The Writer as Time Traveler

Guest Post by Sandra Clayton

In stories about time travel the protagonist is always warning his crew not to do anything in one dimension that may affect another. Yet writers have been doing that for centuries.

            As an avid reader, if I ever got a seat in a time machine I should want to go forward rather than back because one of the most intriguing questions in literature is: Which writers will survive? Which works being penned in our lifetime will still be avidly read in the 23rd century? Just as Jane Austen and Mark Twain are enjoyed today or, going even further back, William Shakespeare.

One of the things often praised in writers is an unfettered imagination but most often the ones who live on seem to be those who wrote about a world they knew intimately and then revealed with such clarity that even centuries later we can see our own world reflected in theirs.

Shakespeare’s plays are about men with power and their abuse of it, about violence and greed, manipulation, moral corruption, self-delusion and dreams. All of them still with us. Even more so in societies struggling to emerge from despotic rule, where his plays are banned as incendiary and can only be performed in secret.

Mark Twain, a one-time riverboat pilot who grew up in a small Mississippi town, explores the brutality and religious hypocrisy of an emerging society, while his young hero Huckleberry Finn, desperate to escape it, personifies for many the American character.

A while ago I read an interview with a writer enjoying enormous popular acclaim who said that things happened in his work, unlike Jane Austen’s where the characters sit around for a month waiting for a ball. Which only goes to show that he hasn’t read her. Or not properly. For despite the fact that the physical orbit of an early 19th century clergyman’s daughter was smaller than that of a Shakespeare or a Twain, she nevertheless used her forensic skills to such devastating effect that if you want the scales to fall from your eyes about your own society – along with a master class on how not to ruin your children – then Austen is the writer for you.

What is interesting is how many of the writers who speak to us so eloquently across the centuries went relatively unheard in their own time, or were so little rated by publishers that they had to produce their books themselves. Some were reduced to stitching their pages together and gluing on the covers in their own drawing rooms. After Jane Austen’s death her family bought back her final manuscript from her publisher, where it had languished for a decade, and published it themselves.

So, in the absence of a time machine, who are those writers alive today whose work will still be in print and inspiring readers in the 2300s? Or are they, like their predecessors and all true artists, so far ahead of the game that it takes time and a level of knowledge and experience that most of us do not yet possess?


In the late ‘90s Sandra Clayton and her husband David sold up their home and set sail in a 40-foot catamaran. Since then they have covered around 40,000 miles. You don’t have to be a sailor to enjoy her books. They are written for anyone interested in travel, people and places or a different way of life. Dolphins Under My Bed was published this Spring and Turtles In Our Wake is due out early next year. Another one is on the way.

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Posted on October 20, 2011, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Sandra,Looking at the swath of literary history puts contemporary writing in perspective. It adds value to our work to be part of a stream in the world of words.Janet Riehl

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