Created November 07, 2023 by Elizabeth Sparg
I grew up in East London, South Africa in the 1950s and early 60s when we had a lot of freedom as kids and would go cycling, hiking, camping, fishing and collecting natural history specimens whenever we chose to. I developed an interest in insects, collected moths, butterflies and beetles, and established ant colonies in Plaster-of-Paris nests connected by transparent tubes. I also made my own snorkel equipment and dived along the ocean edge off East London. I also made a large collection of bird and mammal skulls and skeletons and went fishing for kob and spotted grunter in the Nahoon River with uncles. Meeting the then-curator of the East London Museum, Dr Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer (whose biographer I would eventually become) spurred me on. There was never any doubt that I would go to Rhodes University to study zoology, and I eventually specialised in ichthyology.
Throughout my career as a scientist (during which I published a large number of scientific papers and 25 books) I was aware of the important need to share your scientific findings with the tax-paying public, who had supported your research. I also find that it clarifies my own thinking on different issues if I must explain them in non-technical language. I have also derived a great deal of pleasure giving over 200 talks on the topics of my science non-fiction books.
Hard-working, dedicated, sometimes aloof, but always ready for a party or a hike.
Almost entirely from my own rich experiences conducting research around the world and from the scientists with whom I have worked.
My autobiography, ‘When I was a Fish. Tales of an Ichthyologist’ (Jacana, 2015) was written under very arduous conditions while I was director of a very demanding, newly established science museum in Bahrain and in the searing heat of the Middle East. I believe that I have captured, in this book, the essence of what it is to be a scientist. I have had very positive feedback on this book as well as on two biographies of other scientists that I have written, ‘The Fishy Smiths. A Biography of JLB and Margaret Smith’ and ‘Curator and Crusader. The Life and Work of Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer’. I have also received excellent feedback on my books on South African and African inventions and innovations.
Remaining focussed over long periods of time (months, years) while being distracted by many other exciting and stimulating opportunities that have come my way.
I am busy completing a book entitled ‘Discovering the Sultans of Science’ about my involvement in creating museums and exhibitions on Islamic contributions to science and technology during the ‘Golden Age of Islamic Science’ (ca 650-1500). I have also been invited by one of my publishers (Footprint Press) to produce a sequel to ‘Curious Notions. Reflections of an Imagineer, which will comprise a further series of essays on my different involvements in science and technology; I have already written several chapters for this book. I have also conceptualised another book, ‘Ode to Maputaland’ (inspired by Justin Fox’s ‘Place’), but I have not started writing it as yet.
I published my first children’s book, ‘The Marine Life of Southern Africa’ in 1996. This was followed by ‘Whale Activity Book’ and ‘Oceans’ in 1998, ‘Insects’ and ‘Whales’ in 1999, ‘Wonders of the Ocean’ (in English and Afrikaans) in 2000, ‘The Four-Legged Fish’ in 2000, ’Great South African Inventions’ in 2010 (which won a prize as one of the best children’s books of the year), and ‘The Amazing Coelacanth’ in 2018.
I have written another children’s book, about a young girl in Zanzibar who grows up to become a famous marine conservationist; I am currently working with an artist who is illustrating this book. I have plans to produce children’s books on the life and work of Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer (‘Auntie Marge the Naturalist’), on Islamic contributions to science and technology (‘Sultans of Science’) and on Charles Darwin’s visit to the Cape of Good Hope in 1836 (‘When Charlie visited the Cape’).
I think that it is important to write science non-fiction books for children as they will be the next generation of decision makers, scientists and conservationists and we need to enlighten them about the importance and value of science while they are still young and inquisitive.
For more about Mike, please visit his website: https://www.mikebruton.co.za/