Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford, (2016, 426 pages) is as fun as this cover image leads you to imagine. I’ve reviewed books that feature time-traveling cats, and time-traveling dogs, but this story is the first I’m aware of that has a hamster that zips through the space-time continuum.
Thanks for agreeing to a short interview, Ross! I really enjoyed Time Traveling with a Hamster! Here are three questions:
TTx2: Al’s grandfather was an important character in this story for so many reasons. One is that we need diverse characters in middle grade books, and he was from Bangladesh and in touch with his roots. Another is the way he nurtured his ability to remember things. I like the way contemplation of memories fit with the time travel component of the plot. How did this character evolve?
RW: I’m glad you like Grandpa Byron – he is my favourite character, too. He didn’t really evolve: he’s pretty much unchanged from when I first started writing him. The story, though, evolved a lot. In the earliest drafts, Al was a maths geek who had learnt the ancient mental techniques of Vedic calculation from his grandfather. I completed a whole draft like this, but it didn’t really work until I changed the maths stuff for memory. Then it made more sense for Al not to be an expert, and for this to be source of conflict between Al and Byron.
As for the “diversity” aspect, this was not something I gave a lot of thought to at first, although once I had started down that route, I was aware that I had to be sensitive – especially now, when causing unintentional offence seems to be so easy. I have early notes in which he was “Grandpa Bill”. Exactly when and how the Byron/Bangladesh thing came about, I can’t remember, but once I’d written him, I knew it worked, and it informed so many other aspects of the story. I spent a long time studying maps and online articles about Bangladesh to make sure his back-story hangs together more-or-less plausibly.
TTx2: Having a computer component to the time travel machine seems to make perfect sense, yet I can hardly recall any other time travel books that feature a computer. Did you consider any other types of time travel portals, or did you know from the start that you wanted to use a computer? Are you a computer “geek” or did you have to stretch a little bit to think about how to incorporate the computer in the story?
The computer thing arose, I think, from Al’s maths-geekiness (see above). But yeah, I knew from the start that I didn’t want a huge “time machine” contraption. A laptop and a tin tub can easily hide in plain sight in a basement; big machines require careful concealment, and perhaps a big “secret laboratory”. How would you hide that in a suburban seaside town?
My relationship with computers was largely based on shouting, until I switched to a Mac about eight years ago. Now I’m much calmer. I know next to nothing about them, though. All the stuff in the book is made up, although it is researched enough to make it (I hope) not entirely preposterous.
TTx2: If you could time travel anywhere in the world at any time in history and stay there for about a week, when/where would you go? Or you would you prefer to visit the future?
Only a week? I think I would choose somewhere in 1950s Europe, between the end of the war and the start of the tourist boom: Italy or southern France, or Spain. I often visit resorts on holiday and wonder what they were like fifty or sixty years ago. In my head I know they were probably ghastly with no proper plumbing, primitive roads, hostile inhabitants and occasional outbreaks of cholera; in my heart they are unspoilt, sunny shangri-las of lovely food, pristine waters and jolly locals, with barely another tourist in sight, who will ply me with surprisingly delicious home-brew served by a beautiful woman who also plays the accordion.
The future would freak me out too much.
TTx2: Great answers, Ross. Thank you!
And here’s another interview with Ross Welford from author/book blogger Joanne Fritz!
“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty-nine and again four years later when he was twelve.
The first time had nothing to do with me. The second time definitely did, but I would never even have been there if it hadn’t been for his ‘time machine’…”
When Al Chaudhury discovers his late dad’s time machine, he finds that going back to the 1980s requires daring and imagination. It also requires lies, theft, burglary, and setting his school on fire. All without losing his pet hamster, Alan Shearer…
Twelve-year-old Al is a very well-developed character. His dad died a few years ago and Al still misses him a lot. Al’s grandfather is very close to Al, and since he has many memories of Al’s father that Al does not have, he also is a sort of bridge between Al and his dad. Al finds out that it was an accident his dad suffered at age twelve that caused his death so many years later. Al also learns that he has an opportunity to go back in time to try to prevent that accident from happening.
I like stories such as this one in which kids do not journey to exotic locales through their time travel. Instead, Al gets to see his own neighborhood about thirty years earlier which could be as fascinating to a kid as going to a place like Egypt. This is a book with broad appeal. It’s a warm story about the love of family members for one another.
Ross Welford has another book in the works, What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible, coming out in the UK on December 29th.
At the risk of hamster cuteness overload, here is 16 Tiny Fluffs That Will Warm Even The Coldest Heart from Buzzfeed.
Finally, for reviews of more middle grade books check the links at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.