I thought it was about time for a little update about my book ‘Catching Stardust’. I’ve been writing for a good few months now and I’m happy to report that it’s going well, and I’m really enjoying the process too. I now have about eight chapters, with about three left to go. Not that this means the book will be finished very soon because once I have everything written then I’m going to need to go back and check what I’ve got as I can barely remember what I wrote back in January now so I assume I might’ve repeated myself a bit…or maybe even missed something out completely…so, I’ll need to have a careful check. It’d be awful to get to the end and find that I’d completely forgotten to explain what a comet is, for example! But don’t worry, I know I haven’t forgotten anything that obvious.
So what have I covered so far and how did I go about approaching writing this book? Having never undertaken such a big writing task before – even my PhD thesis was only 35,000 words and this book will end up around 90,000 words – I decided to start at the very beginning; discussing the beginning of the Solar System. Although I have to admit that this isn’t actually quite the beginning of the book as it will, instead, form Chapter 2. I plan to provide a more general introductory chapter as Chapter 1 which I’ll write at the very end, once I have a much clearer idea of what I’ve actually ended covering throughout the rest of the book. The beginning of the Solar System is a big topic on its own, and I’ve had to summarise some topics within this, for example, the physics as 1) this isn’t my speciality and other scientists are much better placed to describe this in detail (I’ve been reading Carl Sagan’s books and they are just perfect so I’ll refer you there instead) and 2) the focus of this book is more on the birth of the comets and asteroids so the aim here is to put them into the context of the early Solar System, where these objects came from and how they formed.
Of course, before I started putting ‘pen to paper’ (or rather, ‘fingertips to keys’) I began this process with what I thought was a well thought through plan for the book. This seemed like a good idea to wrangle my ideas into a reasonable format, and it gave me confidence that I had enough content in order to make a whole book when I was worried about meeting the daunting word count. However, I’ve surprised myself how much I’ve changed this plan around as I’ve been writing as I discovered that things didn’t end up fitting in exactly where I thought they would. In some cases it didn’t take as many words to describe what I wanted to get across, but in other cases it took much longer as I’d overlooked how important something was, or just that to do it justice for a non-specialist really took some more careful thought.
One of those examples is the subject of meteorites. I was planning to slot them into a chapter with asteroids, but once I got writing about them I had so many words that I found they needed to have their own standalone chapter. In hindsight, it’s such a big topic that it seems obvious that they needed this now but I think I’d just taken for granted what I know about these cool space rocks and forgot that I would need a fair amount of space to get across this excitement. However, as much as I’ll admit that I like plans, I also enjoyed seeing how my book plan changed once I began writing, adapting to new things I wanted to add in or expand upon, and I’m now much happy with the flow of the book from chapter to chapter. I hope that non-specialists can follow my thinking too and if the book is read from start to finish then it should gradually take the reader through the topics, with each chapter building on knowledge learnt from previous chapters, so that they will understand everything I discuss and, more importantly, be as excited about comets and asteroids as I am. However, I was also keen to make each chapter standalone a little bit, sort of like an essay in itself, in case people want to dip in and out of the book (which I wouldn’t recommend because I’d prefer for the whole thing to be read but I like this being an option too) so I think it might also be possible to do this.
Catching Stardust really does cover a lot of ground (or space, perhaps), including life in the Solar System, space missions and space mining to name a few, alongside the basics of what comets and asteroids are, how they formed, and how we analyse them to find out more about the early Solar System. I’m currently working on the space mining chapter, the first of the ‘futuristic’ chapters, as I’ll describe them, simply because the science hasn’t exactly happened yet, but it’s getting close. This chapter has probably taken me the longest so far, involving a lot more research than the others but I’ve learnt so much about this exciting new area of space exploration, and the more I write about it the less like science fiction it seems. There are entire books out there dedicated to the topic of space mining and, of course, I would refer you to these if you want to have a really detailed look in to the subject, but I think that my chapter will provide a good overview of the various space mining plans, putting into context how we might be able to use comets and asteroids in our future. These space rocks don’t just allow us to see into our past, but they might hold the answers for our future to. I’ll leave you with that thought for now.