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July 23, 2010

A Sea of Suspicion and Marine Biology with Toni Anderson.

My special guest today is Toni Anderson, a marine biologist turned writer. After my recent cruise, I’m fascinated with the sea, and I begged Toni to tell us a little about marine biology as well as her recent release, A Sea of Suspicion.

Thanks for having me on your blog, Shelley. Shelley wanted to hear a little about my previous life as a Marine Biologist and how it connects to my writing, so here we go…

I was born and raised in the old-fashioned, land-locked, rural English county called Shropshire. Every summer my family would take off in their old Ford Anglia (6 of us in all) and we’d go camping at Black Rock Sands, Porthmadog, North Wales. My dad helped us to trawl through the rock-pools at the base of the cliffs and spawned (pun intended) a lifelong love of the ocean and its elusive inhabitants. Career choice seemed like a no-brainer when I spotted ‘MARINE BIOLOGY’ in the UCCA handbook. I headed off to the University of Liverpool who had a field station on the Isle of Man (now sadly closed :-( ) where me and my Honours class spent our final year. It sounds kind of idyllic? A whole year on an island studying marine life with like-minded people? It sounds romantic and idealistic.

It wasn’t.

The Isle of Man is smack-bang in the middle of the Irish Sea and is one of the windiest places on Earth. I spent most of the time in fleece, Gortex and welly boots, my hair frizzed within an inch of a 1970’s afro. It wasn’t romantic. It was cold, wet and claustrophobic. Thirty students living in one another’s pockets for nine months made it an oddly lonely experience as we all worked hard to get our degree. My then boyfriend couldn’t label his limpets for his Honour’s Project so I foolishly said I’d do it for him (having small nimble fingers), which meant endless 5:00 a.m. starts to catch the low tide (I am so not a morning person). My own Honor’s Project died over Christmas which cut the experiment a little shorter than anticipated.

Sea of SuspicionIt should have put me off science for life, but I guess I’m contrary because I was completely hooked on that type of smelly, slimy, destined-for-failure research. I headed off to the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and began one of the most fun and emotionally rewarding periods of my life. I spent 4 fantastic years in the Gatty Marine Laboratory, working my proverbial backside off, partying when time and money allowed, before graduating with a Ph.D. at the age of 25.

Marine Biology requires a practical disposition where you aren’t afraid of blood, guts, stinky smells (usually seaweed) or big men in woolly jumpers. Things wriggle, jump and escape (even when dead). Stuff gets spilled. Illegal aliens come into the lab using false credentials and spread seriously nasty chemicals around like talcum powder. Personalities clash and explode, people use one another, cheat, bitch, moan, despair, comfort, love. People come from all over the world to collide in a melting pot of human drama. It’s awesome!

I loved research. LOVED it :-) . I went on to the Institute of Aquaculture, Stirling, where I had the best boss ever, and then onto Canada. It allowed me to meet the most wonderful people while chasing fish around the world. But when I had kids I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t put everything I needed to put into research and have enough left over for babies. Science isn’t a nine-to-five sort of career. So I pursued another dream of mine, to write, and I knew I had to set a romantic murder mystery in the Gatty Marine Lab.

That story, SEA OF SUSPICION, was just published by Carina Press :-D


Marine biologist Susie Cooper traded her life in America for a dream job on the rugged Scottish coast. Now all she lacks is the right man to start a family with. After their first meeting, she knows sexy Detective Inspector Nick Archer isn’t what she’s looking for. He’s the type of guy whose idea of commitment is staying the whole night.

Nick has returned to St. Andrews for one reason only—to fulfill his vow to find his wife’s killer. Relentless in his twelve-year quest for justice, he has no problem using Susie to get close to his primary suspect: her boss. But the passion between them smolders, and as it ignites, Nick finds himself torn between his past and his present—with Susie.

When one of her boss’s students is murdered, Nick’s investigation draws Susie into a web of madness and betrayal. They will have to learn to trust each other if they’re going to catch a killer…and come out of this alive.

Read an excerpt of Sea of Suspicion here

Available from Carina Press and all other ebook stockists.

Thanks so much for having me, Shelley—any questions welcome :-) . By the way, SEA OF SUSPICION has its own Facebook page and I’ll be running another contest there in the next week or so. For travel adventures check out my blog

CONTEST: Either ask Toni a question about her book, writing or marine biology or tell us about your favorite beach destination and you’ll go into a draw to win a download of Sea of Suspicion. We’ll draw the winner tomorrow.


  1. David Bridger

    Toni, your excerpt just took my breath away. I must read this book!

    I’m from the northwest, too, although I settled in the southwest when I came home from sea. I grew up in Wallasey, on the Wirral, and weekended regularly with our relatives in Shropshire.

    I knew Liverpool University well, training for long hours in the swimming pool as a young teenager and pretty much moving in with a student girlfriend for a summer a few years later.

    We holidayed on the Isle of Man once, when I was about ten. At Easter. I know the climate of which you speak. :)

    I enjoyed visiting some fabulous beaches during my twenty years at sea, but my favourite one in all the world is off Harrison Drive in Wallasey. I used to launch my boat from there, come rain or wind or shine, and I can still smell the wet sand and salt at ebb tide. If ever I feel homesick for my childhood, that’s the place I see and hear and smell.

  2. Elise Logan

    Hi Toni!

    Well, I don’t have a question. There was a time in my life I thought I might want to be a marine biologist, so I did honors summer programs three years running. The last summer convinced me it wasn’t meant for me. I stepped on a cow-nosed ray (barb! ouch!), had a Portuguese Man of War wrapped around my leg, had a very close encounter with a shark, and was evacuated due to hurricane. I figured someone was trying to tell me something – and it wasn’t that I was supposed to be a marine biologist. lol

  3. Toni Anderson

    Thanks, David :grin: I see we have a lot in common! Whereabouts in Shropshire do your relatives live?

  4. Toni Anderson

    Elise–it sounds like you packed a lifetime of experience into those 3 summer courses!! I hope you remember it fondly–despite the pain and excitement :???:

  5. David Bridger

    We do seem to have graced the same ground a bit, don’t we? :grin:

    When we were kids they lived in a cottage with four acres of woodland in the lovely middle of nowhere, a few miles from Trefonen. It was a magical place.

  6. Melinda

    This looks so interesting! I’ll definately put it on my to read list.

  7. Nina Pierce

    I just had to come over and give a shout out to Toni. I too have a degree in Marine Biology. I grew up on the rocky shores of Maine. My path through the science world was a little different as I went on to teach kids. I spent a couple of years traveling around the state of Maine with live sea creatures sharing them with students. I fell into a job at a science outreach facility and had the job for a decade. Loved, loved, loved it. *sigh*

    Though I live faaaar from the ocean these days my family still has beach property. That’s where I spend my summer vacations. Nothing like the lulling sound of the ocean to soothe the soul.

  8. Toni Anderson

    David–it sounds beautiful :) I do miss Shropshire and I was just there in May :???:

  9. Toni Anderson

    Nina, Nina, Nina–why didn’t I know this? Your old job sounds wonderful–inspiring kids is special :) And you have beach property! I would murder for a deck with a view of the ocean (fictional murder, of course!). Thanks for popping by :mrgreen:

  10. Catherine Bybee

    Fantastic blurb. My favorite beach destination has to be somewhere in the tropics. The sea life there is so vivid and beautiful. The Grand Caymen Islands are top on my list.

  11. Shelley Munro

    “Marine Biology requires a practical disposition where you aren’t afraid of blood, guts, stinky smells (usually seaweed) or big men in woolly jumpers”

    The big men in woolly jumpers made me chcukle. I could picture the scene so clearly!

    Do you dive?

    On the cruise ship the marine biologist gave lectures about the sea and sea life. It was fascinating. She travels about on cruise ships, seeing the world and earning her keep by doing lectures. It seemed an interesting way to travel.

  12. Toni Anderson

    Catherine–warm is nice. Never been to the Caymens and it sounds lovely.

  13. Toni Anderson

    Shelley, sounds like a nice gig. Mind, I had a friend who was a photographer on a cruiseship and they worked him like a dog.

    I used to dive. Haven’t in years. Loved that quiet beneath the ocean and loved spotting things despite their camoflage, like octopi and monk fish. Octopods feature in the book–they are such cool creatures :)

  14. Mary

    I grew up in California and was scared to death of the water, so that kind of job would not have been for me. lol Sounds really cool when I read about it though. Loved the blurb and omg…that cover is so pretty. I absolutely love that cover, wow.

    My mom and grandma used to drag us kids to the beach with them on some weekends because they thought it would be fun. My brother would be swimming waaaaaaaaay far out and I wouldn’t get more than my feet in the water…especially after watching JAWS… I still miss the smells, sun down and the cool sand beneath my feet.

  15. sandra cox

    Wow! What a great blog and Sea sounds like a fascinating read.

  16. Cora Zane

    Sounds like you have lead an absolutely fascinating life. :0) The book sounds wonderful too. I’ll be recommending this one to a friend!

  17. Shelley Munro

    Toni – the photographers did work really hard and long hours too. The Marine Biologist did three lectures over the course of a week, which is much better. :lol:

  18. Toni Anderson

    Cora–it’s not over yet :) I hope :eek: And thank you!

  19. Toni Anderson

    Shelley, I think I could manage 3 lectures a week for a nice cruise :lol:

    Thanks for having me here today. It has been lovely to meet such lovely commentators.

  20. Shelley Munro


    My apologies for the late announcement. I won’t keep you waiting any longer…

    The winner is Catherine Bybee.

    Congratulations, Catherine. We’ll be in touch with you. :grin:

    Thanks to everyone else for visiting and a huge thank you to Toni. I loved hearing about marine biology and your new release.

  21. Toni Anderson

    Congrats, Catherine. It was super nice to meet everyone! Excuse my sloth but we just got a new puppy and I’m exhausted :mrgreen:


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