My name is Maxine Clarke. I was born in the North of England but live in the South. One day I hope to return. After a degree and a doctorate I became a scientist, but for most of my working life I have been, and still am, a scientific editor in various roles at the journal Nature. My favourite activity has always been reading. Before I had children I loved the theatre and the cinema, but for 16 years have put these interests on hold while bringing up my two daughters (with my husband, who is a professor) and doing a full-time job throughout. A year ago I experimented with blogging, an experiment that has grown to become my main personal interest. My blog is called Petrona.
Why do you blog? > At first, to try something new that allowed me to search for information about books and reading in the small timeframe available to me. Second, to get a bit of writing practice. Now, to discover, communicate and share ideas.
What has been your best blogging experience? > Connecting with like-minded people via their blogs, sharing ideas and perspectives on issues of mutual interest.
What has been your worst blogging experience? > Being attacked in an unthinking way.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > When you start out, try some posts on general topics. Don't write about your personal feelings, or vent, until you feel confident that you really want to. What you write on a blog, or in someone else's blog comments, can be retrieved by anyone performing an Internet search for a long time into the future.
What are your favourite blogs? > Some of my favourites are Books, Inq., The Deblog and Euro Crime, but I have focused down to about 20 favourite blogs that I read every day, because I feel they and their authors are friends, and there are a lot more that I read regularly and enjoy. Most are on books, reading and writing; quite a few are about technology, science and the web.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > I find this kind of question impossible to answer. So many people whose ideas I've come across in my life: scientists such as Darwin, Newton, Huxley, and many others; novelists, playwrights, poets, composers, Tim Berners-Lee and others like him. I could go on for pages of names, many of which are people hardly anyone would have heard of, but all of them would be individual thinkers.
What are you reading at the moment? > The Art of Happiness by John Cowper Powys.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > I've changed my mind over the abortion question, and I still don't know where I stand politically. I think I'm similar to many people in that when I was young, issues seemed very clear: in school and undergraduate debates I always knew what side I was on. The older I got, the more unsure I became as I became more aware of nuances and of the eternal nature of human failing.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Love thy neighbour as thyself. If everyone did this, then wouldn't the world be a nice place?
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Might is right, I suppose. These types of question seem facile because one is forced to give rather trite, obvious answers.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > I enjoyed reading John Pilger's Heroes when it first came out (years ago) as it crystallized in my mind that the study of history is often about great events but in fact ignores the effects of these on ordinary people just trying to do their best for their children. I thought about events such as those portrayed in The Dam Busters in a very different light after reading that book. This isn't to say that I would necessarily agree with everything John Pilger says by any means, but that particular book hit a nerve in me at that moment of my life.
Who are your political heroes? > Robin Hood! More seriously, from history, Garibaldi; and in modern times, Nelson Mandela. (Who else?) When Maggie Thatcher became Prime Minister, I was pleased because she was a woman. Although I don't agree with many of the things she tried to do and indeed did, who ever agrees with everything a political leader in power does? I can't judge her as a politician but I was pleased that, as a woman, she made it. I would feel the same if Hillary Clinton got to be president of the USA.
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Probably a Freedom of Information act with proper teeth, but in an era of such dumb and moronic media reporting, compared with the investigative journalism that used to be more often attempted, I doubt that this freedom would be properly or widely enough appreciated. Maybe future generations would come to value its importance if we had it now.
If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be Prime Minister, who would you choose? > Tim Coates (of The Good Library Blog). I have to put that as I've already said it on my blog. But as it happens, I think it. Incidentally, according to Scott Adams (of whom more below), most Americans would choose Bill Gates for president, if they had a free choice.
What would you do with the UN? > Make it rent its offices in downtrodden areas of town, and generally make it more of a humble organization. I'd like to decrease its bureaucracy by about 95 per cent, but don't know how to go about that.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Ignorance and its associated prejudices.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > I have to say 'yet to come' – wouldn't anyone who didn't say that just be too depressed to carry on? I think that in any era, there are admirable people and groups of people, as well as those that are not so admirable. It is a question of looking. The society in which we live is the society we all, as its components, deserve. I do not like the current practice of blaming politicians for everything and of refusing to accept responsibility for anything.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > When trying to decide on a course of action, go with what your instinct tells you you want to do, rather than making a personal decision to please someone else. Especially when you are young. Your inner persona doesn't change that much between being 10 and being 50, I have found, so I think you should go with your gut feeling when you are 10 and thereafter, and don't get distracted by adults telling you different.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > Naturally. I think we select our partners for instinctive reasons: the rationalization of our choice and knowledge of superficial details such as partners' political belief systems come later, after the initial, unconscious (fatal) attraction, surely. In any event, a person's political belief system can change, unlike their basic personality.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Respect for other individuals.
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > Yes. I don't like mediocrity, especially when it is extolled. I do not like it when people don't think for themselves. I've probably got a lot of other prejudices. OK, I know I have.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Watching TV, especially the so-called news but essentially any TV. Anything good I have ever watched on TV could have been made as a film. Instant broadcasting is irrelevant and distracting from worthwhile activities, and can be utterly crass and demeaning. Any news that has ever happened in my lifetime was just fine read in next day's paper. If you really have to have live news, use the Internet not TV. The Internet is far better for information and entertainment needs, as the individual is in control and can filter accordingly.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > Oh yes. I'm not going to write down here all the opportunities I let pass me by and all the mistakes I made. There have been a lot.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > I can live anywhere so long as I have plenty to read.
What do you like doing in your spare time? > Being with my family, blogging, reading, occasional shopping (leisure only - all essential shopping e.g. foodstuffs is done online), doing killer sudokus, mooching around the Internet.
What is your most treasured possession? > I have no treasured possession; I am neither a materialist person nor a sentimental one. I love my family, that's enough for me.
What talent would you most like to have? > The ability to write to the standard I aspire to.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Richard Morrison (of The Times). The late John Diamond was consistently amusing to me. Latterly I have got to like Scott Adams – some of his blog posts are very funny.
Who are your sporting heroes? > I have not taken an interest in sports for years, since marketing and the profit motive took over in the 1970s. Nowadays, I am repelled by the money-grubbing that has replaced sport in many people's minds. But when I was interested in sport, I liked John Snow and other cricketers of that era.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > I would shift the balance of what I spend my time doing. I might 'scale up' a bit, but would not do anything radically different, as I am a person who lives mostly in her head. For someone like me, once the basic needs are covered, money is irrelevant - so I'd give away the surplus to worthy causes.
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Three people I have never met but would like to: J.K. Rowling, Frank Wilson, Viggo Mortensen. I hope they would talk to me a little bit and not spend all their time talking to each other, though I could forgive them if they did.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]