1. What is fission? I suppose the first thing that people don’t yet know about fission is that it is a novel, based on the true-life story of scientist, Lise Meitner. What is really unfortunate is not that fission is unknown, but that Lise Meitner herself is mostly unknown to our generation. Given her contributions to science and her life story, she should be a household name. I wrote fission to right this wrong. So fission, as well as being my latest novel, is a quest.
2. I wrote fission before I began the Alex and Jackie Adventures. My first published novel was the ghost story, First Night – the first in the Alex and Jackie series. But fission came before that. First Night followed when I had finished fission, which is this epic story covering 6 decades, and I decided my next work would be the exact opposite and take place in just 1 day. What is the opposite of epic by the way?
3. The reason fission wasn’t published earlier is that it wasn’t a novel at that time – it was a screenplay. I saw it as a work for the big screen, in the style of those sweeping British costume dramas that seem to dominate at Oscar Time, maybe with Spielberg directing. The screenplay did achieve some critical acclaim – It was a finalist at the 2008 London Independent Film Festival – but I’m still waiting for Spielberg to call me.
4. Fission is based on a true story. The movie definition of ‘based on a true story’ is quite fluid. And although fission is based on the life of Lise Meitner, I am as guilty of anyone of using Artistic License. But to make the story as accurate as possible, I did fashion a great deal of the dialogue in the book out of the real speeches, correspondence and interviews of the characters involved.
5. The title has a duel purpose. In physics the word, fission, describes the process of splitting an atom and releasing its latent energy. In a more general sense though, the world conjures up images of the devastating chaos and cruelty of the Atomic Bomb. When I was looking for a title for the work, I chose fission not just because of the subject matter of the book, but also because it is descriptive of how Lise’s world is torn apart by internal and external forces.
6. For a book about scientists, there is no science in fission. There are some very good biographies of Lise Meitner, which also cover the science in great detail, but I wasn’t looking to emulate them. I decided instead to focus on the human side of this story. The end result is that there is no more real science in fission than there is in the average Star Trek episode, and what is there is only mentioned vaguely in passing.
7. I omitted too many characters. The book covers more than sixty years in the life of Lise Meitner. That’s a lot of years and a lot of characters. I had to make cuts somewhere. And I’m sure I left out one or two that I should have included. I found that all the characters, included and excluded, each had a fascinating story to tell in their own right: for example, Moe Berg, who as well as being a catcher for the Boston Red Sox, was sent by the US Government, during World War 2, to spy on Werner Heisenberg and, if necessary, assassinate him.
8. I wrote fission to encourage girls to enter the world of science. I said that fission is a quest. Lise Meitner faced incredible prejudices, to the point where her life was in danger. When she was born, for example, women were not allowed to attend university and had no right to vote. We tend to think that because we’ve rectified one or two of the more glaring injustices, then the quest has ended, but that is not true. Sexism is still rampant in the educational system when it comes to the career choices that girls are offered, as compared to boys. We tell our daughters that they can do anything, but then we add provisos; even when we have leveled the playing field through the law, we send subtle (and not so subtle) signals that some careers are just not meant for them. After reading about Lise Meitner, an understandable reaction for any girl might be to say, ‘Why would I want to put myself through that?’ But that is just the point; in spite of everything that Lise endured, fission is the story of her ultimate success – it’s a positive message to girls that they can do anything.
9. Prior to paper publication, fission is being serialized on-line. After the screenplay version of fission was finished, I could have just forgotten about it and moved on to other stuff. But I think that it is incredibly important that the accomplishments of women such as Lise Meitner are remembered and honored. The novelization of the story came about because I want to spread the word in any way that I can. And so I made the decision to publish fission in serial form, the way that novels used to be during the age of the magazine. Today, the internet has replaced the magazine, and I interact with my fans on social networks such as Facebook, so it made sense that that would be the platform for this serialization. It also made sense that in order that this story reaches as large an audience as possible, price should not be prohibitive to potential readers, and so we’ve eliminated the price for the serialized version – it’s free.
10. Fission is just the beginning. This is not a one-off project. There are a number of women just like Lise Meitner who deserve wider recognition. After fission is published, and Alex and Jackie permitting, I’m going to get started on the next one, which will be the story of Émilie du Châtelet.
Tom Weston’s work includes the fantasy based Alex and Jackie books, First Night and The Elf of Luxembourg. His latest project is fission, a novel based on the true life story of scientist, Lise Meitner. Prior to its scheduled paper publication in 2011, fission is being serialized online for Tom’s fans. To find out more about Tom and his work, or to read fission, please visit http://tom-weston.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/tom.weston.readers.