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Latest Ted Bell Book Comes in the 'Nick of Time'

Thursday, 07 Aug 2008 12:11 PM

By David A. Patten

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You know you’re in for a swashbuckling good read when a book begins, “Hard a’lee, me boys, or be smashed to smithereens in the jaws of Gravestone Rock!”

Thus kicks off Ted Bell’s page-turning tale, “Nick of Time,” an adventure story in the tradition of Robert Louis Stevenson and Alexandre Dumas.

Bell is the best-selling author of the popular Alex Hawke spy series (“Spy,” “Pirate,” “Assassin,” “Hawke,” “Tsar”). “Nick of Time,” which is subtitled “An Adventure Through Time,” is Bell’s first adventure story for children — although at 434 gripping pages, it’s actually a timeless tale for young and old alike. [Editor’s Note: Get “Nick of Time” at a cheap price – Go Here Now.]

The book is interwoven with great moments and characters from the pages of history. In fact, the narrative has been successful in motivating children to learn history, and a study guide has been created. It’s posted on the book’s Web site, www.nickoftime.com.

“Nick of Time” is set in 1939 and tells the story of a brave young lad who lives on an island in the English Channel, where his father is a lighthouse keeper engaged in surveillance of the Nazi naval buildup prior to World War II.

Aboard his trusty sloop Stormy Petrel and accompanied by sister Kate, Nick risks life and limb to thwart the Nazis and rescue two other children who have been taken hostage by pirates. Along the way, Nick finds a time machine fashioned by Leonardo da Vinci. He uses it to go back in time to 1805 to help Lord Nelson and the British from an ambush on their way to the Battle of Trafalgar.

Bell’s colorful tale includes cameos by other historical figures, including Sir Winston Churchill. Much of its energy and momentum derive from its realistic portrayal of pivotal moments in history.

Bell got the idea for the story years ago when he was living in London, where he was vice chairman and worldwide creative director for advertising giant Young & Rubicam.

One day he went shopping for a book for his 8-year-old daughter, hoping to find an adventurous tome that captured the broad sweep of history. Instead, he found horror stories and tales of runaway teenagers.

“So I said, ‘Since it doesn’t exist, I’ll just write one.’ I was in the habit of telling her bedtime stories at night — and I said I’ll just write a 400-page bedtime story,” he says.

“Nick of Time” is the happy result.

“I try not to write message books,” Bell insists, but he did hope to convey a few thoughts.

He knew he’d hit the mark when, after reading of Nick’s encounter with Nelson, one child remarked, “I’m beginning to get the idea that the French and the English don’t like each other very much.”

Bell was delighted that his tale had managed to impart an essential lesson of European history.

“History is not taught anymore,” Bell laments, “and to me that’s shameful and outrageous.”

Recent surveys suggest Bell has a point. In February, The New York Times reported on a survey of more than 1,000 17-year-olds. Most didn’t know when the Civil War was fought, and about a quarter of them said Christopher Columbus landed in the New World after 1750.

So why does a sense of history matter? In Bell’s view, developing a strong character depends on having heroic role models — people like Churchill and Nelson. Take history’s great leaders off the curriculum, he warns, and young people won’t “know how to aspire to heroism.”

The good news is Bell will be able to continue introducing young readers to his imaginative brand of history. A sequel, “The Revolutionary Spy” is already in the works for next summer. And a screenplay has been optioned.

In Bell’s books, history lives on. So children without their own time machine will find “Nick of Time” a worthy substitute. It will transport them so far back into the past that they’ll arrive in an era when history really mattered.

Newsmax interviewed Bell on his latest work.

Newsmax: Personal bravery is an important theme in “Nick of Time.”

Bell: I would expand bravery to include heroism. In the very first chapter of the book I have Nick in a storm, and he's terrified that he is going to die, not because he is afraid of the dying, but because he’s never going to get the chance to find out whether he's got the stuff to be a hero.

So he just wants his shot to prove himself. I try not to write message books — I just want people to have a good time — but I think the notion of heroism is at the heart of the book.

Newsmax: Can historical figures serve as role models?

Bell: The fact that we're not teaching history in our schools right now is an abomination to me. I would be willing to bet that at a 10th-grade education in the day of George Washington was probably like a graduate degree now. I mean they all learned Latin and Greek. Our educational system is appalling.

Newsmax: Speaking of knowledge, you’ve mastered nautical terminology. How?

Bell: My grandfather had a great collection of bottle ships. We would go out to places like Marblehead and Gloucester, Mass., and we would go to these bottle makers. We would shop for beautiful, large-scale sailing ship models. We were in the banking business, and the whole lobby of our bank, the Marine Bank and Trust Co., was filled with beautiful ships under sail. So I just kind of grew up with all of that.

Newsmax: What’s next for your Alex Hawke spy novels?

Bell: I’m up to No. 5 now. The new one is called '”Tsar,” and it’s about [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin. It’s a story about Russia returning to its former belligerent ways, and creating a nuclear standoff that makes the Cubin missile crisis look like somebody shooting bows and arrows.

There’s an old theory in Russian history called "pale rider/dark rider." Historically in Russia, a pale rider is a leader who is sensitive and not too worried about world politics, but just concerned about music and the arts. He usually falls, and is replaced by a dark rider — and that's what happens in “Tsar.” It’s a pretty serious ending and a really fun book. It’s coming out Sept. 23, and I’m really excited about it.

Newsmax: Which is harder, writing for children or adults?

Bell: I think it’s basically the same. I mean, if something doesn’t ring true, it’s not going to ring true to a 12-year-old, and it’s not going to ring true to a 30-year-old, either.

[Editor’s Note: Order your copy of “Nick of Time” at a cheap price – Go Here Now.]

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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