‘He stretched out his hand and that was the final spark that lit the flare.’

We all know Victor Frankenstein and how his story turned out, but what of his great-neice, Mary, outspoken, outsider and keen to make her mark? C. E. Mcgill has written a hugely enthralling re-imagining of Mary Shelley’s iconic novel, and here we present an extract where Mary remembers a moment in childhood.


Our Hideous Progeny
By C. E. Mcgill
Published by Doubleday


But I wallow. I mean only to explain here that I cannot recall a time before I knew I was a disgrace – though it would be many years before I understood precisely why. An ill-gotten child is a faulty cog; living testament to the fact that rules are not always followed, that sons and daughters cannot always be controlled, that men and women do not always couple as we might think they should. Shame breeds fear, and fear breeds goodness, morality, better behaviour. Such is the hope.

Except that sometimes – as I can attest – shame and fear beget only anger instead.

I can recall with perfect clarity the first time I knew that. I was five perhaps, or six. Young enough that I had not yet been sent to school, though old enough to be curious about it. I would peer through the gates as my nursemaid and I walked into the village, watching the children laugh and scream and push each other into puddles. It must have been a Saturday that day, however, for the schoolyard was empty as we passed on our way to the shore. It was early spring, far too chilly to paddle, but I still loved playing treasure-hunter, filling my pockets with stones and shells which my humourless nursemaid would inevitably make me empty out before we left. And it was there, in the shadow of the pearl-white cliffs, that I found it.

It was a small thing, dark and lustrous as mahogany, resting atop a pale boulder as if simply begging to be found. I spotted it from a dozen paces away and picked my way closer, rocks slipping and clattering beneath my feet. When I retrieved it and held it up to the light, I saw that it was shaped almost like a piece from a game of draughts – a squat cylinder marked on both sides with subtle rings like the inside of a tree. The top and bottom were not quite flat, but slightly concave, fitting perfectly between my forefinger and thumb. It was lovely; not as beautiful as some of the other stones I had found on the beach, nor as colourful as sea-glass, but fascinating in its singularity.

‘What’s that?’

I swivelled upon my heel. Somehow, so absorbed was I in my new treasure, I had not heard him approach – a local boy, two years my senior, whose name I could not recall; Tim or Tom or Thomas, perhaps. What I could recall was this: that I had seen him earlier that week in the schoolyard, pushing another boy to the ground. That he had laughed as his schoolmate spat dust, and run away with the boy’s hat and his spinning top. That this was a boy who took things.

My gaze darted up the beach to where my nursemaid stood, joined now by another, the two of them absorbed in conversation. They were too far for me to call to, and even if they had not been, I knew my own nursemaid’s opinion on trinkets I found on the beach. She would not help me.

‘It’s mine,’ I blurted, my heart a drum. I watched his face sour.

‘I only asked what it was.’ He stepped closer, eying my closed fist. ‘Did you find a penny?’

Of course; I should have realized. His clothes were shabbier than mine. The woman with him was likely not his nursemaid, but his mother. He was the son of a shopkeeper probably, a butcher or a baker. He had little, but (I felt at the time) I had so much less – no mother, no proper place in the world, no means of driving him away. All I had wanted was this, this odd little stone, and yet I would not be allowed it.

I gave him one last warning as I shrank back, legs pressed against the boulder behind me – ‘It’s only a stone, go away !’ – but he ignored me and pressed forth, a greedy look in his eyes. He stretched out his hand and that was the final spark that lit the flare.

I bit him.


The less said of the hour that followed, the better. I was punished, of course; screamed at by my nursemaid and my grandmother both. The thing I remember most clearly is my nursemaid’s hand around my wrist, her fingers pressing hard enough to bruise, the bared-teeth grimace upon her face as she hissed at me: ‘What the devil is wrong with you?’ And my unspoken reply: I do not know.


Our Hideous Progeny by C. E. Mcgill is published by Doubleday, priced £16.99.

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