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Righting wrongs through time

Righting wrongs through time

THE TIME TRAVELLER AND THE TIGER is a time-slip novel that takes us back to India at a time of change and upheaval, and a huge turning point for one of the characters in the story.
As well as a page-turning adventure story that gives us a glimpse of another culture and time, the novel has a strong environmental message for us all.

We asked author TANIA UNSWORTH to tell us more about THE TIME TRAVELLER AND THE TIGER.

Q: What is your new book, The Time Traveller and the Tiger, about?

A: It tells the story of Elsie - a girl in the present - who finds a time-altering flower and is taken back to the Indian jungle of 1946, where she meets her own great uncle John, as a boy of 12.

John is on the hunt for a man-eating tiger, although Elsie knows that killing it will be the greatest mistake of his life. But stopping John turns out to be the least of her problems. There are also charging elephants, giant spiders and a collection of truly evil trophy hunters to contend's pretty much non-stop adventure!

Q: What drew you to writing historical fiction? And why did you want to travel to this place and time?

A: My grandparents were born in India under British rule. They left in 1947 when my mother was 13. Visiting their home as a child was a form of time travel in itself. Outside the house it was present-day Yorkshire. But inside it was the India of the Raj, filled with objects belonging to a long-gone era; souvenirs of a place that no longer existed.

I thought of my grandparents rather like castaways, marooned on the wrong side of history, and The Time Traveller and the Tiger reflects this childhood fascination.

Q: How much research did you need to do to understand India at that time, and to create your setting? The descriptions are very atmospheric; have you travelled there?

A: I did a lot of reading, and although I'd been to India twice, I decided I couldn't write the book unless I went again - this time to an area of the country where you can still find wild tigers. I fell in love with the landscape there - one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.

Q: Why did you make a tiger the focus of this story - and how much research did you need to do into tigers for this novel?

A: I've always been drawn to the power, beauty, and legendary quality of tigers. The fact that these are the very things that make them so vulnerable was something I'd wanted to write about for a long time.

I wouldn't say I'm an expert, but I did learn a lot about them when researching the book. Did you know that tigers can communicate using infrasound, for example? Or that they have a better short-term memory than humans? Neither did I!

Q: How important was the research you did in guiding the story and the action, and particularly the environmental thread within the story?

A: It was hugely influential in all sorts of ways. A tiger's method of attack, for example, (usually an ambush, downwind, from behind) formed the basis of a particularly exciting chapter.

And learning how tigers were hunted almost to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries led me to make trophy hunting a central part of the plot. Conservation became a bigger and bigger theme.

Q: Time-traveller Elsie brings a modern view to John's world - was it hard to bring the two together and to be sympathetic towards John's colonial perspective?

A: Bringing them together was fun! Seeing John's life through the lens of present-day Elsie became a way of highlighting the uncomfortable - and sometimes humorous - differences between their worlds.

John was a tricky character to write because although I loved him, I knew he had to be a product of his time. Having him be socially aware, or racially enlightened in a modern sense, felt revisionist to me. A denial of historical reality.

I thought it would be more interesting to present him as a person trying to deal with change. In the course of the book, almost all John's assumptions are challenged. How he responds to those challenges is an important part of the story itself.

Q: Apart from a great story, what would you like your readers to take from The Time Traveller and the Tiger?

A: I would love to convey a sense of wonder at the natural world.

Q: Has writing The Time Traveller and the Tiger encouraged you, in terms of our changed view of the environment, or left you worried about the future for our wildlife?

A: It's left me more worried in some ways. Tigers are so ubiquitous in popular culture - from boxes of cereal to cuddly toys - it seems impossible that they could vanish from the world. But after writing the book, it's become much harder to think 'everything will be alright'.

What gives me hope is the passion and determination of people who are fighting to save wild places. But they need our help.

Q: If you could have a time-travelling 'Elsie' visit your younger self, what message would you want her to bring?

A: It's possible she did without me knowing. I've been lucky in a lot of ways.

Q: How does your writing day go, and where is your favourite place to write? What are you writing now?

A: Like many people this year, I've found it hard to stick to a routine and get into a writing frame of mind. When I do manage it, I work in my study at the top of the house. There's a map of Narnia on the wall, a model of the Taj Mahal made out of Lego, and a place for my dog to sleep (although she snores rather a lot). I'm working on a book set in the US at the moment. Early days!

Q: What are your favourite escapes from work?

A: Right now, it's reading, playing Zelda, reading, lying on the floor staring up at the ceiling, knitting, playing some more Zelda, watching travel shows on TV and dreaming of where I'll go when...


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