It's been too long since my friend Wendy Wootton and I got together for lunch and a grumble about the book trade at the Café Casbah at the Redbrick Mill, Batley. Not that Wendy has anything to grumble about these days, with a dozen titles in print and an international following that now extends as far as Japan.
Her erotic novel Entertaining Mr Stone, written under the pseudonym of Portia da Costa, gets its American release today. Writing in the first person in a setting that draws on her experience in local government, she explores the 'erotic underworld that parallels life in the dusty offices of Borough Hall' but she assures me that not all the incidents she describes really happened in County Hall! Although she was smiling and had a twinkle in her eye as she said that.
But there is a hidden dimension to Wakefield's County Hall; apparently in the late 1970s they fitted out a secret bunker deep below the building, so that, in the event of a nuclear war, although we'd all perish at least the council tax bills would go out on time when it was safe for the regional control top brass to venture out again.
Wendy and I are meeting up with Pauline, a.k.a. romantic/historical novelist Danielle Shaw, (see link below) and her husband Kjell.
It turns out that Pauline's husband Kjell once worked
at CERN near Geneva, on the computer side of things. He once had the opportunity
to see the sparks made by sub-atomic particles hitting a detector. He
tells me this wasn't as dangerous as it sounds as the energy in these
particles was so small but it interests me to hear about something that
seems as abstract as a sub-atomic particle making a brief appearance in
the 'real' world.
Talking with Kjell prompts me to pick up Warped Passages 'unravelling the Universe's Hidden Dimensions' when I call in at the library. Luckily for me, Lisa Randall, Professor of Physics at Harvard, has left the maths notes for a slim appendix at the end of the 500 page book.
'I decided to let the fascination of theoretical physics speak for itself,' she says, 'and chose not to over-emphaize history or personality. I didn't want to give the misleading impression that all physicists are modeled on a single archetype or that any one particular type of person should be interested in physics.'
I like her approach of putting the physics centre stage and using stories, diagrams and cartoons to help tell the story.
Even the cover tells part of the story; it wasn't until after a day or two of reading that I realised that there's a hidden dimension in there, a starburst design, if you catch it in a certain light.
I like to watch television documentaries on string theory, relativity and so on but often the computer graphics are so stunning that you can get the impression that the hidden dimensions are part of some almost supernatural other-world. A kind of cosmic pop video; a fantasy world with no obvious connection with everyday experience.
Randall never patronises her readers. Her lucid, relaxed style makes you realise that those hidden structures are there all around us, if you take a closer a look. You only need to give yourself some time and space (there's an awful lot of that around) and think about it.
Richard Bell, firstname.lastname@example.org