In my formative years; those during which whether you were a “Whammie” or “Duranie” was all important – I was neither. Nik Kershaw was my poster crush, (and I still know all of the lyrics to The Riddle and I still have no idea what its all about, although the album is apparently being re-released this year ) .
But one thing that united teenagers in the late 1980s, was Simon Mayo on Radio 1. If the decade you were born in starts 1980 something or 1990 something, you may not realise that this grandee of Radio 2 (currently in the Drivetime slot), slowly and gracefully edging his way into the more rigorously intellectual Radio 4, was once the primetime Radio 1 breakfast show DJ du jour.
I have science to thank for the fact that I heard Simon’s radio show at all. For most of his tenure at the helm of the Radio 1 flagship breakfast show, I was at university. Ask an arts graduate about what they were up to at 9am in the morning, and most of them would tell you they were still in bed, but for us science students, it was 9am lectures every day, which meant waking up to Simon Mayo in the morning
Fast forward a couple of decades and Simon now has a ten year old son, Joe, who he has become interested in science. Frustrated by turning up nothing when he looked for a good adventure book about science, he decided to write his own, and Itch, the story of Itchington Lofte: Element Hunter was born.
His 400 page novel earned him a host of awards including a nomination for the Carnegie Medal, and the Branford Boase award for children’s authors. For an interview with Simon about the book – click here. he’s also on twitter @simonmayo
Simon is currently on tour promoting its sequel – Itch Rocks. He was at our beloved Royal Institution this weekend just passed, which meant he earned a listing on our sister website www.sciencecontent.co.uk.
Chemistry is widely considered as one of the most difficult subjects to make exciting, but Simon Mayo, radio presenter of the BBC’s Drivetime and Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, seems to have discovered the perfect formula for doing so: (explosions x noxious materials) ÷ sinister global corporations. And, utilising this winning equation, Mayo has penned his debut novel, Itch; the story of fourteen year old Itchingham Lofte who, whilst attempting to collect every element in the periodic table, comes into possession of a curious new element with world-changing potential.
At its core, Itch revolves around the relationship of Itch, his younger sister Chloe and his cousin Jacqueline (Jack) as they cope with the problems associated with possessing a radioactive substance the world and his dog would do anything to obtain. And what a charming and absorbing relationship it is; despite being the youngest, Chloe is the most sensible of the trio and keeps her likeable brother in check as his escapades teeter on the verge of disaster. Jack brings an abundance of smarts to the dynamic, helping Itch see through his more risky moments with a tomboyish expertise. Mayo has written all three of the central trio brilliantly, and you can’t help but wonder if some traits of his own children have contributed to the mixture.
As for the chemistry included, it’s well measured, clear and undeniably fascinating; from learning how the household objects you own relate to the periodic table, to explanations of explosive reactions, there is enough here to justify Itch as an informative text without ever suffocating the exciting plot. I recently wrote a piece arguing that the Pokémon games successfully communicate biological principles to their target audience, and I think it’s fair to say that Itch does the same for Chemistry.
Being set in modern-day Cornwall (and being a young adult title), a good proportion of Itch takes place in the central trios’ school. Mayo has always been vocal of his love of the Harry Potter series and some of the disastrous goings on at Cornwall Academy echo some of the more memorable happenings in the classrooms of Hogwarts. However, whilst there was always the healing properties of magic to help smooth things over in Rowling’s universe, the potential consequences of Itch’s exploits are more serious, and this is perhaps the book’s greatest strength: whilst tremendous fun, there is the constant, underlying feeling that the main characters in Itch may well be about to come to serious harm.