This page is one of several on this site about my novel The Ancestor Cell. They are all linked from this main blog post here.
As part of the BBC’s Monthly Telepress (Issue 4, June 2000, which appeared in the month before the book was first published in the UK), I wrote an article called Selling the Ancestor. It was accompanied by Chapter 1 (“Travelling companions”, below) and Chapter 2 of The Ancestor Cell as “taster” for the book ahead of publication.The style of Chapter 1 is different from the rest of the novel, for reasons that become apparent as you read the rest of it.
Lady Withycombe had remained for some twenty minutes on the carriage seat, lounging in that warm and comfortable state in which, half asleep, half awake, consciousness begins to return after a sound slumber. In her reverie, she had recalled with pleasure her latest visit to Lord Ostler’s charming town house; the satisfaction that had blossomed in her breast as she cast a shiny new threepenny bit with ostentatious abandon to her porter at St Pancras; and the ragged urchin who had waved so impudently at her from atop the station wall.
Thus she sat, unsure for a moment of exactly where in the universe she found herself, gradually growing aware of a crumpled figure’s presence on the opposite seat – a seat that, prior to her recent nap, had been unoccupied.
‘I thought, sir,’ she ventured after a modest pause, ‘to have this carriage for my exclusive use. This aspiration notwithstanding, you are, I am sure, welcome to join me for the duration of your journey. What, sir, is your destination?’
But the other remained silent in his place, so that Lady Withycombe would have thought herself still dreaming and her unexpected companion a carved wooden statue, were it not for the cooling breeze from the half-opened window beside her.
The dishevelled figure stared, and his eyes blinked occasionally, and his lips moved in a constant quiver of mumbling. He wore the collar raised on a light-brown coat, which was in urgent need of brushing, and his tumbling brown locks seemed more suited to a young woman. A soiled hat perched indecorously on the back of his lank head of hair.
Lady Withycombe essayed her enquiry one more time, with the same lack of response. When, after some consideration as to the wisdom of her action, she chose to lean closer to listen to the man’s mumblings, she thought she could make out a handful of the words. The stranger was asking the oddest of questions: ‘Phase malfunction?’ was the first, followed shortly by, ‘That’s just jargon, isn’t it? Isn’t it?’
‘I confess,’ she said, coming to a decision at this, and now looking about herself for her small suitcase, ‘I am unable to assist you.’
Under any other circumstances, Lady Withycombe would have called for the guard and made an immediate request for the unkempt stranger to be removed forthwith to third class. Yet there was an ineluctable suspicion in her own mind that it was she who was in some way transgressing, and not this unexpected and odd new arrival.
When the train stopped at the next station, she lifted her suitcase through the door and went in search of a different carriage. On leaving, she could once again make out the stranger’s mutterings: ‘Must find… Must find… Doctor?’
© Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole 2000, 2013