I blame Rod Taylor. That long-ago Saturday when the Twin Cinemas in our small town played a matinee show of The Time Machine, I had just reached an impressionable age. I emerged from that theatre completely enthralled, and not just with the dashing Australian, but with the whole concept of time travel. Reading the book made it worse. As did reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a book that still, all these years afterward, makes it impossible for me to pass by a wardrobe without that small wondering moment, that impulse to open the door and make certain the back of the wardrobe is actually solid.
For me, the idea that, if I could find the right vehicle, or the right doorway, I might leave the place and the time I was in and wind up somewhere else…well, that seemed like a magical thing to me, then. It still does.
The Traveller in The Time Machine goes forward to the future, and the children in the chronicles of Narnia discover a completely different world, but if I’d had my choice I would have journeyed to the past. My love of history started early, with the stories and the myths my mother read to me at bedtime, and the family history that my father introduced me to, the tales of our own ancestors, so well-loved and familiar that the faces gazing out at me from all those faded photographs seemed utterly alive.
Time-slip novels, with their tandem narratives, allow me to explore that past while keeping one foot firmly in the present. And they let me explore, too, the ways that the present is shaped by the past, and the way what is happening now can be rooted in seeds that were sown generations ago. Straight historical novels can do this as well, of course – readers can spot the connections themselves – but I love how the use of both present and past, side by side, can make each one more interesting, just as complementary colours make each other more intense and vivid.
Sometimes connecting my modern-day characters with a past story, whether those characters physically enter the past or just study it, lets me more naturally bring certain details of history to life, since those characters, like us, are not of that world, and will notice the things that are strange to them.
Time-slip, for me, is the best of both worlds: I can pass through the wardrobe and back again, freely, whenever I want; send the time machine spinning to places unknown and return to my starting place, just like Rod Taylor did those years ago on that Saturday in the Twin Cinemas, when he first made me believe such a thing might be possible.
Susanna Kearsley is the author of several novels. Her novel, The Winter Sea, is being published in the United States for the first time. For more information on the author and her books you can visit her website and don't forget to check out all the other great posts during Susanna Kearsley week