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Time Travel, Tattoos and Gone With the Wind

We're such an ingenious species that the story of how we spread across the face of this magnificent planet reads more like a cross between science fiction and epic fantasy than real life. For that reason when it came time for me to write my series I knew it had to be based on time travel.

I wanted to be able to send my intrepid heroine anywhere...to solve any mystery our cunning little human minds could spin! So, of course she had to be a time travelling detective...which opened up adventure in any conceivable time or place. When you throw a slightly alternate past and present into the mix, then the adventure gets really exciting because anything can happen - and frequently does.

There are so many possibilities! What was Joan of Arc really like? What secrets are encoded in the Voynich manuscript? What were Buddha's last words? What was written on the Mayan codices destroyed by the Conquistadors?

So my Timestalker series is about a time travelling detective. The first book, Gladiatrix (2009) was set in ancient Rome, while the second, Hoodwink (out now) is set in Hollywood in 1939. Each book in the series solves a mystery set in a different time and place.

Hoodwink starts with a body covered in a Mayan occult tattoo being discovered cemented into the floor of a Hollywood film set. It's the body of a famous film director who went missing in 1939. Kannon is hired to return to 1939 to find out who killed him. While on the set of Gone With The Wind, mixing with the big stars of Hollywood, she stumbles onto a mystery that stretches back to the Civil War...

'Why Gone With The Wind?' you say. 'Isn't that just some old film about a Southern woman's determination to survive the American Civil War and its aftermath?'

Good question!

Well...I wanted to write about a murder on a film set in 1939, the most glamorous period in the Golden Years of Hollywood. So I had to choose a movie that would give me the maximum room to explore the feeling of the 1930s as well as yield some interesting plot points I could play with.

There was only ever one real choice...

If you've ever seen any of the documentaries on the making of Gone With The Wind you'll wonder why a murder didn't actually happen... The producer, David O Selznick, was said to be a slave driver addicted to Benzedrine, who went through multiple directors to make the film - one of whom was supposed to have been driven to the brink of suicide. Most of the cast was hiding outrageous secrets, ranging from simple old adultery through to operating as a British spy in pre-war America.

And that was just for starters.

Some claim that Gone With The Wind is 'the greatest film ever made', whether that's true or not it certainly seems to be one of the most watched in history. It's still playing somewhere even as you read this sentence. Hell, the last time I caught a QANTAS flight to Los Angeles it was one of the choices on my personal viewing module...??? According to Wikipedia (with adjustment to 2010 prices) it is the highest grossing film of all time and stories abound concerning its influence on world culture in all sorts of unexpected ways... The book the film was based upon was banned by the Nazis during WW2 and was reportedly a favourite with the French Resistance who prized it as an example of courage under foreign occupation.

But make no mistake Gone With The Wind is a paradox because it's both incredibly inspiring and deeply racist. And such a flawed film is...of course, the perfect setting for a murder.

A personal reason for the choice is that a key memory of my childhood is when my parents took me to see Gone With The Wind. I was ten and at the time I wondered why they were so keenly affected by a movie that was about the American Civil War. I saw it again as a teenager and connected with the strong, central female character, Scarlett O'Hara, who out-survives all the macho men around her. But it was only when I became an adult that I realised that my parents' attachment came from their experiences in WW2. Gone With The Wind was made in 1939 and its central theme is how ordinary people can endure and even triumph over unendurable tragedy.

And that memory of triumph over tragedy is what my parents re-experienced when they sat there in the dark of that movie theatre.

Who can not relate to that?