Caught in a moment
There’s something infinitely fascinating about Time. I know I’m not the only one to think so, given the large number of books and movies that investigate this theme: Palm Springs, About Time, and The Butterfly Effect, to name some of my favourites. However, the one that really sticks out in my mind is the majestic Groundhog Day, which I watch over and over again (rather appropriately). I love the way in which Bill Murray, trapped in a perpetually repeating day, learns to turn circumstances to his own advantage, eventually winning the affections of the woman he has come to love.
When I was a child, I would set up environments in which I could imagine and play out stories, involving ever-changing permutations of a cast consisting of my toys. Perhaps this was unwitting preparation for adulthood, since, as writers, we adopt very much the same strategies and procedures. We establish an imaginary context in which to place our invented characters, and we explore the possibilities of actions and relationships set there. It is as though our books are the ‘sand boxes’ in which we test our characters to their limits, and our stories emerge as the record of this.
Naturally, a really interesting ‘sand box’ can make for a really interesting story, and few subjects offer more potential for this then ‘time’. I don’t pretend to be a scientist, but I know enough about the subject to see the possibilities for creative interpretation. Many stories about time travel are based on a very flimsy understanding of time, which ignore the relationship between time, movement and distance. For example, if I was to travel back in time twenty-four hours from this moment, I would find myself, not seated in front of my computer, but somewhere in the vacuum of interplanetary space, watching the receding earth with my dying breath. This is because the earth is at once rotating and moving in its orbit around the sun. To stay in front of my computer, I would need to move in space as much as in time. Our sense of being fixed in our places is an illusory one.
There is something very ‘unscientific’ about time, something in the interface between demonstratable fact and human experience that creates a tension that the writer may creatively explore. Time proceeds with relentless regularity, as your clock will tell you, but our perceptions of it are governed by our feelings. How is it that when I was a child the summer holidays seemed to last forever, but now time seems to pass by with a terrifying rapidity? Time drags when we are bored; races past when we are enjoying ourselves, in a way that makes you feel that time must be, in some way, elastic.
We also intuitively understand that time proceeds only in one direction-forward, and can perceive of no alternative means of progression. It is hard-wired into us to understand this. It was this uni-directional rigidity that made me think of an alternative. What if time also progressed in another direction? When we watch an old style celluloid movie, we are watching a sequence of images, each with tiny differences from the last, presented to our eyes so rapidly that our brain is tricked into perceiving them as continual motion. What if time worked that way too, with individual moments arranged as though in a film strip, with little black gaps in between? And what if those little black strips, these interstices between moments in time, constituted a world of their own, in which time proceeded at right angles to regular time. From the perspective of anyone living in this ‘intersticial’ world, everything around them would be frozen into immobility. So much for the concept; which scientists will tell me is impossible, but hey! I don’t care! It sets up an amazing concept for me to use as a ‘sand box’ for characters. How many of you have ever wondered what wonderful possibilities would open up if we could stop time and step into such an ‘intersticial’ world. For one thing, you could take a good book with you and read to your heart’s content, before stepping back into normal time once more when it suited you. Just imagine! You could have as much time to yourself as you wanted. You could cheat your way through exams with superlative ease. You could clean up at the casino, have all sorts of mischievous fun with your friends, and even set things straight with your enemies with complete impunity. What delightful possibilities would open up? So ‘Intersticia’, this unique world I imagined, became my ‘sand box’, and I placed in it the various characters I created, including my MC, Alex Trueman. It sounds like a most enticing place, does it not? But there is always a serpent in paradise. ‘Intersticia’ contains more than a few that Alex must contend with, when he finds that he is trapped in a Moment in Time.