Q&A with ‘Time Traveling With a Hamster’ author Ross Welford

ross-welford-author-photoRoss Welford worked as a business journalist before becoming a freelance writer and television producer. His debut novel, “Time Travelling With A Hamster,” tells the story of a boy’s quest to live up to his dad’s memory. The following is a complete transcript of his interview with Cracking the Cover.

Why do you write?

It’s a job, a thing to do, a purpose in life and we all need one of those. It could be something else, but this is what I do best. I have always worked with words in one way or another – as a magazine journalist, TV producer and so on. I came to writing books fairly late in life because – I guess – I never thought I’d be any good at it, and it seemed like such hard work. I’m not one of those writers who needs to write to stay sane. I’m dead happy lying by the pool, sipping a cold beer and reading something that someone else has written.

Why specifically for middle-graders?

When it came to writing TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER, I just wrote it. I didn’t think, “Ah, I’ll write a middle-grade book.” I didn’t even know what MG was, and had only a sketchy idea of YA. I was actually a little surprised when my UK publisher said it would be aimed at 9+ years: because of its length, I thought it was older, despite the fact that my own kids had swallowed Harry Potter whole by that age. Now I’m sticking with MG for a while because it seems a bit daft to try to establish a name in another genre before I’m properly established here.

Where did the idea for “Time Traveling With a Hamster” come from?

I had always been intrigued by the “Grandfather Paradox” which states that time travel cannot be possible, otherwise you could travel to the past and murder your own grandfather before you were born. So I wanted to play around with that. As for the time machine itself, I used to pass a tumble-down shed on my daily dog-walk and imagine that it led to an underground room: that’s where the idea for Al’s secret bunker came from.

Why a hamster?

I was halfway through the first draft and I realized that Al was going through this massive adventure largely alone and I wanted him to have a companion. A dog was my first idea, but too obvious. Also, I wanted it to be easily-transportable. It could have been a gerbil, or a rat, or a rabbit for that matter, but for some reason a hamster seemed right.

Al starts out quiet and an outsider. How did his character develop?

I think we all want our protagonists to grow somehow: to have developed over the course of a book or movie. The lonely, shy kid who discovers inner strengths is a perennial favorite, and Al fits the mould. With each new challenge, he’s forced to be braver until he’s got nothing left to lose: he has one final all-or-nothing chance to get what he wants, and that – to me – is very exciting. Those final chapters almost wrote themselves.

time-traveling-with-a-hamster-cover-imageWould you travel through time if given the option?

I’d quite like a glimpse of the far future just to satisfy my curiosity. But as for the past – not really. That said, my favorite scene in the (rather underrated) film About Time is when Bill Nighy, who is about to die, can choose one last time journey and he a chooses a walk on the beach with his small son. Even remembering that scene now has brought a lump to my throat. So maybe I’d do that: pick a handful of perfect days and re-live them.

Why do you think books like “Time Traveling With a Hamster” are important?

I’d hesitate to call TTWAH “important” (although a review in the UK did and I was both puzzled and flattered). It’s an emotional adventure story that is – I hope – both funny and exciting – but I prefer to leave judgments like “important” to others.

Looking back, how has your writing evolved?

I haven’t been writing fiction long enough to have evolved. TTWAH was a debut, and I stuck more or less with the same style for book two.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing the final draft of What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible which is due for publication in the UK in early 2017. It is set in the same part of the world, but it’s a completely new set of characters and a new adventure. It has been my difficult second child, but I love it just as much!

Is there a book from your own childhood that still resonates with you today?

I read loads as a child – far more than I do now. I would read and re-read Enid Blyton and the Jennings stories by Anthony Buckeridge which are properly funny. Conversely, I also had a taste for macabre horror which has yet to find an expression in my own writing – although the scene with the cat in TTWAH was originally much more gruesome until my editor persuaded me to tone it down!