Canada is my home, but Scotland is my native land. I was born in Glasgow and educated at Thorntree Primary and Allan Glen’s School, where English was my best subject. If I’d listened to my heart rather than my chemistry teacher, I’d have become a writer. But I did listen to Mr. Hinds, and went to the University of Glasgow to study science. After graduating with B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in biochemistry, I did postdoctoral research at Stanford University and the University of Toronto. My first faculty position was at the University of Alberta. After three years in Edmonton, I moved to the more collegial environment (and milder winters) of the University of Western Ontario. Eighteen years later, my research on biological mineralization (don’t ask) was recognized by a distinguished scientist award from the International Association for Dental Research.
During my time at Western, a side interest in the history of science led to the publication of two books. ‘Vital Forces: the Discovery of the Molecular Basis of Life’ (Academic Press, 2000), is a history of biochemistry and molecular biology from 1770 to 1970. ‘Light Is a Messenger: the Life and Science of William Lawrence Bragg’ (Oxford University Press, 2004) is the first biography of the man who won the Nobel Prize in Physics at the age of 25 (but had to share it with his dad).
Writing nonfiction books and scientific papers was kind of fun, but I wanted to know what it was like to make stuff up. So in 2016 I did what everyone tells you not to do: I quit my day-job. Specifically, I took early retirement from Western and enrolled in the creative-writing diploma program at Humber College in Toronto. Since graduating from Humber with, ahem, distinction, I’ve been writing in a variety of forms. But I’m probably most comfortable with the personal essay. As they say, write what you know.