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What books were your favorite as a youth and why?
I was growing up in the sixties and seventies and the first book I can remember being totally bowled over by was The Hobbit. This book was my initiation into Tolkien’s amazing universe and it wasn’t long before I had first laid my hand on The Fellowship of the Ring, in the school library. This was by far the most adult book I’d read up until then and I felt very grown-up taking it to the desk and getting it checked out. When I got home and started reading it I found myself completely entranced by the world of Middle Earth, the wonderful depth and detail of it. There’s an large area of hills and open woodland close to where I lived then and my equally Tolkien obsessed friends would roam these woods pretending to be elves or otherwise acting out scenes from the books. I was always a big reader but Lord of the Rings was the first book that really captured my imagination. In addition, it made me want to create worlds of my own and give names to all its features and places. My school exercise books used to contain, in the back pages, little sketch drawings of islands with rivers, mountains and cities. Geography was amongst my favorite lessons because I learned to places such features in a geographically convincing manner.
What would you write in a letter to your teen self?
I would say ‘Hey, chill out! You’ve got a tricky few years ahead, but it’ll all work out in the end. Being hilariously bad at sport may seem embarrassing to you now, but it really doesn’t matter in the big picture. Be kind to your mom and dad. I know it seems like they just want to ruin your life and put a stop to your attempts to be like the cool kids, but actually they were once where you are now, and they have your best interests at heart. If they don’t want you to go to that party you’re desperate to go to, it’s because they know that kid’s parents, they know that neighbourhood and they’re anxious about you. They’re allowed to be. They love you. One day, when you’re a parent, you’ll get it too. So knuckle down to your work and appreciate the friends you do have, rather than trying to be like those who seem to have that easy popularity and that way with the girls. It’ll all come together in time. Oh, and that daydreaming thing you do, that your teachers are constantly beefing about. Don’t listen to them. That daydreaming thing is your essential preparation for what you’re going to do later in life. You’re going to be a writer.’
Favorite class in high school. Why?
I loved English and History but I guess my favorite class was Art. Drawing was something that always came easy to me and I think most people derive enjoyment from what they can do well. In addition, my childish attempts at drawing cartoons and painting pictures always won me the praise of proud parents and brought me delighted blushes as they showed my lurid masterpieces to friends and relatives. As I was growing up, I found my Art lessons to be amongst the most fulfilling. Imagine my distress when, at the age of fourteen, I found that my school’s subject option scheme obliged me to choose between Biology and Art. Naturally, my parents, who still nurtured hopes that I might grow up to be a scientist, insisted that I choose Biology over Art. Instead, I was obliged to study Woodwork as a practical subject, a subject I despised and for which I had precisely zero aptitude. My woodwork teacher, soon despaired of my ability with the saw and the chisel. Although my homework drawings of tools were of the most exemplary standard, my attempt to make a yacht resulted in hilarious failure and I was eventually allowed to sit in the woodstore with a book. I never gave up on my Art, though. My favorite teacher was the Art mistress and I used to go and spend time in her studio at lunchtimes and after school. I eventually went to study Art at college, having turned up to interview with no official qualifications at all but a folder full of work I had made in my own time. I’m glad I never gave up, because I ended up teaching Art and Graphic Design for thirty-eight years and apart from writing, (and my wife!) it’s been the love of my life.
You’ve just won a million dollars and you’re not allowed to save any of it. What do you spend it on?
I live on the edge of an area of urban sprawl, with some lovely open fields nearby, that are constantly mooted as sites for building new housing. They’re wonderful open spaces, that people use to walk their dogs and to take their children to learn a little about nature. If I had a million dollars to hand, I would buy those fields and establish a trust to keep them in public ownership for all time. I’d establish a mix of different habitats, ranging from woodland to heathland, have a big pool dug and make meadows for butterflies and dragonflies. I’d surround the place with a nice high fence to keep out people with motorbikes and four-wheel drive vehicles, who might want to churn it all up. In addition, I’d put up information displays at the entrances, so that people can learn about all the insects, birds and animal species that live there. I’d make it a place of quiet and rest for people to go when they want to get away from the city and find peace in nature.
I’m not one for lying about on beaches, even with a book! Likewise, I don’t want to spend my holidays abseiling, kayaking or engaging in other energetic activities. I am not really a physical being at all and treat my body pretty much as a conveyance for my head. Instead, I would wish to visit Italy, dividing my time between historic cities, with lots of museums/galleries to explore, or quiet, off the beaten path villages and rural towns, where I can indulge my passion for history and archaeology. I have a particular interest in Classical History as well as Renaissance Art, which I used to teach at school. For many years I guided tours to Florence, Venice and Rome, and it is always a great pleasure to return to those familiar places. My ideal day would consist of exploring an Italian hill town, looking at churches and local galleries, followed by a gentle walk in the countryside and an evening with good company, good food, good wine and a good book. Perfection!
What superpower would you love to have? Why?
I’d love to be able to fly. I’m sure this must be a very common daydream and must have been as far back as the dawn of human existence. I can imagine the caveman looking up from his misdirected spear throw and envying the startled bird its swift flight into the air. In a way, given the rapid progress of science in recent centuries, it seems odd that our race was entirely earth-bound until the development of hot air balloons in the eighteenth century. But that, and later developments, relied on advances in technology. What I would like to be able to do, is launch myself into the air and soar and zoom simply through the power of my mind over the elements, using my body and my arms only to guide myself more aerodynamically through the skies. I’ve seen extraordinarily brave and daring people wearing flight-suits, jumping off mountain precipices and flying is such a way, although their trajectory is necessarily always downward. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, surely had it right in singling out this ancient human desire, when making this one of his prime attributes.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Not that I really feel completely grown up, even now, as a sixty-two year old! If we mean the attainment of mental and physical maturity, then I would admit to have achieved only one of those. In some ways, I still feel like a child in an adult’s body, and that’s something that I cherish. I would hate to lose the wide-eyed wonder of the child, when gazing out at the world, or the breadth of imagination that accompanies it. Picasso said ‘At the age of sixteen I could draw like Raphael; I spent the rest of my life trying to draw like a child.’ This open-minded way of engaging with the world is what I have tried to retain throughout my life. I always enjoyed the potential of words for painting mental pictures and the potential of words, as of music, in creating beautiful patterns of sound. In addition, as a particularly dreamy child, I always wanted to permanently fix in place the content of my imagination. Writing gives us the opportunity to do that, and to use words to paint pictures that each reader will see differently. Naturally, the desire that others should read your work, is part of this urge. I doubt there are many writers who are content to keep their work un-shared in a desk drawer. I want people to share and to enjoy what I have written.
do you write juvenile fiction? What draws you to it?
I like writing about teenagers. My whole professional career has involved working with this age group, and so I think I have a good instinctive insight into the teenage mind. For this reason, I believe that I can write convincing teenagers. In addition, I have vivid recollections of that period of my own life. It’s a most interesting part of a anyone’s life, this extraordinary transition from the world of the child to that of the adult, beset with perplexing physical changes and the attendant emotional challenges that hormone supercharge can bring. It’s a rich field for literary exploration, as legions of writers have discovered. In addition, I think there are places you can go in this genre that may be denied to those writing exclusively for adults. For teenagers, the childhood world of myths and fairy-tales remains close at hand. Re-clothing those worlds and reinterpreting them in more adult contexts gives tremendous scope for imaginative exploration.
Yes that's right. Stopping time!
Well, for everyone except Alex, that is, who finds that whilst everyone else is caught in a moment in time, he is able to carry on as normal. Maybe not quite 'normal', after all, he's able to stop time, and whilst that's not exactly as good as a certain 'boy wizard', it's pretty close!
The only trouble is that reality for Alex isn't always what is seems, and being plunged into an alternative can be a bit tricky, not to mention the fact that he makes an enemy almost as soon as he arrives, which tends to cause a problem.
Will Alex Trueman, nerdy daydreamer, be able to return to reality or will he be stuck forever in his alternative? Is a moment in time enough for Alex to discover the superhero he needs is probably himself?
A Moment in Time is the debut novel of author Martin Dukes, and is the first in a series of Alex Trueman Chronicles, which take the reader, along with Alex, into a bedazzling world of time travel, alternative reality and flying sea creatures. His further adventures include the past, possibly the future and definitely a fight to save reality itself.
Read an Excerpt
“What on earth are you doing?” rang Alex’s mum’s voice from behind him, and then “Oh!” as she took in the scene of the accident. The two girls were led past Alex. He gaped. There was something so familiar about that girl, and as she passed their eyes met. There were tears in hers – anguish, shock – and then as she passed by a glimmer of recognition. Alex almost called out, but what was there to say? Then she was gone, her head turned away once more as the crowd swallowed her up. His mum was scolding him, grabbing at his arm, but Alex hardly heard. He remained frozen, watching until the two girls vanished inside the police station. Then he allowed himself to be drawn away back towards the High Street, letting his mum’s complaints wash over him.
“… out of your pocket money,” she was saying. “Great clumsy clot. And running off like that. What on earth did you think you were doing?”
A stranger appeared at Alex’s side, a young man with a struggling goatee beard and a kindly face. He wore an ill-fitting suit. Before Alex could react, the stranger had taken his hand and pressed something into it. Alex glanced down. It was a page torn from a jotter with a name and a telephone number scrawled upon it. Alex looked up.
“Come on,” called his mum impatiently from up ahead.
But the young man had gone. Alex glanced wildly up and down the street. He looked at the paper again. ‘Kelly’ was the name.
About the Author: I’ve always been a writer. It’s not a choice. It’s a compulsion, and I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Lots of childish scribbles in notebooks, lots of rejection slips from publishers and agents testify to a craft long in the making. In addition, it has proved necessary to earn a living by other means whilst those vital skills mature. For thirty-eight years I taught Art and Graphic Design, thirty-seven of them in a wonderful independent girls’ school in Birmingham, UK. For much of the latter part of this career I was Head of Department, which gave me the opportunity to place my own stamp on Art education there, sharing with the pupils there my own love of Art and the History of Art. Over a decade I was able to lead annual visits to Florence, Venice and Rome (some of my favourite places on the planet) as destinations on my Renaissance Tour. These visits created memories that I shall cherish for the rest of my life.
I love history in general, reading history as much as I read fiction. I have a particular interest in the ancient world but I am also fascinated with medieval times and with European history in general. This interest informs my own writing to the extent that human relationships and motivations are a constant throughout the millennia, and there is scarcely a story that could be conceived of that has not already played itself out in some historical context. There is much to learn from observing and understanding such things, much that can be usefully applied to my own work.
Teaching tends to be a rather time-consuming activity. Since retiring, I have been able to devote much more of my time to writing, and being taken on by the brilliant Jane Murray of Provoco Publishing has meant that I am finally able to bring my work to the reading public’s attention. I like to think that my ideas are original and that they do not readily fall into existing tropes and categories.
I am not a particularly physical being. I was always terrible at sport and have rather poor physical coordination (as though my body were organised by a committee rather than a single guiding intelligence!). I tend to treat my body as a conveyance for my head, which is where I really dwell. My writing typically derives from dreams. There is a sweet spot between sleeping and waking which is where my ideas originate. I always develop my stories there. When I am writing it feels as though the content of my dreams becomes real through the agency of my fingers on the keyboard. I love the English language, the rich majesty of its vocabulary and its rhythmic possibilities. My arrival at this stage could hardly be describes as precocious. However, at the age of sixty-two, I feel that I have arrived at a place where I can create work of value that others may appreciate and enjoy.
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