Today I have author Kim Howard Johnson here to talk about his humourous sci-fi story The Last of the Time Police.
What’s the hardest part of writing a book?
No question about it, it’s forcing myself to put the butt in the seat and keep it there. If I can force myself to sit there long enough, the words start to flow and the story starts to form.
What’s your favourite part of writing a book?
I love writing myself into a corner, where the characters have encountered some sort of impossible problem that they cannot escape from, and then coming up with a solution. It’s all about problem-solving, I guess, but I love coming up with a twist that’s going to solve a problem. If I go into a story knowing how I’m going to get my characters into a tricky situation but I already know the solution, then my readers are probably going to be able to figure it out in advance, as well. If I don’t know in advance how I’m going to solve a mystery or figure out a puzzle, then the readers aren’t likely to, either.
When I was writing The Last of the Time Police (The Time Authority, Book One), and more particularly the second half of that, The Return of the Time Police (The Time Authority, Book Two), I realized that I had created quite a problem. My heroes had to fix a glitch in the Time Stream (which they themselves had created). However, if they were successful, it meant that they and their fellow time-travelers—including our ingénue—would likely cease to exist. This was a problem! But I’m very proud of the way I figured it out (even though, in the book, I let Leonardo DaVinci take the credit).
Many years ago, I studied improvisation with the legendary Del Close. In fact, I went on to cowrite the improvisational manual Truth in Comedy, and even became Del’s biographer years later with The Funniest One in the Room: The Lives and Legends of Del Close. Del was the guru of longform improvisation, and taught just about everyone worthwhile, from John Belushi and Bill Murray to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Stephen Colbert. But the point of all this is that I learned to write improvisationally. It turns out that the rules of improvisation are much like the rules of good writing. For example, that’s how I learned to start scenes in the middle and eschew exposition.
What books have influenced your writing?
When I was mulling ideas for The Last of the Time Police, I recalled that back in the 1970s, Terry Gilliam had showed me some pictures of an alternative vision of Victorian London—it was steampunk before anyone had ever heard of the word. That certainly informed my story.
I was also inspired, in part, by Douglas Adams and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I knew Douglas—we never became close friends, but I knew him through the Pythons. My wife Laurie and I went to see my Python pal Terry Jones, who was doing a book signing in Chicago many years ago with Douglas. The four of us went out for dinner and drinks afterward, and had to be scolded by the management more than once because we were getting too loud and boisterous.
Then, several years later, we were living in Santa Barbara when I was working for John Cleese. Douglas had likewise moved out to Santa Barbara, and we re-connected. I had only been there a few months, when I got the news that Douglas had passed away, much too young. Very sad. But Douglas and Hitchhikers Guide certainly had a lot to do with the tone of The Last of the Time Police. I ended up writing a Pythonesque adventure about the two least competent members of the Time Authority, which is charged with correcting disruptions to the established Time Line. Stan and Jack are sent to the past to pick up a candy bar wrapper, but in the process, they accidentally transport Leonardo DaVinci to Victorian England, where the government puts him to work. The result is a Chronological Anomaly that threatens to wipe out all reality.
Did you base any of the characters on real people?
The Last of the Time Police (and The Return of the Time Police) mixes fictional characters with real-life historical personages. Leonardo DaVinci and Benjamin Franklin have just as big a role in the story as Stan and Jack, and I loved being able to write them.
The most interesting real-life character, one that almost no one has heard of, is undoubtedly Samuel Warner. He invented the torpedo, but the mystery of his death inspired my story and several of my characters. In London’s Brompton Cemetery, there is a mysterious mausoleum that some people believe is actually a time machine. Seriously. I’m not kidding, look it up for yourself! It’s an odd structure built by Warner and Egyptologist Joseph Bonomi for a Victorian spinster and her daughters. I discovered their story early on in the writing, and they all became characters in my book.
What kind of research did you do to write this book?
My original question was “Who is, arguably, the most brilliant mind in the past, and how would they change history if they were brought forward in time?” I decided to use Leonardo DaVinci, who was inventing war machines and flying devices back in the 1500s. Suppose he had access to British technology a couple of centuries later to develop his inventions? And so I began studying DaVinci and his world, and the world I was about to thrust him into. Who would he likely have encountered in London in the 1700s? And how would they have interacted? I decided to include, arguably, the first great American inventor and great mind, Benjamin Franklin, who happened to be in London during that period, and more research ensued. Finally, I came up with Stan and Jack, my two main characters, whose blunder resulted in DaVinci being pulled out of his own era. I even had to research the history of golf, for reasons that will become obvious to readers.
Then, shortly after I began writing, I stumbled onto the Sam Warner story. The more I read, the more amazing it seemed. A time machine in a modern-day London cemetery? I couldn’t not use that! And he became a central figure in the story.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’ve written dozens, possibly hundreds of magazine articles. I’ve written non-fiction (The First 280 Years of Monty Python), I’ve written biography (The Funniest One in the Room), I’ve written memoirs (Monty Python’s Tunisian Holiday, about my life on the set of Monty Python’s Life of Brian in Tunisia), co-written a graphic novel (Superman: True Brit) and other comic
books. I’ve also co-written a YA novel (The Dare Club: Nita) with my wife, Laurie Bradach, which
was great fun. We had to create a whole new world of characters and put them in as much danger as possible. We’ve had so much fun doing it that we’ve decided to turn it into a series.
The Last of the Time Police (The Time Authority #1) by Kim Howard Johnson
Published by DoubleDare Books on May 31, 2013
Genres: Adult, Humour, Time Travel
Find the book: Amazon, Smashwords, Goodreads
Stan and Jack are the last remaining members of the Time Authority, a government unit formed to correct disruptions to the established Time Line. Although time travel has been officially outlawed, Stan and Jack must make a quick time hop to 16th Century France to clean up some of their careless littering.
Unbeknownst to them, however, Leonardo DaVinci stows away and tumbles out (along with the operating manual for the time machine) in 18th Century England. This disruption is discovered by the Time Authority, as it creates a Chronological Anomaly that begins advancing toward the future and threatens to wipe out all reality. The military and civilian leaders clash before agreeing on a scheme to build one final time machine and send Corporal Spumoni back to correct the Time Line, even though it may ruin any chance of Stan and Jack returning home.
Stan and Jack must crash-land their time machine in 1848, where they discover, due to DaVinci’s influence, a futuristic Victorian England. After nearly colliding with Maggie Wells on her flying machine, she helps them hide their broken Time Hopper. Stan and Jack realize their only hope to fix their machine is to recover the operating manual, if it still even exists. But Special Services agents, led by Maggie’s former boyfriend James Burton, are constantly searching for them. And Jack’s growing attraction for Maggie is tempered by the thought that she could be his great-great-great-great-grandmother.
By 1768, DaVinci has become a favorite of King George III of England. His only rival is Benjamin Franklin. Jealous, with the help of Lord Frederick North, DaVinci frames Franklin for the theft of his own notebooks. But when DaVinci learns Britain’s plans for his own war machines, he realizes he must work with Franklin to stop Britain’s domination of the globe.