Leap of the Century!

Published on: 30 August 2021 Author: Patience Agbabi

Wow! You just time-travelled back to the Mexico Olympics in 1968. You saw one of the greatest sporting moments in history—Bob Beamon breaking the Olympic long jump record with the amazing leap of 8 metres 90 centimetres! The Welsh long jumper, Lynn 'The Leap' Davies said at the time; 'He has broken the Olympic record by a half-century.' He was more than right; 53 years later, Bob Beamon's Olympic record still stands.

OK, you didn't time-travel, you watched a great video. But what if you really could leap through time, where would you go and why? My first novel in the Leap Cycle series is inspired by the idea: what if Leaplings, people born on the 29th of February, had The Gift of time travel?

The Infinite stars Elle, a Leapling who receives a mysterious message from the future—other Leaplings are going missing in time—so she and her best friend, Big Ben, go on a school trip to 2048 to solve the mystery and save the world. It's an eco-thriller set mainly in the near future but it begins in the leap year 2020.

Elle is also autistic and like many autistic people, she has a special subject, an obsession that gives her intense pleasure. Hers is athletics: the 100 metres and the long jump. It has to be blink-and-you-miss-it fast. That's the buzz. Yes, I'm an athletics-head too. Creative writing books tell you to 'Write what you know', write about stuff that inspires you. I certainly did that with The Infinite.

I built the leap idea completely from Elle's obsession. If she loved athletics, she'd love the summer Olympics. My number one Olympic moment—Bob Beamon's 1968 leap—became Elle's favourite, too. Summer Olympics only happen in leap years, so I thought it would be fun to make her a Leapling. And then I had the brilliant brainwave on the word LEAP: what if Elle could leap through time?

The creative fun began!

The Infinite gave me the chance to write what I knew but also to write what I didn't know. I'd known about Bob Beamon's leap since I was a kid: I'd watched athletics from every Olympics since 1972. But time-travelling Leaplings; that was something else. I had to work out how they would keep their Gift a secret; how they'd use their Gift; how often they'd leap; whether it was more powerful to leap solo or in a group; whether it was easier leaping to a leap year and what happened when it was an anti-leap year. What's an anti-leap year? Read The Infinite to find out.

I built a whole cast of characters with names inspired by time or time travel: from her best friend, Big Ben, also autistic, brilliant at maths and timing things to MC2 who has ADHD and can do a unique leap: disappear and reappear on the spot! I wanted to represent neurodiversity, people whose brains are wired differently. My older son is autistic; I know lots of autistic people, people with ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia. I thought, 'It's about time they appear in books!'

So, my Leaplings don't only have The Gift of time travel; some of them have other gifts that balance out their disabilities: Elle's wordplay; Big Ben's problem solving; Season's cooking. I love writing about people who overcome their challenges. Bob Beamon himself is dyslexic, struggled at school, got into petty crime but he was a brilliant long jumper and in time used that to turn his life around.

I chose 2048 because it's the closest leap year to 2050, the year quoted as the target for zero carbon emissions. What would life be like in 2048? I looked at current inventions like flying cars, jetpacks and EcoBot IIIs (ecological robots) and imagined them becoming normal in a few decades' time. But I also had to think of their environmental impact so my futuristic cars are powered by wind and rain; the jetpacks are ecojets.

I imagined the impact of climate change and brainstormed a mostly vegan future. I even invented a new kind of music which is sampled animal noises over a drumbeat because by then, we'd be more in tune with nature. My most exciting creation is a gadget from the far future, Chronophones, that help Leaplings to communicate across the past, present and future. Chronophones are central to the plot.

So, are you ready for a time travel adventure? Got what it takes to face off some eco-villains? I haven't mentioned the baddies in case of spoilers but I can tell you this: Elle and her friends have to work as a team to beat them. Leaplings each have the extraordinary Gift but there's strength in numbers. The updated Olympic motto could apply to them: Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together. The Infinite is the first leg of the Leap Cycle relay. On your marks; set; go for it!