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Space: It’s Not You I Just Need Space

I love space. I don’t always know exactly what’s going on out there, but I think it’s pretty cool. I know it’s a quirk of human nature to personify concepts and objects to feel we understand them better, but it works. Of course, personification helps us understand ourselves even more. A couple of years ago, I started writing letters between planets, galaxies and other celestial objects, inspired by stories about planets, stars and space travel. I wrote letters that told stories of unrequited crushes, household tensions and awkward dynamics between lovers past and present. Now, you may be wondering why these letters deal with such, well, earthly issues. That is, if you’re not already wondering what huge, non-sentient balls of rock and gas circling an orb of incandescent plasma (thank you, They Might Be Giants) would be doing writing letters in the first place. If that’s the case, there are two things you need to know. Firstly, to me, nothing is non-sentient. I mean, I know that Mars doesn’t really have a crush on Saturn, and that the International Space Station isn’t secretly pining away for NASA space shuttles. I do know that. Well, kind of. But anyway, I tend to think that a little anthropomorphic creativity makes the universe a nicer place. Secondly, I’m not the only one. Humans have been imagining personalities for the stars and planets for millennia, from prehistory to the Mesopotamians, from the ancient Greeks to journalists who cover space stories today. For some reason, the BBC news website in particular is pretty sentimental about space. Read a few of the stories on there and you'll find yourself wondering if the Kepler Space Telescope has a pension plan or if you've missed Neptune's birthday. And then there’s Pluto. We need to talk about Pluto. I started with a letter to Pluto, of course. How could I not? It's from the rest of the Solar System. It’s always difficult to lose a member of your team. All these letters are properly researched, by the way, and peer reviewed by astronomers who suggested even more great articles for me to read. And the more I read, the more I wanted to write. It was as if these slightly sentimental articles I was reading only told one side of the story. If we are going to give the planets personalities, I think it’s only fair that they get a right to reply, to state their point of view. So that’s how it started. Postcards from the moon. Andromeda and the Milky Way corresponding on Spacebook. Passive-aggressive notes from Uranus (who would really prefer that you pronounced it the correct way, thank you so very much). I’ve always written fanzines, as long as I can remember. I started with the conventional music themed fanzine (did I mention I love They Might Be Giants?), then I moved on to street art, 1950s advertising, museums, libraries, and then space. My zine about space letters went down pretty well, and I noticed that it was much more fun to perform out loud than my other zines had been. I’d created all these characters. My intention had always been to give the planets (and their friends) a voice. Why not give them a chance to get up on stage? When I had the idea to do a comedy show based on the zine, I told the Institute of Physics about it and they were really supportive. They’re really keen on the idea of people getting excited about astronomy. They’ve even contributed some funding toward it and so has Off the Shelf Festival. I can’t think of two lovelier groups of people to support a show about space and writing. I hope you love space as much as I do. I hope it’s not just me who looks up into the night sky and sees a soap opera unfolding. And most of all, I hope you’ll join me in the longest established fan club in the universe. Chella will perform It’s Not You. I Just Need Space (Interplanetary Letters of Love and Rejection) at the Leadmill on Tuesday 28 October. )

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