Pamela Heartstone on the appeal of time-slip

With the release of About Timeand the news that Diana Gabaldon's famous time-slip novel Outlander (otherwise knows as Cross Stitch) is being turned into a TV show with Game of Thrones/Battlestar Galactica writers credits and a starry cast, the time travel and time-slip genre has never been so popular.

Here at the Pan Macmillan/Tor towers we have our own Queen of Time-slip, Pamela Hartshorne, whose second time-slip novel The Memory of Midnight came out this month. We asked her to write about why this genre so appeals to her . . .

'How many times have you wandered around a historical site, dutifully reading the notices, and wished that you could be transported back in time so that you could see what life was really like in the past?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to go back as a fly on the wall so that you can observe without necessarily having to eat the food – I know I’m a wuss, but I just don’t fancy blancmange made of capon brain beaten with almonds and cinnamon – or endure some of the more grotesque remedies that were popular in the early modern period (the boiled head of a black sheep, anyone?) Writing about Tess’s experience in The Memory of Midnight was the closest I could get to time travel that also left me in the comfort of my 21st-century home.

I started writing to fund a PhD in medieval studies, and both Time’s Echo and The Memory of Midnight are based in part on my research. As a historian, I know that the past is over and inaccessible, but as writer, I can’t help thinking, what if it wasn’t? What if we could go back in time? What would that be like? Would it be fascinating or terrifying - or both?

Writing The Memory of Midnight was a great way to play with those ideas. I wanted the scenes set in Elizabethan York to feel as textured and authentic as possible, so it’s partly a historical novel. But the novel is also set in the present, when Tess returns to York with her small son to escape her controlling husband. Moving into a flat above a shop in one of the oldest streets in the city, she is drawn back into the life of Nell, who lived in the same house over 400 years earlier. So it’s part ghost story too, and part psychological thriller when her husband tracks her down and Tess finds herself in danger from the past and the present. Oh, and there’s a romance in there too, and a bit of a mystery – because why write one genre when you can take several and jumble them up and weave them together into two parallel stories?

‘Time slips’ offer the irresistible opportunity to dip into all my favourite genres. Playing with different genres, different themes and different time periods all in one book can feel at times like a manic exercise in keeping a whole line of plates spinning, but when it works, the sense of achievement is exhilarating!'

fpr more inspiration for your next read, discover our edit of the best books about time travel.

The Memory of Midnight

by Pamela Hartshorne

One hot day in Elizabethan York, young Nell Appleby is trapped in a wooden chest, and a horror of the stifling dark – and of the man who trapped her - dogs her for the rest of her life. Wed to the sadistic Ralph Maskewe, Nell must find joy where she can, until the return of her childhood sweetheart offers a chance of flight to the New World. Will Nell risk all to escape the dark at last?

Four and a half centuries later, Tess and her small son Oscar move to York. Eager to start a new life, away from her overbearing and manipulative husband, Martin, Tess tries to put her marriage behind her. But time in York has a way of shifting strangely, and memories of a past that is not her own begin to surface with disturbing effect. Living two lives, torn between two worlds, Tess must unlock the secrets of the past before she can free herself – and Nell –once and for all.