I am a science journalist and author, specialising in evolutionary biology, conservation, the history of biology and sleep.
Over the last 15 years, I have written news and features for many of the world’s leading popular science magazines (including New Scientist, BBC Focus, BBC Wildlife, Nature, Science, Astronomy Now and Chemistry World), broadsheets (The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, The Financial Times) and websites (BBC Earth, Mosaic, Nautil.us). My zoology blog Animal Magic is hosted by The Guardian on its award-winning Science Blog Network. I am regularly invited to contribute reviews of books and exhibitions to Nature, BBC Focus and BBC Wildlife. I am the editor of Galapagos Matters, the biannual members’ magazine of the Galapagos Conservation Trust.
I have written three acclaimed popular science books. Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon (Macmillan, 2006) was nominated for The Guardian First Book Award in 2006 and shortlisted for the Royal Society’s prestigious General Book Prize in 2007. The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China’s Political Animal (Profile, 2010) – “insightful and meticulously researched” – charts the coincident rise of giant pandas and modern China. The Galapagos: A Natural History (Profile, 2014) is “an enchanting and enlightening account of the most scientifically significant islands in the world.”
My latest book is Sleepyhead: Narcolepsy, Neuroscience and the Search for a Good Night (Profile, 2018), an exploration of the peculiar but fascinating world of sleep disorders. When I was 21, more than half of my lifetime ago, I developed narcolepsy, a rare but not-so-rare sleep disorder characterised by frequent, highly disabling sleep attacks. But it was the constellation of other symptoms, including cataplexy (muscular paralysis in response to emotion), sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations and, paradoxically, insomnia that led me to take on a book on sleep and sleep disorders. I saw my bad sleep as a good qualification. Writing Sleepyhead turned out to be a brilliant experience. Sleep is an endlessly fascinating subject and one that all of us would do well to pay more attention to.
Sleepyhead will appear in the US in the autumn, with a slightly different subtitle and Spanish, Italian, Taiwanese and Polish translations are forthcoming.
Speaker and commentator
I have developed an delivered a range of talks for KS1, 2 and 3. One of the most popular is a hand-on session on how to think like a scientist, which tackles common stereotypes and introduces an intuitive version of the scientific method known as “strong inference”. I have also been invited to give writing and editing workshops to undergraduates.
Since my first book was published in 2006, I have given dozens of book-related talks at a wide range of venues, including the British Library, the Royal Institution, the Edinburgh Science Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe and a sellout appearance at the world-famous Hay Festival in 2014.
I have made around 100 contributions to the BBC’s radio output, most often in my guise as “panda expert”, with frequent appearances on The World Service, Radio 4, Radio 5, BBC Scotland, BBC Wales, BBC Northern Ireland and local BBC stations. I have made similar contributions to several major TV programmes, such as BBC Breakfast, BBC World, Sky TV and Channel 4 News.