Friday, 11 April 2014

Sequel or prequel?

Purely by coincidence I have two posts about young adult fiction in a row, though this is quite different, as I am delighted to welcome author S. P. Moss to describe a strange aspect of time in her latest novel:

‘… you see, Grandpop, this has happened once before, or I suppose I mean after...’

One man’s past is another man’s future. This was the conundrum facing me when I came to write the sequel – or is it a prequel? – to the children’s adventure story, The Bother in Burmeon.

The Bother in Burmeon is a retro-style tale. Young Billy slips back in time to 1962 to join his RAF pilot granddad in a rip-roaring jungle adventure. But what on earth is going to happen if, a few months later, Billy takes another time trip? – As he does in the new book, Trouble in Teutonia.  He ends up in a country not dissimilar to Germany - in the middle of a Cold War winter, in 1957.

It’s “after” for Billy. But it's “before” for Grandpop. This leads to all manner of dilemmas for the twelve-year-old. Can he spill the beans about what will happen in the future, or is that just not cricket? Are the events he has experienced in 1962 pre-destined to take place, or has he just messed up the future? And what is the nature of time?

On this last question, Billy has some hair-raising lessons from the eccentric Professor Brian Blunderby, a breeder of fox terriers, designer of jet fighters and dabbler in matters of space and time. The inspiration for Prof Blunderby was J. W. Dunne, aeronautical engineer and author of An Experiment with Time (1927). Dunne proposed the notion of “serial time”, in which past, present and future are present simultaneously. But normal human perception is only capable of experiencing time in a linear, unidirectional fashion.

I came across Dunne via a connection that might, on first sight, seem curious: John Buchan. Now, I freely admit that John Buchan has been a huge influence on all the derring-do in my stories, but – philosophical questions of time and consciousness? Well, in Buchan’s Dunne-influenced novel The Gap in the Curtain (1932) a professor conducts an experiment on precognition at a country house party. The participants are shown a copy of The Times, a year on. Is their destiny pre-ordained, or can they change the course of events?

Which brings us back to my dilemma. Prequel or sequel? Maybe, in the same way that Dunne believed all time was eternally present, a story can be both before and after. Which makes Trouble in Teutonia neither prequel nor sequel, but a sprequel.

Trouble in Teutonia will be launched on Thursday, 17th April, at Brooklands Museum, Weybridge, Surrey.

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