I studied Zoology in London, and I went on to do a PhD in parasite physiology in Cambridge, and then to lecture and run a group at the University ofGlasgow researching the immune mechanisms of insects and snails to parasites – this might sound esoteric, but these invertebrate animals are intermediate hosts to many medically- and economically-important parasites (think of malaria hosted by mosquitoes, the worm causing bilharzia hosted by freshwater snails). And parasites adopt very clever tricks to avoid being recognised as ‘foreign’ by the immune systems. (Insects, Crustacea and Molluscs have the most beautiful range of white blood cells, incidentally.) So my main interest lies with the invertebrate animals and, as regards the shore – when I was a child living in South-East Cornwall, I spent quite a lot of time guddling amongst rock pools, and my love of the shores grew from that – so I helped run university marine courses too, in North Devon and at Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae.
After I opted for voluntary severance and left academia in order ‘to write and broadcast’, that is exactly what I did. We moved to Oxfordshire, and I had my own radio programme, Walking the Dog, on Radio Oxford, about the countryside, and by then I was writing non-fiction and, over subsequent years,six novels. There’s more information about the writing on my Eliot and Entropy blog.
In Oxfordshire we were a long way from the sea – so, when my family and I moved to a small-holding in NorthWest Cumbria, within sight of the Solway Firth, it was imperative to go down to the shore and explore the coastlines at every opportunity. We moved here twenty years ago, and this book is a result of my own ‘expeditions’ but also, much more importantly since I am still an ‘off-comer’, of hours spent meeting and listening to people who know the shores both sides of the Firth, and the sea, intimately (while trying not to be the female equivalent of what Kathleen Jamie calls ‘the lone enraptured male’!).
Curiosity about one aspect leads to curiosity about others, the process – the fun, the interest – never ends.