INTERVIEW: Lucy Hawking

Lucy Hawking
Lucy Hawking

By Shilpa Raina

 Compared to their counterparts in other countries, Indian children are more curious about science and aerospace, observed novelist Lucy Hawking, daughter of British physicist Stephen Hawking, and felt it is the opportune moment to introduce Indian characters in her books.

The 44-year-old science writer was in the capital for a children’s literary festival and during the course of her stay she delivered lectures in various schools. It was during these interactions she observed that Indian children are keen to explore the unknown and mysterious space.

“There is a race to get to Mars. India has a vibrant space programme and when I asked children whether they would like to go in space, most of them gave positive replies. In other parts of the world, children usually say they aren’t sure if they want to explore space,” Hawking told IANS in an interview.

“So you see bubbling enthusiasm among Indian kids and their curiosity for the unknown. I guess this is the apt time to introduce an Indian character in my novel,” she added.

Being the daughter of a renowned and celebrated professor never burdened Hawking to follow her father’s footsteps. She successfully charted a path of her own and contributed to the world of journalistic space: Till one day she saw how young children were asking questions of her father and how complicated his replies were. At that very moment, Hawking thought of simplifying space and its concepts for younger audiences.

This is how she detoured from journalism and re-learnt space jargon and its many stories.

“I always wanted to be in the creative process. But I had never thought of writing about science. So I had to re-learn a lot to understand how science can be simplified to reach out to the young curious minds,” she said.

Like all children’s stories, these adventure stories had to be told keeping the thought – victory of good over evil – in the mind. Then she created an affable protagonist George who took several journeys into space through stories like “George’s Secret Key to the Universe”, “George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt” and “George and the Big Bang”.

“One has to first understand how you can describe a thing to a child. The storyline has to have dramatic and adventure loops running in parallel to keep children engaged,” Hawking said.

So if she says one has to explain black holes to children, one has to first go into the history of how a star is born and then how it explodes to become a black hole.

In this case, it was a question of evil science overcoming good science, which was not always the case, added Hawking, who has authored two novels “Jaded” and “Run for Your Life”.

Ensuring that she is not blurring the line between facts and fiction, she has taken her father’s help in the past, and till today continues to send her manuscripts to scientists for reviewing to ensure that what is published is error-free and doesn’t contradict facts.

“Young children are natural physicists and need proper explanations. So you can’t afford to go wrong with facts,” she said.

“Not everything can be simplified; so the narrative has to be chosen selectively to ensure the writings are able to stimulate their creativity and imagination,” Hawking concluded.