I was born and grew up in Oxfordshire, though my family maintained close ties to Manchester and Cumbria. I went to the local school, Chiltern Edge School, and then the sixth-form college, King James’s College, Henley-on-Thames (it later became The Henley College). I took English, Chemistry, and Maths at A level, and also studied Biology for a year. I successfully applied for a deferred place at St Anne’s College, Oxford to study English. In my year out I worked as a computer programmer at an agricultural research institute, and went to evening classes in History of Art at Henley Technical College, which was my first introduction to Marxist and feminist criticism.
In my first term at St Anne’s, my tutor for Victorian literature, Patricia Ingham, pointed me to a book written by one of her former students, Darwin’s Plots (1983) by Gillian Beer, and so literature and science came onto my radar. I did an optional thesis on science in Ted Hughes’s poetry, and applied for a place on the D.Phil. programme at Oxford on the basis that I would write about science and poetry post-1945, or about Hughes, or both. (By present-day standards my application was scandalously vague.) In the first couple of terms of research, supervised by the late David Bradshaw, it became clear that much of the science that mattered in the late twentieth century had its roots in the early twentieth, so my chronological frame moved backwards to modernism. I was also lucky enough to be taught book history by the inspirational D. F. Mackenzie. I submitted my thesis in September 1994, and in January 1995 began a sixth-month post at the University of Wales, Bangor. That post was extended twice, and in 1997 I was appointed to a permanent lectureship at Bangor. I stayed there until 2005, hosting the Conference on Virginia Woolf there in 2001 (the first time it had been held outside the USA), offering special modules on Woolf, on Literary Theory, and (once only) on Intertext and Hypertext; I also reorganised the MA programme in English into a modular form. I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2004, and in 2005 took up a Tutorial Fellowship at Merton College and a lectureship in the English Faculty at Oxford.