The Living Memory 

Tim Byrne and Emma Dyer

Two girls use their gift of a perfect memory in very different ways. In present-day England, fourteen-year-old Io becomes defined by one particular aspect of her ability as she is flattered into an increasingly unmanageable situation at her elite music school. Meanwhile, in Victorian London, seventeen-year-old Talia utilises her exceptional powers of recall to save herself from poverty by finding employment as a mesmerist’s assistant, a role that proves to be extremely hazardous.

When Io conjures up ancestral memories that allow her to pose as a piano prodigy, she makes a serious error of judgement, resulting in her becoming the ghostly companion to her ancestor Talia. Talia has been managing the trials of her own daily life by retreating into the rich internal world of her imagination but the unwelcome manifestation of the ghostly Io disrupts her ability to escape. Initially, the two girls are hostile and suspicious of each other but as Talia’s situation becomes increasingly precarious, they learn from each other how to use their talents more wisely.  

Tim Byrne and Emma Dyer’s historical-fantasy novel for children and young adults plays with the notion of genetic memory to investigate the nature of identity and personal choice. Set in London in 1853, when mesmeric trials were popular throughout the country, it explores the dividing line between Science and the Imagination.

As the candlelight played over it, I could see the rocking horse clearly for the first time. The carving was so astonishingly realistic that it seemed as if the wooden horse had been captured in between galloping bounds. Its muscles bulged slightly where it was making ready to take its next leap and its painted eyes seemed bright and focussed.

I took up the reins that were lying loosely over the horse’s wooden neck and immediately its head shook itself wildly into life. The horse shuddered healthily and I felt its hooves stamping on grass. I wobbled and grabbed the pommel of the saddle, feeling a sudden all-at-sea wavering as the horse stood ready for a ride. Very nervously, I looked up from the saddle long enough to see that the room around me had vanished and we were in an open, sunlit field. There were hedgerows around me and I heard a hush of wind shaking the leaves of nearby trees.

I heard the sound of Talia laughing lightly somewhere very close to my ear. ‘You just have to rock a little or he won’t move,’ she said. I gently shifted my weight and a rush of wind blew through my hair. I felt the strength and confidence of a horse’s perfect leap. My thoughts were following Talia’s memories and I could feel the way she and her steed worked together as she rode. I was experiencing every detail of riding a real horse.

The uncanny powers of memory that link the two central characters could be said to parallel the abilities granted to modern minds by digital technology.  These include a perfect recall of events, the possibility of editing and remixing memories and the power of escapism into a world which is more malleable and comfortable but perhaps ultimately less nourishing and sustainable. As the pace of technological change accelerates, will the genre of fantasy be used increasingly to explore new experiences that young people encounter?

Tim Byrne (TimByrne.co.uk) has a background in technology and education and most recently has worked for The National Literacy Trust and Macmillan Cancer Support. His foremost influences include: Donna Tartt, Frederik Pohl and Neil Gaiman.

Emma Dyer (architectureandeducation.org) is currently completing a PhD at the University of Cambridge in education and architecture. Her favourite books include: Tom’s Midnight Garden, Middlemarch and At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails.

Hardcover £12.99   Paperback £6.99   Kindle £2.99
15th October 2016, Goodreads.com/LivingMemory,


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