In many time travel stories, people usually just go in one direction or the other. But in Secondhand Daylight (paperback, Kindle) by Eugen Bacon and Andrew Hook, one character can only move forward through time, while another is going back to find him. In the following email interview, Eugen and Andrew discuss what inspired this novel, and their decision to write it together.
To start, what is Secondhand Daylight about, and when and where does it take place?
Andrew: Secondhand Daylight is a time travel novel that features two main protagonists. One, Green, is uncontrollably travelling from the early 1990s in a forwards direction. The other, Zada, is aware of Green, and is travelling from the future, 2500s, into the past to intercept him. How they deal with these circumstances, and ultimately themselves, is what fuels the novel.
The story takes place in Melbourne, Australia. This is where Eugen lives, and I also spent several months there around the time we meet Green. So the Sarah Sands Hotel in (New) Brunswick at the onset of Green’s story is a familiar jaunt, but I don’t know (or would rather not say) if I pulled some best moves on their dance floor, oscillating wildly, arms akimbo, like Green, even with VB stewing my head.
I’ve often wanted to write about those times, so it seemed opportune to do so, and effectively allowed me to time travel to write about it.
Where did you get the idea for the plot of Secondhand Daylight? What inspired it?
Andrew: It came to me in a flash. I’d already collaborated with Eugen on a short story called “Messier 94,” published in her collection Danged Black Thing. At the time, Eugen suggested doing a longer piece of work together, so thinking of a suitable idea was at the forefront of my mind.
Early one morning I was cycling along Marriott’s Way where I live in Norwich, UK, which is a cycleway that follows the path of a disused railway line. It’s very leafy and tree-lined, and the sunlight channeled through the trees to the extent that it both illuminated but also obliterated the surroundings. I suddenly thought of “Secondhand Daylight,” which is the second studio album by Magazine. It’s also my favorite record of theirs. Released in 1979, it’s lyrical and rough. A real intelligent delight. I’d considered using the title for a novel a few years earlier, but it came to nothing. I remembered it again then — as I was — as we all are, everyday — travelling forwards in time — and the plot fully formed as I cycled.
What if someone could time travel through light? That’s not quite how the story works out, but that was the kernel of inspiration.
Andrew, what led you to think it needed to be written by you and someone else, as opposed to just you, why did you think Eugen was the right person?
Andrew: I was specifically looking for an idea for a story I could write with Eugen, and because of the two protagonists this idea was bespoke for that collaboration. Initially, I suggested that I write Green’s story to the future, and Eugen writes Zada’s story to the past, neither of us showing the other what we were doing, and we’d meet in the middle. But actually that was too convoluted, so we just wrote the story bit by bit in turns.
Eugen, what was it about Andrew’s idea that not only made you want to co-author this novel, but also made you think you were the right person to co-author this novel?
Eugen: I adore Andrew’s slipstream short stories, and was rather pleased with how our collaboration “Messier 94,” a literary oddity, turned out. We’d discussed to write something longer together, and Andrew ambushed me at a rather busy time in my life. It was August, I was juggling projects, and here was Andrew: “Went cycling before work this morning and the novel(la) structure revealed itself in my head.”
I said, “Gollygum, I don’t know I understand it at all, but I certainly get your enthusiasm.”
Then he sent me a few opening words to the chapter:
It started with the mundane. A season of outpourings. Green stalked Flinders Street station. His black desert boots a soft shuffle on the concrete as his eyes darted outside between the sheeted downpour to watch the trams as they came and went along designated routes. Destination: New Brunswick.
And I was hooked. I said, “I love your start, as it’s triggered me immensely.”
There was no question I’d write this novel with Andrew.
So, is there a reason you have Green jumping forward in time as opposed to backwards or both forward and backwards? Or, for that matter, into a different version of his world? I hear multiverses are all the rage these days…
Andrew: It’s integral to the plot that Green can only jump forward in time. His ability to do so is never explained — is it biological? But it’s only just started, so he’s convinced there’s a trigger. And in theory, if he goes on at this pace, he could time jump forever. It’s this uncontrollable situation, Green’s conundrum, that provides the grist for the novel. And Zada’s technology only affords her the opportunity to go backwards, she can never return to the future, which sets up the potential for their meeting. But there’s also the terrible risk of them missing each other. That seems complicated enough, without adding multiverses into the mix.
Secondhand Daylight is obviously a sci-fi novel, but it sounds like it might also be a thriller and maybe even a mystery as well. How do you each classify it, genre-wise?
Andrew: Predominantly as a sci-fi novel, though Justina Robson who gave us a stunning commendation for the book felt that it harked back to the New Weird, which was around in the early noughties, presumably because the story is not science driven in a technical sense but is more about how that sci-fi situation affects the characters. It is a fast-paced read though, with short chapters, so the definition of thriller does cover a page-turner and potentially could apply.
Eugen: Yeah, it’s definitely soft science fiction, where the technology of the time travel is not as pertinent as the humanity of the situation, the feelings and relationships forged and abandoned in the complexity of uncertainty.
Now, Secondhand Daylight is not the first novel either of you have written. Are there any writers who had a big influence on Daylight but not on anything else you’ve written?
Andrew: Not directly, though I do prefer the literary / social aspect of sci-fi, and am an avid reader of Chris Beckett, whose social worker background generally informs on how his characters are grounded and have believable responses to otherwise fantastical situations. I approached Secondhand Daylight in a similar manner. The most direct influence, to be honest, is Eugen; being aware of her poetic style, and fast-paced character-driven plots, and seeking to find the middle-ground where our voice matched to drive this novel.
Eugen: Strange that Andrew says this because, honestly, my most direct influence is Andrew. I am enamored by his slipstream stories; his collections are phenomenal. Read the latest, Candescent Blooms, and you’ll see what I mean. His mind goes to a beautifully dark space that transports me, so it was natural to imagine that his muse of time travel and light would take me to an otherworldly place right in the middle of everyday.
How about non-literary influences; was Secondhand Daylight influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Eugen: I’d never heard of the album Secondhand Daylight, and Andrew must have had a good laugh when I tried suggesting alternative titles — Secondhand To Twilight / Secondhand To Midnight / Secondhand To Dawn — where “to” represents a journey towards something.
Yet being an experimental writer who loves to play with form, the whole almost-unearthly nature of the title — what the heck is a secondhand daylight? — was most persuading. And it didn’t matter that, other than my knowledge of daylight savings on and off in Australia, I had no literary or non-literary influences to bridge me towards our novel.
Andrew: I’ve always been interested in time travel movies generally, from those which are subtle (Primer) to those which are playful (Timecrimes) to those which are more well known (Looper, even Tenet to a point). So those influences might be in the back of my mind, but not as a conscious decision to springboard from them into the novel.
Now, Eugen, Andrew mentioned your short story collection, Danged Black Thing. This was recently republished by Apex Book Company. What is Danged all about, and what genre are the stories in it?
Eugen: Danged Black Thing is black speculative fiction in transformative stories of culture, diversity, climate change, unlimited futures, a collision of worlds and mythology. It casts a gaze at mostly women and children haunted by patriarchy. I experimented a lot with this collection whose themes are on writing the “other,” betwixt, hauntings and unlimited futures.
They are mostly cross genre stories. But some like “Simbiyu And The Nameless,” “Phantasms Of Existence,” “The Failing Name” (a collaboration with Seb Doubinsky), ‘Still She Visits’ and ‘A Taste of Unguja’ are mostly dark fantasy, while “The Water Runner,” “Unlimited Data,” “A Pod Of Mermaids,” “Messier 94” (the collaboration with Andrew), the titular story (a collaboration with E Don Harpe), and “Forgetting Toolern” are more science fiction.
There are also strong genre blends, such as “A Visit In Whitechapel,” “De Turtle o’ Hades” (another collaboration with E Don Harpe that resurrects Idi Amin), and “When The Water Stops,” which are literary strange science fiction fantasies. I think “A Pod Of Mermaids,” which draws from Norse mythology in a travelscape and alternate history, fits here, too.
And is there any difference between this new version and the original version that Transit Lounge Publishing released in 2021? If so, what changes did you make and why did you make them?
Eugen: Other than the awesomest cover, US spelling, and an updated bio and publications list, the two releases are identical.
Are there any stories in Danged Black Thing that you think would appeal to people who’ve enjoyed Secondhand Daylight? And vice versa? If so, which one(s) and why?
Eugen: My writing pays close attention to characters and their relationship with themselves, other people and the world around them. Its immersive writing, rich in language. Critics say this, and I agree.
In this aspect, I think anyone who reads Secondhand Daylight will be curious to see Danged Black Thing, which offers a comprehensive cross section of my writing. No two stories are the same.
Earlier I asked if Secondhand Daylight was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Secondhand could work as a movie, show, or game?
Eugen: I can see Secondhand Daylight adapted into a movie or a limited series, a fast-paced character-driven story that’s quixotic, comical, forlorn and witty in parts. A bit like Doctor Who where it doesn’t matter how the TARDIS or the sonic screwdriver work, but each episode is rather about the escapades and human (and other) connections along the way.
Andrew: I prefer movies over extended television series, and I think it could work best as a ninety-minute film; though should a TV company come knocking I doubt either of us would say no.
I wouldn’t have considered it as a game, but I’m starting to plot how that might work out in my head…
So then if someone wanted to make a Secondhand Daylight movie, who would you want them to cast as Green, Zada, and the other main characters?
Andrew: I’ve wracked my brain over this and no one comes to mind. The characters in my head are so well-defined so I can’t map them onto real life actors.
Actually, I tend to choose the films I watch from the director rather than the actors, so let’s hand this one to [Dune director] Denis Villeneuve and see what he makes of it. Or perhaps Luc Besson [The Fifth Element] or even Leos Carax [Annette] could have some fun with it.
Eugen: Green’s a white bloke. Daniel Day-Lewis? Tom Hiddleston? Hugh Jackman? You realize I’m putting my male crushes here. And I’m more than bi-curious. Zada’s black; let’s talk Zoe Kravitz, Thandiwe Newton, Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis (seen that bod in Woman King?), Zendaya…
It’s a bit hot in here; can you feel it?
Zada has very free-spirited parents. Those would be fun to cast.
Truth is, a great method actor / actress with the right director can pull anything off.
Finally, if someone enjoys Secondhand Daylight, what time travel sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you each suggest they read next?
Eugen: I don’t know if Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess Of Mars fits this mold, but for some reason I’m thinking of it, or seeing the movie John Carter. The stories are nowhere near close, but connections, the human experience and discomfiture in an element of travel are integral.
Andrew: I would suggest Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife assuming there is someone in the world who hasn’t already read it. It’s basically a relationship story with all the baggage that contains, but with a great time-slip conceit. The avoidance of explanation greatly appeals to me. But avoid the film adaptation at all costs (I haven’t seen the recent TV series, which I note was cancelled after one season). The book, however, is sublime.