Sunday, 20 April 2014

Guest post: How to write a novel about time travel: first, pick your year by Nicola Doherty

Today I'm pleased to be taking part in the If I Could Turn Back Time blog tour organised by Bookbridgr with an article written by Nicola Doherty about how to write a novel about time travel.

My latest book If I Could Turn Back Time has just been published in paperback. Yet it’s set in 2010. So I suppose you could say that I’ve written a historical novel. I had to research it and everything – including drawing up colour-coded timelines and ordering copies of Grazia and Vogue from 2010 on eBay to nail all the fashion trends (it’s a hard life).

Why is the story set in 2010? Well, I had the idea for the book in December 2010 and wrote the synopsis then, but I didn’t actually start writing it until the following summer, and delivered the first draft in April 2012. I then delivered the second draft in September 2012. So I could have set it either in 2010, 2011 or 2012. 

Because Zoë was living through the summer for the second time, it had to contain a memorable event for her to be able to predict – so that when she finally told someone about her time-travel experience they would believe her. The year 2012 was too recent; it was happening as I was writing, and I had to be able to look back on events and play around with them. Also, the Olympics would have dominated it and Zoë’s not interested in sport at all. 

The year 2011 was another option, with two very memorable events that summer: the riots that spread through London and other UK cities, and Amy Winehouse’s death, age 27. However, these events felt too sad to use for plot purposes, and Zoë would also have wanted to try and warn someone about them – which would have made for a very different kind of story!

So I went back one more year to 2010. After reading through all the news summaries of the year, I hit on the perfect event for Zoë to predict; the rescue of the 33 miners from the San Jose mine in Chile. It had a happy outcome, so it didn’t feel too ghoulish to use it. And Zoë was able to remember, word for word, the note that one of them sent up, saying that they were all alive in the mine. 

This was something she could never have predicted or guessed – unlike Olympic results. So the person she confides in has no choice but to believe her. In a lovely bonus, 2010 was also a year when we had a hot summer and a white Christmas, and I was able to use both.

So that’s the reason why If I Could Turn Back Time is set in the summer of 2010. Cheryl Cole is in hospital with malaria; Victoria Beckham is comforting David after the World Cup; everyone’s wearing high-waisted skirts and ankle boots with dresses and is dancing to ‘Waka Waka’ by Shakira. And Zoë’s travelled back in time to make things right with her boyfriend David, and to kick-start her career again. I hope you enjoy travelling back with her …

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