Saturday, August 28, 2010

Is Time Travel Safe?

Find out in my Jamaican children’s novels:

I love Time Travel! I love the idea of being able to go back in time to a place in history, be totally safe, and then return ‘safe and sound’. Aha! That’s the thing! Time Travel is never totally safe! This creates tension! Quite scary, if you think about it!

In Time Travel movies, which I also adore, there's always something that leaves your mind a bit entangled with the plot; what came before which, which came before what? And if the protagonist was saved or saved the main romantic interest, how exactly was that achieved in relation to Time then and Time now?... which came before what, and what came before which? This can happen in books also.

So I thought: ‘Why not write about Time Travel in the Caribbean, in Jamaica to be exact?’ Now, as you realize, Time Travel is different from a historical novel, because the protagonists in Time Travel are aware of their two worlds. Conflict and increasing tension!

We may ask if the question I posed when I first started blogging would apply here. Have we so bought into the stereotypes of ourselves, the ‘quaintness’ of us, that we could have a hard time envisioning Time Travel happening to ordinary, everyday children in the Caribbean? Can only foreigners in America and Europe have Time Travel? Do we have permission to do that? Can we only do that if some supernatural power from the past is involved? Can we do Time Travel using science as we know it today, and as we do not yet know it… ? Do Caribbean people have permission to use Science?

I don’t know when I first recognized that I liked Time Travel, but among my favourite children’s books are "Tom’s Midnight Garden" by Philippa Pierce, considered a classic, and "Traveller in Time" by Alison Uttley. Whereas the former is bitter sweet, the latter is fascinatingly sad because we already know the future of this story, because it is already in the past, it’s already history; and our protagonist is unable to stop the tragic ending. Was it these writers who led me to my love of Time Travel, or was it the West Indian writer Mittleholzer. Another story altogether!

Some teachers recently told me that it is hard for some children to use their imaginations because they do not have the experiences/exposure to tap into, hence no imagination? That’s a little bit frightening, because without imagination how do you create anything new or wonderful?

Time Travel let’s us use our imaginations.

My novels are for the 9-13 year old age group. My protagonists, two sisters of 12 and 13, go back to some outstanding event in Jamaica’s history, but they don’t know what the event is until it’s too late to escape it. These are the 1907 Kingston Earthquake, one of the worst earthquakes to have occurred in Jamaica, in "A Tumbling World… A Time of Fire"; and the 1951 Hurricane Charlie, one of the worst hurricanes to have hit Jamaica, in "The Ring and the Roaring Water".

All sorts of devices are used to take persons into the past. In the Caribbean, for example, the sound of our drums has taken protagonists back to slavery days. In my books, the girls’ uncle invents a Time Machine, which looks like and old-time sugar mill, hence he calls it a Time Mill, and it is manipulated by a computer; the girls have a mini computer worn on the wrist like a watch to connect them to the main computer and facilitate their return. Science and technology! And see, already in the time it took me to write both books the concept of a mini-computer on your wrist is a possibility. (Think cell phones which can do everything.) There is also something about Jamaica in relation to external space and time which allows for Time Travel.

In each book the protagonists interact with the people of the day. They are however guided by rules: they cannot let people know that they are time travellers and they cannot change history/the people’s lives. This is a constant source of tension as they try to abide by both rules. Finally, as a result of the natural disaster, the mini-computer malfunctions and the girls do not know if they will be able to return to their own Time.

In each book, we also discover that somebody the girls had become friends with in Past Time, a male character about their age, has in some way guessed their secret, and this friendship reaches out to them across Time into their own Time; which is totally astonishing to them. It’s astonishing even to me, and it only developed as the stories unfolded.

A girl who was reading "The Ring and Roaring Water" said that when she woke up one morning her first thought was that there was no school today because there had been a hurricane. Yes, we write so that people can drop into our books and make it their world for a little while. Someone else asked, ‘So what happen to the ring, man? Where was it?’ This is that aspect of ‘Time Travel story’ that takes you into the plot and leaves you wondering.

A reader said of "A Tumbling World … A Time of Fire": ‘I really enjoyed reading this book. It had a variety of twists and turns. As soon as (the girls) overcome one danger and feel safe, their quick wits are needed to get them out of another scrape. It is a Jamaican version of H. G. Wells The Time Machine’. This reader was a twelve-year-old boy.

So much for boys not liking books with girl protagonists! Okay, so this boy is obviously a reader. But it suggests that while we know this to be generally true, we should perhaps challenge this as well as some of the other myths: Jamaicans don’t like reading, (maybe this doesn’t include the children); children don’t want to read because there is too much other competing technology. This last one would appear to be unquestionably true; and then again, maybe there is still a place for reading, which leads to thinking, instead of swallowing whole what is fed to you in sound and text bites; because perhaps the challenges of modern life will not be resolved by bites. Who knows?

Somebody suggested that in the future world everybody will be a ‘techie’, and there will only be a small elite who can read and write, (like the old-time days when only the monks and some other important people could read and write). It won’t happen, man! That’s science fiction. Is it?

Yes, I’m writing another book about Time Travel and the girls. Trying to work out what role my male protagonist will play.

In my next blog I’ll tell you about the research that underpins these books.

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