Hay Trans.MISSION Q&A with Nicola Davies and Professor Ed Hawkins

Nicola Davies and Ed Hawkins

Nicola Davies and Professor Ed Hawkins

26 May 2018 by Sylvie Kruiniger

Hay Festival and NERC have joined forces for the first time to launch Trans.MISSION, projects pairing leading scientists with award-winning artists to communicate cutting-edge science to new audiences at Hay Festival 2018 and beyond.

Nicola Davies has been working with climate scientist Professor Ed Hawkins from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the University of Reading. Ed focuses on improving predictions of climate change and its impacts and Nicola has authored more than 50 books for children: fiction, non-fiction and poetry. They have collaborated to create an original piece of work that will explore the issues around extreme weather events.

Subtitles (closed captions) are available once the videos are playing.

What made you interested in doing this project?

Nicola: As a zoologist turned writer I leapt at the opportunity to work with a different sort of scientist, especially one who is working on climate and weather. I wrote a book for young people about climate change almost a decade ago and I was interested to revise it and think about new ways to communicate the information. Ed has the most wonderful visual sense so in one way it's rather like working with an illustrator.

Ed: It is an amazing opportunity to work with a talented author to help communicate the risks of our changing climate to a different audience. Climate change will affect all of us and it is essential that we seek a wide variety of perspectives about how to tackle this problem.

What's been the biggest surprise of this project?

Nicola: The stories. I've loved hearing about the weather recorders and their absolute devotion to collecting accurate data (especially the Ben Nevis weather watchers)... many are, and were, keen amateurs. I love the idea that every point on one of Ed's graphs is the synthesis of the efforts of so many people, a weaving together of moments in so many lives.

What's been the best moment?

Nicola: Not sure yet, too early to say... but I think meeting Ed and feeling that he was really approachable and easy to talk to (I was nervous) and saw things in a similar way to me.

What's been the most difficult?

Nicola: My brain hurts a bit looking at some of the data representations. Even when I was a scientist I was never any kind of statistician and some of them I still don't understand (Ed will be rolling his eyes reading this point I'm sure).

What do you hope people will take away from seeing your piece?

Nicola: Both Ed and I want to get across the difference between climate and weather, and how apparently small shifts in average temperature - climate - can make a big difference to the sort of weather we experience. Predictability is a big part of what people rely on with weather, even in the UK's crazy all-weathers-in-one-day climate. So there will be some playful interactive activities around weather climate and event planning. But also that climate change isn't a done deal - the power to change and turn things around is in our hands. It's vital to seize it and not to feel powerless. I really want people to enjoy our event - to laugh, to think and maybe to go away with a few portable couplets in their heads...

Ed: I hope that people will better understand how our climate is changing and start conversations about how individuals and the world might best address the issues. Our choices will affect the weather that future generations experience.

Would you work with a scientist / an artist again?

Nicola: Collaborations are always wonderful... always great to learn about someone else's work and look for similarities and differences. Really shores up the creative batteries.

Ed: Definitely!

What have you learnt about each other's work?

Nicola: The thing I've learnt so far is that Ed is utterly committed to explaining what he does to the world, so as many people as possible understand it. The reason I left an academic career behind was that I felt it would be preaching to the choir... but Ed has shown me that that is absolutely not true.

See Ed and Nicola at Trans.MISSION 3: Extreme Weather Events at 19:00 on 29 May 2018. Tickets are available from the Hay Trans.MISSION website - external link.

Watch all the talks on the Hay Player - external link (fee required).