THE THREADS OF TIME
Launching as an ebook on June 4th 2012 from HoAmPresst Publishing, The Threads of Time is Cally Phillips first novel.
Written in 1995/6 and first published in paperback by 3dnarrative in 2003.
“We are all magicians in the face of reality. History is our magic wand.”
An exceptional novel, with a strange quality of warmth, which juxtaposes beautifully with the meticulous structure and detail of the prose.’ (John A.A.Logan – author of The Survival of Thomas Ford)
Cally blogs about the story behind the story at Authors Electric on 4th June.
Full review by John A.A.Logan .(The Survival of Thomas Ford, Storm Damage) at the Indie eBook Review site
A love that is bigger than life and death. A mystery that transcends time. A young man struggling to make some sense of his life. Cally Phillips’ first novel takes the reader on an exploration of the connections, The Threads of Time, which form links between past, present and future; through the dimensions of the personality. All the time questions form about the nature of reality. The linearity of life is challenged through the parallel storylines and the myths of history are explored along with a questioning of the nature of external reality or ‘historical fact.’ This thought provoking novel is a unique fusion of nineteenth and twentieth century structure, style and theme, drawing on a literary tradition as broad and diverse as D.H.Lawrence, John Fowles, Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte, while retaining a freshness and originality of thought and purpose. The central character of Paul is part of a Romantic tradition linking medieval knights with Romantic poets but he ‘finds’ himself in the Celtic warrior of pre-history. And yet his quest is, in a real sense, that essentially modern exploration of the nature of ‘madness.’ The visual immediacy of the storytelling draws the reader right into the minds of the characters and calls for a re-examination of what we think we know about history, reality and love.
Mary Smith (author of No More Mulberries) writes:
The Threads of Time is a page-turner of a time-slip novel which explores, among other things, the links which connect our lives in the present with the lives of those who lived in the past, thousands of years ago.
Paul is an archaeologist on a dig in South West Scotland. While digging for artefacts from the past he is also seeking answers to his own questions – though he is finding archaeology is not the certain business he once believed: “even questions were uncertain in this discipline.” He is shocked to discover Harry, the leader of the dig, wants only to find remains which will corroborate previous finds to keep his academic reputation. When Paul breaks the rules by digging off-site he discovers a perfectly preserved bog-body. It is a find which will touch and change the lives of everyone connected with the dig.
After his encounter with the bog-body, Paul’s dreams of a past age begin: of the ancient Celtic settlement, of the people who populate it and of the beautiful Maedbh. But, are they dreams or are they memories? Does Paul ‘remember’ the colours, sights and smells of that long ago settlement where people lived in an almost Utopian harmony, where the love of his life, Maedbh carries his child?
Cally Phillips cleverly uses two distinct writing styles for the past and present sections of the novel. This makes the past seem so real there is almost a jolt of dissatisfaction when Paul ‘returns’ to the present with its petty jealousies, commercialism and dishonesty.
Myths, legends, history and hard ‘facts’ are themes which run through The Threads of Time. The characters are real and believable – even if not all are likeable – and the author has created a strong sense of time and place, both in the present and the past. The setting is the glorious Galloway Forest Park and surrounding areas.
The Threads of Time may make you reconsider just how accurate archaeology can be and how devious respected professionals can be when defending their ‘turf’. By coincidence I had only just finished The Threads of Time when I read a newspaper article on the Piltdown Man hoax. It was exactly 100 years ago two men discovered the skull and jaw of an early human in a field inSussex. It was presented to the world as the ‘missing link’ between apes and humans and allowed Britainto claim its own human fossil after years of being an also-ran to the French and Germans. Forty years later, the find was revealed as a hoax and accusatory fingers were pointed at such eminent men as Arthur Conan Doyle and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, although until now there is no evidence to say who the perpetrators of the hoax were. This year scientists are going to try to solve the mystery of who planted and ‘discovered’PiltdownMan.A fitting year for the publication of The Threads of Time.
The full story of how this novel came to be is charted below:
The History of Threads of Time
About life, co-incidences and archaeology – what’s behind The Threads of Time?
I went to an archaeology evening class one winter in the late 1980′s or early 1990′s. I discovered two key things: that evening classes tend to be peopled with desperate women seeking available men, and that archaeology is fundamentally tedious (well, it was to me anyway). I just could not get what was so fascinating about various typologies of flint (I’m sorry, flint in all its various guises just leaves me cold – axe heads, knapping, whatever, I don’t care about flint) and how one could derive the existence of an entire civilisation from a dodgy ‘shard of pottery.’ I’ve never been convinced. I am only sorry that I didn’t enlightened the class with my pet theory that Stonehenge was in fact a pre-historic supermarket, but I can tell you the people in that class, especially the tutor, would not have found that amusing. So I just took the course, did the essays, passed it and went on my merry way. But it was to provide a lot of useful research information for what became The Threads of Time.
The thing in pre-history that did ‘float my boat’ for some extraordinary reason was bog-bodies. I can’t tell you why. I am just fascinated by them. Some years before I first encountered ‘Pete Bog’ at the British Museum, I was in the Museum of London looking at a Roman sandal and being fascinated by the reality that some Roman (or other) had worn this very shoe hundreds of years ago and there was only a piece of glass between me and it. The desire to touch the ‘history’ (in the sense of touching the artefact worn by a person and so being one step removed from that person) was strong but nothing compared to the desire I felt to touch Pete Bog. I would still do more or less anything to have the chance to actually touch a ‘live’ bog body. And I’ve seen plenty of them in my time. I still can’t tell you why. Egyptian mummies leave me cold, but a bog body…. that’s quite another thing.
Another weird experience I had just before I started writing The Threads of Time , was to see a video of the autopsy of a medieval knight (not quite a bog body, but a body nevertheless; preserved because of being kept – I think- in a lead coffin.) The blood was still in his veins as they cut in. It was quite gruesome but amazing at the same time. I’ll admit that bog-bodies are a weird fascination, but it was looking into the eyes of Pete Bog that got me started on what would eventually become The Threads of Time, my first novel. Of course at that time it was going to be a TV drama series.
The unsuccessful drama series of 1993 became an unpublished novel in 1996 and then, finally, published in 2003. In 2011, nearly 20 years since I first encountered Pete Bog, the e-book is published. The rest, as they say, is history.
An introduction of sorts.
A lot of what this novel is about is connections. The connections that happen by chance, or that we make in the construction of our reality, in making sense of our lives. This ‘introduction’ gives some of the background influences, or loose connections, which were important in the creation of the novel.
The first one is Robert Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon. I won it as a school writing prize. The Burnett Project Prize for Writing (1976-1977) [yes, I still have my copy ] It was the first really good story I’d written and I was 13. As I remember it was a time shift piece about a boy named George who lived in a large house on Blackheath and watched rain falling down the window pane. Somehow through this he formed a relationship with a mysterious boy who turned out to be his own grandfather who had been killed in the First World War…. It was heavily influenced by E. Nesbitt and sci –fi and that I suppose was the beginning of what might be called a ‘fusion’ writing style.
Like any writer, I draw on all sorts of weird influences when I write – and make all sorts of strange connections. You probably wouldn’t even be aware of them, and I’m not trying to overstate the case. The influences are more ones of subtext and spirit than of conscious aping of style or structure. But ‘The Threads of Time’ owes homage to a lot of different influences.
That I am a writer at all is due to ‘Wuthering Heights’ I loved the Kate Bush song and couldn’t work out what it was about, so I bought the book. I was 16. I decided I wanted to be a writer. I remember having long conversations with myself, along the lines of ‘How can a person like you be a writer?’ I sat down and wrote my first play… well, almost. It was an Arthurian piece about the love triangle from Lancelot’s point of view, but I dried up when I didn’t know what I was talking about! I read ‘The Rainbow’ and wanted to be a writer again, but I finally came up with the conclusion that I wouldn’t worry about it because I wouldn’t have anything worth saying till I was about 30 anyway. I had to go and live. So I did. Well, I went and studied philosophy which was almost the same thing. And then went to drama school, which certainly wasn’t.
Curiously enough, Threads of Time was initially written as a TV Drama. I was in the early stages of a screenwriting career, having just retired from acting post drama school! I had in mind a young, then unknown actor, for the lead of Paul. His name was Ewan MacGregor. My TV series went nowhere, but he went somewhere! After a couple of years of punting it around, in 1995 when I moved back up to Scotland, I decided, to write the story as a novel. There followed six months of very hard work.
The story was all there, but coming to Galloway provided me with the setting. Previously it had just been some ‘wilderness in Scotland. You don’t have to be any more specific in TV land since they’ll not use the setting you want anyway. The setting in the Galloway Forest Park is quite specific, but I’m not going to spoil things and reveal it. I’ll just say that if you go to the Glentrool part of the Forest Park you can start a search from there. Most of the novel is set in South West Scotland though there are forays to Glasgow (Kelvingrove) and London (British Museum) The description of Kelvingrove interior will now be quite out of date since the revamp in the early 2000′s, and actually it makes me quite happy that I managed to describe what it used to be like. I haven’t been there since it re-opened and I’m not sure I want to… I want to remember it as it was for Paul. The London sections are reflective of the city in the years I spent there immediately prior to my return to Scotland. And yes, the ‘incident’ on the steps inside the British Museum really did happen. I was there!
Working out how to write the novel, style wise, was a challenge. Especially after spending 3 years learning screenwriting style. It’s very different. But screenwriting does teach you respect for structure and style. So I drew on all sorts of influences. Time shifting is always difficult and as a child I’d loved Alison Utley’s ‘A Traveller in Time’ I discovered a good adult version of the same kind of story in John Fowles ‘The French Lieutenant’s woman’ which is so interesting in the way he juxtaposes past and present lives through style. I’m not saying I consciously ape this, or any other of the influences. I just thought about them, let them seep in and write my story with an understanding of what the essential qualities of such work is subtextually.
I decided that I wanted to have two quite different writing styles for the two time periods in the book. I wanted the past to be more real, more present, and more immediate; my influence here being George Mackay Brown. I wanted Paul’s life to seem the one which wasn’t as real – we learn about Paul from inside his own head (a tribute to ‘The Rainbow’) and it’s important that we do, so that we can make up our own minds about the truth or otherwise of what happens to him. It’s an open ending (a tribute to Dickens Great Expectations there) So there’s a deliberate set up in part one of one style and then a shock change in part two. Throughout, the third person omniscient narrative style gives us the modern ‘story’, while the first person present voice is used in the ‘past’ to make it more real and more fresh. This is important as Paul’s journey involves him finding that mythic or fictional ‘past’ more real than his ‘real’ present. The ‘omniscient’ style nevertheless allows us an ‘interior’ view of both Paul and Diane. This ‘interior’ style was first attributed to George Eliot (but perfected by D. H. Lawrence in my opinion.)
When thinking about structure, I went back to the 19th century. I’m convinced that 19th century was the apogee of novel writing and have this almost fixed belief that 1848 was THE YEAR. (If there was to be a year when the best novels were written 1848 would be it – Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations. Need I say more? These are just the sort of things I think about in my head, not the sort of thing I would put forth as a serious theory…) And 19th century novels usually have a tripartite structure. Screenwriting (and indeed most modern narrative) favours a three act structure which is over and above the basic Three ‘books’ of the classic 19th century literature. The three act structure is also reflected in the three Parts, which is why Part Two is so much longer than Parts One and Three. But underlying this is another structure, that of the paralleling of ‘stories’ between the past and present. This is shown most clearly through the narrative style mentioned above, and serves to remind the reader of the ‘links’ between not only past and present but myth and reality. A further tribute to the 19th century comes in the use of epigrams at the start of chapters. Poems, largely from the Romantics served the purpose, since I am a lover of Romantic poetry. Also, they seemed appropriate for the development of Paul- his attitude to life is that of the 19th century Romantic, and since Romanticism paid homage back to medieval times, there were plenty of ‘threads’ of time going on through all that line of thinking.
Strangely, the final connection I can think of, is ‘Empire of the Sun’ In the years prior to writing Threads of Time, I had been working as an English teacher at a crammers, and I regularly taught 70 texts a year – mostly 19th century classics, but the odd modern book. And Empire of the Sun was one. The most fantastic thing about it is the way he begins and ends his chapters. I decided I really wanted to try and do the same thing with mine. It was probably the hardest thing. Tying each chapter up, giving each chapter a sense of wholeness while still being part of a journey, but I think I’m pretty happy with the result. Interestingly enough, J.G.Ballard, the author of Empire of the Sun is also a pretty keen sci-fi writer!
The themes of the book are important in that they represent some of the concerns that stay with me in most of my writing: the relationship between myth and history, the links between past, present and future, and questioning both the nature of love and reality. When I sat down to write Threads of Time, I was determined that I would write the book I wanted to read. It wasn’t that important to me if other people would want to read it, but it was important that I would want to read it. That it would be one of my favourite books. I think it is.
I started actually writing the novel in October 1995 and finished it around April 1996. I think I was happy with it then. There were some bits which I remember thinking ‘you have to do this to be commercial’ but not many. Largely, I was happy with it. I spent 2 years sending it out round publishers and getting all sorts of responses back – good bad and ugly. I went on the internet to find publishers. Found an American publisher who phoned me on my birthday to say they wanted to publish – which I thought was a really good omen- only for me then to discover they wanted a financial ‘contribution’ from me.
I was very wary of vanity publishing. So I didn’t bite. I lived with the disappointment. And decided life was too short to keep wasting my time getting turned down by publishers, so I went off and wrote other things…. Uh, something like 10 plays, 8 feature films, 24 short films., 5 TV series …… that sort of thing.
The manuscript was also given to quite a few ‘real’ people over the years and they all claimed to have enjoyed it. Which just reinforces my belief that somewhere between real people and publishers there is a dodgy connection. A loose thread! But no one likes reading something in A4 typescript. It does kind of diminish that book reading experience. If you love reading books, you love books. And it wasn’t a book yet.
Then in 2003 two things happened. In the same week. Firstly I had a conversation with a (successful) writer who said ‘ a first novel has a one in 20 thousand chance of getting accepted’ and secondly, I got information about self publishing through the post, unsolicited, from a company called Pro Print. And I thought…… I’ve just spent a thousand pounds putting on three plays… isn’t that the same as self-publishing?
So I reassessed what I thought self-publishing was and what I thought vanity publishing was and what my political, social and ethical stance on it all was (because I’m like Paul in that way, it’s all going on in my head and I don’t know the rules so I have to keep readdressing them) and I decided I’d take a risk and try an experiment.
At the time I was writer in residence for Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association and was often being asked about publishing (when not being asked if I could write other people’s ideas for them because it was ‘too hard’ actually doing the writing but they wanted to be a writer!) Having no experience of self-publishing I always felt limited in my ability to respond or offer decent advice on the subject. So I thought, if I went through it, I’d be more informed at least.
Now, I’m not a gambler. I believe you shouldn’t take risks you can’t afford. So I worked out what I could afford to lose (this is something you get very good at in theatre, because you always lose all you can afford to risk in theatre production!) and decided to give ProPrint a go. Two hundred copies. I wasn’t doing it to get on the best seller list. I wasn’t doing it for commercial success. I don’t believe I was doing it for vanity. Just to have the experience, to be able to sell copies to those people who had read the book and liked it, and try and cover my costs by selling to other people who might like it. And to have an ending. Of sorts. To have a book at last. Which might free me up to think about writing another one. As it turned out I didn’t write another novel until 2007 (and that started off as an experiment in online book blogging).
The production process took six months from April till October in 2003.Proofs. More proofs. More proofs. Corrections, more corrections, more corrections. Reacquainting myself with something I wrote 7 or 8 years ago and trying not to lose the desire to enjoy reading it in covers for the first time while having to deal with grammar, punctuation, printers errors, my errors etc etc etc. It was pretty gruelling, but by October 2003 I was ready to launch the book which I did. It was still far from perfect but I learned a lot in the process. I thought at the time that that was the end of it – but oh, no, that was only the beginning.
In the nearly 10 years that have passed since the first paperback publication the entire publishing industry has undergone a revolution and digital publishing has come into being. When I came to look at re-publishing in this new format I found all kinds of errors and have worked to ‘conserve’ the spirit of the novel while eliminating as many of the errors as I can. Finally, with fewer warts, but still warts and all, the novel is re-launched for a whole new audience. I hope you enjoy it. It’s part of the history of my writing journey as well as everything else now.