Monday, February 29, 2016

North Melbourne Books March Newsletter - featuring Ross Welford

In the March edition of the North Melbourne Books newsletter we talk to British children's author Ross Welford about his fantastic debut novel, Time Travelling With a Hamster. 

It is an action packed story, full of breathtaking twists and turns, but also a sweet and tender story about the close relationship between a father and his son. We hope you enjoy our interview with Ross.

To view the latest March edition of our newsletter, click here. To sign up for our monthly newsletter, click here.

North Melbourne Books Talks to Ross Welford

North Melbourne Books: Time Travelling with a Hamster tells the story of twelve-year-old Al Chaudhury and how he uses his father’s invention, a laptop attached to a zinc garden tub, to travel back in time and save his father’s life. What inspired you to write a time travelling story and how did you come up with the idea for the time travelling machine?

Ross Welford: I've always been intruiged by "the grandfather paradox" which states that time travel cannot be possible, otherwise you could travel back in time, murder your own grandfather (before he had fathered your father) and therefore you could not exist, and could not have time-travelled in order to murder... etc etc. So I wanted to play with that idea to find out what would happen. In the story, Al's attempt to prevent the accident that, 30 years later, will kill his dad, goes horribly wrong.  had a vague idea of the ending, but a lot of what happened surprised me!

As for the time machine, I just wanted to avoid the obvious sci-fi thing of big, flashy machines.  Just this daft, simple contraption seemed better for the story.

NMB: Al’s Grandpa Byron is an interesting character. He has written a book called The Memory Palaces of the Sri Kalpani, which teaches how to memorise things. Grandpa Byron seems to offer a bit of a warning about the over reliance on technology. What lessons do you think he teaches the reader?

RW: I'd like to think that, if you like Grandpa Byron, you may be inspired to explore the memory stuff. The "memory palaces" stuff is all totally real, although exaggerated a bit for the sake of fiction. I sometimes wonder if, these days, we rely too much on technology. Take music concerts: the entire audience records them on their phones, instead of enjoying the performance. What on earth do they do with this shaky, blurry, bad-sounding footage? Do they ever play it back? Obviously, people want to remember a fun occasion, but surely it's better to experience it fully in the first place? I guess that is what Grandpa Byron is about: "living in the moment", to borrow an over-used phrase, and using your memory to re-live the bits you liked best.

NMB: The novel has quite an intricate plot, as Al shuttles back and forth between time dimensions. Was it a tricky business to keep up with the story?

RW: Yes! I often found myself wondering, "Why did I choose time travel?"

I honestly don't recommend it as a subject for new writers. Time travel is a bit of a juggling act to write, and there are logic traps hidden all over the place. Best avoid it, I say.

That said, it was also a lot of fun to write, and to solve, (or hide, or ignore) those problems.

NMB: The relationship between Al and his father is very touching and sweet. It makes for a strong emotional core to the book. Why did you want to write about a father-son relationship?

RW: The "missing/dead/substitute father" idea is one of the grand themes of storytelling - so much so that I don't even think it is a cliché, any more than "boy-meets-girl" is a cliché. It just seemed to make sense that Al's "quest" would involve finding his dad. Plus, on a personal level, fatherhood has been so rewarding to me that I knew I'd be able to write about it.

NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?

RW: I've just finished the excellent In Darkness by Nick Lake. It's a YA novel about a teenage boy trapped in darkness under a collapsed building after the 2013 Haiti earthquake. As he feels his life ebbing away, he recalls his violent life among the slum gangs of Haiti. There's voodoo and zombies as well, plus you get to learn the history of Haiti, and there's a terrific, well-earned ending. It's quite hard core, mind. Plenty of swearing and violence, so the upper end of YA, if it's really YA at all. It's just a very good story.

So what's next? Well, I started but temporarily abandoned Restless by William Boyd. I really like this writer, so I feel bad that this one hasn't gripped me properly. It sits there on my bedside table, glaring at me accusingly when I pick up Viz comic which I have read for decades and still find hilariously filthy. I read bits out loud to my wife who, being Swedish, doesn't get it at all.

There is also Seven Brief Lessons On Physics by Carlo Rovelli. I read a few "simple" books on physics and space and whatnot when I was writing Time Traveling With A Hamster and I try hard to understand it all, but the concepts are often so vast that I find I need frequent refreshers; I think this volume may be just the thing!

Time Travelling With a Hamster, by Ross Welford. Published by HarperCollins. RRP: $14.99