Interview with S. D. Unwin, Author of One Second Per Second

03 Aug 2021

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write One Second Per Second?

As a once theoretical physicist, Time both intrigues and mystifies me. It was Professor Einstein himself who came up with our modern understanding of time, yet many physicists nowadays think that maybe he got it wrong because he couldn’t explain the one most basic thing about time—something every one of us knows. It’s that we have the sensation of time, like a river, flowing by. Einstein’s theories never came to grips with that very obvious truth. So what might a time travel story look like if you begin with a different idea of what time really is? What if a small team of regular, insecure, imperfect humans were forced to cope with the colossal idea that time is not what they had thought? That’s what my novel is about, with star-crossed, time-straddled lovers, time vandals bent on taking advantage of ruined histories, and even a few talentless winemakers in the mix.

If you woke up in the world of One Second Per Second, what is the first thing you would do?

I’d cope poorly with the crushing news that most of the physics I’d put so much effort into learning was wrong. But I think I’d soon get over it, awash with the exhilarating time travel possibilities. Sad to say, I might be tempted to become one of the villains that my protagonists try so hard to contain, changing this piece of history and that just to see what difference it makes. But actually, scientists love to discover there’s a problem with their long-held theories because it opens up new vistas of understanding. In my book, I tried to make my science weird but credible.  

If you had to write a blurb for the last book you read, what would it say?

I’ve often thought that it’d be easier to write the blurb for someone else’s book than for my own because I wouldn’t be so torn about which aspects of the story to include. It turns out I was wrong. The book I just read was Utopia Avenue, the story of the rise to stardom of a 1960s pop group. But the band has its demons, and this being the work of David Mitchell, those demons are not metaphorical. Anyway, I hope this vibrant and seductive account of the book won’t have too many authors coming to me to write their blurb.

Where did you write One Second Per Second?

I’d love to claim that I was a Hemmingway who could type with one hand while landing a thrashing spearfish with the other; but an office, a computer, and a castored chair make up my mundane workplace. I know that some people are energized in their writing by the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop or of a bar, but for me, writing is a quiet and solitary business.

Pretend you qualified for the Olympics this year. What sport would you compete in?

A world in which I qualified for the Olympics would be one of such extreme fantasy that Tolkien himself would have thought it an imagining too far. (Speaking of Tolkien, I’m not related to his publisher in case anyone was wondering.) In the ancient Greek games, there was a competition for playwrights, so maybe a time-hop would serve me well here. I’d prefer my odds against Sophocles himself than against any athlete.  

S. D. Unwin is the author of the new book One Second Per Second

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