“‘I’m one of the lucky ones,’ Granny declares in a low voice as we sit on a bench in the park near the hospital. ‘I knew my mother, though obviously not my father. I did ask her once what sort of hair he had, but she said she didn’t know ’cos he never took off his cap.’”
From THE TIME THAT NEVER WAS, Book One in the Swidgers Time Adventure series
William, the Swidger Orphan
In Swidger folklore it is the male line that passes down the Cosmic Energy which makes a Swidger different from ‘the Commonality’, as Granny calls humans. Swidger fathers tend to be, shall we say, ‘ships that pass in the night’, and as a result many Swidgers are born out of wedlock. Not such a problem nowadays but in time gone by such a social stigma would have made them outsiders or even outcasts. Without giving too much away, Book One in the series, THE TIME THAT NEVER WAS, explores this sense of being an orphan outsider and its potential damaging effect on the way you see life.
The lack of a father for a young Swidger means that many instead had strong, independently minded mothers to guide them. And this was certainly true of Granny when she was a girl growing up in the Yorkshire village of Penny Bottom. And it’s Granny’s strength of character and constant good humour that now makes her the perfect guide and mentor for William. The young William is, you see, an uncertain sort of hero. In fact William is a very ‘un’ sort of boy. Unassuming. Unsung. Unshowy. Unnoticed. He hardly knows what he is. Not only are William’s real parents dead, his adoptive mother died as a result of wanting a son and subsequently his adoptive father rejected him. This is set out by William himself on the day he meets Granny:
‘I’m adopted,’ I tell her.
‘Many Swidgers are,’ she says gently. ‘Foundlings left on a doorstep.’
‘No one ever told me who my real parents were. If they were alive or dead. I was brought here, you see, from Romania when I was a baby. From an orphanage, I think. But I’ve never known for sure. When I grew up, I did once hear voices downstairs talking about me not being legal and money in “brown envelopes”. Mother – my adopted one, I mean – was, I think, desperate for a child, but within days of coming back to England, she died. Some sort of illness she’d caught travelling, they said.’
‘And so your new father didn’t want you . . .’
‘No, he didn’t. But I never really knew him, either. I was told he’d gone to live in America, but I’m not sure that’s true. He blamed me, I think, for her death. If she hadn’t gone to Romania to adopt me . . . oh, I don’t know. I try not to think about it too much. My mother – well, the lady who adopted me – had a sister who took me in for while, but when she wanted to get married . . .’
‘You don’t have to say any more. We’re the parcel passed pillar to post.’
‘I’m nobody,’ I say to her, looking at all those sat alone on the park benches nearby.
‘What nonsense! You’re William Arthur.’
William has many of the characteristics of the traditional orphan of folklore. Loneliness. Doubt. Insecurity. There’s hints of bullying at school but the main orphan story tropes come when William enters the world of the Old Coach Inn. Here he is mistreated and discovers that the spiteful cruelty of others comes from their own feelings of rejection. The house though hides a secret and once William has discovered it, the world of the Old Coach Inn is changed forever. There are echoes of both OLIVER TWIST and JANE EYRE in the Old Coach Inn section of the story, but, without revealing too much of the plot, perhaps the biggest influence at play is J. M. Barrie’s PETER PAN.
As the book series progresses William grows in confidence and takes the action of the tale into his own hands. There comes a point in Book Two where Granny believes William is now mature enough to survive on his own, only then there is an unexpected twist in the story and William and Granny must work as a team to put things right.
William’s family heritage, as with many orphans, is unknown at the start of the story unknown. The plots of Book Two, THE TIME THEY SAVED TOMORROW, and particularly Book Three, THE TIME OF YESTERDAY’S RETURN, do however begin to unpick William’s complex lineage. Where William came from and his long and unexpected family history become central to the story. SWIDGERS of course is a time travel tale, and so not surprisingly the ‘grandfather paradox’ come into play. And when does, the mystery of William’s birth and origins unravel and it’s then that William is faced with an impossible choice and a seemingly unsolvable dilemma.
Much was falling into place, but there were still questions. How did Aloysius take over the orphanage? And why did they stay here once he had? Granny said on the day we met that we were all orphans in the storm. I could now see how lucky I was to have escaped that institution for abandoned children in Romania. The lady who brought me to England had died doing it. I never knew her but I quietly thanked her now for what she did.
From THE TIME THAT NEVER WAS