‘What if…?’ From death comes life (and a story)


On Writing ‘The Methuselah Gene’

I’ve been writing ‘The Methuselah Gene‘ (previous working titles have included ‘All Our Yesterdays’, ‘All Our Tomorrows’ and -very briefly- ‘Time Will Tell’) for almost four years now. It evolved from a mind-bending, time-spanning love story (not much like ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ but the same genre) into a much darker tale of death, kidnap and the long-reaching effects of genetic research that I could hardly have anticipated when I wrote the very first line back in 2011!

As all writers know, you start with an idea which mutates with each draft; sometimes you begin with one premise and stick with it until the final draft, changing very little of your core story along the way; sometimes you realise that the original idea just doesn’t work as you get deeper into the plotting and writing, and one small tweak will change the whole premise, hopefully for the better.

‘What if?’ are two words which excite me more than any other when I’m writing. Sometimes they are silent, spoken internally (and occasionally, out loud to myself); sometimes in conversation with family, friends or fellow writers. All those ‘what-ifs’ get noted down (sometimes neatly, more often not) and will be mulled over at length – but when an idea is good, your pen can hardly keep up with your mind… that feeling should almost be made illegal, it’s that good.

The original lead character of the story, Eva, was a widow and a bereaved mother in the very first draft – that much has never changed, although Eva is no longer the central character, and the deaths of her first husband and daughter are twenty-five years in the past.  The deaths of her family were accidental in those early drafts – until one day I found myself thinking ‘But what if it wasn’t accidental? What if they were murdered? Who would have done it, and why?’

That question led me down a whole new path, which took the time-slip element of the first version, made it time travel instead, and made Eva’s new partner (Tom) a bereaved parent too. Research into the reason for his son’s death threw in mutated DNA in the form of Progeria, and we were off – the love story became a mystery and a detective story with a science-fiction premise.  Although not quite so much of the science in the story is fiction, as it happens, because the research which is key to the central plot is in fact happening right now … which makes this, I hope,  the optimum time to tell the story!

Also ‘pursuant to our interests’: 

Related toThe Methuselah Gene only in that it deals with the science of DNA, the story of Genetic Fingerprinting is about to begin filming in Michael Crompton’s new drama for ITV, Code of A Killer.

Starring David Threlfall as Detective David Baker and John Simm as Genetics Professor Alec Jeffreys, ‘Code of A Killer’ tells the true story of how, in 1984, Alec Jeffrey’s ground-breaking research enabled Baker to catch a double killer by using the killer’s unique DNA fingerprint to tie him to the murders.

It is hard to imagine a world where the police don’t have access to Jeffrey’s DNA-Fingerprinting techniques – definitely one to watch!

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Produced by World Productions and directed by James Strong, the drama will deal sensitively with the subject matter, and will air on ITV in 2015.