Born in Fife in 1975, Francis studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, after which he worked in A&E at the old Royal Edinburgh Hospital. After qualifying as a physician, Francis spent ten years travelling, during which time he visited all seven continents. A keen traveller, Francis has spent time working in India and Africa, has made several trips to the Arctic, and is reported to have crossed Eurasia and Australasia by motorcycle. He was working at the Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital when he decided to undertake a 15-month position as the resident doctor with the British Antarctic Survey. Empire Antartica, his account of this time, was Scottish Book of the Year 2013 and shortlisted for the Costa Prize, the Ondaatje Prize, the Banff Prize and the Saltire Prize. Adventures in Human Being (2015) has won Saltire Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2015 and first prize in the Basis of Medicine category of the BMA’s Medical Book Awards.
Gavin’s website: www.gavinfrancis.com
Gavin’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/gavinfranc
Gavin Francis is represented at Jenny Brown Associates by Jenny. For all enquiries contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Books by Gavin Francis
Island Dreams: Mapping An Obsession
Canongate, October 2020
“Gavin Francis is a wonderful writer – thoughtful, engaging, immensely knowledgeable and supremely human” (BILL BRYSON)
“An intoxicating voyage during which maps become fictions and fictions verifiable facts. Myths of returning and older legends carry us out in a shared fugue of obsession and release. Here is a worthy companion to the dream labyrinths of Borges” (IAIN SINCLAIR)
“A thrilling book – beautiful and spare at once . . . A real achievement” (TIM DEE)
“In this charming and beautifully illustrated book, Gavin Francis asks important questions about isolation and connection, and considers the ways in which islands have been imagined and experienced by travellers through the ages” (MALACHY TALLACK)
In Island Dreams, Gavin Francis examines our collective fascination with islands. He blends stories of his own travels with psychology, philosophy and great voyages from literature, shedding new light on the importance of islands and isolation in our collective consciousness.
Comparing the life of freedom of thirty years of extraordinary travel from the Faroe Islands to the Aegean, from the Galapagos to the Andaman Islands with a life of responsibility as a doctor, community member and parent approaching middle age, Island Dreams riffs on the twinned poles of rest and motion, independence and attachment, never more relevant than in today’s perennially connected world.
Illustrated with maps throughout, this is a celebration of human adventures in the world and within our minds.
Shapeshifters : On Medicine & Human Change
Profile, May 2018
To be alive is to be in perpetual change: growing, healing, learning, aging. In Shapeshifters, award-winning writer and doctor Gavin Francis considers the transformations in mind and body that continue across the arc of human life.
Some of these changes we have little choice about. We can’t avoid puberty, the menopause, or our hair turning grey. Others may be welcome milestones along our path – a much-wanted pregnancy, a cancer cured, or a long-awaited transition to another gender. We may find ourselves turning down dark paths, towards the cruel distortions of anorexia, or the shifting sands of memory loss. New technologies can upgrade us, and even without them our bodies can transform in rare, almost magical, ways – with gigantism, or the sun-sensitivity and facial hair that led porphyria sufferers, once upon a time, to be suspected as werewolves.
Medicine now has unprecedented power to alter our lives, but that power has limitations. As he helps patients face transformations both temporary and sustained, Francis draws on history, art, literature, myth and magic to show how the very essence of being human is change.
Praise for Shapeshifters
“A thoughtful exploration… Francis’s wide-ranging experience and curiosity produce fascinating samples of medical and cultural approaches to human change.”–Publishers Weekly
“The heart of the book is about the key life transitions: conception, birth, puberty, pregnancy, menopause, death–and sleep. Francis’s method is to weave together stories from his general practice, his medical training and his travels, with a host of quotes, references and anecdotes from art, literature and history. The result is a rich pleasure.”–Sunday Times (UK)
“Ambitious… [Francis] is well schooled in the literature of medical curiosities, from Galen to Sir Thomas Browne and beyond. But Shapeshifters is at its best, and strangest, when dealing with mundane translations: puberty, pregnancy, menopause, the not so simple facts of our being sexed beings. Francis has an engaging way with medical-cultural history… Such is the breadth of [his] interests that Shapeshifters is never less than intellectually energetic.”–the Guardian (UK)
Adventures in Human Being
Profile Books, April 2015
In association with Wellcome Trust
We have a lifetime’s association with our bodies, but for many of us they remain uncharted territory. In Adventures in Human Being, Gavin Francis leads the reader on a journey through health and illness, offering insights on everything from the ribbed surface of the brain to the secret workings of the heart and the womb; from the pulse of life at the wrist to the unique engineering of the foot.
Drawing on his own experiences as a doctor and GP, he blends first-hand case studies with reflections on the way the body has been imagined and portrayed over the millennia. If the body is a foreign country, then to practise medicine is to explore new territory: Francis leads the reader on an adventure through what it means to be human.
Both a user’s guide to the body and a celebration of its elegance, this book will transform the way you think about being alive, whether in sickness or in health.
Praise for Adventures in Human Being
A sober and beautiful book about the landscape of the human body: thought-provoking and eloquent
Wonderful, subtle, unpretentious … produces a kind of complicity between the author, the reader, and the subject
The Sunday Times
I read this book transfixed… The style is crisp and fast and the human tales irresistible. I was left with many nuggets
So enthralling and so well written that it should win its own clutch of prizes… immensely engaging and often unexpected. His achievement here is to guide readers through his special landscape with such eloquence and subtlety
Grand, eloquent stuff, occasionally humorous, frequently moving and invariably informative… The end result is a thoroughly entertaining, provocative work
Winner of the Saltire Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2015
First prize in the BMA’s Medical Book Awards’ Basis of Medicine category
Vintage, November 2013
North America: Counterpoint
Gavin Francis fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition when he spent fourteen months as the base-camp doctor at Halley, a profoundly isolated British research station on the Caird Coast of Antarctica. So remote, it is said to be easier to evacuate a casualty from the International Space Station than it is to bring someone out of Halley in winter.
Antarctica offered a year of unparalleled silence and solitude, with few distractions and very little human history, but also a rare opportunity to live among emperor penguins, the only species truly at home in the Antarctic. Following the penguins throughout the year – from a summer of perpetual sunshine to months of winter darkness – Gavin Francis explores a world of great beauty conjured from the simplest elements, the hardship of living at 50°C below zero and the unexpected comfort that the penguin community bring.
Praise for Empire Antartica
Empire Antarctica is the embodiment of everything I admire in travel writing – a great journey, intense isolation, wide reading, vivid writing, scientific research, and something in the nature of an old-fashioned ordeal. That Gavin Francis is a medical doctor, with an important role to play in the darkness and cold at the ends of the earth, is a bonus. I loved this book
One of the best travel titles I have read in a long time. Thoughtful, lyrical, extremely well written, it’s a triumph
Conde Nast Traveller
A beautiful, profound and highly readable account of a remarkable personal adventure. Francis’s pacing is deft, his prose vivid, his research worn lightly. This is probably as close as most of us will ever get to experiencing a modern polar winter. Empire Antarctica is surely destined to become a standard, not so much of travel as of staying very still
Francis’ best writing (and it is excellent)… is Robert Macfarlane on ice. This writing achieves the ‘quilted quality’ of silence, and through it we are brought to a new landscape of words
True North: Travels in Artic Europe
Polygon, April 2010
The stark, vast beauty of the remote Arctic Europe landscape has been the focus of human exploration for thousands of years. In this striking blend of travel writing, history and mythology, Gavin Francis offers a unique portrait of the northern fringes of Europe. His journey begins in the Shetland Isles, takes him to the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard and on to Lapland. Following in the footsteps of the region’s early pioneers, Francis observes how the region has adapted to the 21st century, giving an observed insight into the lives of people he encounters along the way. As with all the best travel writing, True North is an engaging, compassionate tale of self-discovery, whilst blending historical and contemporary narratives in the tradition of Bruce Chatwin and Robert Macfarlane.
Praise for True North
Fluent, subtle, tough and often beautiful, True North stands alongside Peter Davidson’s The Idea of North and Joanna Kavenna’s The Ice Museum as a significant recent addition to the Arctic canon
A great web of interconnecting sagas
A deep empathy with the land and its history runs like a golden thread through every chapter of True North