Biography

 

I write both fiction and narrative non-fiction and books that mix the two. I have a degree in English Literature and Art History from York. I started out as an academic writing books on Victorian literature and culture but began to wander off into earlier centuries and other more distant parts of the library following up questions about mutability and deep time. I wrote several books of narrative non-fiction about the history of science, including a partial biography of Darwin called Darwin and the Barnacle (Faber 2003), and Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists (Bloomsbury 2012) as well as two novels both of which are historical and turn on similar questions.

My first novel, Ghostwalk, a historical thriller, was published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in the UK in 2007, and was the launch novel of the new fiction list of Spiegel and Grau in the US (Random House). It has been translated into twelve different languages including Russian, Hebrew, Serbian and Mandarin. It was shortlisted for the Jelf First Novel Award, the Society of Authors First Novel Award and long listed for the Impac Dublin Literary Award. It’s set in Cambridge and jumps between the early twenty-first century and the seventeenth century. A young woman tries to ghostwrite a unfinished manuscript about Isaac Newton but violent things start to happen – in order to break the cycle of violence she must work out the connections between seventeenth-century glass making, plague and alchemy and well as the identity of the mysterious Mr F in Newton’s secret manuscripts.

My second novel, The Coral Thief, set in Paris just after the fall of Napoleon at Waterloo, was published in the UK in December 2009 and in the US in January 2010. A young medical student travels to Paris in 1815 to work in the Jardin des Plantes but on route his precious cargo of corals and all his papers are stolen by a mysterious woman traveller and her child. It was BBC’s Book at Bedtime in January 2010. It is also published in several different languages.

Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists, tells the 2,200 year history of evolution before Darwin through the lives of the heretics and freethinkers who were prepared to risk their freedom by challenging religious orthodoxies about the origin of species. It starts with Aristotle in Lesbos in 350BC and ends with Darwin publishing On the Origin of Species in 1859. It was published by Bloomsbury in the UK and Spiegel and Grau in the US in May 2012.

I have just finished a family memoir about childhood – my late father’s and then mine – lived inside the Exclusive Brethren, a Christian fundamentalist separatist cult. It will be published by Fourth Estate in April 2017 and later in the year by Random House in the US.

I am working on a novel about contemporary and Roman London called Dereliction.

I live both in Norwich and London. I teach literature and creative writing for the first half the year at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.