It’s time to whisk ourselves to London, 1800s, while I talk to you about When Days Tilt by Karen Ginnane!
I finished this one a few days ago and it is such a creative whirlwind of an adventure. The imagination will truly sweep you off your feet as you tumble into this tale of alternate dimensions, secrets, and plucky teens hurled into situations where they need wits and bravery to survive. Alternate Londons are always such a fascinating concept, and the world building is crafted with such detail, you can’t help but FEEL like you’re in the 1800s. Theres also a parallel shadow/alternate London city called Donlon, which gave me Alice in Wonderland and steampunk vibes at times!
I liked the emphasis on family secrets in this one! And both Ava and Jack were really wholesome and winning protagonists, both with family struggles and secrets you won’t see coming. It also felt like a good middle-grade-to-YA crossover, and I appreciate that because we need more books like this!
Read on for an interview the the author about the creation of When Days Tilt!!
This was a very long and circuitous journey. The first seed of When Days Tilt can be traced back to the years I spent living in London with my young family. London had a big impact on me – it was the first time I’d experienced an old city that felt enmeshed with the land it sat on. As an Australian, I was used to young cities sitting like aliens on ancient land, whereas London felt as if it had organically grown from roots in the soil; that it had its own character, which changed depending on what part of the city you were in. It was a small step from this to imagining these personalities as actual characters and putting them into – rhyming couplets!
Yes, the roots of When Days Tilt – a dark, multilayered historical fantasy – lie in some rather camp rhyming couplets I wrote for my young children, years ago.
I need another book to do this question justice as I spent far longer on research than I really needed! The most interesting thing I learned was that Victorian London – which we think of as grimy and Dickensian, all top hats and Artful Dodgers and muttonchop whiskers – would have seemed more like Blade Runner to those living through it at the time. It was a dizzyingly fast dystopia of unbelievable technology, extraordinary building projects, exploding population, filth and poverty side by side with wealth and privilege, science and the occult, and heady new ideas. Everything was being turned upside down and no one knew what was coming next.
Other interesting things I learned were that frumpy, grumpy Queen Victoria was actually a passionate, affectionate party girl who loved music and dancing all night; that humans had never travelled faster than the speed of a galloping horse until passenger railways came along in the 1830s; that train travel was considered dangerously fast (at 40mph), causing a much-feared condition called ‘Railway Madness’, that caused men to rant and rave and divest themselves of clothing; that London cemeteries were horrifically overcrowded at one point, with some ghoulish side effects like corpse gas causing coffins to explode; people believed that bad smells, or ‘miasma’, caused disease; and it was commonplace to dose babies and children with ‘soothing syrups’ than contained opium. The adult version was laudanum, which was a combination of alcohol and opium. Also, people of all classes regularly walked for miles as a matter of course, and coffee stalls were everywhere – not tea.
With great pleasure! I adore them both. 14-year-old Ava is a reluctant watchmaking apprentice in 1858 London. She’s frustrated with the restraints of her life as a young woman at this time and dreams of a bigger life out in the world. She adores her precise, cautious watchmaker father, who is very different to her. He is her only family since her mother died when Ava was tiny, except for their beloved housekeeper, Violet, who is as close to Ava as blood family. One day, Ava’s life is turned upside down when she discovers that the body in her mother’s grave is that of a stranger, and encounters Donlon – a dark, twisted version of London. Ava has to find out who her mother really is, who she is and how they are connected both with Donlon and with the mysterious disappearances taking place in London.
15-year-old Jack is a gifted metalworking apprentice in Donlon. He’s a sensitive, far-seeing boy who has learned to be street smart during a tough life with an uncaring father, who abandoned him as a child. When we meet Jack he’s struggling with the after-effects of being snatched – he is torn and it’s affecting him badly. Jack’s story becomes entwined with Ava’s when she discovers Donlon. They have a strong connection, which is explained partly by the way they first meet (but only partly. All is revealed, I promise…)
I loved the challenge of re-creating Victorian London on the page and making it feel immersive and contemporary. I wanted the reader to be able to smell the streets! I relished twisting magic into the historically accurate everyday world of that time. My greatest joy, though, was creating Donlon and giving life to those characters that had been rattling around with me ever since my early days in London – the Green Witch, The Seven Sisters, the Hams, Hammer, etc. And I especially loved writing Malaikah.
Aim for a bad first draft. You will write so much dross before you get something good, and that dross is an essential part of the process. You’re not a bad writer for producing bad writing; you can only become a good writer by getting the terrible stuff out of your system. I like to think of the bad writing as a big pile that sits on top of the good stuff, and the only way of getting to the good stuff is to write out all that terrible stuff as enthusiastically as possible. Welcome it onto the page! It is inevitable and essential. Silence that inner critic and just get the words on the page. Once they’re there, you can do something with them.
Sidenote – the other excellent advice I heed regularly when feeling stuck, or flat, is to freewrite. Just – write. Whatever comes into your head, or if nothing comes into your head then just write ‘I don’t know what to write’ over and over, until something pops up. The only rule for this is that you must keep your hand moving over the page until your time is up (suggest 10 minutes minimum.) Keep going! You will often surprise yourself with a nugget or two towards the end.
This is SUCH excellent advice. I wholly agree! I always felt first drafts were really for “meeting” your book…the polishing comes later. Alright so now lastly! Was any chocolate harmed in the making of this novel? 😉
*Sea salt dark chocolate Lindt, all the way.
Thank you to Penguin Australia for the review-copy! Out since July 2nd, 2021.
Magic, mystery and darkness – a gripping fantasy adventure for lovers of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. In this page-turning debut, one girl must figure out why she is the key to two worlds, before time itself falls under the control of the powerful and the greedy.
A historical fantasy adventure for teens set between Victorian London and a darker parallel city.
It’s 1858, and there are two queens on the throne. Victoria reigns over London, the biggest city the world has ever known. But London has a secret shadow city, called Donlon, where another queen, the Green Witch, rules her own domain – time.
London is in turmoil. The Thames is at the height of the Great Stink; a blazing comet is searing the sky; technology is moving so fast it seems otherworldly; and the city is exploding with more people than it can hold. Darwin is about to publish his theory of evolution and humanity’s very place in the world is in question. On top of all this, people are disappearing into thin air. If they return, it is with empty eyes and torn souls, never to be the same again. Ava, a fourteen-year-old Londoner, feels trapped by the limited life of a young Victorian woman and by her watchmaking apprenticeship with her father. Her predictable world is turned upside down when she discovers that the body in her mother’s grave is not her mother, but a stranger.
When Ava goes in search of her real mother and her true identity, she is thrust into the dark world of Donlon and must fight a battle to save those she loves and the future of both worlds . . .