I’m delighted to bring you the blurb, and an exclusive extract, from the first novel to leave the well aimed pen of my lovely friend, Laura Wilkinson.
Set in a much-changed Britain in the mid-twenty-first century, The Family Line is the debut novel from acclaimed writer Laura Wilkinson, now revised and proudly reissued by Accent Press. An original exploration of identity, love and what it means to be a parent.
Three women. One secret. A child with a deadly disease
Megan is a former foreign correspondent whose life is thrown into turmoil when her son is diagnosed with a terminal illness: a degenerative disease passed down the mother’s line. In order to save him, Megan will have to unearth the truth about her origins and about a catastrophic event from the past. She must confront the strained relationship she has with her mother, make sense of the family history that has been hidden from her all her life, and embark on a journey of self-discovery that stretches halfway around the world.
An exclusive extract:
Megan sat alone outside the office of an eminent doctor resident at the hospital. It was nine fifteen; her appointment had been scheduled for nine o’clock. She was grateful for the reprieve and didn’t understand why she didn’t want to go in.
She wore heeled sandals and a knee-length dress, cut from black cotton with bracelet sleeves and a slash neck. Her cheeks were dusted with a soft pink blush and her lips coated in a sheer gloss. She had looked elegant and quite lovely in her bedroom mirror but now she felt overdressed and wished she had worn her regulation black jeans. She had been keen to make a good impression, but she resented this desire to impress. What was she trying to prove? That she was a good mother? Surely only a vain, selfish woman would be concerned about appearance when discussing her child’s development? She wiped away the gloss with the back of her hand. She studied her pale shins, the blue veins visible beneath the surface in the harsh hospital light. A nurse told her the consultant was ready. Megan took a deep breath and stood.
He faced the window, his back to the door, and looked out onto a pleasant garden bordered with hydrangeas, hebe and St John’s Wort. The air was cool in the sparse, smart office though Megan felt perspiration gathering under her arms and across her brow with every click of her heels on the floor. The doctor commented on the fine weather, reminding her that each day comes but once, never to return, and as such should be treasured. Platitudes. She looked at the garden. It was beautiful but nothing compared to her boy.
When the doctor finally spun his chair to face her, Megan knew the news wasn’t good, and though her stomach churned she told herself it would not be anything insurmountable. After all, this wasn’t oncology or the ER. After asking her to take a seat, Mr Barnet, a phlegmatic, saturnine individual, informed her that Cerdic had a rare congenital condition, a hereditary disease, passed from mother to son, which would rob Cerdic’s body of its ability to function. ‘AMNA. It stands for Alekseyev Motor Neuron Atrophy, named after the Russian scientist who first discovered the defective gene. For reasons that have never been quite explained the condition appears to be more prevalent amongst the peoples of the East, the Slavs in particular,’ he said.
Megan’s mouth dried, her lips seemed to be welded together. She struggled to push the words out. ‘How serious is it?’
‘Very. I am sorry.’
‘What will it do to him?’ She could feel the thick white spit at the corners of her mouth. She went to wipe it away and realised that her hands were shaking.
‘It starts in the muscles as cells break down and are gradually lost. The muscles weaken over time. Your son has trouble jumping and climbing, yes?’ He didn’t wait for a reply. ‘By five years old AMNA boys are unable to walk far, and by seven or eight most are in a wheelchair. Nerve cells in the brain weaken, eventually failing to send messages to muscles and other vital organs like the lungs. Sufferers lose control of their bodies and minds. The average life expectancy …’ Megan watched his mouth move without hearing more words. Sunlight illuminated his form and she felt angry with the sun for shining.
‘How long do we have?’
He curled his lips inward. ‘If he reaches sixteen, it will be a miracle, of sorts,’ he said, delivering the news as if it were quotidian, finishing with a standard, ‘Do you have any further questions?’
Megan experienced a sensation similar, she imagined, to being eviscerated. It was as if he had ripped out her intestines, thrown them to the floor and squashed them underfoot, before asking if there was anything he could do to help with the pain.
She remembered the night Cerdic was born. Sweltering and still. Even the sea was silent. She stayed up all night, her body throbbing, unable to take her eyes from him, afraid that if she blinked he would disappear as miraculously as he had arrived. She remembered how, when he was tiny and slept in a cot in her room, she would wake to the sound of silence and rush to his bedside, placing a palm in front of his mouth, checking he still breathed. Like all mothers in the black moments she imagined a hundred ways he might be taken from her but nothing like this. She never, ever, imagined this.
Reeling from the shock, and working hard to control her spiralling emotions and liquid gut, she said, ‘There must be something we can do.’
‘As you will appreciate much research was abandoned, or more accurately put on hold, after 2025. Cerdic’s condition is, mercifully, extremely rare, and as such it has not been high priority for many, many years. In the past decade research has restarted. But it is a slow process, Mrs Evens.’ He returned to his garden as he spoke, and Megan thought there was nothing merciful about this disease.
‘Has this research thrown anything up yet?’ she said, adding, ‘It’s Miss Evens.’
Mr Barnet commented on a blackbird that hopped on the lawn before replying with indistinct mumblings.
Megan’s patience evaporated though she believed the consultant’s rudeness was not deliberate. She pressed for a clear reply.
‘There are signs to indicate that matching stem cell and blood plasma transplants, from suitable donors, can slow the progression of the disease. It works best if the donors are relatives, close relatives. Scientists believe they can stop the disease in its tracks altogether if administered early enough with a perfectly matched donor though there is no conclusive proof as yet.’
‘It is worth a try, Mr Barnet.’
‘Worth a try.’ He nodded absentmindedly.
‘Then we try it.’ Megan’s tone was polite but firm – this was not a request.
‘There is no sibling?’
The consultant spoke of the viability of samples from her, Cerdic’s father, compatibility. He explained that it was most unusual, unheard of, for the mother, the carrier, to match, to be a suitable donor. She knew he meant no malice or blame – why would he? – but it pained her nevertheless. He rambled on, explaining the minutiae of technical detail. She twisted the ring on her left hand. Her mind flooded with images of Hisham. She would have to contact him. She knew there would be no question of him not helping but she allowed herself the irrational hope that contacting Hisham might not be necessary, that she might be the one in a million, in a manner of speaking. She left Mr Barnet’s office brim full of fear and hope, clutching a referral and a name for her son’s killer.
To buy: http://amzn.to/2ahSStC
Praise for the first edition:
Wilkinson ably navigates the tender, sometimes fraught exchanges between her protagonists. Though its scope is ambitious, and could easily have veered off-course, deft interweaving of complex themes makes for a haunting début.’ For Books’ Sake.
‘This is a compelling story that raises important issues and will linger in the mind long after the last page has been turned.’ Joanna Caney, New Books Magazine.
‘This mind-blowingly original novel asks big questions about a woman’s right to choose when to have children… Ultimately, it questions how far is too far… This is a book that will haunt your dreams.’Pam McIlroy, Books at Broadway.
‘ This is an interesting and emotional début, and is highly recommended.’ Michelle Moore, Book Club Forum.
‘… a fantastic debut novel which surpassed my expectations. I totally agree with one Amazon reviewer; this has got BBC 3-part drama written all over it! Simply fabulous!’ Kirsty, Book Love Bug.
After working an actress and journalist, now Laura writes novels and short stories. She is published by award-winning independent press, Accent. Her novel, Public Battles, Private Wars, was a Welsh Books Council Book of the month; Redemption Song, is an insightful look at learning to forgive and love again after significant loss. The Family Line is set in a near future Wales and looks at identity and parenting. ‘It will haunt your dreams’ Books at Broadway. Alongside writing, she works as an editor for literary consultancies, Cornerstones and The Writing Coach, and runs workshops on self-editing and the art of fiction. She’s spoken at festivals and events nationwide, including London Metropolitan University, GladLit, University of Kingston, The Women’s Library and Museum in Docklands. www.laura-wilkinson.co.uk Twitter @ScorpioScribble Facebook: Laura Wilkinson Author
Happy reading everyone,