Skip to main content

Author Talk: September 2007

September 2007

In this interview, Guillaume Prevost --- author of THE BOOK OF TIME --- explains what prompted him to write a book for children after publishing two adult historical mysteries, and describes the similarities between himself and main characters Sam, Lily and Allan.

He also discusses the process of translating this novel into English from its original French, shares some of his favorite authors who have helped shape his writing and reveals what readers can look forward to in the second volume of this series.

Question: THE BOOK OF TIME is your first book for children. Why did you decide to write for children? What do you hope kids will come away with after reading this book?

Guillaume Prevost: As a writer, I started with a couple of historical mysteries “for adults.” I found the writing very interesting but limited by the rules of the genre (believable intrigue, police procedurals, etc.). I felt like letting a big breath of fresh air blow over my characters, and giving free rein to my imagination while keeping the historical context extremely accurate. To jump from the trenches of World War I to the Ramses III royal tomb, from place to place in two chapters, is an incredible luxury for an author --- a luxury that young adult literature has given me! I hope that when young readers finish this book they will at least know one thing: history is fascinating! Some of them may even be curious enough to follow in Sam’s tracks and to go and see where and in what eras he traveled. On occasion, Sam turns to the Internet for more information; the reader is invited to do the same.

Q: What kind of research did you do in creating THE BOOK OF TIME? Are the people, locations, and historical events Sam encounters in his time travels real? Have you actually traveled to all the places Sam travels?

GP: Beyond the book’s adventure and suspense aspects, I was determined that the periods that Sam travels to be as accurate as possible. Not just movie backdrops, but real moments of history. The illuminated manuscript that Sam manages to save from the Viking invasion (on the Island of Iona, around 800 A.D.) really exists. Likewise, Corporal Chartrel, whom Sam helps during the battle of Verdun, really was wounded in the way I describe. The strike of the workers of Thebes that Sam joins actually happened. And each time, these are central plot elements. Tightly linking history and fiction was at the heart of this project! As for actual research, I suppose I’m only doing my job, if not as a historian, at least as a history teacher. That’s a job enriched by my own taste for traveling: I have thoroughly enjoyed wandering around Iona and Bruges, in particular.

Q: Sam’s time travels are incredibly dramatic and exciting, thus bringing the past to life in a very real way for readers. As a history teacher, how do you engage your students? Are you able to bring history to life for your students in the same way that you do in THE BOOK OF TIME?

GP: So far, the French national education system does not allow THE BOOK OF TIME to be used in classrooms. But like many teachers, I feel there is a theatrical side to teaching and that the spoken word can be as evocative as the written one, even within a fairly structured program. When talking with my students, I tried to stress the human side of history, to help them understand, for example, that the Greeks who invented democracy in Athens were in some ways different from us, but in many ways, very similar. That’s what makes them close to us, and important and useful to know. They still have things to tell us today. And that approach isn’t so different from that of THE BOOK OF TIME.

Q: Is the Stone Statue based on a historic artifact, or is it purely of your imagination?

GP: It is not an accident that no one is allowed to enter my secret cave! Everything is there: the Stone Statue, the coins with holes, the Book of Time. This cave is somewhere deep in my brain, so there is no danger that I will lose the key to it. Seriously, though, one of the first things I had to do when I dreamed up this story was to take a piece of paper and sketch the Stone Statue, so as to fully understand its mechanism and its potential. Today I keep that drawing carefully hidden, because it has caused a lot of laughter from the people around me.

Q: So often, aspiring writers are advised to write what they know. Are there elements in THE BOOK OF TIME from your own life? And do you have any advice for young authors?

GP: There are certainly parts of the book that are taken from my own life. In particular, I am lucky enough to have a son and a daughter who share some character traits with Sam and his cousin Lily. Also, like Sam, I have done some judo (without winning any major trophies, alas!) and I like video games, computer technology, and rock and roll. In other words, there is a part of me that is still fourteen years old. As for advice to young writers, I will say this: on a daily basis, I think writing is more a matter of willpower than talent.

Q: The plot of THE BOOK OF TIME is extremely intricate and the characters vivid. Can you share some of your influences as a writer? Where do your inspirations come from? Were you a reader as a child? What were some of the books you enjoyed reading? Do you think they influence your writing as an adult?

GP: I was very influenced by what I read when I was young. I was a big reader, because I never found any other activity that so deliciously took me out of the world while teaching me so much about it. Isn’t the desire to dive into a book that you are reading one of the strongest of feelings? It was probably because of the desire to make that feeling last that I always wanted to be a writer. Among the authors who influenced me growing up, Jules Verne was the first to make me passionate about adventure. As an homage, I even made him the hero of one of my books, LE MYSTÈRE DE LA CHAMBRE OBSCURE. I also devoured a lot of mysteries, including the classics penned by such authors as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Maurice Leblanc, Gaston Leroux. These authors clearly affected my way of building plots and taught me that nothing should be accidental; everything should mean something. This has almost become an automatic way of thinking, and my children now forbid me from saying anything when we’re watching a mystery on TV or at the movies, because I tend to quickly spot the guilty party, his motive, and methods. This is a professional handicap, in some ways. Then, when I was thirteen or fourteen, I went through an intense science-fiction period: Isaac Asimov, A. E. van Vogt, Jack Vance, etc. That reading is related to my desire to invent stories that go beyond a purely rational framework. Add to this a precocious interest in history, and I would say that THE BOOK OF TIME was probably mainly written to appeal to the child I once was.

Q: THE BOOK OF TIME was originally written in French. What role did you play in its translation? Did you work with William Rodarmor, the translator, directly, or through Scholastic, your American publisher? Can you tell us a little about the process?

GP: My grown-up novels have been translated into several languages, but my relationship with my translators has always been limited to a few e-mails to clear up some point or other. With William Rodarmor, all that changed! He started by telephoning me to introduce himself, and we very quickly built a relationship of trust. And he got passionately involved with the text, wanting to know everything about everything, including somewhat remote elements of the historical context that would better enable him to understand this or that detail. He literally bombarded me with messages and sometimes tracked me to my lair, because he wound up knowing the book better than I did! And he managed it all with great humor. In short, the translation of this book was a novel and enriching experience. We then went over the final version with editor Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine Books, and I was struck by her intelligent reading of the text. So I have been part of the translation process from beginning to end, which is a wonderful piece of luck for the writer, but also, I hope, for the book!

Q: Lastly, can you give us any hints about what’s to come for Sam, Lily, and Allan? We can’t wait to read more about them!

GP: Hmm.... Volume two holds many revelations for Sam about his father and his family’s story, and Lily may wind up more involved in her cousin’s quest than she might like. And as in Volume one, I can promise you a real surprise at the end!