In 2016, feeling burnt out from an academic career and under the weight of her husband's chronic depression, Sandy Winterbottom ran away to sea for a six-week voyage by tall ship from Uruguay to South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. The journey followed in the footsteps of her then hero Ernest Shackleton, touring the spectacular islands and wildlife havens of the Southern Oceans, but in South Georgia, she discovered a darker side to the Antarctic, one deeply enmeshed with Scotland's past: the legacy of twentieth-century industrial-scale whaling.
Among the teeming wildlife lay the rusted and skeletal remains of abandoned whaling stations, littered with asbestos, machinery and whalebones. As a vegan and animal rights activist, she seethed at the men who enacted such decimation in the world's most pristine environment. But in a small cemetery at the edges of Leith Harbour whaling station, she stumbled upon the grave of Anthony Ford, an eighteen-year-old from Edinburgh, the same age as her son, and whom in good conscience she could not allow to bear the brunt of the blame.
On her return to Scotland, the image of Anthony's grave lingered and Sandy began her research, delving into archives, reading whaling accounts from the 1940s and 1950s, and meeting the whalers that still lived and remembered Anthony. What she found shook her. There are two sides to every story.
In a time of ecological crisis, there is much to be learned from the way the whaling industry operated. This Heart of Darkness journey draws prophetic parallels to the present-day climate emergency and recognises that environmental and human exploitation are deeply entwined.
Sandy Winterbottom spent most of her career as an academic teaching and researching in the Environmental Sciences at Stirling University. In 2010, she left to work in the renewables industry but following a life-changing trip to South Georgia and the Antarctic in 2016, she returned to study and completed the Creative Writing Masters Programme at Stirling University, tutored by Kathleen Jamie. She lives near Muckhart in Central Scotland. This is her first book.