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THE millionaire author of The Horse Whisperer is fighting for life after eating poisonous mushrooms on a Scots holiday.
Nicholas Evans's wife, her clan chief brother and his wife were also poisoned by the lethal Destroying Angel mushrooms. All four victims were desperately ill last night but Nicholas was in the worst condition and was on adialysis machine.
Friends are frantic with worry about Nicholas, 58, whose book was turned into a hit movie by Robert Redford.
A source close to the family said: "They had absolutely no idea how dangerous these mushrooms were."
The poisoning happened as dad-of-four Nicholas and wife Charlotte enjoyed a holiday on the 12,000-acre Moray estate of Charlotte's brother, Sir Alastair Gordon-Cumming.
The victims picked the mushrooms on a woodland walk and ate them later. People who eat Destroying Angels usually suffer liver and kidney failure.
A family friend said: "They have picked mushrooms in the woods before and simply thought these were the safe ones.
"The family are normally very careful about picking them. I don't know where exactly they picked the fungi but it shows how easily this can happen to anyone.
"The big worry is that others could make the same mistake with the same disastrous consequences."
Nicholas and Charlotte, 50, a successful singer-songwriter who has written for the Sugababes, were taken to Dr Gray's hospital in Elgin with Sir Alastair, the 54-year-old chief of the Clan Cumming, and his wife Lady Louise, 46.
The victims were later transferred to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. All were very seriously ill but stable last night.
Destroying Angels can easily be mistaken for edible mushrooms but are among the most poisonous fungi in Europe. As little as half a mushroom can kill.
Nicholas and his relatives fell ill last Monday after picking the Destroying Angels on Sir Alastair's Altyre estate, which lies between Forres and Grantown-on-Spey.
It can take up to 24 hours for the symptoms of poisoning to show, and by then the victims' organs have absorbed the mushroom toxins.
Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, delirium and convulsions.
The poison has no antidote but treatment has improved in recent years. Doctors give victims massive doses of penicillin and pump fluid into their bodies and dialysis is used in the most serious cases.
Destroying Angels, or amanita virosa, are from the same family as the lethal Death Cap mushroom.
They are very similar to edible puff balls and can also be mistaken for field mushrooms.
Sources say a huge crop of mushrooms has grown on the Altyre estate this year, helped by the wet summer.
After Nicholas and his relatives became ill, samples were collected from the woods and sent to Glasgow University and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh for analysis.
Nicholas was struggling with s65,000 of debt when Robert Redford bought the film rights for his half-written debut novel for an unprecedented s3million in 1995.
The movie of The Horse Whisperer, starring Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas and a 13-year-old Scarlett Johansson, was released in 1998.
It earned a Golden Globe nomination for best drama and a best director nomination for Redford.
Nicholas's book also became a staggering success. It has sold more than 15million copies worldwide, topped the bestseller lists in 20 countries and been translated into 36 languages.
Worcestershire-born Nicholas got a first-class law degree at Oxford and worked as a journalist on ITV's Weekend World and The South Bank Show before becoming an author.
He got the idea for The Horse Whisperer from a blacksmith who told him about people with the mysterious gift of healing traumatised horses.
While he was working on the book, Nicholas was told he had a cancerous mole on his stomach.
Doctors removed it before the cancer cells could penetrate his skin. Nicholas, who had lost his mother to cancer, said the incident made him appreciate how important it was to make the most of life.
Nicholas has written three other novels, The Loop, The Smoke Jumper and The Divide, which was inspired by the break-up of his first marriage.
He had three children during his first marriage and he and Charlotte, his second wife, have an eight-year-old son, Finlay. They live in London and also own a14th-century mansion in Devon.
Charlotte wrote Soul Sound, which was a hit for Sugababes in 2001. She released her own album, Mind Walking, two years ago.
Sir Alastair became chief of the clan Cumming, or Comyn, six years ago.
The Comyns are directly descended from William the Conqueror. One of Sir Alastair's ancestors, John Comyn, known as The Red Comyn, was killed by Robert the Bruce in 1306 as the Comyn and Bruce families battled for supremacy in Scotland.
Sir Alastair and Lady Louise have three children, William, 15, Sophie 13, and Kit 10.