How I Learned to Write My Own Name

For the launch of A More Perfect Heaven at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday (August 27), two Scottish actors took the roles of Copernicus and Rheticus, and read aloud scenes from the play-within-the-book, "And the Sun Stood Still." A local reporter from The Scotsman interviewed me on stage and moderated a question-and-answer session. Of the several hundred readers who attended the event, many "queued up" afterward with just-purchased copies of the book for me to autograph. I was happy to see them. Although speaking in public can be anxiety-provoking, signing books provides a pleasant opportunity to meet the people who like to read what I write.

The first person to approach me held up two books, and apologized for asking me to sign them both. Why, I wondered, would I object to such a request? I sat alone in a room for years to produce this work. Now someone else wants to read it - and also make a gift of it to a dear one. I'm delighted to inscribe a message to her in one copy, and wish her daughter a happy birthday in the other.

Several well-wishers had brought along worn copies of previous books (most often Longitude) to be signed along with the new, which I was also pleased to do.

Despite the long line, a few individuals seized the moment to confide something personal about their own lives, or to suggest something I should see while briefly in the city.

This was how I found out about the new statue of Edinburgh-native scientist James Clerk Maxwell sitting on George St., just a few blocks from the Festival grounds. I also learned that the hotel where I was staying had once been the home of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, so I made sure to look for the maps from his expeditions hanging in the ground-floor conference room.

For an event last night (August 30) here in Dublin at the Science Gallery, Trinity College, I showed some photos I'd taken of Copernicus-relevant sites in Poland. Science Gallery director Michael John Gorman, himself a science historian, joined me for a conversation on stage and then invited comments from the audience.

During the book-signing that followed, I appreciated the many expressions of concern that I might end the evening with a bad case of writer's cramp. I find that using a fat pen wards off any such suffering and allows for a legible signature. Thanks to everyone who turned out and made me feel so welcome to Ireland.