Nicola here. As the UK goes into a second lockdown, I’ve been inspired by Christina’s recent post about the Keeper Shelf to turn back to my bookshelves and find solace in old favourites. It was only as I was sorting out all my timeslip books that I realised what a collection I had gathered over the years and in a spirit of nostalgia I thought I would share my favourites and ask for your recommendations. At this time of year, with the spooky goings-on of Halloween, the darker nights and chilly days, it feels a perfect time to read tales of the supernatural. Perhaps it’s the old idea of the veil between the two worlds of the living and the dead being at its thinnest around All Soul’s Day (which is today). Certainly it feels like a good time to slip between time periods, to travel back – or forwards – to a different or alternative world.
So where did my love of timeslip books begin? With this novel, A Traveller in Time, by Alison Uttley. I actually saw the BBC TV version of this first, in 1978, and was totally hooked on the story of a 20th century teenager going back to Elizabethan times and becoming involved in the Babington Plot to put Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. I guess I wanted to be that girl, travelling back to the Elizabethan period and getting entangled in so many exciting historical adventures.
This classic time travel book was actually written in 1939 but the idea of stepping out of your own time and into someone else’s remains a staple of the genre to this day. Other books like this that are on my favourites list are The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier and Timeline by Michael Crichton. These two books couldn't be more dissimilar really but they have the same central idea; by some means you can be transported out of your own time and into another. You can be an observer, invisible in the era you are visiting, like the narrator of The House on the Strand, or you can take a more active role, like the team of archaeologists in Timeline who play a fairly decisive part in the Hundred Years War between France and the dastardly English!
It took me a while to discover that Penelope Lively, whose adult fiction I enjoy very much, had also written timeslip for children. I now have two of those books, Astercote and The Driftway. Astercote tells the story of a village wiped out in the 14th century by the Black Death. Traces of it can still be found in the woods and when the intrepid Jenkins children venture into this forbidden territory, they find themselves drawn back in time…
The idea of a lost village is a staple of timeslip fiction and one of the more modern favourites I have in this style is The Drowned Village by Kathleen McGurl. When I was a child, I lived near Semerwater, a lake in North Yorkshire. There’s a legend that there was once a thriving town at Semerwater, but that it was drowned once night when an angel visited in disguise and was refused hospitality at every door. He brought down a curse on the town and the waters rose and drowned it. Even now the thought of hearing the church bells of lost villages ringing beneath the water gives me the shivers and there are plenty of places in the UK where a story like that could be set. I have an idea for one…
I haven’t mentioned Anya Seton yet. Her timeslip novel Green Darkness actually gave me nightmares because I found it so spooky but she is a masterful writer of historical fiction as well as timeslip and I have all of her books. The Mistletoe and Sword seems to have sneaked into my timeslip pile, perhaps because it has some magical elements in it!
If there is a Queen of the timeslip genre, I reckon it must be Barbara Erskine, whose novel Lady of Hay made the genre so popular over thirty years ago. I’ve read and loved so many of Barbara’s books, including River of Destiny, which has a particular place in my heart as it is set on the River Deben in Suffolk where my parents used to live. Knowing the area so well gives me that extra spooky frisson when I read all the ghostly goings on and think about walking in the footsteps of the characters… But my all- time favourite Barbara Erskine book is Daughters of Fire, about Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes. What a story that is!
My list wouldn’t be complete without a couple of my fellow Word Wenches, first Wench Emeritus Susanna Kearsley, and I have read and loved all her books from Mariana onwards. It’s a tough choice selecting a favourite but The Rose Garden steals it for me with its glorious Cornish setting, it’s clever twists and a gorgeous hero in Daniel Butler! It’s wonderful that now we have another brilliant timeslip author, Christina Courtenay, on the Wench team too! I've rad and loved Christina's timeslips for years and her Viking timeslip Echoes of the Runes was a top book of mine this year; I can't wait for the next one, coming soon!
Finally two old favourites – Touch not the Cat by Mary Stewart. Is this timeslip? It certainly has all kinds of spookiness going on. And Ferney, by James Long, which has been described as “one of the most brilliant timeslip novels ever written.” No spoilers here, but I couldn’t put it down and I also love James Long’s other timeslip books.
So that’s a whistle-stop tour around my timeslip shelves. I've realise I've missed out some fairly obvious candidates, and this isn't at all an exclusive list, just a taster. I've also sneaked in a picture of my own books – The Forgotten Sister makes it's North American debut next week! I’d love to know what timeslip books and movies you recommend so I can curl up in front of the fire this autumn and escape again into a different time and place.