The Time Traveller and the Tiger #BlogTour

Elsie is not looking forward to the long summer holidays with her creaky, old Uncle John. But then the unimaginable happens as Time unravels and Elsie tumbles back to 1940s India to meet her Uncle John as a young boy on a tiger hunt.

Can Elsie change the future by stopping him from doing what he’s already told her is a wrong he can never right?

Face to face with the mightiest and most majestic predator in the jungle, Elsie is in awe of the tiger’s beauty. She’s on a mission to have the adventure of a lifetime, save the tiger and change the future.

by Tania Unsworth

There are all kinds of animal characters in children’s fiction; playful, wily, foolish, irreverent, wise, and magical. But real animals are much harder to find.

By ‘real’, I mean animals that don’t wear clothes or drive cars, or grant wishes or form secret societies. They may have things in common with us, they may even be able to speak, but they aren’t essentially human.

When I sat down to write The Time Traveller and the Tiger, I knew two things. Part of the story had to be told from the point of view of my tiger. And he had to be as real as I could possibly make him.

How do you get into the head of a tiger – or any animal, for that matter? How do you give them a voice when you have nothing but human language to express their thoughts? I soon realized why real animal characters are so rare in fiction. They are extremely difficult to write without lapsing into mere description or resorting to whimsy. Done well however, they can be unforgettable.

Take Buck, from Jack London’s Call of the Wild, for example.
“He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death…”

Or the fox in Sarah Pennypacker’s Pax.
“The…urgency of coming night, the hope of reunion with his boy – these things transformed him into something that shot like liquid fire between the trees.”

Or the rabbits of Watership Down, by Richard Adams.
“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning…”

If I wanted to get into the head of a tiger, I knew I had to learn as much about them as I could. I read dozens of books, hung out at the zoo, watched endless TV documentaries and YouTube clips. I even went to India to see wild tigers for myself. I filled my notebook with a thousand facts. Not just because tigers are incredibly interesting, but because I was looking for sparks, imaginative connections that might lead me in. I call them sparks, but they are more like door handles. You turn them and something opens.

Gradually, ideas began to emerge. Tigers are among the most fearsome predators on earth for example, yet when I learned how they were hounded almost to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries, I was struck by the paradox. The hunter who is also the hunted. What must it be like, I wondered, to walk that narrow path? Or take the tiger’s ability to camouflage itself. Here’s an extraordinarily visible creature who is able to completely disappear right before your eyes. Or the fact that a tiger will often attack large animals by wrapping its forepaws around the neck of the prey in a stranglehold that looks oddly tender. Almost like an embrace….

I think it’s fair to say I became obsessed with tigers for a while. And when the book was finally finished, I felt real grief at being parted from them. I took comfort from the fact that of all the research I did, only about a third ended up in my story.

Which means there might be enough for a sequel.

THE TIME TRAVELLER AND THE TIGER by Tania Unsworth is out now in hardback
(£12.99, Zephyr, an imprint of Head of Zeus)

Tania Unsworth spent her childhood in Cambridge before moving to America in her early twenties. She comes from a literary, Booker Prize-winning family of writers and lives in Boston, USA, with her husband and two sons. @TaniaUnsworth1.

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