Every writer writes each book a little differently from the one before it. When authors collaborate on a novel, that sense of reinvention increases exponentially. For collaborators Andrew Hook and Eugen Bacon, creating the new book Secondhand Daylight involved challenges large and small. The two writers discussed their process for working together on a very distinctive novel of time travel, and shared an excerpt from it as well.
What’s Secondhand Daylight about?
Andrew Hook (AH) and Eugen Bacon (EB): It’s a time travel novel that’s a bit like Audrey Niffenegger‘s Time Traveller’s Wife where the focus is bigger on human relationships and the effect of the time jumps, rather than the mechanics of it.
Green and Zada are parallel protagonists in a reverse story across alternate timelines.
Something is happening to Green. He is an ordinary guy, time-jumping forward at a startling, uncontainable rate. He is grappling to understand his present; his relationship is wholly tattered; his ultimate destination is a colossal question mark.
Zada is a scientist in the future. She is mindful of Green’s conundrum and seeks to unravel it by going backwards in time. Can she stop him from jumping to infinity?
Their point of intersection is fleeting but memorable, each one’s travel impacting the other’s past or future. And one of them doesn’t even know it yet.
One of our reviewers Justina Robson, author of Glorious Angels and The Switch captures it best: ‘This story grabs the twin spirals of nostalgia and future-shock in one compelling bite.’
How did the story come about?
Hook: Eugen and I had previously collaborated on a short story ‘Messier 94’, published in her collection Danged Black Thing by Transit Lounge Publishing. Following the writing of that piece, Eugen had suggested we work together on something longer, a novel or a novella. I parked that idea for a moment—we were both extremely busy—until one early morning I was cycling before work along Marriott’s Way in Norwich. The sunlight was channelled through the trees to the extent that it both illuminated but also obliterated the surroundings. I remember precisely—it was 5 August 2021.
Secondhand Daylight is the second studio album by Magazine. It’s also my favourite 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 no longer remember what that original idea was, but I had one now that was a reverse time travel novel manifesting itself in my head, in a new collaborative idea that Eugen was swiftly open to accept.
Bacon: I’d fallen in love in Andrew Hook’s short stories and collections, including Frequencies of Existence and The Forest of Dead Children, each showing you the world through a quirky lens. I was enamoured by his writing in its beauty, strangeness and horror. It’s surreal, even frightful to contemplate, yet—true to his name—hooking. Nothing is what it seems.
When he broached me with the idea of Secondhand Daylight as a reverse time travel novel, I gave in to a new excitement of writing a different kind of time travel story that’s pregnant with the soul of being human. We sought coincidence, perhaps consequence.
We both write from the heart, the gut, the text shaping itself, unafraid of the perception of others, and the concept made sense. And a book was born!
How do you write together?
Hook: Ideally, I had a plan that I emailed Eugen about:
‘We each begin with one character. Mine in the story’s past, yours in the future. My character senses that he is time travelling forwards (of course, we all do this, but he will do it faster). It’s a natural organic process – no machine. It happens to him without control, subtle changes.
‘However, in your future, my character is seen as an innovator of time travel because he was the first to appear from the past into the future, but no one knows how it has been done. In your future, people can only time travel back to the past. Your character is sent into the past to investigate how I’ve done it.
‘My character’s arc will therefore go from past to future, yours from future to past. They will meet at the middle point – but only a glance of recognition (if you’ve seen the film ‘The Double Life Of Veronique’ by Krzysztof Kieślowski you’ll have an idea of how intangible I’d prefer that meeting to be). No more than a puzzlement. Once they’ve made this brief connection, my character continues travelling into the future and yours into the past, realising that mine had no special machine (I sense a feeling of disappointment here as yours won’t be able to return ‘home’) until they each reach the other’s starting point.’
Eugen responded quickly:
‘Gollygum, I don’t know I understand it all, but I certainly get your enthusiasm!’
Bacon: But it took time to get started. We were both so busy with our other writing, editing and proofing projects, our day jobs… None of us really had the impetus to begin the story, until January 2022 when Andrew ambushed me with a scene.
He’d written a few words, I can’t remember how many exactly—perhaps a thousand—it really doesn’t matter now. What counted was that he got the story started.
We decided to write each protagonist together, as we’d done with ‘Messier 94’—in alternative scenes, following on from each other, rather than writing each protagonist ‘blind’, one from the past, another from the future, and then comparing stories and aligning them.
Is it easy, writing a loosely planned story with someone?
Hook: I think initially we were ‘feeling’ each other’s text, rolling with it, experimenting. And then somewhere, partway through the first protagonist, the story properly started to snowball.
Bacon: I agree. Writing a short story together is like going out on a first date and building that spark with someone. With a novel, you’re in it for the long haul, and you start cracking a bit when someone leaves the toilet seat up. I think I was the fuss pot in the writing, and Andrew was very patient with my foibles. I was looking for precision, tightness and beauty, whereas I think Andrew wanted to unpack the story, build it up for the reader, explain a few things. But by the time we got to Zada, the parallel narrative, we’d perfectly meshed and her story, even on read—readers tell us—is the ‘wow’ of the novel.
Did you change anything in writing the novel?
Bacon and Hook: It’s a short novel at 50,000 words, and we had a first draft by the end of March 2022. Two months, and we’d written a novel, and it was intense! We felt excited and stressed, unable to cease our focus once we’d started. We had a few drafts, a few iterations.
Subsequent edits honed it, defined the right pace, took out some of the introspection and made the time travel novel more relatable. We even changed the entire POV from third person to first for Green’s section. It gave him a new dynamic.
And, suddenly, we were high fiving ourselves across cyber, knowing that we had an awesome story to sell. That’s when we started approaching potential publishers.
Bacon: We acquired an agent, but, like anything in life, it had to be a good marriage, and it just wasn’t. We had a decent number of publishers interested, which was promising. But a bird is only worth on hand.
Hook: Eugen has a knack of sniffing out a good publisher, and that’s how we landed a contract with Cosmic Egg Books, the Speculative Fiction arm of John Hunt Publishing, acquired by Watkins Media, owners of Angry Robot Books.
Andrew Hook describes himself as a slipstream author—what the heck is that?
Bacon and Hook: Slipstream fiction is an arm of the literary strange. It’s fantastical, illogical, ambitious, even unsettling—you may have read the literary strange in all its jarring, but just didn’t know it by name as ‘slipstream’.
It’s a kind of fiction that shows you the world through a quirky lens. ‘Slipstream’ is a term believed to have originated from American author Bruce Sterling in 1989 to denote obscure stories that are neither mainstream nor genre science fiction (SF).
Accepting the blurring nature of this genre-bending fiction, the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction defines slipstream SF, an example, as stories that borrow elements of, but are not, traditional genre fiction.
Slipstream fiction is somewhat elusive yet gripping, abstract yet recognisable in familiar yet peculiar worlds.
Bacon: I interviewed Andrew Hook in Aurealis, Australia’s longest-running speculative magazine, about his slipstream fiction. Explaining where his mind goes when he writes, Hook said:
‘It’s life as I see it. I appreciate I have quite a weird take on the world, that we are living what are considered to be quite normal lives and yet, if you take away the restraints and conditions which society imposes on us for purposes of conformity and sanity, then actually we’re in absolute chaos on a ball of rock spinning within an infinite universe, surrounded by other animals and plant life which we impose understanding on but in reality are just as fluid and magical as we are.
So reality is fantasy in any event.’
Eugen Bacon describes herself as African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing—can you talk to this a bit?
Bacon: I was born in Tanzania and now live in Melbourne, Australia. For a while, I struggled with my hybridity. I tried to be African, tried to be Australian—one day it dawned on me: why can’t I be both? In accepting my ‘self’ and ‘other’, engaging with my own difference, I was able to engage with otherness and different in my protagonists and their stories. I have an MA in Writing, MSc in Distributed Computer Systems, PhD in Creative Writing by artefact and exegesis, which birthed my first books: Writing Speculative Fiction by Bloomsbury and Claiming T-Mo by Meerkat Press. I am a past scientist whose left and right brain talk to each other.
Secondhand Daylight, an excerpt
The hotel stood proud, vibrant inside. But outside it was unimpressive, really. It resembled a giant square cake with windows. It looked like a pretty thing someone had chunked without forethought onto the tarmac.
Still, the best scorched pepper on the menu. Roasted olives, rustic chips in vinegar, steak and ale pie with a finger-licky peppercorn sauce and buttered mush. A gobbler tomato caprese pizza too, basil, mozzarella and chilli.
I wasn’t there to eat tonight, and the kitchen was by now closed.
Round the back by the doorway to the disco, two suits stood in cop cuts, trimmed hair all the way. The line was long, and the bouncers were looking to punish, wanting to start things with a rebel. Well, I wasn’t one. Never a rebel. Maybe a little, those days of me and Batey; the world—what do they say?—our oyster.
I reached the suit whose fade short crop had a line. He checked my eyes, the set of my jaw for trouble. But you know me. I loosened myself, pulled a smile that was a little clumsy—a party trick. I honestly didn’t like suits.
The block of a man stamped my hand.
Now I grinned. The joint showered a thousand reasons to smile. Crammed with girls clad in hip hop, baggy jeans and tank tops. Blokes high on platform boots and some goth look detained with studded belts. Some were gobbled in oversized shirts, like mine, or zipper turtlenecks I didn’t care much for.
I strode past the pool table with its rowdy mob, walked all the way to the bar. A bunch of hookers I’d seen before, now sipping fruit-coloured cocktails, all lethal, in V-shaped glasses. I caught the eye of the tall barman with a goatee, the one they called Sinner—he wasn’t mucking around, showed little emotion as he took and filled orders. His deadpan gaze said he didn’t want you to pry.
“One single shot crisp vodka,” I said, peeling from my usual taste for a VB. Slipped a twenty out of my wallet.
That’s when I saw my possible girl.
She was a catch. Not a hooker, I didn’t think. Her black hair, unlike mine, was dyed. I was one of those blokes who knew things like that about women. I knew from the dark gold in curly sprouts at the roots where it wasn’t permed into a fringe across her face.
She was in a pleather jacket and wore sunnies. She toyed with a clutch bag.
I gave her my best grin. “You look like an Em. New?”
She smiled back, perhaps at my English accent. “Something like that.”
I caught a whiff of her sweet watermelon breath from the martini she’d downed.
“Try the Sea Breeze,” I said in boldness. “It’s ace.”
Not Em leaned over the counter, beckoned Sinner. “How about not a Sea Breeze?” she said to him.
“Say what you want.”
Interesting. I wondered what she’d done to sour Sinner.
Not Em frowned, saw a girl walking from the counter with a fluorescent drink. And pointed. “I’ll have one of that.”
“It’s a Woo Woo,” I offered more trivia she wasn’t buying.
“Sure thing. Now you’re naming drinks?”
Sinner mixed, shook, poured, and pushed the flute to Not Em.
She turned, now faced me. “I’m gonna need you to pay for this.”
“I feel the pressure,” I teased, reaching for my wallet.
“How about I get it?” a man behind me said.
“Yeah, first dibs,” said Not Em.
I smiled at fading possibility. “Close call,” I said. “Stay in touch.”
I downed my crisp vodka, turned away from the bar feeling a bit shit that another man was chatting up my possible girl.
Above, DJ Shazam was doing his shuffles. Oh, yeah. The chords of ‘Kool Thing’ were near. I took position on the dance floor. Threw my hands, shimmied in half a step, pumped my body to the wink of the lights.
“Come on!” I yelled at the beats.
A clock on the wall said it was 1.27 am.
I liked it when girls watched. I was clinical in my approach, pulled some best moves. Belly jingle, arms akimbo. Drop shot move to the flashing neon. I adjusted my body in jeans and the oversized flannel shirt. Anticipated the drums, the lights, each blink and flash of the strobes.
Someone did a glide, leap and jump, moonwalked past me.
“Scoring points?” a girl said.
I swirled. “You dropped in,” I said to Not Em.
“Deep. You said to stay in touch. I didn’t know how so this is the next best thing.”
She’d ditched the pleather jacket and was squeezed in a tiny slip dress that was more of a camisole with spaghetti straps. She slipped near me in sneakers, not boots like most of the other girls on the dance floor.
Her legs were bare, no leggings.
She had good legs on her, I noted. Nearly said it too. The spaghetti strap dress was so thin, so tight, I wondered how it didn’t burst.
She flowed to the music. “You’re not trying,” she said.
“Trust me, I’m an expert.”
“Of what—guessing girls’ names? We both know how that went.”
She slow-danced on the spot in a grind and sway I’d never seen.
“Nice,” I said. “You mean business.”
“You like naming things—what’s this move, then?”
We laughed, two strangers sharing a moment.
DJ Shazam whizzed out a fast-paced renegade, some megamix, then—finally—the chords of ‘Kool Thing’ chimed. I did a butterfly move, and my possible girl did a quiver dance to the throb of my pulse.
It was just us, the rest of the dance floor out of it in that moment.
“Look.” I leaned across the music.
Strobe lighting hit me as our bodies neared and it was voltage. I felt myself here, where, not there.
Eugen Bacon MA, MSc, PhD is an African Australian author of several novels and fiction collections. She’s a 2022 World Fantasy Award finalist, and was announced in the honor list of the 2022 Otherwise Fellowships for ‘doing exciting work in gender and speculative fiction’. Her creative work has appeared in literary and speculative fiction publications worldwide, including Award Winning Australian Writing, Fantasy Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction. Recent books: Mage of Fools (novel), Chasing Whispers (collection) and An Earnest Blackness (essays). Eugen has two novels, a novella and an anthology (ed) out in 2023, and the US release of Danged Black Thing. Raw Dog Screaming Press has acquired her newest collection, A Place Between Waking and Forgetting, for 2024. Visit her website at eugenbacon.com and Twitter feed at @EugenBacon
Andrew Hook is a European writer who has been published extensively in the independent press since 1994 in a variety of genres, with over 170 short stories in print, including notable appearances in Interzone, Black Static, and several anthologies from PS Publishing and NewCon Press. His fiction has been reprinted in anthologies including Best British Horror 2015 and Best British Short Stories 2020, has been shortlisted for British Fantasy Society awards, and he was longlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize in 2020. As editor/publisher, he has won three British Fantasy Society awards and he also has been a judge for the World Fantasy Awards. Most recent publications include several noir crime novels through Head Shot Press, a novella written in collaboration with the legendary San Francisco art collective known as The Residents, his short story collections, Frequencies of Existence (NewCon Press) and Candescent Blooms by Salt Publishing (the latter receiving a five star view in The Telegraph). You can find him at andrew-hook.com or on Twitter @AndrewHookUK