Writing The Time Travel Chronicles, a six-book YA series
I completed the sixth and final book of my time travel series – The Time Travel Chronicles – earlier this year. I’m still grinning like a village idiot about it.
The six books have taken me more than a decade and 500,000 words to write. Just typing that sentence gives me pause. How did I do it? Truly, I can’t believe I got to the end of that long, long, writing road. There were times I thought I’d never make it.
My mother used to say I could talk underwater (and, actually, I can – as I found out when I went snorkelling in Hawaii a few years ago, but that’s another story). But even I never imagined I could spin a tale out for so long.
It’s such a great feeling. Even though, I don’t have an agent or publisher yet. Possibly, because I don’t have an agent or publisher yet. I’ve been able to live the writer’s dream of writing what I want, the way I want, to my own schedule, with no marketing people influencing my decisions on plot or character arcs. Still, that may be ahead of me. If I’m lucky.
I sent out query letters to agents for quite a few years as I continued writing. And now that I have completed the series with no publishing deal, it means two things: 1) I get to go back to book one and really set things up well, make sure everything is in synch all the way through the series to the finale, and; 2) I’m hoping, that a completed six-book series might be a more appealing prospect to an agent or publisher. We’ll see.
Though, finishing the series is a bittersweet moment. Sweet, of course, to have the sense of achievement and six books that are my own to trim and polish and make as good as I can get them. Bitter – because it means it means saying goodbye to characters I’ve lived with for a decade. I know them so well – better than I could ever know most people, or even myself. They’ve come to feel real to me.
Madison Bryant from Crows Nest, Sydney, narrates the series. Street-smart and not averse to making things up when she’s in a tight spot, Maddy is 16 when the story begins and almost 18 by the end of book 6.
It’s because I love her as a character, I’ve put her through a cycle of torture I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (you know who you are!). And then, in accordance with the universally acknowledged rules of writing, I increased the jeopardy and made things even worse for her. She swims in the hippo-filled Nile river, misfires to the dinosaur era with a broken time machine, gets into a shoot-out with wild west gunfighters. She’s part of a pirate crew running from the British navy and drawn into a daring heist in Japan, involving ninjas and ruthless samurais.
Accompanying her through these adventures is Riley Sinclair, a scientific genius and inventor of the time machine, who’s ‘surfer hot’ according to some (though not Maddy, they’re just “friends”). The pair travel to history’s most exciting periods – Ancient Egypt, Medieval England, the Wild West, the pirate era, Edo Japan and then, for the finale, 15 years into the future.
Maddy’s heard all the usual warnings about time travel – that she shouldn’t change the past in case it changes the future in unimaginable ways. But she doesn’t think it applies to her. She’s just an ordinary girl, a speck of sand in the vast desert of time. And nothing she does could ever seriously impact the world’s timeline, could it?
As the pair travel through time, they meet teens from each era – the haughty Egyptian prince, the sharp-tongued court jester, the cool wild west cowboy on the roundup, the tricky pirate captain, the skilled Japanese ninja – befriending some, falling for others – to devastating effect.
From book one, a villain from the future tries to trap them in the past and seize control of time travel. In book three, an even more powerful competitor emerges – a company attempting to launch time travel as a commercial enterprise.
And there’s romance too – which is strictly forbidden for time travellers, for very good reason. Can a misplaced smile destroy the world as we know it? Maddy learns the hard way that it can.
Their first trip through time is driven by a desire to ‘help’ the Ancient Egyptians with a dental hygiene problem. Subsequent trips are motivated by a need to fix the problems they created on the previous trips. Until, by the end, the world is all mixed up, like pirate stew.
I enjoyed the historical research – which usually took months (enabling my penchant for procrastination ), resulting in a thick book of notes about each time period. My aim was not to focus on the big moments and characters in history, but on the lifestyle – food, drink, play, courting customs. I wanted readers to feel immersed in each period, as if they were walking along the dusty streets.
Are my pieces historically accurate in every detail? I don’t make that claim. My books are YA historical adventure, which means I have tried to stick to the facts and feel of the time as closely as I can, to convey some interesting details (especially the gory ones!) and a generally true vibe of a period, while allowing myself licence to create a thrilling story.
Let’s face it, if I stuck rigidly to the facts, Maddy – a female – would not be able to do much at all – except cook or choose fabrics. Women generally stayed within their narrow confines in history. And that’s NOT what my books are about.
Inception and progress
It all began with a drink on the balcony of The Mantra hotel in Ettalong, north of Sydney, where my hubby and I watched a golden sunset and discussed how it would be fun to be write a time travel series with the protagonists travelling to history’s most interesting periods.
I mulled that idea over but didn’t have a clue how to get started. It wasn’t until my first NANOWRIMO project (National Novel Writing Month), that I leapt in and started typing. NANOWRIMO is held in November every year and writers participate all over the world. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in one month and many writers have come to understand the benefits of the self-imposed deadline to push their stories forward.
The Egyptian book came relatively quickly – completed within six months. Medieval England took me over a year. Likewise the Wild West, and the pirate era. When I got to book five, set in Edo Japan, I stalled, getting side-tracked with short stories. Finishing the last book took four years. But, happily, I discovered there was too much material for one volume anyway. So I had two books – one set in Japan, the other in the future.
A total of six books completed Maddy and Riley’s story. And tapping out THE END after all that felt … surreal. And amazing.
How did I write so much, and keep the story going for so long? If I’d known how long it would take and how many words would be needed, I don’t think I could have pulled it off. It really was a case of getting some words down, a scene here, pushing forward there, finishing this chapter and the next, till I had a book. Then trying another period – could I do it again? Researching a bit, writing some more, imagining scenes and characters. Snowploughing through the blank pages, filling in the details – hundreds and thousands of details. Tens of thousands.
I got there in the end by taking one word at a time, putting one sentence after another. Just. Keep. Going. Lurching and stumbling and stumbling some more, cheered on by my family – my biggest fans and also my editors. My daughter, Tash, designed the beautiful mood covers here, which I aspire to live up to.
The series is an action-packed gallop through time with some feisty, fearless, fun and flawed characters. I never imagined I’d finish it or that the ending would turn out as well as (I think) it did. It is truly a miracle!
I hope one day to find an agent or a publisher to take my work to the world. If not, I will self-publish and try to find an audience who enjoys this epic journey as much as I have.
My thanks go to Andy Cohen, Alex and Tash Turner-Cohen for their unending encouragement, on-point story advice, and rigorous editing. And to Tash for making those divine mood covers!