I was born and raised in London by Iraqi-Jewish parents (so I knew my bus routes and everything there was to know about rice, but couldn’t name a single plant), and spent my childhood binge-reading reference books and dreaming about space travel. I was also a major swot – which got me into Cambridge to study science (which I flunked). My working life has been a ride. I’ve been a waitress, a market stall-holder, TV researcher and science reporter for Channel 5 News. I worked as a museum curator in Edinburgh and played pro Blackjack in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. After meeting my future husband in the Puerto Rican rainforest, I moved to San Francisco where I wrote for a first-wave dot.com backed by Vietnamese venture capitalists and hung out in Valencia district with bluegrass-playing hillbillies.
I’ve written four books. Living at the End of the World (1998) explored our obsession with endings, putting historical and modernday end-time cults under the searchlight. Rocket Dreams (2003) is an offbeat elegy to the Space Age and an ideas-led tour of growing up in the 1970s. Last Days in Babylon (2007) is a family memoir novelising the life and times of my Baghdadi-born grandmother. My latest book The Middlepause (2016) is also my most personal; an open and open-hearted account of the years leading up to my turning 50; it’s where I mine the depths my myriad losses – of youth, reproductive life, energy, libido, our figures, our parents, any sense of a protracted future – before emerging into light and a new definition of the self.
In another life, when I was keen to put my training in the history of science to use, I edited two books of women’s history, Science & Sensibility (1991) and A Question of Identity (1993), and contributed essays to The Medical Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century (1990), Cultural Babbage (1996) and Zero Gravity (2005) – all of them books taking an oblique, left-field view of key moments in scientific history.
A former arts editor of the New Statesman and deputy arts editor of the Evening Standard, I’ve written and reviewed extensively for many newspapers. Right now I work as a Senior Editor at Aeon magazine. I am a Consultant Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund and a regular creative writing tutor at Arvon. Sometimes I teach narrative craft to researchers and staff at the London School of Economics, and along with screenwriter Tina Pepler, I am setting up an enterprise called True North to help academic writers find the narrative and voice in their work.