Poisonous mushrooms put 'Horse Whisperer' author in hospital

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The Independent Culture

Nicholas Evans, the author of The Horse Whisperer, is in hospital in Aberdeen after eating a rare species of poisonous mushroom while on holiday with his wife in the Highlands.

The 58-year-old writer and his wife, Charlotte, were staying with her brother Sir Alastair Gordon-Cumming and his wife, Louisa, at their 12,000-acre estate near Elgin over the weekend, when they ate mushrooms they had gathered on a woodland walk.

On Monday, all four checked into a hospital in Elgin. They had consumed a rare and highly toxic mushroom known as Cortinarius speciosissimus, which can cause kidney failure. The party was transferred to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to be treated using dialysis machines.

Although the author was the worst affected, a spokeswoman for the hospital said yesterday that all four patients were in a stable condition. A statement issued by Mr Evans's literary agent said the group had "responded well" to the dialysis treatment, and were in a "positive frame of mind" and were no longer confined to their beds. A full recovery it is expected to take two weeks.

Mr Evans shot to fame in 1995 with his first novel The Horse Whisperer. He had completed only 200 pages of the book, which tells the story of a talented horse trainer who is hired to nurse a young girl's horse back to health, when the actor and director Robert Redford bought the film rights for £3m. It went on to sell more than 15 million copies.

The film version was released in 1998, starring Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas, and earned two Golden Globe nominations. Mr Evans has since written three other novels – The Loop, The Smoke Jumper and The Divide. His wife, Charlotte, 50, is a successful songwriter who wrote the track "Soul Sound", which became a hit for the pop group Sugababes in 2001.

James Long, who has been a friend of Mr Evans for 40 years, described the author as "an outdoorsman" who frequently picked and ate wild mushrooms without coming to harm.

Of the 10,000 species of mushroom in Britain, Cortinarius speciosissimus is among the most deadly. Picking mushrooms is popular in Scotland, where varieties including chanterelles are plentiful.

Fatal fungi

Cortinarius Speciosissimus, or 'Fool's Webcap'

Grows in coniferous woods in Scotland, and can damage the liver, kidneys and spinal cord. Symptoms include thirst and a burning tongue.

Amanita virosa, or 'Destroying Angel'

Looks harmless and often mistaken for an edible mushroom, it causes liver and kidney failure. Just half of one can kill.

Amanita Phalloides, or 'Death's Cap'

Eating one can be fatal. Symptoms include breathing problems, dizziness and vomiting.