Gavin Pretor-Pinney is a giggler inveterate, with the smooth, rubicund features of a British banker and a crushed lisp, exuberant in his passions and determined to heal the damage wreaked by geography masters the world over. 'It's amazing how in the wrong hands, a subject can be mangled,' he says from a farmhouse near Beziers in southern France, where he is on holiday with his wife, Liz, and their two daughters, Flora Cirrus and Verity Iris. His first book, The Cloudspotter's Guide, sold more than 250,000 copies in 17 translations and is now regarded as the bible of a new religion. His second, The Wave Watcher's Companion, released in June, is up for the same destiny. 'It was an incredible struggle to get the Cloud book published,' he recalls. 'Twenty-eight editors turned the book down, and even the guy who eventually bought it said no originally.' The response to Pretor-Pinney's second book was different. 'They were like: come on! What's your next book gonna be? So I rather impulsively said, 'Well, I think waves are rather interesting, but I'm afraid I don't have a proposal.'' Which is when, he says, his publishers lost their minds. 'They told me not to worry about the proposal. I sold the book on a single word: waves.' His laughter is incredulous. Pretor-Pinney first became intrigued by waves while watching gliders surfing the Morning Glory, a majestic, columnar 1,000km-long Australian cloud. 'This long line of clouds, you can see them in satellite images. They stretch for the length of Britain - miles and miles and miles long. I remember watching it from the street - it was so quiet, just a dog barking, with the moon still out - and as it approached, like a wave, it rolled towards me. The sky suddenly went overcast, and then the cloud rolled beyond me. In that moonlight, it had a silvery sheen. I felt like I was underwater.' He applied what he describes as his 'Asperger's-like' focus to waves, discovering their connection to every other kind of wave - infrared, micro, shock, light, Mexican. Waves, he enthuses, are not frozen in time as the water within the wave will, at any moment, be left behind as the wave moves on. 'Waves pass through the medium of water in almost exactly the same way human spirit passes through the medium of the body - over time, where every atom is replaced.' And like its literary predecessor, The Wave Watcher's Companion achieves the improbable: it restores a sense of magic to the world. The tone of the book is intimate, informative, wonderfully funny. 'The crests and troughs now grow agitated and chaotic,' he writes. 'They rush this way and that, running into each other, tumbling over each other, like a roomful of toddlers under the dubious guidance of a hyperactive childminder.' With intellectual grace, Pretor-Pinney manages to link the human heartbeat to the slithering of snakes, the collapse of suspension bridges, the shimmer of butterfly wings, and gridlock. 'It's all about waves,' he says. Now 42, Pretor-Pinney first contemplated nature as a child in Hammersmith, London, where his parents Laura and Antony, a piano teacher and commodities trader respectively, owned a small apartment. 'We were at the top of a block of flats, so one could look out at the sky, which is the last wilderness available to those who live in urban sprawl.' He watched thunderstorms at night, losing himself in the shapes of his breath against the windowpanes. His parents let their three children run wild - tearing down the hallway with felt-tip pens pressed to the wall, shrieking. 'They allowed their environment to be ruined in an attempt not to limit us.' Deaf in his right ear since the age of six months ('I had a cold, and my eardrum burst'), Pretor-Pinney suffered infections until an operation in his 20s. 'As I always had a bit of cotton wool sticking out of my ear, my nickname was 'Goo',' he recalls. A child psychologist attributed his isolationist tendencies to his 'split-second delay in comprehension', and Pretor-Pinney admits to a residual tendency to detachment. He credits his mother for his tranquil intellectual largesse. 'Quite jumpy, she would say things very quickly, so that made me want to be the opposite'. His greatest fear, he confesses in a sudden uprush of fear, is being forgotten. 'When I was six or so, my mother told me that another mother would pick me up from school, but my mother forgot to tell her, so I was left alone in the car park, just crying. That episode somehow became emblematic of my being left behind and forgotten about, ignored.' Years at a 'hippie' primary school resulted in 'two terms at a crammer to learn something', whereupon it was 'all sciences for my A-levels' at London's Westminster School, philosophy and physics at Oxford, and a postgraduate master's in design at St Martin's School of Art. As a result of this eclectic education, he perceives himself as essentially protean. This may explain his intense identification with evanescent forms; his campaign for their appreciation as no more than a refracted desire to be loved. Spurred by the same impulse, he founded the Cloud Appreciation Society, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of clouds as 'Nature's poetry, the most egalitarian of her displays'. Their contemplation, he says, expands the soul. The organisation now has 21,000 members in 78 countries. Were he more entrepreneurial, Pretor-Pinney muses, it would now probably be 'a really, really successful business, and I haven't done that at all. You pay your four pounds, and that's life membership. That's part of the appeal, I think; it's not at all commercial.' The idea first occurred to him in Rome in 2003, where he spent 'eight or nine' months loafing about to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of The Idler, the magazine he co-founded with Tom Hodgkinson. Self-funded and inspired by Samuel Johnson's 1758 journal of the same name, The Idler had established itself as the organ of the highbrow slacker: erudite and elegantly designed, it was the British take on anti-consumerism, very, very funny. Appropriately, it made no profit. 'In Rome, I spent my days strolling around churches, gazing at baroque frescoes, noting that pretty much all the apostles reclined on the clouds as they surveyed the congregation below, crepuscular rays of sunlight bursting out behind their heads, symbolising spirit,' he recalls. 'And it's true: if you're depressed, you look down; if you're happy, you look up. As children, we physically look up to our parents - in childhood, parents are always gods - and as adults, we continue to look upwards for our deities.' He says that blue skies 'feel rather two-dimensional, whereas a clouded sky can, depending on the kinds of clouds, feel three-dimensional. Clouds give a sense of architecture, you get a feeling of depth - shadows, variety, drama: you can observe the very landscape changing in concordance with its own set of geological laws. I always remind people that clouds aren't something to complain about. Their mundane nature is no reason to forget about their beauty.' Ultimately, Pretor-Pinney is an egalitarian aesthete. He stresses in all his work not only the beauty of the world, but its accessibility, believing natural grandeur to be central to joy. 'The easiest way to find peace is to align yourself with the world,' he says. 'Waves, for example, are the breath of the ocean, and by observing them, you achieve calmness. Because in the end, we are all of us no more than little waves passing.'