View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news


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Book Club: Which characters do you have sympathy for?

This is one of the book club questions for my novel A Column on Smoke. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below – I will be very interested to read them.

All of them! Some to a much greater extent though.

I can identify with Sally’s challenges pretty much throughout. I can understand how pressure from her colleagues would prevent her from doing what she knows to be right, even though high moral values are very important to her. Her treatment of Mel and Darren is where my sympathy wanes. Continue reading


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Book Club: Why did you decide to write a novel?

This is one of the book club questions for my novel A Column on Smoke. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below – I will be very interested to read them.

I can’t quite remember, and looking back I’m almost surprised that I was brave enough to give it a go. When I was at junior school my career ambition was to be an author, but my English lessons in the first few years of secondary school turned me off reading and therefore writing. Continue reading


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Book Club: Do you portray life as a scientist accurately?

This is one of the book club questions for my novel A Column on Smoke. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below – I will be very interested to read them.

Yes, I think so. I wanted it to be as accurate as possible, with lots of different characters who you encounter in the lab. I wanted to portray the pressures which scientists experience, particularly the pressure to publish, and explore how this can affect their lives and their judgements.

The blurring of personal and professional life I think is also very common for scientists. I suspect many people will also identify with the power hierarchies as students, research scientists, professors and technicians all interact.

I would be very interested to hear which bits people felt did or didn’t match well with their experiences in the lab. What characterises life in the lab for you?


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Book Club: Does your novel give a balanced view of GM?

This is one of the book club questions for my novel A Column on Smoke. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below – I will be very interested to read them.

No, and I don’t believe a novel could or even should. A Column of Smoke has characters with a wide range of opinions and I hope that it will cause readers to stop and question their own views.

To me, balance is looking at the evidence around a wide range of views. It’s about trying to free ourselves of biases and preconceptions. To fill my book with unbiased characters would be entirely dis-satisfying. Continue reading


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Book Club: A Column of Smoke

To celebrate the publication of my novel ‘A Column of Smoke‘ I’m going to dedicate some posts to book club style questions. Please ask more questions and join in the discussion under each post. The first one is perhaps the most obvious:

How did you come up with the plot?

While I was doing my PhD at Rothamsted Research a friend saw me reading The Girl at the Lion D’Or by Sebastian Falkes. He pointed out that ‘The Girl at’ was a common book title but ‘The Girl at Rothamsted Research’ doesn’t have the same ring about it. That set me thinking about what could happen at somewhere like Rothamsted to make a sufficiently exciting plot, and fraud was an obvious answer. Continue reading


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News round-up

Mexican honey

In Mexico, a district judge in Yucatán overturned a permit issued to Monsanto in June 2012 that allowed commercial planting of Roundup-ready soybeans.

Bee keepers apparently led the protests against the permit, and the ruling followed scientific evidence presented about the threats posed by GM soy crops to honey production. The popular press were scant on the details of the threat so I’m not able to anaylse it. What is interesting is how the honey industry could be affected by the ruling (it’s a major export). Continue reading