Time travel with magic by IS
My friend and cover-artist Ian Storer has previously written for this blog. He will shortly be publishing “Taken Things”, the first in a series of tales set around the so-called Unnatural History Museum, the workplace of Dr Speedwell and Polly Nightingale. I asked him to explain how the historian relates to time travel.
Time travel is just an accident – in my writing at least. Or to put it another way, I never set out to write time travel fiction, it just emerged as a means of marrying several ideas together, allowing me to explore the reality of the past while writing a fun and engaging story.
It’s ironic really. I can’t say I’m a fan of time travel fiction and I certainly never set out to write Sci-Fi or fantasy in any way shape or form. I’m not particularly into the “timey-wimey” stuff either – fading photographs and flux capacitators – and have no intention of producing complicated plots where the demise of ancestors and historical figures threaten the safety of the world. Neither do I feel qualified to probe the pseudo-science of time-machines, worm-holes and the complexities inter-chronological technology. In fact, my intention had always been to write big grown-up historical fiction, to show people what the past may really have been like – so how did The Unnatural History Museum come about?
The idea for The Unnatural History Museum was one of those play-on-words titles which flits through my mind from time to time, and at a point where I’d been struggling to write fiction for at least a year, it felt like something I could have some fun with. I’ve always loved television series with a quirky vein running through them, and the title instantly suggested eccentric characters and ‘X-files’ like cases of the more extraordinary kind. The stage was set for a short, fun, manageable project to get my imagination sparking.
Yet a brief bit of research revealed that the cryptozoology (monster hunting) angle was already taken, so my mind began to pursue another direction …
One of the biggest problems of trying to write well-informed historical fiction is how to tell the audience something about the past without being either a) anachronistic – writing modern people in old fashioned costume – or b) resorting to long lecture-like passages from the narrator to make alien concepts clear. To give an example, the Roman saying for ‘they are trustworthy’ was ‘you could play micatio in the dark with this guy,’ which sounds very accurate, yet makes no sense until you learn micatio was a gambling game where players asked opponents to guess how many fingers they were holding up behind their back; and without having the characters give an impromptu demonstration, this juicy piece of realistic dialogue would make little sense without a narrative explanation of some kind. But how was I to achieve that?
I’d toyed with short stories and a radio scripts involving academics sent to the past (as in Michael Crichton’s story Time Line) about a decade ago, but never felt confident in pulling off something quite so unbelievable. Yet the quirky, slightly-gothic context of a museum department run by an eccentric curator – who became Dr Speedwell – seemed to lend itself to a more ‘normal’ character finding themselves drawn into an implausible world of time travelling. It would be serious, yet consciously quirky and tongue-in-cheek, set in a world in which the reader is instantly invited to suspend disbelief, and the concept quickly became an exercise in seeing what I could get away with: was it possible to write something like this and make it at all believable?
Around the same time I had also been re-reading a couple of books I’d enjoyed as a child (Roald Dahl’s Danny Champion of the World and C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew) while suffering from a dearth of interesting adult fiction to read, and found myself blown away with Lewis’ description of passing between different worlds (I must commend you to grab the book in question and find the description in the chapter The Wood Between the Worlds, with its eerie sci-fi atmosphere) – and something seemed suddenly to click.
The idea of attempting to describe this implausible unearthly experience in a realistic way began to form, and the concept of having an unsuspecting, rational – yet open minded – female lead took shape. I couldn’t help myself from borrowing her name from Lewis (“if a girl with a Victorian sounding name pops in”) and by majoring on the building tension that something extraordinary was about to happen, the changing atmosphere of the museum and the visceral physical symptoms of travelling back in time, I hoped to give a bit more credence to what is basically a fairy-tale for grown-ups inspired by a silly name and two kids stories.
Hopefully I’ve pulled it off – though I’m not sure Polly Nightingale would agree with me.
(Taken Things, the first book of Ian’s time travelling series ‘The Unnatural History Museum’ is set to be published by Burst Publishing later this year, while his short novella, ‘A most Extraordinary Animal,’ (set within the same time travelling world) is currently available at :
I have read it, and can report it’s an exciting tale of three strong women and the Loch Ness Monster, and makes me even more eager to read more about the UHM. It’s also quite short!
Love from the PPI Blogger.