While Time Travel Nexus focuses on bringing you articles about time travel wherever we find it, that wouldn’t be possible without our great team of contributors. Month after month, they share their passion for the time travel books, shows and films they love, but other than a writer’s credit, the contributors themselves have remained largely unheralded.
With that in mind, today we’re kicking off our new Contributor Spotlight series. Periodically, we’ll chat with team members to learn more about their interest in time travel and find out about their other projects — past, present and future.
In our first Contributor Spotlight, we’re focusing on C.R. Berry, who writes our Time Travel Nexus Investigates column about real-life time travel cases, as well as Time Trek, our dedicated Star Trek review column.
Today Berry’s debut novel Million Eyes comes out as a paperback. Million Eyes is a time travel conspiracy thriller and the first in a trilogy. It follows in the wake of a free short story collection called Million Eyes: Extra Time, which features stories set in the same world as the trilogy. I recently wrote a review of this collection, which you can read here.
Our readers have been enjoying your work on TTN, but they may not know much about your other projects, in particular your new novel, Million Eyes. Can you tell us about it?
Million Eyes follows two characters, history teacher Gregory Ferro and university graduate Jennifer Larson, who learn that several big events in our history weren’t supposed to happen. In fact, events such as Princess Diana’s death only happened because time travellers have been messing with the timeline. Before long, Ferro and Jennifer are targeted by assassins desperate to keep the time travellers’ true agenda under wraps.
Sounds exciting! What about the short stories? How did they come about?
Well, I started working on Million Eyes way back in 2008 (yeah, I know, ages ago). After completing drafts of the whole trilogy, I realised I had a lot to learn as a writer and took a step back to hone my craft. It was then that I had the idea to write the Million Eyes short stories, to expand the world I’d created for the trilogy. There was also a bunch of conspiracy theories, such as those surrounding JFK, Paul McCartney, Queen Elizabeth I and the Loch Ness Monster, that I wanted to incorporate into the universe but that didn’t have a place in the novel.
Where can readers get hold of these stories?
The short stories have been published in various places, including Storgy Magazine, Suspense Magazine, Dark Tales, Idle Ink and the Indie Authors Press anthology, The Chronos Chronicles. But they’re now all available to read in Million Eyes: Extra Time, which is available for free download from Elsewhen Press.
And I gather some of these stories have won awards?
Some have garnered a few nice accolades over the years, yes. The short story Paul was shortlisted in the Aeon Award Contest 2015. Who is Rudolph Fentz? won 3rd prize in the winter 2015 issue of Scribble Magazine. Rachel Can Still See was highly commended by Writers’ Forum in 2016. Operation Loch Ness was named one of Idle Ink‘s “Best Stories of 2018”.
And what about the novel? Where can people get hold of that?
The first novel in the trilogy, also published by Elsewhen, was released as an ebook on January 10th (here’s a quick Kindle link). As of today it’s out in paperback and available from Amazon and all good bookshops such as Waterstones. Here’s a link to the Elsewhen page, where you can also buy direct from them.
Let’s do what we do best here and go back in time a bit. When did you start writing about time travel?
I actually dug out the first-ever time travel story I wrote the other day. It was written when I was ten and was about me and my friends finding a time-travelling grandfather clock. The pendulum melted and zoomed around a picnic field, turning into what looked like the painted lines on a sports pitch. Stepping over these lines took us into different time periods (so, naturally, I called them “timelines”). I think, since then, I’ve tried incorporating time travel into my stories wherever possible.
Where does your interest in time travel come from?
In truth, probably the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Yesterday’s Enterprise. This was my dad’s favourite episode, so it was one I saw a lot as a kid. I grew up with Star Trek: Voyager too, and that series dabbled with time on more than one occasion. Then of course there’s Back to the Future, my absolute favourite movie trilogy of all time. Over the years, TV series, movies and books such as Doctor Who, Lost, The Butterfly Effect, Somewhere in Time, Travellers and End of an Era by Robert J. Sawyer, have reaffirmed and bolstered my love of the genre.
Were any of those you just mentioned direct inspirations for Million Eyes?
The biggest influence was probably Star Trek. The movie, Star Trek: First Contact, actually inspired a key plot point in Million Eyes. In particular, the moment when the Borg fly through a temporal vortex and all of Earth suddenly changes, the Borg having assimilated humanity in the past… But I won’t tell you how exactly this inspired Million Eyes because, you know, spoilers!
I guess our readers will just have to get a copy! Now, you write our Time Travel Nexus Investigates column, so your interest obviously extends beyond fiction to time travel in the real world. Tell us about that.
Well that stems from my other love: conspiracy theories. When I started reading about time travellers from the future popping up in old photographs and film clips or making apocalyptic predictions on YouTube, I was hooked and had to know more. Not that I buy into many of the claims, of course (although that Greta Thunberg one has me stumped…) However, the idea that time travellers are among us, manipulating events without our knowledge, is fascinating. In fact, it’s exactly the premise of Million Eyes. Million Eyes posits that the timeline we’re living in has already been changed by time travellers.
Does Million Eyes incorporate any of the time travel claims you’ve written about for Time Travel Nexus Investigates?
The novel doesn’t, but I’ve incorporated some of them, specifically the Charlie Chaplin Time Traveller and Rudolph Fentz, into the Million Eyes short stories. So you can read about those in Million Eyes: Extra Time.
Million Eyes has both time travel and conspiracy theories. Which came first when you were developing it?
It was around the time of the inquest into Princess Diana’s death in 2007-08 that the ideas started formulating. That was when my interest in conspiracy theories was really growing. I decided I wanted to do something that the short-lived TV series from the 90s, Dark Skies, had done. Take real events from history, events still surrounded by questions and conspiracy theories, and ‘explain what really happened’. In addition to Diana’s death, there were two other events I wanted to ‘explain’ — the suspicious shooting of King William II of England in 1100 and the still-unexplained disappearance of the Princes in the Tower in 1483. Since these three events were nine hundred years apart, there was only one way of making them all fit together — time travel!
So to answer your question, I suppose the conspiracy theories technically came first, but time travel wasn’t far behind.
Did you know where the overall story was going when you started the novel, or did the larger picture start to come together later?
I knew roughly where it was going. I knew it was going to be a trilogy and I knew some of the key plot points in books two and three. I knew what the time travellers were really up to and that the books, overall, would explore the broader implications of time travel.
You’ve mentioned that time travelers in Million Eyes are changing the timeline. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit more about the rules you have established in your world for how time travel works, what one can and cannot do as far as interfering with events?
My model of time travel is this: the past can be changed, and those changes alter the future, but certain changes made to restore the future are already part of the timeline being restored.
An example of this model is the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode, Yesteryear, which I did a review of for TTN recently. After Spock discovers he no longer exists because the timeline’s been altered, he goes back to stop his younger self from being killed. It’s then established that Spock saving his younger self was always a part of the original timeline, which means he was predestined to go back and fix things.
Another rule is that if someone goes back and changes history, it leaves the timeline in a fragile state. You can send someone else back to undo the change, but any impact they have on the timeline will be permanent. This is fundamental to how Million Eyes the novel plays out, but it’s also touched upon in one of the stories in Extra Time, Paul. In that story, the time travellers go back in time to undo damage to the timeline by a rogue operative. They end up causing a freak car accident that kills a famous celebrity. Because the timeline’s already been changed by the operative, this new change is now a permanent one and they can’t rely on time travel to fix it. Hence, they resort to more creative means to avoid it impacting the future…
As a writer, how did you decide upon these rules? Did you find that they presented challenges for you as you wrote? Any aspect of these that you set in stone in an early story that you now wish you could go back and change?
My model of time travel was dictated by the fact that I’m using it to explain already established events, like Diana’s death and the Princes in the Tower going missing. Those events are already part of the timeline. But I didn’t want to go the full Lost on it, i.e. ‘whatever happened, happened’, because the potential for the timeline to be corrupted and go screwy creates suspense. The fact that, in Million Eyes, history can be changed but some changes are predestined, generates interesting questions about free will and destiny.
As for my other rule, this was, to be honest, a logical necessity. I don’t want to give too much away, but lots of things wouldn’t need to happen if the time travellers had absolute power to keep going back and fixing their own mistakes.
In general, what kinds of things do you think time travel fiction authors struggle with that writers of other types of fiction never need to worry about?
Time travel can be very complicated, particularly when you have predestination paradoxes and causal loops (which Million Eyes has in abundance). I think, with stories like those, you need to be a plotter, not a pantser. Plotters plan out everything before they start, pantsers ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ and make it all up as they go along. With time travel, I think there’s much more potential than with other fiction to write yourself into a hole full of continuity and logical errors if you’re a pantser.
On the flip side, are there aspects of time travel stories that allow you as a writer to explore questions or topics that other genres do not?
Yes, absolutely. This is why I write time travel. I like the fish out of water scenario of a character going back in time when certain institutions, technologies and ways of thinking didn’t exist, or going forwards when they’ve all moved on, and having to adapt. For me, seeing the contrast between multiple time periods and how characters deal with those contrasts is perpetually entertaining and thought-provoking.
Obviously, you’d like to encourage our readers to read your own stories if they haven’t already, but beyond those, are there any other time travel books you would particularly recommend? What’s on your TBR list at the moment?
I’d recommend End of an Era by Robert J. Sawyer. That one has time travel and dinosaurs — what more could you want? I’d also recommend The Chronos Chronicles by Indie Authors Press. (That one does have a story by yours truly, but it has a bunch of other great ones too!) I’m currently reading a time travel conspiracy thriller called New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey. It shares similarities to Million Eyes and is about a company that has rescued a load of people from the Pompeii eruption and brought them forwards in time. But like all good conspiracy thrillers, this company has a sinister secret.
Are you working on Million Eyes II and can you tell us anything about it?
I can tell you that I’m currently 63,000 words into it and the working title is Million Eyes II: The Unraveller. I can also tell you that it follows directly on from the first book and the two main characters are Dr Samantha Lester, an archaeologist who makes a brief appearance in book one, and Adam Bryant, a supporting character in book one.
Where can our readers find you? (Apart from on TTN of course.)
Well you can visit my official website, which is where I blog about conspiracy theories, urban legends, my writing endeavours and, of course, time travel. Elsewhen Press also have a section on their website dedicated to the Million Eyes series, with links to where you can buy and download the books. And you can catch me on Twitter and Facebook too!
Million Eyes is available now and reviewers have called it “shocking”, “tense” and “addictive”, with “a deliciously dark vein of humour”. If you’re not already intrigued, check out the book trailer!