Brain Reel #21

The magic of IP, my Book YouTube channel is *LIVE*, feelings on the tip of my tongue

Hey lovely email pals,

Hope you’re all having fab Septembers so far! I’ve just got back from travel and conference galore, spanning Italy and the European Space Agency, Frankfurt and the Mercedes and SXSW conference meConvention, and London with an incredible student competition involving 300 students from the UK, US and China..! Feeling very inspired, grateful and a little lacking in sleep - and reminded how powerful these conferences and trips are when it comes to switching my mindset and mood (for the better).

What conferences and trips have you guys got planned? I’d love to hear about any events not already on my radar… hit reply and let me know!


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

I’ve been thinking about IP recently. (Yep: Intellectual Property.)

To most people, IP is unbelievably boring. To me - it’s totally fascinating. The whole world of IP strategy and law is full of intriguing stories, such as those surrounding patent trolls for instance.

I was chatting to my forensic scientist pal Dr Ruth Morgan last week. She hosted this incredible sounding art / science discussion where people from all different sectors and disciplines came together to see what might come out of their discussion: what they had in common, what themes were most pertinent across the board, and so on.

She mentioned to me a magician who was explaining about the dilemma they have around protecting their tricks. See, if they invent a new magic trick, the minute they perform it, other magicians will try to copy the effect (maybe using a different method of sleight of hand, maybe not). The question then is this: how do they protect their magic tricks, and more importantly, keep people paying for their shows or online content etc?

It got me thinking about the difference between IP in areas such as biotech versus digital apps. In biotech, new drugs or molecules almost certainly have to be protected from copying in order for the inventor or company behind them to get financing to take them to market: the investors want to know that the invention is protected. In digital apps, most of them are super easy to copy (how many Uber / Lyfts etc are there?) The protection of the code is less important; it’s more about how fast the company can capture the market or convince regulators or attract new customers.

For magicians, then, maybe it’s more about on-stage personality or ability to sell tickets as opposed to protection of particular tricks. I suspect there’s plenty of magicians who would disagree with me, in the same way many digital tech startups would say their code or algorithms or whatever else are totally unique to them and is what makes them special. Deeptech startups would almost certainly disagree with my prodding of the importance of IP.

When I talk to deeptech and science startups, I ask them what the deal is with their IP. It’s important. And they normally have very good answers (i.e. they own it).

But I also ask them about their marketing strategy, about their business chops, about their staff. And their answers are normally much poorer.

‘If you build it, they will come’, is a fallacy. And maybe we need a bit of a shift in the way we hold IP in such esteem if we’re keen to get more science out of the lab and into the real world.

Maybe we need to rethink not how we protect our magic tricks, and more about how we get bums on seats.


📖 Book Reel 📖

So - as promised - I started a wee YouTube series on my book publishing / writing journey!! I’ve loved making the first 2 episodes (the first on how I got the book deal, the second on how traditional publishing works), and I’d *love* it if you’d give my channel a wee subscribe :) The next few episodes are going to cover research, structuring, writing retreats, making time for writing, motivation, STAYING SANE, and all sorts. As I mention at the end of each video, pop any questions in the comments and I’ll make sure to answer them in a Q&A video at some point..!

If you’re not bothered about writing a book, but love READING books, you’re also in luck!! As I’m also going to start uploading interviews with authors, chats with fellow book nerds about favourite books, and more. I guess I’m becoming a #booktuber haha?

But yeah, please give it a subscribe! It would mean a lot to me.

Quick update on where we’re at with Smoke & Mirrors:

  • I got my copyedited manuscript back early a few days ago, so this afternoon’s task is kicking off the next edit..! It’s due back on Sunday, so this week looks to be a bit of a book immersion kind of job, but right now I’m feeling super psyched to know PROGRESS is happening..!

  • I’m awaiting news re US and Canada deal…hopefully will have updates to share soon 🤞🤞🤞

What’s happening with book number 2:

  • I had my first research interview yesterday with a professor of the topic I’m looking to tackle. I was pretty nervous before we jumped on Skype, worried that he’d laugh me out his laptop screen and tell me that my thesis just doesn’t really fit with what’s going on in the research field…but instead, he was unbelievably reassuring and generous with his time and, most importantly, excited about my ideas. What a feeling of validation that was, I tell you.

  • The plan right now is to work on the proposal with my agent and work out if it’s a doable idea for a book. I’m going to write a couple of pages of ‘what this book is about / why I’m right to write it / why it needs to exist’, showing off the narrative arc, a few examples and the writing style. If Laura likes it / thinks it’s sellable, we’ll move onto the sample chapter and all the rest for the proposal. Eek!

(Pre-order links for ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’ for your bookstore of choice: Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..!)


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

I’m writing this part of the newsletter at a different time than the others - and I’m not feeling quite as hyped as I was when I was writing the other sections. Few family things means my compartmentalisation starts to be less effective at keeping the go-go-go engine running, and when this happens, I’m less able to express what’s going on in my head. (Which makes for a pretty hopeless ‘musing reel’ section of a newsletter..! Hope you’ll bear with me.)

It’s funny how sometimes you can feel so able to say what you mean, and others, completely at a loss. Like it’s on the tip of your tongue but at the front of your forehead, but also completely vague. Like when someone asks how you are, and you genuinely don’t know how to answer the question.

I’m good. I’m fine. I’m great, actually. Life for me right now is amazing.

But it’s not like that for everyone in my immediate vicinity. And in order for me to keep going with my own life, I compartmentalise. I dip in and out as much as I am able - both from a logistical / calendar perspective, as well as from a mental energy POV.

I know that pulling back or slowing down not only doesn’t help anything, it’s not what I want to do. And I feel guilty about that. So very guilty.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that right now I’m feeling a pull from both ends of the emotion spectrum. And I don’t think we really have good words for that.

Or maybe we do, and they’re just on the tip of my tongue, evading the tips of my fingers on the keyboard.


📌 Tip Reel 📌

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing (amongst the regular freelance / travel / London photos that is!) - give them a wee look here)

Books I’m reading right now:

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (“On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born – a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam – and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation.”)

  • Finding George Orwell in Burma (“In this intrepid and brilliant memoir, Emma Larkin tells of the year she spent travelling through Burma, using as a compass the life and work of George Orwell, whom many of Burma's underground teahouse intellectuals call simply "the prophet". In stirring, insightful prose, she provides a powerful reckoning with one of the world's least free countries.”)

  • Conan Doyle for the Defence(“After a wealthy woman was brutally murdered in her Glasgow home in 1908, the police found a convenient suspect in Oscar Slater, an immigrant Jewish cardsharp. Though he was known to be innocent, Slater was tried, convicted, and consigned to life at hard labor. Outraged by this injustice, Arthur Conan Doyle, already world renowned as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, used the methods of his most famous character to reinvestigate the case, ultimately winning Slater’s freedom.”)

This piece about millennial obsession with interior design porn is SO. ON. POINT.

I saw an incredible talk/performance/DJ set (yep!) at meConvention by Sheree Renée Thomas about Afrofuturism (when the video is out online, get involved people) and I immediately started following the hashtag on Instagram. The art is insane. I suggest you do the same.

I’ve been watching the Anna Wintour Masterclass videos recently, and despite knowing almost zero about the fashion industry, my god it’s fascinating! If you have a Masterclass membership, highly recommend. (And if not, I really do recommend Masterclass - I also love the Neil Gaiman and Malcolm Gladwell classes).


➡️ Next Reel ➡️


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.