Travel to the future!
2nd Apr 20

Travel to the future!

Meet a group of children who can travel in time in THE INFINITE, the new novel by PATIENCE AGBABI! These children are about to go on their first school trip - to the future!

Elle is 12, and keen to travel to 2048. But once there, she discovers that children from the future are going missing. It's a dangerous mystery that she and her new friends need to solve, before they are sent back to their own time.

We asked author and poet PATIENCE AGBABI to tell us more about her new novel, THE INFINITE:

Q: Can you tell us, in a short poem, what The Infinite is about?

A: Here's an extract from one I prepared earlier:

It's a time-travel tale, starring Elle, born for leaping

on Feb 29th which makes her a Leapling,

a very RARE Leapling, like few of her kind,

Elle has The Gift to leap through TIME.

On her 12th birthday, she and her mate

take a school trip to 2048!

Elle has received a mysterious text:

Leaplings are missing; who will be next?

Elle is autistic; she has to make sense

of each sensory challenge and play to her STRENGTHS:

she loves WORDplay, she must speak out to outwit

the baddies; to beat them she must stay fit -

on your marks: set; GO! She loves track and field.

She must SOLVE the mystery to SAVE the world!

Q: What kinds of books did you enjoy reading as a child?

A: LOTS of fantasy. As a very young child, fairy tales like Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin. Once I could read on my own, I enjoyed books featuring a portal into another world like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

But I also LOVED Enid Blyton's St Clare's and Malory Towers series, which were based in girls' boarding schools, had lots of feisty characters who had midnight feasts and broke the rules.

Q: Did anything in particular spark the idea of children travelling through time - and to give them leap year birthdays?

Q: My heroine, Elle, is obsessed with palindromes, words that read the same backwards and forwards, like her name. Palindromes made me think of time-travel, having the ability to zip backwards and forwards in time and space. Then I came up with more names for characters that were palindromes and relating to time, like Noon and Ama.

Coupled with that, I'm obsessed with athletics so had Elle share my obsession. My favourite athletic feat is Bob Beamon's incredible long-jump world record at the 1968 Olympic Games. The Summer Olympics always happen in a leap year. I thought it would be fun to make Elle and her friends Leaplings, kids born on the 29th of February and to make them very special: they would be leaplings who had The Gift: the ability to leap through time.

The word 'leap' made me link time travel with the Olympics. As you can see, I conceive my ideas like a poet, mining key words for multiple meanings and build my plot around that.

Q: In the book, you take a group of children into the future, to 2048. Why did you choose that year, and how did you decide what 2048 would be like?

A: I wanted to explore what science fiction writers call the 'near future', a future not that dissimilar from our own. In my research, I noticed 2050 was quoted frequently by ecological activists as a deadline for getting our act together to save the planet. I read '2050' articles about climate change, sea levels and the food chain.

I was also surprised to see how advanced some current inventions are: we already have sophisticated robots, jetpacks and one or two prototypes for flying cars so I imagined they'd be normal in 30 years' time. 2048 was the closest leap year to 2050 so that became my destination.

Q: What gadget from your 2048 would you bring back to 2020 if you could?

A: I didn't mention the Chronophone above because we haven't yet invented phones that can send texts to the past, present and future! It would definitely be that.

Q: Elle is a fabulous character, how did she develop and have you drawn on anyone you know for her character?

A: Elle's a mixture of my 12 year old self; a tiny bit of my mother; the occasional trait from some autistic young people I know; elements from autistic women's biographies; and sheer imagination. Her 'specialist subjects', wordplay and athletics, are my own. I think that's the usual way to create a fictional character.

Elle means 'she' in French so I was subtly championing her gender; and as it's a palindrome, it enabled me to examine that side of her character, the love of wordplay.

Q: Why did you give Elle autism, and some of the children with a time travelling super power special needs?

A: My older son's autistic, I know several autistic young people, some with additional disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD, some diagnosed with anxiety and many with several overlapping challenges. Yet all of these children have particular talents and/or interests. I wanted to show how someone with special needs can also be really, really good at something. Why not time travel!

Lots of the children I know are into science fiction and fantasy literature, reading it and writing it. I hope The Infinite inspires them.

Q: If you could travel forward or back in time, where would you choose to go and what place would you go to?

A: The 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City to experience Bob Beamon's gravity-defying leap.

Q: Where and when are your favourite places and times to write? Will you be returning to Elle and her friends?

A: I write in the mornings between 9 and noon as I always get my best ideas just after I wake up. It has something to do with coming out of a dream-like state and my mind not being awake enough to edit anything out. I generally write at my workstation in our lounge.

The Infinite is the first of the Leap Cycle series so I've already started book number two. I won't give too much away but it will involve Elle having to leap to the past.

Q: What are your favourite things to do when you're not writing?

A: I love sprint training and listening to retro music on Spotify and Youtube. And, of course, reading speculative fiction.

Thank you for joining us on ReadingZone!

The Infinite by Patience Agbabi is published by Canongate Books and available now, priced 6.99

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