Owen, You’re very welcome to my Writers Chat Series. We’re here to discuss your debut novel Trading Time (London: RedDoorBooks, 2020).
SG: Let’s start with the title and the premise – both of which leave the reader with much to think about. In Trading Time, we enter a world where time is a commodity to be bought and sold – but who gains, and how moral and ethical is this new practice? Can you talk about how the premise came about?
OM: I was sitting down in my parent’s house and RTE news announced the death of a very wealthy individual. It occurred to me that this person who owned villas, planes and islands could have purchased almost anything. But he had now passed. What if he could have purchased more time? I started to think more about this and I became fascinated by the subject. If he could buy more time where would he get it? And that is where the idea and title started.
SG: Great to hear that, Owen. Inspiration can come from anywhere and as writers we have to be alert and open to it!
The split narrative – between Brazil (in a favela in Rio) and USA (NYC) works well to build up the narrative tension and you paint a picture of two very different families and places: Gabriel’s mother worries “about bringing home unexplained amounts of money, because experience told her that for people like them there were only a few ways for that to happen: stealing, selling drugs or selling sex.” Julia’s family in “the affluent suburb of Bloomsbury” throw a send-off party because she is jumping “off the career ladder in her father’s law firm to work for a charity in Rio for a year”. How did you research the settings and social strata?
OM: I have been very fortunate in my life and through work and vacation I was able to travel a lot and experience many things. I spent some short time in the Favelas in Rio on vacation and work brought me to the affluent areas on the east coast of the United States. While it would be untrue for me to say that I have experience in either community I have exposure to both and the contrast awakes one senses to how the world does or does not work. I suppose my research was done through life’s experiences.
SG: I particularly enjoyed the Father-Daughter relationship between Geoff and Julia – it’s a relationship that grows and deepens as the tension develops between Geoff and his old friend Larry (who wants to patent the technology to extract time from those willing to give/ sell it to those willing to pay). Can you talk a little about these two characters and their development?
OM: It was easy for me to characterise Geoff, the professional gentleman with a long history of dedication to his profession and family. A very capable, honourable, reticent member of polite society. Julia on the other hand was much more difficult for me. I had to know where the story was going from the start to position her as the best daughter her parents could hope for. She is bright, social, talented and like many daughters, loves her dad. Their relationship grows but is strong from the start.
SG: Trading Time is a real page turner. It moves along at quite a narrative pace: can you talk a little about the writing techniques you used to keep up the pace – such as chapter length, your use of dialogue, narrative hooks at the end of chapters and so on – and your editorial process with RedDoorBooks.
OM: One hopes to engage the reader. Chapter length takes second place to the story and fall naturally into place. The first and last line of a chapter must carry the reader on. Dialogue can be over played but enables the formation of the characters. The editorial process is slow and hard work. Fortunately, I could rely on RedDoorBooks to carry out much of this work for me.
SG: Good to hear that you had such a great editorial team at RedDoorBooks.
One of the other themes in this novel is the question of change – what does it mean to make change for good? Can “Big Industry” change the world for profit and good? Can individuals make a difference? Here we have the power of the story of Gabriel and Isabella being harnessed by Julia and Geoff for change.
“The laws of ownership are what change everything” Geoff tells Julia. Geoff, we’re told “loved the law because there were rules and precedents to follow and argue over. There were no such rules and precedes for the ethical and spiritual questions like the ones going round and round his head now.”
Carol states that “not all rich people can be useful.” Can you comment on the theme of change for good?
OM: I tried to steer a middle ground in the book and let the reader be the judge of right and wrong. Change is inevitable and maybe even necessary and is generally a force for good – otherwise we would not be here. Societies have learned that certain change must be governed. I suppose one of the themes of the book is governance.
SG: Yes, indeed, governance and power and how they are used/misused are themes throughout Trading Time.
Lastly, Owen, some fun questions:
Lake or bog? Lake. I live beside one and I love it.
New York or Rio? New York I guess.
Coffee or tea? Either. It depends on circumstances.
What book are you reading at the moment? Back to Work – Bill Clinton
What are you writing right now? Nothing – I am consumed with work
Thanks for your time and energy in participating in my Writers Chat Series, Owen. I wish you the very best with Trading Time.
With thanks to Antoinette Rock and RedDoorBooks for providing me with a copy of Trading Time. With thanks to Nessa O’Mahony for the introduction.