Rebecca Stott

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Rebecca Stott

Rebecca Stott (born 1964) is a British writer, currently professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

She is the author of two historical novels, Ghostwalk (2007) and The Coral Thief (2009), a biography of Charles Darwin called Darwin and the Barnacle (2003) and 2,200-year history of Darwin's predecessors called Darwin's Ghosts. Her most recent book, a memoir called In The Days of Rain: A Daughter, A Father, A Cult (2017) an account of her childhood growing up in the Exclusive Brethren, a highly secretive and separatist Christian fundamentalist cult, won the 2017 Costa Book Award in the Biography category.[1]

She is a regular broadcaster on the Radio Four programme A Point of View and has just finished a novel set in the sixth century. She has three grown-up children, Jacob, Kezia and the actress Hannah Morrish. She lives in Norwich in an old herbarium and library.

Early life[edit]

Stott was born in Cambridge in 1964, the fourth generation of her family to be born into the Exclusive Brethren, a strictly separatist branch of the Plymouth Brethren with c.45,000 members worldwide. The Brethren, who have since renamed themselves the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, seek to live separately from the rest of the world because they believe that it is ruled by Satan. During the 1960s, when Stott was growing up, the cult banned newspapers, television, cinema, radio, pets, universities, wristwatches, cameras and holidays, required women to be entirely subject to their husbands and controlled every aspect of members' lives.

Stott's family left the sect in the 1970s after a sexual scandal involving the world leader, the Man of God, split the movement and when her family broke away to join a new splinter group. They left the Brethren altogether in 1972.

Education and career[edit]

Stott studied English and Art History at the University of York, then studied for a Master of Arts and a PhD also at York.[2] She taught at the University of York, the University of Leeds, then Anglia Ruskin University at Cambridge before being appointed to a chair at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. She is also an affiliated scholar at the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.


Stott's debut novel, Ghostwalk (2007) was shortlisted for the Jelf Group First Novel Award and the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award.[3] Lydia Brooke is called upon to be the ghostwriter of a book on Sir Isaac Newton's alchemy. Brooke comes to suspect that the death of the book's author, Cambridge historian Elizabeth Vogelsang, may somehow relate to a series of unsolved seventeenth-century murders. The novel, an innovative mix of fiction and non-fiction, blends seventeenth-century accounts of plague, glassmaking, alchemy and theories of optics with a contemporary plot involving quantum physics and animal rights campaigns. The New York Times reviewer called it "Mesmerizing . . . Ghostwalk has an all-too-rare scholarly authority and imaginative sparkle" and compared it to the works of Borges and Edgar Allan Poe.[4] The Independent in 2012 chose it as one of ten best ghost novels.[5]

Stott's second novel, The Coral Thief, set in 1815 post-Napoleonic France, is a thriller that explores religion, rationalism, and evolutionary theory while its hero, a medical student, becomes drawn into a daring jewel heist. It was serialised on Radio Four's Book at Bedtime in January 2010.[6] Kate Williams in the Financial Times described it as ‘an intellectual thriller, a book of penetrating humanity and a vivid evocation of Paris in the wake of Bonaparte's defeat’.[7]

Creative non-fiction[edit]

Before 2003 Stott published academic books including books on Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (with Simon Avery) and other aspects of Victorian culture. Since 2003 she has published books of creative non-fiction which explore the boundaries between literature, intellectual history and the history of science. Darwin and the Barnacle (Faber, 2003) tells the story of Darwin's obsession with breaking the riddle of a single aberrant barnacle species he had found in a conch shell on a beach in Southern Chile and which led him to complete an enormous work of barnacle taxonomy while his revolutionary work on natural selection lay locked away in a drawer.

In 2012 she published a book about the history of evolution before Darwin which documents a 2,200 year history, a tale of heretics and free thinkers who were prepared to risk public censure or even imprisonment by asking questions that challenged religious orthodoxies. Darwin's Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists was published in the UK by Bloomsbury Publishing and in the US by Spiegel and Grau in May 2012.


In June 2017, Stott published In the Days of Rain, a family memoir about growing up in a cult called the Exclusive Brethren. It won the 2017 Costa Book Awards in the Biography category.[8] Francis Spufford, author of Golden Hill, described it as: ‘A marvellous, strange, terrifying book’ and Mark Mills, author of The Savage Garden, as ‘Truly magnificent: a big, beautiful, brutal, and tender masterpiece. A deeply affecting human story that also goes to the dark heart of who we are and how the world works’. The Times reviewer described it as 'compassionate and furious' and 'an intense accomplishment'.

Since the book was published Stott has received over 300 letters from ex-members of the Brethren, many deeply affecting, describing their own family stories of suicide, mental breakdown and broken families. The letters are being assembled into an online archive.

Selected works[edit]

  • The Fabrication of the Late Victorian Femme Fatale, 1992
  • Tennyson, 1996
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning (with Simon Avery), 2003
  • Oyster, 2003
  • Theatres of Glass: The Woman Who Brought the Sea to the City, 2003
  • Darwin and the Barnacle, 2003.
  • Ghostwalk, 2007
  • The Coral Thief, 2009
  • Darwin's Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists, 2012.
  • In The Days of Rain, 2017


  1. ^ "Costa Book Awards 2017" (PDF). Costa Book Awards. January 2018. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  2. ^ Stott, Rebecca. "Rebecca Stott". Goodreads. Goodreads Inc. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  3. ^ "Rebecca Stott". University of East Anglia. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  4. ^ Benfey, Christopher (13 May 2007). "The Alchemy of Violence". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  5. ^ Armstrong, Rebecca (29 October 2012). "The 10 Best ghost stories". The Independent.
  6. ^ "The Coral Thief". Biblioklept. 19 September 2009. Retrieved 30 January 2010.
  7. ^ Williams, Kate (18 December 2009). "The Coral Thief". Financial Times. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  8. ^ "Costa Book Awards 2017" (PDF). Costa Book Awards. January 2018. Retrieved 3 January 2018.

External links[edit]