My novel is about the crew and convicts aboard a British ship who are transported through time from 1795 to 2017, by way of the book’s title, TimeStorm, where they escape into a city and, as the cliché goes, wreak havoc on the unsuspecting population of Sydney, Australia. A fast moving time travel historical romance adventure thriller.
I wrote it because I thought the concept was strong for an action thriller novel and it might be interesting to bring a seafaring adventure into a modern setting.
That was pretty much it. But that, apparently, was not enough for some people, particularly other writers or people with literary interests. As I was editing and the subject of the book came up at parties and gatherings (I am quick to bring up my writing with anyone who will listen), and they asked me what the book was about, I would tell them the above. Then they’d ask, no, what’s it really about? I would then tell them it was about 400 pages, which rarely went down well.
They would press on regardless. No, no, they would insist, that’s not what I mean. What are the themes you explore? What’s the underlying message of the novel? The tone you are trying to achieve?
It happened enough for me to pause. Was I missing something? Is my writing too shallow? Should I be thinking about this stuff? The only message in the work I could think of was, if a bunch of 18th century convicts invade your city, lock yourselves in the basement until they were all caught and/or killed. Sound, practical advice, in my opinion.
I went back through the manuscript, looking for deeper meanings. I identified strangers in a strange land, man’s inhumanity to man and love blossoms in the most extreme circumstances, and a bunch of other common or garden themes and tropes people expect in popular fiction. The grass is always greener and be careful what you wish for also popped their heads in. And that was it. Surely enough?
Anyway, a publisher bought the novel without me having to explain what it was about other than what it was about, if you know what I mean. And when the book was published, the whole theme thing flipped and people told me what it was all about.
Because the novel was traditionally published – some readers apparently decided – it must be worth reading because the book had to be deep and meaningful, covering contemporary events and modern society through the prism of a deceptively simplistic time travel adventure literary device. “Precisely,” I said, when people started sprouting this nonsense. “that’s incredibly perceptive of you.”
As my modus operandi as a writer is to give people what they want, I now do the same when literary types sidle up to me with a creased brow and serious demeanour to ask, what’s TimeStorm about?
I take a deep breath and say, “It’s an exploration of contemporary society and how extreme brutality and masculinity is hidden from most of us and sanitised by the media. TimeStorm views this situation through the prism of a shipload of British convicts, who assume they will be executed if caught, transported from the 18th century to the present day, and caught up in the socio-economic reality and, to them, alien behavioural standards and the incomprehensible role of women in post-colonial, post-monarchy, post-truth Australia, resulting in a surge of male anger, frustration and violence. Ultimately, it’s a story of destruction and redemption, a cautionary tale which examines the role and responsibility of the media and government in the current world-wide decline of our civilisation.”
This usually results in glazed eyes or a sale. Or both. Or neither.
I never tell them the real answer: It’s Hornblower meets Jack Reacher.