Wednesday, 2 October 2013


Deadline: 9 NOVEMBER 2013

We know, we know, you’re ‘not a numbers person’. That’s totally fine. Neither are we. We failed Maths (three times), so we really get it. But numbers don’t have to be scary. If you’re a poet or a songwriter or a lyricist or something equally wonderful, you’re thinking in numbers without even realising it. You’re working with beats – 1, 2, 3, 4.

We’ve put science and numbers together because we think it’s going to be beautiful and frightening and it’s going to send us stark raving mad. We’re going to use that other side of the brain that really, really scares us. It’s going to be a challenge, because most writers aren’t scientists or mathematicians. But we’re curious. We’re curious about how the world works, all its chemicals and colours and the way a person’s skin sometimes goes bumpy when you touch them. In fact, we’re science’s perfect outlet.

Note: You don't have to intertwine both science and numbers - either/or will do.


Thinking in numbers also lends itself beautifully to art and photography. There are all sorts of tricks and mechanisms in a camera that are alien to most but to photographers, it’s as natural as, well… 1, 2, 3. It brings in a whole other element to the theme – technology. That’s a huge word, but as writers and artists, we’re obsessed. What’ll the world look like in 70 years? What is this thing that we're writing on with fast fingers that can show a million people all across the world our thoughts in less than a second? We've become so used to fast technology we don't stop to think about how quickly we can have almost anything we want at the touch of a fingertip. Technology is magic. Technology is a monster.

Synaesthesia and science

And then there’s synaesthesia. The neurological condition that involuntarily compels a person to muddle their senses has barely been touched upon by scientists. We can only go so far deep into the mind before coming out onto a misty road and not having a clue where to go next. Do as synaesthetes do: observe. Have a read of our interview with synaesthete and writer Rachael Spellman in our CITIES issue on pages 18-19 to understand the way colours and sounds can influence the way she writes, and turn your own senses on their head. Colours are science. Science in colours.


Numbers have structure. Poetry has structure. Stories are bound by beginnings, middles and ends. We’re not going to separate words and numbers anymore. We’re going to let them exist side by side so they can fight it out and hug for a bit and just be friends. 9’ll hug its cousin nine and metaphors will lie across atoms and molecules and they’ll talk about what colour they see the world in.

And if your maths brain needs a little goading, have a read of David Tammet’s Thinking in Numbers. We’ll leave this passage here, just to get you started:

“Like colors, the commonest numbers give character, form, and dimension to our world. Of the most frequent — zero and one — we might say that they are like black and white, with the other primary colors — red, blue, and yellow — akin to two, three, and four. Nine, then, might be a sort of cobalt or indigo: in a painting it would contribute shading, rather than shape. We expect to come across samples of nine as we might samples of a color like indigo—only occasionally, and in small and subtle ways. Thus a family of nine children surprises as much as a man or woman with cobalt-colored hair.”

Atoms of inspiration

  • Riddles. Lewis Carroll was a genius when it came to writing riddles and poetry with a beat, with a sway. Think mathematical sums, think x = y. Hey, look! Now we've got letters. We're good with letters.
  • Breaking Bad may be over, but, cor, didn't it give us some beautiful words? Magnesium. Methamphetamine. Endling: a word used for the last living representative of a species. Ununoctium. Ununoctium has the highest atomic number, so it's very unstable. Imagine Unu as a high-flying CEO with quiveringly poor social skills. Uh oh, he's fallen for Magnesium (Maggie) - popular, slightly materialistic, sour Magnesium.
  • There's poetry in the periodic table, you know. You just have to look for it.
  •  Space. Space is huge. Space is terrifying. No-one in their right mind would fly out to space but people do and it's mad. Why do people do it? What if something sent you on the brink of insanity and you just wanted a holiday somewhere that wasn't on this earth? What if.
  • It's really very hard to rhyme/The right sorta beat should do it/It's like/Da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum/Like one and two and three and four/What if, you say, you mess it up?/Yeah, er, then you've really screwed it.
  • Artists: think skeletons. Think the skeleton of a phone, or a radio. Think sound waves. Step inside a television. 
  • Photographers: think in colours. Think in graphs. Think about the mathematical structure of a building.
  • Time travel – go full science fiction if you like, or take a step back and look at it quietly. What makes us want to travel through time?
  • Give numbers personalities.
  • Give colours sound. Mute the world; what if sound didn't exist?
  • Play with the months of the year, the days of the week or the numbers on the clock.

Most importantly, don't forget the deadline: 9 NOVEMBER

Have a read of our NEW submission guidelines, and email all submissions to

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