to answer these fabulously simple questions set by Marcus himself.

If all the empty space were squeezed out of matter, the human race could fit in:
a) Wembley Stadium?
b) The area of the Isle of Wight?
c) The volume of a sugar cube?

Einstein famously said:
a) God does not play roulette with the Universe
b) God does not play dice with the Universe
c) God does not play poker with the Universe

The faster you travel:
a) The taller you get
b) The slimmer you get
c) The lighter you get

The best place to look for evidence of the big bang in which the Universe was born is:
a) On your TV
b) In your washing machine
c) At the Greenwich Meridian

Most of the Universe gives is currently invisible to our telescopes – but how much?
a) 1%
b) 50%
c) 98%

The scientists who won the Nobel prize for detecting the faint “afterglow” of the big bang thought they had found:
a) the glow of pigeon droppings
b) the glow of street lights
c) the glow of glow worms

Einstein’s mathematics professor called him a:
a) lazy possum
b) lazy dingo
c) lazy dog

Today’s sunlight was made:
a) 30,000 years ago
b) 300 minutes ago
c) 3 seconds ago

Aged 16, Einstein came up with the idea of relativity after wondering what it might be like to travel on a:
a) sound wave
b) light wave
c) steam train

The first time anyone eve saw an atom was in:
a) 1980
b) 1880
c) 55 BC

Answers via e-mail to editor (at) teenlibrarian dot co dot uk – the draw will be in 2010 so there is plenty of time to swot up on your science skills!

We Need to Talk About Kelvin : chapter 7

The unutterable feebleness of starlight

How darkness at night appears to be telling us there was a beginning to time but is actually telling us something quite different

If the stars are other suns having the same nature as our sun, why do not these suns collectively outdistance our sun in brilliance?

Johannes Kepler
(Conversations with the Starry Messenger, 1610)

The only way in which we could comprehend the blackness our telescopes find in innumerable directions would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray has yet been able to reach us.
Edgar Allan Poe (Eureka, 1848)

It is a crystal clear night far away from the lights of any town or city. The stars are shining like diamonds. There are so many stars that they distract from the most striking feature of the night sky. It is black. Overwhelmingly black. It may seem like a trite observation. However, it is telling us something important about the Universe. The overwhelming majority of astronomers believe is that is telling us that the Universe has not existed for ever; that there was an instant when it came into being; that, in common with you and me and every creature on Earth, the Universe was born. But, actually, the world’s astronomers are dead wrong. The darkness of the sky at night is telling us something entirely different.

The person who first realised that such a commonplace observation of the sky might have something to tell us about the cosmos was the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, imperial mathematician to the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1610, he received a copy of Galileo’s best-seller, The Starry Messenger in which the Italian scientist documented the astronomical discoveries he had made with the newly invented telescope. They included mountains on the Moon and the four “Galilean” moons of Jupiter. Kepler was so inspired by the book that he dashed off a letter to Galileo, which was later published as a short book. In Conversations with the Starry Messenger, Kepler not only underlined the importance of Galileo’s work but pointed out something that nobody else appeared to have noticed – the darkness of the sky at night is deeply surprising.
Most people, if asked why the sky is dark at night, would say because there is no sun and starlight is much weaker than sunlight. It takes a genius to realise that the reason it is black at midnight is far from obvious and may actually have something profound to say about the Universe.
Kepler’s reasoning was straightforward. If the Universe is infinite in extent so that its stars march on forever, then between the bright stars in the night sky we should see more distant, fainter stars, and between them, stars even more distant and even more faint. It was like looking into a dense forest. Between the trunks of a nearby trees you see the trunks of more distant trees and, between them, the trunks of trees even further away. The view that confronts you is therefore of a solid wall of trees. Similarly, claimed Kepler, when we look out into the Universe, we should see a solid wall of stars.
It is possible to be more precise than this. Imagine the Earth is surrounded by spherical shells of space rather like the concentric skins of an onion. The farther away a shell, the fainter the stars it contains. On the other hand, the further away the shell, the bigger it is, it contains more stars. Well, the increase in the number of stars should exactly compensate for the stars getting fainter. In other words, every onion-shell of stars should contribute exactly the same amount of light to the terrestrial night sky. But this is disastrous. If the Universe goes on forever, there are an infinite number of such shells. Add up the light coming from all of all of them and the answer is an infinite amount. Far from being dark at night, the sky should be infinitely bright.
Infinity – a number bigger than any other – is merely an abstract mathematical concept. Nothing in the real world is infinite in size. The conclusion that the night sky should be infinitely bright must therefore be wrong. Somewhere in the logic used to deduce it there must be a flaw. And there is. Although the stars appear to be dimensionless pinpricks, in reality they are other suns, shrunken to mere specks by their immense distance. Each is a tiny disc – too small to see with the most powerful telescopes – but a disc nonetheless. Consequently, the discs of nearby stars obscure those of the faraway ones just as nearby trees in a forest hide the faraway ones. This means the night sky should be papered entirely by the discs of stars. Although not infinitely bright, it should be as bright as the surface of a typical star.
Kepler believed the sun was a typical star. Consequently, he concluded that the night sky should be as bright as the surface of the sun. We know today that the sun is not an average star. It is considerably more luminous than most. About 70 per cent of stars in the solar neighbourhood are “red dwarfs”, cool suns reminiscent of softly glowing embers. However, this hardly changes Kepler’s conclusion. Rather than being as bright as the surface of the sun, the sky at night should be glowing blood red from horizon to horizon. “In the midst of this inferno of intense light”, said the Anglo-American cosmologist Edward Harrison, “life should cease in seconds, the atmosphere and oceans boil away in minutes, and the Earth turn to vapour in hours.”
Thankfully, the sky is not as bright as the surface of a typical star. It is about a trillion trillion trillion times fainter. This paradox that the night sky is dark when, logically, it should be bright ought to be called Kepler’s paradox. However, because it was popularised by a distinguished German astronomer called Heinrich Olbers in the early 19th century, it has instead become known as Olbers’ paradox.
When a prediction clashes with a cast-iron observation, clearly it is the prediction that is at fault. More than likely the assumptions that went into making the prediction need re-examining. Kepler’s most obvious assumption was that the Universe goes on forever. If this not true, then the paradox can go away. After all, there will be only a limited number of onion shells of stars contributing their starlight to Earth’s night sky. It is easy to imagine the sky being filled with so little starlight as to appear black. This was actually Kepler’s solution to the dark sky paradox. He abhorred the idea of an infinite Universe. It terrified him. It was monstrous. He therefore concluded, with some relief, that the Universe must be finite in extent.
If Kepler was right, the cosmos was not like an endless forest. It is akin to a localised clump of trees bounded at the rear by a dark wall. Because the clump is so small and sparse, we can see the dark wall behind. This is the blackness between the stars.
As a matter of fact, in the 20th century astronomers did indeed discover that the Universe is finite – or at least the portion of the Universe from which we receive starlight. Recall Edwin Hubble’s 1929 discovery that the Universe is expanding, its constituent galaxies flying apart like pieces of cosmic shrapnel. If the expansion is imagined to run backwards, like a movie in reverse, there comes a time when all of Creation is squeezed into the tiniest of tiny volumes. This was the beginning of time, the moment of the Universe’s birth, the big bang. According to the best current estimates, space, time, matter and energy exploded into being in the fireball of the big bang about 13.7 billion years ago.
The size of the Universe – or at least its effective size – is inextricably linked to its age. This is because light, though fast, is not infinitely fast, so it takes time for it cross space. An interval of 13.7 billion years may seem an unimaginably huge tract of time. But it is simply not long enough for light, crawling snail-like across the vastness of space, to have yet made it to Earth from the most distant reaches of the Universe. Consequently, the only celestial objects we can see are those whose light has taken less than 13.7 billion years to reach us. Imagine them occupying a bubble of space – the “observable universe” – centred on the Earth.
The observable universe is bounded by the “cosmic light horizon”. This is pretty much like the horizon at sea. We know there is more of the sea over the horizon. And, similarly, we know there is more of the Universe over the cosmic light horizon. Only its light has not got here yet. It is still on its way.
Light travels a light year per year – since that it was a “light year” is, the distance light travels in a year. So an obvious conclusion to draw is that the distance to the cosmic light horizon must be 13.7 billion light years. However, this is incorrect since the Universe, in its first split-second of existence, is believed to have undergone a brief, faster-than-light epoch of expansion. Because of this “inflation”, the distance to the light horizon is not 13.7 billion light but about 42 billion light years.
Of course, the Universe may be infinite in extent. In fact, in the inflationary picture it is effectively infinite. However, the combination of the finite age of the Universe and the finite speed of light reduce the volume of space from which we can receive light to a bubble 84 billion light years across. This cuts dramatically the amount of light arriving on Earth.
Remarkably, the first person to realise that the reason the night sky might be black was because there were stars too far away for their light have got to us was Edgar Allan Poe. In his imaginative essay, “Eureka”, published in 1848, he wrote: “Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us a uniform luminosity since there could be absolutely no point, in all that blackness, at which would not exist a star. The only way in which we could comprehend the blackness our telescopes find in innumerable directions would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray has yet been able to reach us.”
It would seem, then, that the evidence that the Universe has a finite age – that it was born in a big bang – stares us in the face every night. In fact, it has been staring people in the face since the dawn of human history. Only nobody realised. Nobody guessed the true cosmic significance of dark sky at night.