Science and Creativity with Charlotte Barkla

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For the first twenty-eight years of my life, I assumed I wasn’t creative. 

In school I wasn’t particularly good at art (I can’t draw to save my life), but maths and science came easily to me. So I figured I was ‘left-brained’ – good at analytical things, but not particularly creative. I went on to study engineering, and left most of my creative hobbies behind. I moved into the realm of full-time study followed by full-time work as an engineer, and didn’t have too much spare time for reading and writing. 

It wasn’t until having kids and being re-immersed in kids’ books that I started to get back into literature. As a parent I was exposed to a never-ending array of picture books, and I decided to try my hand at writing one. It was then that I discovered I did have a creative side after all. 

With rhyming picture books being my favourite books to read to my daughter, one of my first ideas was for a rhyming picture book with a body positive message. (This went on to become my debut picture book, All Bodies are Good Bodies – released in January this year.)  

After securing my first picture book contract, the ideas kept on coming. And the more ideas I had, the more I thought of – as with any skill or muscle that’s been exercised, I suppose. I remember sitting with my notebook in one hand and feeding my son in the early hours of the morning with the other – it was more productive (and more enjoyable) than trawling through Facebook.  

I soon moved onto middle-grade fiction, joined critique groups, and landed my first middle-grade contract: a two-book deal with Penguin Random House. In this book, Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends, I found the opportunity to draw upon my background in engineering and science (I’d moved into teaching high school maths and science by this point), and to explore the intersection of science and creativity. The story follows Edie, an ever-optimistic ten-year-old, who uses her science skills to try to fit in at her new school. (Long story short, after some failed experiments including slime ending up all over the classroom and offering her principal her homemade wrinkle cream concoction, she does eventually find her place.) 

To my knowledge, the book is unique in that it intersperses the scientific experiment format (ie AimEquipment and Method), throughout a fictional middle-grade narrative. It gives the reader a taste of scientific literacy, dotted throughout a relatable, fun and funny story about a girl trying to make friends. The main character, Edie also represents the intersection of creativity and science – she’s analytical and scientific in her approach, yet she’s also incredibly innovative and creative in her thinking.  

Creativity in STEM 

While art and science have traditionally been seen as sitting on opposite sides of the spectrum, creativity is an integral part of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Problem-solving, innovation and analysis in STEM all involve creative thinking, with the acronym increasingly being expanded to encompass ‘arts’ as well, in recognition of this crossover (ie STEAM). The notion of ‘left-brained’ and ‘right-brained’ personality types have long been debunked by neuroscientists, and an increasing number of initiatives aim to integrate science and arts. These range from research partnerships between artists and scientists to museum exhibits linking technology, science and art. This innovation is great to see.  

In the words of Albert Einstein, ‘The greatest scientists are artists as well.’ As an author and writer with a background in science, I have the privilege of being able to see these worlds closely intertwined. As parents and educators, I think we all have the potential to encourage our kids to see themselves as both artists and scientists – something that can only be a positive for our future generation.  

With my third book coming out this July (Edie’s Experiments 2: How to Be the Best) and notebooks brimming with more ideas, I think I can now safely say that I do have a creative side after all.  

Even if it did take me twenty-eight years to see it.  

You can purchase Charlotte’s books here

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