Between The Trees by Ayn O'Reilly Walters

New novel Between The Trees by  author Ayn O'Reilly Walters is an engrossing and heart-warming time-travel adventure that celebrates the importance of family, friendship and courage.

By Timothy Arden

Photo Credit: Postcard of the Crystal Palace dated 1905 by Andy Scott and licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0 

If you are searching for a read to capture your child or teenager’s imagination while stimulating their grey matter then look no further than this wonderful new novel Between The Trees.

Written by Australian author Ayn O'Reilly Walters, and marking her literary debut, this fantastic new take on classic children’s literature is a fantasy time-travel adventure packed with pathos, jeopardy, and many twists and turns.

Set in the present day, the story follows adventurous 12-year-old protagonist Isabel Pritchard, who lives with her mum and older brother, William, in London.

When we meet them, the children are still suffering from the impact of losing their father, in mysterious circumstances, four years earlier.

The gulf left is all-consuming and seemingly unfixable but, as life must, the family carries on, with their mum having to work around the clock to provide for them, and Isabel and William focusing on school and friends.

Near their house is the historic Bishops Park, a rare green space in their built-up environment. Yet despite it being the perfect place to relax and unwind, Isabel’s mother has forbidden her from entering it.

Yet this is exactly what Isabel does one day, strolling through the park as a shortcut because she is late home from school.

While in the park she notices that one of the stately oak trees, which date back centuries, seems to be glowing. Understandably curious, Isabel goes to investigate and places her hands on the bark.

She is instantly whisked into the air before landing again, apparently in the same place, and this is where the adventure truly begins.

She looked up at the big old oak and wondered what had just happened. She felt frightened and ran away, looking for the path to take her home. Scrambling around, she realised it wasn’t there. The path was gone! She became confused and ran as fast as she could to the big iron gates at the park entrance and when she ran through the gates, she got the shock of her life. Gone were the cars screeching around corners on cemented roads. Instead, horses and wagons clopped up and down the muddy street.

Time-travel adventure Between The Trees by Ayn O’Reilly Walters is a delightful book that will thrill and educate at the same time.

In an instant, Isabel has been transported back through time to the early Victorian era, a period of ground-break scientific developments undermined by atrocious social conditions.

Her first reaction is fear but after touching the tree again, which takes her straight back to her time, she wants to return—chiefly to check that she hadn’t been imagining it, like her mum and brother believe.

So, the next day, after school, she takes her William with her to the park and they both touch the tree. However, this time it isn’t glowing and nothing happens. Crestfallen, Isabel begins walking home with her brother when she spots another tree, an elm, that is emitting the same strange light.

They touch it and the magic happens again, with the siblings thrown back to VE Day in 1945, with the streets decked in bunting and alive with people celebrating the end of the war.

Working out that the year a particular tree was planted is the year that they will be taken too, they plan to revisit the Victorian era. This is particularly exciting as William has worked out that they will be heading back to 1851 and the opening of the world-famous Great Exhibition, where all nations came together at the especially-built Crystal Palace in Hyde Park to showcase the latest technological advancements.

The children, of course, decide to pay a visit to this historical wonder. Luckily, when they travel through time their clothing changes as well, so they fit in perfectly as they make their way through the London streets to their destination.

En-route they are affronted by the great stench of the River Thames, which at that period was effectively an open sewer, so they get there via another way, stopping to see Buckingham Palace and noticing how, at that time, it was very different.

There were no big black iron gates surrounding the palace, in fact there were no gates at all. It looked rather like a big house with grass and trees. People walked past, horses trotted back and forth and everybody went along as though it was just an ordinary house, albeit a very big one. You could walk right up to the front of the building and touch it! Isabel thought it was incredible how the public could get within such proximity to Queen Victoria.

At the Great Exhibition, they manage to sneak in and are amazed at the sights.

There must have been every type of invention in the world under one roof. Flags from all over the world filled the rooms with colour.

Here, further highlighting the huge discrepancy between the wealth and poverty of the time, they catch a glimpse of the stunning Koh-I-Noor—the 105-carat diamond acquired by Britain for Queen Victoria—and overhear author and social campaigner Charles Dickens discussing the terrible conditions of the workhouses of the time.

These mesmerising scenes come to a sharp end, however, when the children are accused of stealing and get placed a gruelling workhouse, just as Dickens had described.

Desperate and determined to return home, Isabel and William hatch a plan to escape the prison-like environment. But as they become immersed in this evocative world they also begin to wonder whether they really are the only two time-travellers, and if they aren’t then what could this possibly mean.

In Between The Trees, author Ayn O’Reilly Walters has the young protagonists Isabel and William visit the world-famous Great Exhibition of 1851.  Photo Credit: General View of the Interior (from Recollections of the Great Exhibition) by John Absolon and licenced under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication 

Without giving spoilers away, the children’s search for answers will lead to plenty of peril, alarming encounters with dark and devious characters, and sinister secrets aplenty.

As the short extracts from the book within this review, attest, author Ayn O’Reilly Walters does a tremendous job of serving the story without sparing on the historical detail.

The sights, sounds and smells of other times are vividly recounted, making you feel like you hopped along for the ride.

She also makes clear the pressing social issues of the time, avoiding a tinted spectacles approach to history. The way she recreates a Dickensian atmosphere, particularly from a child’s point of view, is to be commended.

In this way, Between The Trees is both entertaining and educational, and the accurate historical research that has gone into the book will certainly ignite a passion for history among young readers.

Getting back to the fiction, the novel flows well and is populated by a roster of well-drawn characters, ranging from sympathetic to downright scary.

While they undoubtedly get into some tight situations, Isabel and William’s journey is fundamentally heart-warming, with the siblings reconnecting and rediscovering the strength of family ties.

Although primarily aimed at readers between nine and 18, I also enjoyed this book as adult, learning a fair few historical facts along the way.

In fact, I’d say it would work well as a film or TV adaptation—there is a ‘classic’ literature element to it, educational content, and a well-constructed plot.

The first in a planned trilogy, further novels will see Isabel and William heading back throughout history as well as expanding on the universe that the author has created.

And I’ll be sure to read these, too, as, simply put, author Ayn O’Reilly Walters makes history fun.

Between the Trees by Ayn O'Reilly Walters (Grosvenor House Publishing Limited) is out now on Amazon in paperback, priced at £8.99, and eBook, priced at £3.99. For more information please visit www.aynauthor.com

Q&A INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR AYN O’REILLY WALTERS

Studying for a degree in English Literature opened Australian-born author Ayn O’Reilly Walters to the wonders of British history. She has now shared that passion for the past with young readers in her thrilling debut novel, Between The Trees. We spoke to her to find out more.

Q. What do you hope young readers gain from reading Between The Trees?

A. My novel is a time-travelling historical adventure and my aim is to get young readers interested in British history, while enjoying the experience of reading. I hope my readers will love going through the different eras with my protagonists and learning about how England progressed through the centuries, how people lived, and about our past kings and queens.  With all the negativity in the world these days, I’ve written a book that readers will find takes them away on an uplifting and magical experience.

Q. Where did you get the idea for the novel?

A. We lived next to Bishops Park in London and as I was playing with my children while they climbed trees, I wondered what it would be like if trees were magic, as if every tree you touched took you back to a certain era in time.  I thought this would be a great idea for a book so I began jotting down ideas and turned these ideas into a novel for children and young adults. 

Q. The novel visits several time periods including Elizabethan England and the Victorian era. What fascinates you about these periods in particular?

A. I studied these periods whilst undertaking my degree in English Literature.  I was particularly interested in the Victorian era as it produced great writers such as Dickens, Austen, Elliot and the Bronte sisters. It was the era of the industrial revolution and the Great Exhibition of 1851 where London grew to the bustling city it is today. The Elizabethan era produced great playwrights like Shakespeare and Marlowe. I was particularly fascinated with Shakespeare, because in my opinion he is the greatest playwright that the world has seen as he brilliantly wrote his plays in verse and prose, just as a poet would write their poetry. Not only was Shakespeare a successful playwright but he was also a poet who wrote 154 sonnets.  I think many of us are familiar with the phrase, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”. To be known for being a brilliant playwright and poet is genius.

While writing Between The Trees, author Ayn O’Reilly Walters meticulously researched the different eras her young time-travelling heroes would venture to. The book highlights both the wonders of the past, and the terrible hardships that people faced, such as the danger of being thrown into a workhouse.

Q. Tell us about the research that went into writing the novel?

A. I learned so much about history during my degree and I was able to learn about the way Britons lived and how they progressed from farming to becoming a powerful economic country in the space of 500 years. I took what I had learned, along with researching lots of books and visiting historical sites where I could listen to tours, and this really helped get the intimate details right. I love British history so all of this extensive reading, researching and learning was actually so much fun and I really enjoyed learning along the way. 

Q. This is your debut book. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about writing fiction?

A. As I’ve written the book I’ve often asked my husband for his opinion.  It’s been a real challenge for me to take on board his constructive criticism and not to get so involved in my own thoughts and ideas that I don’t see what doesn’t work. I’ve learned to listen to negative feedback and think of my story from someone else’s perspective. I’m not always right and my ideas aren’t always going to work.

Q. Whats the best part of being an author?

A. Being able to create ideas and storylines that the reader will love. As the book has elements of fantasy, it was important to be able to add as much magic as I possibly could, and with writing fiction, I can let my imagination run wild. I loved inventing my characters and giving them their own personalities, ones the readers will love and of course, the bad characters that we love to hate. 

Q. What is your work schedule like when writing?

A. Having a young family, it works very well being an author. I write during the day when they’re at school and tend to plot most of my ideas and storylines in the evenings when I don’t have to sit in front of a computer. It’s wonderful to get out of the house on a nice day and sit in the park and write. I’m very fortunate to be able to pick my children up from school every day and spend the afternoons with them.

Q. What do your children think of your book?

A. My daughter recently finished reading the book and as she was reading it, she began telling me what she thought would happen next. It was very hard to keep quiet! Some of her classmates are also reading the book and it’s been lovely when they tell her that they can’t put the book down because they love it that much. It’s also been popular with adults who have said, “I didn’t know life was like that back then”. It’s been a real pleasure to see people of all ages enjoy reading the book.

Q. Before writing the novel you completed a degree in English Literature. Why did you choose this course, and how rewarding was it to you?

A. I think education is important and I wanted to be a good role model for my children. So I set myself a goal of studying for a degree during my spare time. I chose English Literature because I love reading and with English you get to learn about history at the same time. As a history buff it was the perfect choice and I absolutely loved it.

Q. What’s next for you as an author?

A. Between the Trees is a series of novels, whereby each book will focus on a different era in history. I will explore the origins of the magical elements and people’s desire to obtain the ultimate power. I’m currently writing the second instalment and will have it finished by May this year.

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