Sliding time by Annie Try

I am nearly over Covid, which was preceded by a very heavy cold. A side effect of illness has been a constantly changing diary, as appointments needed to be rearranged. Amongst the coughing and stuffy head, feverishness and general malaise, I have croaked on the phone leaving cancellation messages with times available for rescheduling. Messages came back with new offers of appointments with dates I could not do! I was temporarily thrown by receiving details of a class starting on Tuesday 23rd January. It’s a non-existent date - a mistake - which really confused me in my muddled thinking. 

     Finally, my diary is all sorted. My planned life feels ordered and under control. Less slippery, with everything, except the dance class, scheduled. This makes me feel better - with the appointments neatly lined up in my personal diary, writing diary and the shared desk diary.

     Maybe this is why I tend to write chronologically, but with clearly defined flashbacks or memories. However, one of my favourite books is The Time Travellers’ Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The story uses time as an unstable variable for Henry while it is steady for Clare, who he meets when she is six and he is thirty-two. They marry when she is twenty two and he is thirty. A beautifully written, very clever book. At one point Henry tries to explain to the young Clare what’s happening to him, using the analogy of listening to a tape recorder:

‘Because I am a time traveler, I jump around a lot from one time to another. So it’s like if you started the tape and played it for a while but you said Oh I want to hear that song again, so you played that song and then you went back to where you left off but you wound the tape too far ahead so you rewound it again but you still still got too far ahead …’

     Wouldn’t it be marvellous to be able to craft a story sliding backwards and forwards in time, with two characters moving at different paces yet somehow deftly taking my readers into the story? I cannot even begin to work out the planning, despite that little glimpse into how to do it that Audrey Niffenegger slotted into her book - to aid the reader as well as take the plot forward.

     I once turned up a GP surgery to run my usual fortnightly psychology clinic and wondered why no-one attended. Meanwhile, there were people waiting for me at the hospital where I was based. I had thought it was Wednesday, not Tuesday. Not my best day - although people were very forgiving - especially my little clients who gained an extra morning off school when I rescheduled. Nevertheless, I could do with re-running that day with a better outcome. Perhaps with several different outcomes? 

     Excuse me, I must go, I feel a Groundhog Day type story brewing …

Annie Try enjoys writing stories for adults and YA. Her fifth novel, The Dangerous Dance of Emma JJ, is published by Kevin Mayhew Publishers and came out in December 2022.

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