It’s been a long while since I updated this blog – well, there have been reasons. It’s been a busy time since I last wrote here. And also, I needed to update WordPress, which is a task I kept putting off.

So – there have been other writing projects, notably my book: “The Million Death Earthquake”, published by Palgrave Macmillan last year. I had for a long time had the idea of writing a basic book on seismology. My reasoning was that after so many years of dealing with public enquiries about earthquakes, I have a pretty good idea (a) how much the average person knows about the subject (not much), and (b) what it is they would like to know. When one is frequently interviewed by journalists, one gets used to what are the standard questions that come up over and over. So, I thought, why not put the answers down once and for all? Also, having been writing articles for a popular audience since I was a student, I am reasonably adept at writing in a “readable” style rather than an academic one.

The first thoughts of how to structure it came to me back in 1994, when I was staying in Bucharest for a meeting. Walking back from restaurant to hotel one night, it occurred to me that a could approach would be to start with the history of the subject. An earthquake is a pretty mystifying thing if you have no scientific knowledge of it, and scientific knowledge was for a long time hard to come by, simply because earthquakes are such short-lived phenomena. (Compare ball lightning, which is still not understood).

So if one goes back to an early period when no-one really had any idea what earthquakes were, except that they were most likely sent by God, and traces how, bit by bit, the story was pieced together, I reckoned it would be easier to appreciate the subject than if one simply lumped together the modern state of knowledge on a plate and stuck it in front of the reader.

When I got back to the hotel, I sat down at my laptop and composed the preface. And that was as far as I got.

Until 2010, when I was approached by an editor at Palgrave Macmillan and asked if I would like to write a book for them. She had seen an op-ed piece I did for the NY Times, and thought it was the sort of thing they could use. Would I like to? Yes, I would! So I started dusting off my ideas from back in 1994.

Macmillan were very clear about what they wanted and what they didn’t want – particularly, they didn’t want a textbook, or anything resembling one. That suited me perfectly; a textbook is not what I wanted to write. It seemed to me that there was a gap in the market for a really approachable book on earthquake science that you could give to your grandmother to read if you so wanted.

Macmillan also wanted something with some sort of social relevance, and that was what led me to organise the book into two parts – first, what are earthquakes and why do we have them, and second, what can we do about them? Which I think is a sensible way of organising the material. It also led to the title. I had made some mention of the fact that seismologists talk amongst themselves about when might be the earthquake with one million dead. The Macmillan Marketing department seized on that and decided it would make a great title. I’ve always maintained that titles are editors’ business and not for authors (well, that is how it usually plays out) so I went along with this, and emphasised the idea a bit more strongly than in the first draft of the book.

So as of last autumn, the book is out in hardback. I am waiting on up to date sales figures, but I understand it has not been doing too badly for a science book. And I have had a lot of encouraging feedback and some very kind emails. And to be honest, I would rather be the author of a book on seismology that brings some scientific knowledge to readers from every walk of life, than a highly acclaimed technical work for professionals only.

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