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WesternSFA
A Chat with Jasper Fforde
by Catherine Book
October 12, 2012

Jasper is on tour in the US (he resides in the UK) and, fortunately, visited a local independent bookstore this month.  Leaving Arizona, he’ll be traveling down the west coast before heading back to the east coast.  Check his website for tour dates.

Jasper is notable among writers as he and his wife are 100% responsible for his website, no webmaster/mistress.  It comes from his head, down through his fingers, into the web.  You have to visit his website; one could get lost in there… It’s sometimes challenging to figure out what is real and what is for fun if you aren’t intimately familiar with his stories.

Jasper is also notable in that his most devoted readers have created a small convention to indulge themselves in his books – Fforde Ffiestas, they are called.  There have been five events dating back to 2005 which are showing a disturbing tendency to be annual now.  If you’re interested in attending, do be sure to visit his website for a link.  He gets quite a lot of fan email and tries to answer each one but, as his wife is now cautioning him, he might have to forego some of that as the rate is increasing.  I think his fans would agree that they would prefer him spending his time writing.

He’s been writing since 1988 but didn’t get the first Thursday Next book, The Eyre Affair, published until 2001, which had been written about 1995.  As those who are familiar with Thursday Next, you might imagine how difficult it was for Jasper to find a publisher, no one would even read it.  It was, obviously, impossible to categorize. Thanks to a visionary agent, he did finally find a publisher.  And the rest is history… sort of.

I asked him what were the influences that brought him to this point.  He didn’t really site any influences but instead espoused a belief that writers ‘end up where they need to be.’  It took him more than twelve years of experimenting to know what he liked to write about – slightly silly off-kilter absurdism with slightly serious overtones and literary things and popular culture running around.  He thinks an author needs to find their own path; if one tried to ‘be’ something specific it probably wouldn’t look quite right on the page.

Jasper does his writing in a small room he terms “his cell or scriptorium” that measures about ten foot by 6 foot.  He has a desk, comfy chair and computer.  He puts on his headphones for background noise and writes about ten hours a day, everyday, six days a week – happily.  It takes about six to seven months to finish a first draft but he rewrites as he goes.  Sometimes, he’ll be at the end of the book when he conceives a new subplot idea and will go back and rewrite whole chapters to put it in.  He says he constantly rewrites.  It was also interesting to me that he doesn’t start with any kind of outline or plan.  He just starts at page one and goes; with a complete lack of planning.  It’s rather exciting, he said, since he has no idea where anything will end.  He has ideas all the time and has piles of notes describing scenes not yet written.  He’s always thinking at least two books ahead.

He’s currently working on the third book in his YA Dragonslayer series, “The Return of Shandar”.  The first book,  “The Last Dragonslayer”, was just released in the US.  It has a quirky, charming premise that magic is no longer awesome but used for home repairs, and it’s fading away.  Then along comes a vision that the Last Dragonslayer will slay the last dragon.  Apt title, that.  He also has a Nursery Crimes series that is police procedurals based on nursery rhyme characters.  One is about Humpty Dumpty who is found broken beneath his favorite wall, and it wasn’t an accident or suicide.

But more bizarre to my mind is “Shades of Grey.”  This is a world where society’s hierarchy is determined by what colors one can see.  If one can see only red, they are at the bottom of the classes and if they can see purple, they are at the top.  I really cannot imagine what kind of mind came up with this premise.  I asked him if he was concerned about being confused with “Fifty Shades of Grey” and he replied that if he suffered an accidental sales spike, he wouldn’t be complaining.

I wondered how much research he actually did since it sure sounds like these weird ideas come whole cloth from his head.  He assured me that he does a great deal of research.  After all, since the Thursday Next series plays fast and loose with the classics, he has to understand them in order to credibly malign them.  All of his books have some kinds of reference to physics or pop culture, for example.  He has to be familiar with the latest and greatest.

What’s most important to him?  Plot, setting, characters?  Jasper feels his pace is most important; he finds books with a lot of description or exposition to be quite tedious.  Books with a lot of snappy dialogue and a quick pace get people into a story very quickly without slowing them down to trip over descriptions.  His audience spans the gamut of society; there’s something for everyone.

The book he’s most proud of is “Shades of Grey.”  His favorite is “Fourth Bear” and his favorite character is Sprocket, a clockwork butler, who appears in “One of our Thursdays is Missing.”   After all, he asked me, wouldn’t your life be easier with a butler? 

So, if you enjoy a blend of absurdism, mystery, time travel, Monty Python, Jane Austin and more, do give Jasper Fforde a try, won’t you?

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