The character of fourteen year old Time Traveller Max Tovey arrived one night, while idly watching something on TV that I wasn’t that interested in. My gaze wandered to the door next to the TV, wondering how many people had walked through that door in the life of the house, imagining the ghosts of occupants past all existing simultaneously. I immediately had a vision of someone who could see the past all around him, and Max was born. He was already a teenager, as I had been wanting to write a children’s/young adult book for some time, but without an idea of where to start. My notebook was out immediately, and I started to work out who Max would be. It wasn’t difficult – I invested him with teenage problems that were, and are, my own, starting with Dyspraxia.
I didn’t know I was Dyspraxic until one of my children was diagnosed with it at a young age. Reading the literature, I realised that it described my young self perfectly – and frankly my current self. But when I was that age, it was just known as clumsy, with bad handwriting, an inability to concentrate, and even more problems with remembering anything I was told. They hadn’t given it a name back then, but they have now. Dyspraxics also have serious issues with handling themselves in social situations, over-thinking anything they’re going to say before they say it, or worse, blurting out their thoughts without filtering them for weirdness. That got me bullied a lot back when I was young, for being ‘strange’, and made me retreat into myself, afraid to say anything too loudly in case it was came out stupid. I still talk quietly.
Max has all this in spades – it was fascinating, and, being honest, a little helpful, to revisit my teenage and invest all that anxiety into Max, and then see how that affected the way he dealt with being a Time Traveller.
However, Max’s Dyspraxia is not his biggest problem – he also suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is rare for a fourteen year old. He’s been going to psychiatrists since he was ten, but none of them could work out what the trauma was that caused everything. But then he and his parents moved to a nondescript modern-built Welsh town with no history for Max to see in his peripheral vision, and found a new therapist, who did finally work out where the trauma originated. He got Max to admit that he was having a recurring nightmare of fighting alongside his grandfather against Romans and Demons on first century Ham Hill, an ancient hill fort in Somerset. The problem was, Max had never been to Ham Hill, and had never met his grandfather. Or so he thought – but to say any more would be giving away the plot. So the Doctor put Max on a regime of medication and therapy, and it did begin to work. But then Max’s parents decided to take over his grandfather’s pub on Ham Hill, and the panic, and the nightmares, came flooding back.
Max’s anxiety and PTSD was also easy to write – I have suffered from both for the last ten to fifteen years. I won’t go into their origins, but trust me, when I wrote this passage, I knew what I was talking about:
“But as he went to stand up, the world started to spin, and he stumbled, and sat down again with a thump. His head was suddenly full of noise, and the enormity of his situation suddenly flooded over him. What are you doing here?! What have you just done?! Did that all really happen?! The Romans are coming for goodness sake – you’re fourteen, you can’t fight Romans! Max tried to stand again, but his legs were jelly – but worse, as he peered down the slope of the hill, the world started spinning again and he had to almost throw himself backwards to stop from fainting and falling down the hill.
“Stop it!” he yelled to himself, as he shook his head violently to try to stop it spinning. He started deep breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth, in, out, in, out. He knew what this was – this was a panic attack. He hadn’t had one of these since… since before he went on the medication. But of course he wasn’t on the medication any more.
“Come on, stop it you idiot!” He had found that talking out loud was often a good way of stopping these attacks – if you live in your head too much, as he did, your head can start to play tricks with you, start putting thoughts in you that make no sense, but which increase the sense of panic. Shouting out loud helped distract him from them.
“Come on Max, get a grip – it’s just a panic attack, you’ve had them before, you know how to deal with them.”
And now, slowly, the panic began to subside. Max tried standing again, and it was a bit better. He looked over the side of the steep hill, and the world wasn’t swirling around nearly so much.
“Come on, you can do this – you have to do this! You have to save Myvi from the Romans! Come ON!!”
Through the book, Max slowly works out how to deal with his issues, while dealing with a whole load of issues that no teenager should ever deal with, being a Time Traveller being the least of them. But what I was most interested to explore was how a teenager with these kind of problems would deal with having to be a hero. There are many times when he’s not so sure himself, even when he hasn’t had an ‘episode’ for a while, but somehow he manages to win the day, with a lot of help.
Max is by no means cured by the end of the book – once you have experienced these kind of trauma, there is no ‘cure’ – you just have to learn how to cope, and Max has, at the end, at least begun to learn how to do that.
Not that it’s the end, of course…
For more information on Dyspraxia, go here: https://www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/
For more information on PTSD, go here: http://www.ptsduk.org/
For the book itself, go here in the UK: Amazon UK
…and here in the US: Amazon US