Kim Velk loves bicycles, typewriters and 1920s music. So she decided to write a time travel adventure that takes readers on a wild ride to the 1920s with a fifteen year old boy. It took her six years to complete her debut work, but it was worth it. As our author of the day, Velk chats about her Up, Back and Away, why she wrote it and reveals exactly how much research went into it.
Please give us a short introduction to what Up, Back, and Away is about.
It’s a time-travel adventure story about a modern, well-off, only child from a wealthy Dallas suburb who’s been stuck/challenged with a rescue mission in the England of 1928.
Our Miles is fifteen years old and good hearted, but he has led a very sheltered life. His friend and mentor, a retired English literature professor turned bicycle shop owner, informs Miles that he has been chosen - by a mysterious figure known only as “the Gypsy” - to travel back to the England of 1928. Once there, Miles is to find a “girl with a gift, a girl born out of her time” and “a secret that was not meant to be,” and then return home with them both. Miles is faced with a series of seemingly impossible tasks and terrible choices. His fainting heart is his first and biggest enemy - one he overcomes, decision by decision and with the help of his new friends. Miles’ adventure carries him from England’s beautiful countryside to London’s jazz-age cabarets and from terrified boy to heroic young man.
What inspired you to write a time travel book about teenagers?
It’s a writing advice chestnut that you should write a book you would want to read. This is the fun kind of fantasy that I always liked when I was growing up. I also wanted to write a coming of age story that would be inspiring, and true. The events are fictional, of course, but I tried to make the human reactions real and accurate. We all grow by doing things that we thought we couldn’t do and facing up to situations we thought were too much for us. Courage is hard, but it pays - and in the kind of coin that matters. Miles and Ada, the “girl with the gift,” earn that coin. I hope that in some small way their story may be inspiring to regular people, including teenagers (but not limited to teenagers).
Why 1928 England? What is it about that time period that fascinates you?
The inter-war period in England was a time when the old, agrarian world had been blasted away by the first World War, but the dust had not really settled. The depression and the second World War would stamp out lots and build the future we know but in between was this time when people were trying to figure out how to live in a fast-changing world. Women’s rights were really galloping ahead and I found that interesting. Still modernity, as we think of it, is just getting started in those years and Miles has to operate in a moral landscape very different to our own. I wanted to explore that contrast. Also, of course, it was a time of great style in the arts and dress and music – it was just fun.
How was Miles McTavish conceived in your mind? And why is he so special?
Miles’ intelligence and quirky interests - in history and model railroading and the three-speed English roadster bicycles - make him an interesting person. He has potential to do interesting things. But he is also a middle-class “every kid.” Given his status as the only child of wealthy parents, Miles is all set for a skate through a safe, lazy life. It’s not human nature to seek pain and difficulty and his careful parents have been shielded him from any real risk. With this adventure, Miles is offered a character-forming intervention. His heroism is found in not running away from it, even though he could have done so and not be blamed.
Up, Back, and Away is your first book. What has the experience been like so far?
It was a labor of love and bucket list thing for me to write a book. I am an attorney by trade and my writing is done on the edges of my time. It took me six years to write and it was a one-woman operation. I self published in the end because I was too impatient to knock on doors after about thirty rejections from agents. I wanted to get it done. About a year after my initial publication, I put out a redesigned and corrected version with the fabulous cover art by the brilliant fine artist, Juan Wijngaard of New Mexico. The process of getting all this done was a wonderful learning experience for me – connecting me to other writers and to Juan and learning a new trade, really. Of course I love to hear from readers who liked the book. Not everybody likes it, of course, but reception has been quite positive and I have been encouraged by the response to keep writing in those edges.
How much research did this book require from you? What was the most interesting aspect of your research?
A lot! I was very careful with my details. I expected astute readers to be checking dates and facts and they have. To give you an example of my commitment to getting things correct, I’ll tell you one place that I fudged. When Miles goes to the music hall in London to try to find Ada, he is upset by the drunkenness that he sees at the bar there. Music halls and variety theatre in England got their start in saloons and drinking was very much part of the scene for about a hundred years. However, bars in music halls were banned by a parliamentary act in 1923 – so by 1928 when Miles showed up in one, patrons would have had to do their drinking elsewhere. Since I wanted to emphasize Miles’ discomfort with the gaudy world of the music hall I cheated a little, but knowingly so.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Does speaking a kind of pidgin French count? I’m also pretty good at identifying English ceramic wares of the 19th century. Not much of a party trick I’m afraid,
Tell us about your writing habits – how do you make time to write?
I wish I could claim a habit. I do try to write a little each day, but it’s more like three days a week at this point. I have a full time job and one teenager still at home, so energy is as much the problem as time.
Your book features a unique time travel method. Why did you take this approach?
The Twin Birches that are the first time travel portal in the story are based on a real place on one of my favorite Vermont mountain trails. I would hike that trail and think each time that I reached those trees that something special should happen as I passed between them – and wouldn’t that be a fun plot point in a book? Also, I have no actual scientific understanding of how time works and could not have set up some quasi scientific explanation even if I wanted to (which I didn’t).
Readers report that you kept them hooked throughout the book. How did you pull this off?
I read the whole thing out loud to myself several times over. I ditched a big first section of the book after getting some feedback that it was too much. The pacing gets criticism from some readers. I think that’s fair. I’m happy if others (most?) were hooked early and stayed on.
Which character did you find the most challenging to create?
How much fun do you have coming up with these story lines and characters?
This was probably THE fun book for me. It was a playground for working in all these things that I like (bicycles, typewriters, 1920s music) as well as all that social history that interests me. Writing the characters was also a kind of spiritual experience. I did get the sense that I was writing people into existence.