Writing Science: October 2012

Oct 2012


Writing Science: The What, the How, the Why

The Residential Workshop, Writing Science was held at Vaughan Park, Long Bay, Auckland, 20-22 October 2012.  It was the fourth in a series of symposium style workshops, held over three days and two nights and limited to 24 participants, for emerging and mid career non fiction writers. Shifting Sands: Changing Perspectives in History and Biography, which reflected Michael King’s major interests, was held in 2009, and in 2010 the Residential Workshop took a more intensive look at biography with Truth Lies Somewhere: Biography, Autobiography and Memoir.  In February 2012, with convenors Brad Haami and Paul Diamond, the Centre ran Tā te Ao Māori: Writing the Māori World.  

In October 2012, with major support from ASB Community Trust and assistance from the University of Auckland and The Royal Society of New Zealand, the Centre held Writing Science.  In a world facing climate change and water, food and energy security, science communication and public engagement are essential. Turning scientific material into accessible, engaging prose, combined with the best visual aids available, has grown in scope and importance this century. This workshop was seen as timely by many people and organisations. 


Twenty-one of the best science writers and communicators in the country were involved in presentations and panel discussions, starting with an intensive look at how three experienced authors structured their books for different audiences from first concept through to publication. The focus turned to writing with accuracy and style about changing views on a subject in the face of new evidence, followed by ‘Bringing science to life’ which encouraged the combination of dynamic language and photography. Web experts revealed the best way to present scientific material online, and writers, illustrators and designers covered the use of effective visual material in science communication. An extended session made some headway with the enormous subjects of natural history, environment and kaitiakitanga, four researchers used different methods to describe their research and discussed which form of communication worked best, and the publishing panel discussed the current realities of traditional and e-publishing.

Informal small group sessions enabled attending writers to discuss their own projects with speakers and other writers and optional special interest groups covered writing for young people, science and advocacy, writing scientist to scientist, science journalism and book structure and design. In tune with the collegial nature of the residential workshop, many out of town speakers stayed at Vaughan Park, and Auckland speakers often stayed for  meals and attended other sessions. Writers gained much from the interaction and intensity of a long weekend retreat in the company of colleagues and respected professionals.


Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize winners Alison Ballance and Rebecca Priestley were joined by neuroscientist and noted author Michael Corballis, zoologist and science communication academic Simon Pollard, scientist, editor and educator Gary Raumati Hook, NZ Post and Montana non-fiction book awards winner Janet Hunt, geologists and authors Bruce Hayward and Simon Nathan, Science Media Centre’s Peter Griffin, environmental advocate Raewyn Peart, author and Te Araroa driver Geoff Chapple, natural history writer/ illustrator Dave Gunson, psychopharmacologist Roger Porsolt and author/publishers Jane Connor , Gordon Ell, Mary Varnham and Sam Elworthy. (Lloyd Davis was finally unable to attend).

Science communicators from the University of Auckland, Cather Simpson, Mat Goddard, Fabiana Kubke and Siouxsie Wiles also demonstrated their skill on the Hot Science Panel.


Almost all the selected writers had science degrees, half had PhDs, many were currently working as scientists in research or teaching and some were full-time or freelance science communicators. There were almost even numbers of general writers and those more used to publication in science journals.

The Venue

Once again the Vaughan Park Retreat Centre proved to be the ideal venue for the residential workshop.  Set above Long Bay Regional Park, with its superb beach and clifftop walks, the atmosphere is relaxed and informal, with lounges, meeting rooms and the restaurant extending onto a large deck.


Evaluations from the Writing Science workshop reflected the positive mood of the weekend.  In response to the question on which parts of the programme and structure they found most valuable, the increased presence of in-house and day speakers became apparent with a 90% rating for ‘Discussions with speakers’.  Close behind on 88% were ‘Interaction with other writers’ and ‘Interaction with publishers.’   

88% of the attending writers said the workshop met most of their expectations and another 8% said that while it was not entirely what they expected (more of an emphasis on writing scientist to scientist) it had ‘turned out to be very interesting’  

View Residential Workshop Programme October 2012

View Residential Workshop Speakers’ Profiles October 2012

For information about the October 2013 Residential Workshop please email workshop@writerscentre.org.nz

Sponsor- ASB Community Trusts 

Royal Society 

Sponsored by  

Sponsored by

We are grateful to ASB Community Trust for a grant for the workshop organisation . The support of the Science and MHS Faculties of The University of Auckland made possible the involvement of many of the speakers.  The Royal Society of New Zealand also supported speakers.      Thanks to Porsolt.