Time-travel adventure allows for…hindsight?

Nancy Jardine March 2014This post is by Nancy Jardine


It’s an amazing thing. A dictionary definition of hindsight will give you something like this: – understanding after the fact; retrospection; observation or perception of what was.

In my early teens, I loved reading H.G.Wells’ novel – The Time Machine. Fantasy isn’t my most favourite genre normally, but reading The Time Machine took me back to Victorian Britain and then on to the adventures the time traveller experienced. With hindsight, I realise I loved the Victorian historical aspects almost as much as I loved the adventures. time M

I suppose I also liked the idea, back in the early 1960s, that I was reading a novel written by someone considered to be one of the ‘Fathers of Science Fiction’, if not THE founding father.

The couple of film adaptations I’ve seen, based on the book, have been entertaining interpretations – but for me it’s all about the mind-sets of those Victorian characters and about the historical settings of their ‘normal’ time that appeals the most. The DVD here is a fairly recent one.

(http://www.amazon.com/Time-Machine-Guy-Pearce/dp/B00005JKLZ/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1411743709&sr=1-1&keywords=the+time+machine )

Detials of the original H.G.Wells story can be found here if you’ve never read the book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Time_Machine

Over the years since that first reading, I’ve read other time- travel novels and realised the amazing variety that has been produced. There are ones which are more firmly in the sci-fi category, where the characters (human or otherwise)  time-travel to other planets on purpose, or set definite courses for other worlds or alternative earths. I enjoy them, but they are still not my most favoured genre.

There’s currently a plethora of time- shift plots of the Outlander/ Diana Gabaldon type available to read where a character time-slips- and not necessarily because they want to, but because some uncontrolled event makes it happen. In this type of novel, the character must make decisions which will affect their life when they return to their own time. In effect their future will be set according to what they achieve for themselves in their ‘past’ experience. I think it’s very hard to avoid anachronistic details from slipping into this kind of novel and when they do, I’m afraid it grates on me as the reader. For example, someone in 17th Century Scotland isn’t likely to have reached for the shampoo bottle to wash their hair in the shower!

ttwThere are the time-slip novels like Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ where the main character, Henry, finds himself popping in and out of his own life, making appearances as a younger or older man, finding his circumstances confusing till he realises where he is in time and with whom. There are many varieties of this parallel time idea. Keeping track of the plot in this kind of parallel time shift writing seems very demanding.

(Image from : http://www.amazon.com/Time-Travelers-Wife-Audrey-Niffenegger/dp/015602943X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411745168&sr=1-1&keywords=the+time+travelers+wife)

There are also those novels where the adventure takes place firmly in a past time, where the protagonists are whisked back either to a pre-set time, or to one which is randomly chosen. The time adventurers spend a while, generally with a quest to fulfil, and then return to their own time enriched by their experience but their futures are not dependent on their actions in that past time, because they have generally done nothing major to ‘change’ time in a way that would have a devastating effect on the long-term future.

I’m sure you’ll be able to add to this short list of time-travel types. What other ones have you read?

The mechanisms of the time-travelling are also fascinating and can vary so much, as can the ultimate purpose of the novels. There are time ‘portals’ in the form of a mirror (there are lots of time- slip romance novels using this mechanism just now), or a wardrobe as in the ‘Narnia’ novels, or a physical vehicle as in Dr. Who’s Tardis,  or H.G. Wells’ time machine.

I’ve, so far, only written the one time-travel novel WIP for early teens but I’ve really enjoyed being able to have my characters use the value of hindsight in different ways. Whisked back in time to 209 AD, my trio of kids find themselves in an adventure which scares them silly, confuses them, shocks them and makes them alternatively frustrated and desperate. Sometimes these emotions are produced because they feel physically threatened, but often it’s because they feel a huge responsibility- with the benefit of hindsight they know what’s about to occur but have to be so careful of their involvement in that it makes no major changes to the course of history. To fulfil their de12985694_smanding mission they use hindsight knowledge, facts gained about the era they are plunged into. This writing genre has allowed me to write about an era I love, ie Roman Scotland, and also given me the opportunity to make it a mystery ‘of sorts’ since there are definite goals/ quest set  for the kids to fulfill.

In this time-travel novel, like in my main historical writing, I’ve needed to have my historical details sharp as the tacks on the hob-nailed Roman sandals of the advancing Legions. Now I need to keep plugging on, to polish that little guy’s armour and get my story ready for the editor.

Have a lovely weekend, however you spend your time!

ps. As an update to my last blog post here on Wranglers. In many ways, the members of the present Scottish Parliament would have liked to have been able to use the value of hindsight before the Scottish Referendum of last week. If they had known how close the YES to independence camp were at 45% of the vote, they might have been able to persuade another 6% of the very high turnout to vote (84%) YES. I would have been posting my today’s blog post from a very different situation in Scotland.

Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mysteries and historical adventures– available in print and ebooks.

Celtic Fervour SeriesAmazon.com author page

Crooked Cat bookstore page


Nancy Jardine Award Finalist The People's Book Prize 2014Also from Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and other major ebook retailers.




19 thoughts on “Time-travel adventure allows for…hindsight?

  1. Writing about any time period seems very difficult to me. As part of a writers group I got to see first hand what goes into such an endeavor. The least little detail that is not historically correct can deter a reader from reading future works. I admire anyone who can pull it off successfully. You seem to enjoy it and that will show in your work.


    1. I do S.J. I love the research involved and hate to read ‘anachronisms’. They tend to jump off the page and get right in my face and they do spoil my reading. I try really hard to avoid them – and hope I manage.


  2. Great post, Nancy! I’m intrigued by the time-travel idea and like stories with a time-travel element though I haven’t read too many of them lately. I have, however, become a Dr. Who fan (a little late in the game, but so what?). Good luck with your time-travel story! I think it’s great that you are exploring different genres.


    1. Thanks, Stephanie. I used to watch the original series of Dr. Who but tailed off around the early seventies. It’s been one of those series that has been good at re-inventing itself.


  3. Lovely post, and lovely Author photo. I’ve started a suspense story that has time travel. Mirror, Mirror– Who’s the Next to Die. You do have to be careful in what you use in the settings and on the characters, like pantyhose or the type of material a dress is made of. Thanks for the reminder, and good luck woth yiur book. Cher’ley


    1. Thank you, Cher’ley. I wish i could write novels and have a title right at the beginning but i never do. The names have changed so often as I write I’m now calling them WIP 1, 2 etc…;-)


  4. Nancy,

    Good for you. Follow that story, don’t let it get away.

    On a side note, one of my favorite ‘change of scenery’ novels is “Witchworld” by Andre Norton. A classic and one for anyone who wants to look at something different. I’ve read it many times and still never tire of it. Doris


  5. One time travel book that struck my interest years ago was called The Visitors. I don’t remember the author. A couple and their daughter from somewhere in the future transport themselves back to the 1970’s as part of an experiment of some kind. They become involved with a couple of teen-aged boys and their families. When they return to the future, the company doing the experiment does what’s called a “restore” which erases the memories of those left behind of their encounter.


    1. Hi Abbie. That seems like a good mechanism for an author to use, but also makes the experience seem a bit of a shame if they don’t recall any of it- the good and the bad.


      1. Actually, that was the point. The couple from the future didn’t want folks they encountered after they traveled back in time to the 70’s to remember the encounters because it might have effected what happens in the future.


  6. Enjoyed the post, Nancy. Although sci-fi and fantasy aren’t genres I generally read, I have read a few. I read The Time Traveler’s Wife in a book club. I have not read The Time Machine, but think I saw a movie and enjoyed it very much. I agree about hindsight – if we only knew! Good luck with your new children’s book – it sounds awesome!


  7. Great post, Nancy! I have another Scottish writer friend who puts her characters in a different world, and though not time travel, certain a futurist look — and her stories are wonderful! It’s fun to think about what might be, or might have been, and read about those “what ifs” and “maybes.” Like, Linda, your children’s book sounds wonderful — can’t wait to read it one day!


  8. Time-travel stories can be great fun. But I always have trouble when the traveler’s “modern” behavior isn’t noticed by the people living there. Somehow they are able to blend in without too much trouble. Of course, if they know where they’re going and have studied the era, it makes more sense. But when they unexpectedly end up in a different time and place, I’d expect them to stand out and probably end up in the era’s equivalent of a mental hospital.

    Your YA sounds fun. Good luck with it.


    1. Thank you, Kate! I might just go off and check just how my characters fit your ‘flag up’ re fitting in. I’m hoping I’ve got it covered. 😉 but it’s worth another check.


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