Lewes author answers call of the wild

Lucy Atkins, photographed by Charlie Hopkinson
Lucy Atkins, photographed by Charlie Hopkinson

The ice and fog of a British Columbian winter – where killer whales and vicious storms are never far away – is the setting for a tense and thrilling first novel by Lucy Atkins, a former student at Priory School, Lewes.

Lucy, who grew up in the village of Barcombe, became inspired by the true story of Alexandra Morton, who was one of the first women to study killer whales.

Lucy lived for four years in Seattle on the USA’s west coast with her husband and three children and fell in love with the wilderness of the land further north.

It was on a return visit to the area a few years ago that she read an article in a magazine about Alexandra Morton and knew that she had found the inspiration for a novel.

She abandoned the book she was already working on and created the character of Elena.

The Missing One is more than just a gripping page -turner. It tells the story of Kali McKenzie, a young woman in search of her artist-mother’s past – a search which takes her to a remote island off the coast of British Columbia and an encounter with the chilling Susannah Gillespie.

There is a profound sense of place in this book, beginning with Kali’s frightening drive through fog to the boarded-up BandB where she is hoping to stay, and on to Gillespie’s isolated house on a remote corner of the island.

As the story unravels, Kali’s quest becomes a nightmare, but Atkins never allows her writing to tip into melodrama for she cleverly uses Kali‘s young son Finn to keep the action grounded and totally believable.

The book goes back and forth from the present day to the 1970s, where we gradually discover the truth about Elena’s past and the tragedy which drives her from her beloved island to a Victorian house in a Sussex village – the same house in fact where Lucy grew up.

One of the things I liked about this book is the subtle blend of fact with fiction which makes it all the more convincing.

This is an extraordinary first novel which I found impossible to put down.

The weather is almost a character in itself and I shivered in the intense cold which grips the narrative from start to finish.

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, The Missing One made me want to take the next plane to Vancouver!

Lucy Atkins is an award-winning journalist and book critic for The Times. She read English at Oxford, where she still lives. Her parents live in Lewes.