Thursday, February 24, 2011

A conversation with Jasper Fforde (part 1)

My own personal Fforde Ffiesta continues this week, counting down to the publication of One of Our Thursdays is Missing on March 8th.  Below is part 1 of an interview with Jasper Fforde supplied to me by his publishers.  To be perfectly clear, I was not the person having this conversation with Jasper, but I very much enjoyed reading it.  I wanted to share the interview, and I thank my good friends in Viking's publicity department for allowing me to do so.  Part 2 of this interview will be posted to the blog next week.

One final note: Readers who would prefer to go into this latest novel blind may want to read the interview after reading One of Our Thursdays is Missing.


Q: In our last chat, you mentioned working on One of Our Thursdays is Missing, and here we are, and Thursday Next is indeed missing. Why make her disappear?

The way I approach most of my stories is by setting myself a challenge and then see what happens. In the past, I have attempted to show how a teenager can save the world by doing nothing (First Among Sequels), what would happen if society were obsessed by visual colour (Shades of Grey), or even how the Three Bears’ porridge could be at radically different temperatures when it was poured at the same time (The Fourth Bear). It’s a form of narrative gymnastics that is great fun, and opens the doors to all sorts of interesting plot devices, switches, and turns. It makes one utilize a certain ingenuity to circumvent narrative problems, too. Great fun.

Q: Tell us a little about your new proxy heroine, the written Thursday. What makes her special, or capable? Clearly there’s a lot to live up to…

Oddly, I preferred Thursday when she was still unsure and afraid of the Bookworld. Where everything was dangerous and perplexing and death, disaster, danger, and mayhem lurked at every corner. The Thursday we saw in First Among Sequels felt a bit too superhuman and a bit world-weary, so I wanted to get back to a Thursday who had more problems than experience. The written Thursday fits the bill perfectly. She has much of the same passion and sense of right and wrong that Thursday possesses, but is still uncertain and sometimes a bit lost. She knows it, too. The fear of her own shortcomings when measured against the real Thursday is one of the things that keeps her drive. That, and finding the “real her.”

Q: The Bookworld, here, has been “remade,” and it’s a startling process we witness at the beginning of the novel. Why, and how, have things changed in Thursday’s world?

It’s one of those ideas that I should have had way back in 2002 with Lost in a Good Book and the creation of the Bookworld. This new, improved Bookworld makes it so much easier to navigate. Instead of all the books being stuck within a central library that you have to enter by reading, all the various genres are on “Fiction Island,” itself one of the hundreds of islands in the Bookworld. If you want to visit a certain book, you simply go by train to the correct genre, and knock on the front door. It adds a sense of geopolitical fun to the proceedings, too. I had this idea and thought it was sound, but the problem was, I had already established the Bookworld. So I simply added a chapter on the front saying that the Bookworld “had been remade.” Fiction is like that. It can be anything it wants. All it needs is the agreement of the reader. And by long experience, I have discovered the reader to be bounteously flexible.

Q: You’ve always had a way with mechanical inventions, but it seems here you’ve raised the stakes a bit. Tell us a bit about Sprockett, or the canon that literally blasts your heroine into the Realworld. What is it that you love about gadgets and devices?

The key here is that they are mechanical inventions, and there is a certain degree of “Steampunkishness” that creeps into my books. It all harks back to when life was simpler, and you could understand how something worked simply by looking at it. Today that’s pretty much impossible, but I still enjoy writing a
bout mechanical devices of ludicrous complexity—which brings us to Sprockett, Thursday’s companion in One of Our Thursdays is Missing. Sprockett is a clockwork butler, who requires winding on a regular basis and is a dab hand at mixing cocktails. Unfortunately for him, he is only a Duplex-5 model and the Empathy Escapement Module was never perfected.

Like Frank Baum’s Tinman, he can’t really feel any emotions—or so he believes. He’s a great foil for Thursday, and allows me to imagine what issues might cloud a clockwork existence—erotic dreams about bevel gears, perhaps, or even the choice of booze.

To be continued...

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