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The Fall (1998)


Hodder cover 1998

Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 1998, ISBN 9780340696101 hardback

Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 1998, ISBN 9780340696118 paperback

The past is a different country. They do things differently there.

In a summer meadow, time has begun to run backwards.

Along with the soil, grasses and insects that lie within its boundaries, more than fifty accidental time travellers are transported into the past – men and women who were innocently visiting an ancient amphitheatre that lies at the heart of this mysterious site.

Now TV director Sam Baker finds himself on the strangest journey of his life. Forces beyond comprehension drive him, at first, back a few moments. Then days. Then years…

He and his fellow travellers must learn to survive in a world that is becoming increasingly alien. ‘Seventies skinheads are a menace. Fashion’s a nightmare. Credit cards won’t buy a meal in the ‘forties. Driving a modern-day car along Victorian roads packed with horse-drawn vehicles is the mother and father of all white-knuckle rides.

On this retro-journey lurks hidden danger. Sam Baker and his companions aren’t the only castaways in time. There are those who watch the world of yesteryear with envious eyes and plan their attack on the unsuspecting, undefended citizens of nearby Casterton. A town that for Sam Baker will become his Alamo.

The Fall is Simon Clark’s most ambitious novel yet. Surreal, fast-moving, exhilarating, horrifying, it will take you on a strange, strange journey where your only future is the past.


Simon writes:

Ever since I was a child I was fascinated by the idea of travelling in time and it was inevitable that I’d use the premise in a story of my own one day. The Fall is the result. By the way, if anyone loves a good time travel story I’d recommend Jack Finney’s anthology The Third Level. It contains some real gems.

The Fall tells the story of a group of people who happen, for various reasons, to be visiting a Roman amphitheatre in Yorkshire. Unknown to them time begins to run backwards. At first it’s a few hours, then days, then years. The central character is one Sam Baker who finds himself in increasingly bizarre surroundings. Instead of the kind of monsters I’d normally inflict on my characters Sam Baker finds himself confronting ’70s skin heads, an irate ARP warden from the Second World War and then what seem the utter complexities of life in the last century. However, also moving through time are a gang of murderous cut-throats who, like pirates, roam through time looking for easy victims.

As I wrote The Fall I began to realise I could use the book as a vehicle for a time travel experiment in its own right. So, instead of including here an excerpt from the novel, you might be interested to see instead the introduction from the book. Hopefully, it will give you some food for thought … it did me!

With best wishes and have a horribly good Christmas from me, Simon Clark.

Exclusive extract: Introduction: Some True Stories

This book is about time.

And time is a peculiar thing. Professor John Wheeler of Princeton University described time as ‘nature’s way to keep everything from happening all at once.’ And although scientists have difficulty in agreeing a universal definition of time, most would agree that it is a one way street: there’s no going back.

But have you ever wished you could change history? Think of those big events such as wars, shipwrecks and aeroplane crashes where a quick trip back through time could save hundreds, thousands if not millions of lives.

For instance, imagine you found yourself in Southampton on that fateful 10th April, 1912, just before the Titanic sets sail for New York. Would you warn those about to board that it would sink? Like many people, I’ve slipped into the shoes of an imaginary time traveller and wondered what would happen if I ran along the queue of passengers telling them an iceberg would open up the ship like a sardine can.

Probably like you, I reached the conclusion that in a very short time men in white coats would have come and taken me away to the place with padded walls where you eat dinner with a wooden spoon.

But I imagine, when all’s said and done, many people would prefer to change something that happened in their own personal past. How many times have we wished we could turn back the clock and warn ourselves not to set out on that particular car journey? Or wish we’d never bought those particular shares. Or house, or holiday. Or even married that particular person …

If there is a turnstile that leads to the past I imagine it would be pretty much clogged now with men and women trying to rush back into history. They might not be going back with the intention of assassinating Hitler, or telling James Dean to keep the speed down, or suggesting to Buddy Holly that plane ride is a definite no-no. But they might be keen to go back in time to avert some more personal disaster.

In fact, if you look back at your own life you realise there are occasions when you live through a few such crucial moments the course of action you choose changes your life. A job interview, a marriage proposal, or simply believing you can lean just that bit further out of your bedroom window to wipe away a speck of dirt from the glass … those life changing moments seem to teeter on a knife’s edge. So easily they can go one way or the other and the course of your life changes forever.

Now. Although the current consensus of opinion is that it’s impossible, at present, to turn back the clock, many eminent scientists are confident that time travel might be possible in the next two hundred years. They speak of wormholes, blackholes and quantum mechanical tunnelling where particles have been proved to do the impossible: namely travel faster than the speed of light.

It makes you think, though, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be something if we were given just one opportunity to turn back the clock and prevent some God-awful calamity in our lives? Which one would it be? I’m writing this introduction in the Spring of 1998. It’s almost a year to the day my seven year old daughter jumped off a park bench and broke her arm. A bad break that might need surgery and might be permanently disabling, said the doctor. Fortunately, his original dark prognosis was wrong on both counts. Although for weeks after I’d berate myself, ‘Why did I have to watch the end of that stupid film? If only I’d gone and collected her from the park ten minutes earlier…’ Luckily it wasn’t a huge tragedy, harrowing though it was at the time. Still, if some time traveller just happened to be passing through 1998 I’d be tempted to hitch a ride back twelve months. Then I’d dash across to the park before Helen decided it would be the coolest thing to launch herself off the park bench.

Of course, I know I can’t. Much as I long to. That nubby lump above her elbow where her bone snapped like a stick of celery is still there. It will always be there.

But time is a peculiar thing. Einstein states that the faster you travel the slower time passes. In the Seventies a pair of scientists loaded an atomic clock onto a Jumbo jet and proved just that.

And don’t forget, a number of scientists are saying that their successors will be cranking up those first time machines in less than two hundred years.

Keep that in mind as we now move into stranger territories. On my bookshelves to the left of me here are a couple of leather-bound books that are more than two hundred years old. They belonged to my late grandmother, Ethel Skilton. I first saw them as I inquisitively rummaged through an ancient tin trunk as a child (which seems next to no time at all ago; again, time plays tricks on the mind as well as reality.) As I typed these opening pages an idea struck me: a strange and thought provoking one at that. It occurred to me that if I can leaf through those two hundred year old books today, isn’t there every reason to suppose that someone two hundred years from now, say in the year 2200, just might possibly be reading this introduction to The Fall?

I know I’m fast-forwarding toward the pit of total whimsicality here, but consider this: there’s also every chance that in the year 2200 time travel will be a reality. That men and women can flit backwards and forwards through time like we make those weekly runs to and from the supermarket (come to think of it, dear reader of 2200, do you have supermarkets? Perhaps you do, and perhaps that trolley with a wonky wheel is as enduring as Christmas and true-love). Well, here’s my point: this introduction can serve as a message transmitted from here, 1998, into the future. If you’re reading this long after I’ve gone, the spine of the book is cracked, the pages are falling out, and you have access to that time machine, here’s an invitation to call on me on Saturday, 11th April, 1998 in the little village of Hampole, South Yorkshire. There, I parked my red car near the spring that still gushes cold, pure water and waited from 2 pm BST until around ten past the hour. Why this particular location? That’s easy. Until now the characters in my books have always been fictional. In this one, however, it features the real-life – and the exceedingly astonishing – Roger Rolle who lived in Hampole from around 1340 to 1350 AD. Teenage rebel, hermit, mystic and writer, he devoted most of his time, I think it’s fairly safe to say, to ‘boldly going where no man has gone before’. To read his accounts of his transcendental voyages into his psyche still well and truly boggle the mind even today.

Anyway, dear reader of 2200, if you can make it to Hampole on that blustery April day in 1998, you can’t miss me. I’m above average height, my head is shaved down to the wood (as one contemporary saying goes) and I’m wearing a wax jacket and black jeans. After pottering around the spring and taking a look at the rather dingy looking monument to Mr. Rolle I returned home for coffee where I chatted to my wife Janet about my time travel experiment and about what happened during that short vigil.

Well, I’ve talked about the nature of time for longer than I intended, and I’ve said nothing at all yet about The Fall. Like all of my novels the story surprised me as much as anyone. Which just goes to show that, as always, I wonder deep down if the story somehow already exists in some other place – or time – and I just happen to be the one who sets it all down on paper.

About twelve months ago the book’s characters came one by one into my life where they became so real they vied with my family for my time, and, on occasions, managed to take over my waking hours completely.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for giving me the most precious commodity of all: Your time. And to invite you to turn to the first page of a strange tale that fascinated, and sometimes frightened me as it either unspooled itself from some dark recess of my mind, or simply used me as a flesh and bone antennae. Well, either way, ladies and gentleman, the story is just about to start and that first page lies but a moment away…