You may want to read the book first to avoid any potential spoilers, like you do on a DVD. Of course, if you watch the features first on a DVD, this might well be for you. Here we go:
Hello Jasper, and thanks for agreeing to talk to me for the 2011 'Special Features' section for One of Our Thursdays is Missing, and answer questions that you get to write yourself.
Thank you, you (me) are most kind.
So here we are again - another Thursday book. Are you getting bored writing about her?
Well, no. The whole Nextian world is so broad and expansive that it would be possible to take just a small part of it and expand it into a book, so it is entirely possible and even likely I could write Thursday books that have no Thursday in them - which I've sort of done here. No, I think I could carry on for a while, as she and her world are a fairly broad canvas.
So, why make Thursday 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 Bear's 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 door to all sorts of interesting plot devices, switches and turns. It makes one utilise a certain ingenuity to circumvent narrative problems, too, which can add another unthought of dimension to the story. It also makes the writing process enjoyable, and I think authors write better books when they are having fun. Rubs off on the page and from there, one hopes, to the reader.
The Book World, 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 hundreds of island 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.
'One of our Thursdays is Missing' is agoo dtitle - where did it come from?
Sorry, my fingers slipped on the keyboard: 'One of our Thursdays is Missing' is a good title - where did it come from?
Usually my books have several titles before I fix on the final one. I think only Lost in a Good Book, The Fourth Bear and The Well of Lost Plots were fixed even before I'd written a word. The Eyre Affair was originally The Litera'tecs, which doesn't work at all. The only two titles not thought up by me were The Big Over Easy (Molly Stern, US Editor) and Something Rotten (Carolyn Mays, UK Editor). What were we talking about again?
Er .. the title?
Right. The title of the book was always thus. Since I tend to write my book as a series of narrative dares, the title in this case dictated what the book was all about. I was doubtful if the publishers would go for such a long title, but they did, and it's now pretty much the only title of mine that explains what the book is all about. Less obvious to North American readers will be the original reference - a British wartime film titled 'One of our Aircraft is missing', which told the story of an aircraft that is 'missing', the euphemism for 'probably dead' and what happened to the crew who had to bale out. This sort of film was a staple of sunday afternoon on the TV during the sixties and seventies, when ITV and the BBC needed something cheap to fill their schedules. It's where I saw it first, and the title always stuck in my head.
Oftentimes, writing is about stuff from one's memory being regurgitated randomly to the surface, there to be skimmed off as a sort of 'recollection froth' and recycled into something else. I told people who asked about the title to imagine going out on a serious bender on Wednesday evening - they'll know exactly what the title means. It has connotations of time travel too, and although there is none of that in the book, it has been a lasting motif throughout the series.
As a working title, we always referred to it as 'Oootim' or TN6.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Every day I sit down to work, I save the previous day's work as a new file, even if I do only an hour's work. So I end up with a folder with every single day's work on the book. So I can say with some degree of accuracy that production of Oootim began on the 27th November 2009 and I had a first draft 83 working days later on the 26th May 2010. My two editors looked at it during June and I started rewrites on the 1st of July, finally finishing another 42 days later on the 22nd September - for a grand total of 125 days.
As far as I can see it is the second fastest written book, with only The Well of Lost Plots being quicker, in 118 days. Interestingly, the rewriting of both NCD books took about eighty days apiece, but that doesn't count since I had probably already spent that writing them both in the first place. The longest time writing a book was Shades of Grey which was an eye-watering and wholly embarassing 434 days. What was I doing during all that time? Never again. Sometimes deadlines are worthy, necessary and life preserving.
TN-6 is the only true sequel, in that it is specifically for people who have read Thursday in the past. There is less explanation about past events, and I have to a certain extent assumed that this is for people who have read about Thursday before.
Did you have any particular writing plan?
Not really, and to my endless annoyance, there never seems to be one. I keep on thinking that there is a short cut to writing. That a plan is simple and easy and will take a weekend and thus slice huge chunks off the time it takes to write anything. The truth is I find it takes as long to write a plan as it does to write a book - so I've started to tell myself that the book is the plan, and all I have to do is make that plan into reality - but there is never enough time, so you are left with only the detailed outline, which might offer a tantalising glimpse of a book that would be immeasurably better. Sorry about that.
No, as usual, the book simply grew as I wrote and rewrote it, and although there were various themes I wanted to include and a lot of silly ideas, the notion of Thursday being missing and Thursday looking for her was the only theme I had from day one. She was initially asked to help find the real Thursday, but then I thought that this might convey the erroneous notion that Jurisfiction thought she was any good. As the book progressed I made her more and more an outsider, eager to prove to herself and others that she can live up to her illustrious namesake.
How does this affect the overall pacing of the book, not having a layout plan, I mean?
Again, I kind of feel my way through it, and gauge where the book is going by rereading it on a regular basis. Whenever I get stuck I usually go back to the beginning and start going through it again, and flat spots or boring bits usually make themselves known pretty quickly.
One of the most useful things about writing on a word processor is the slidey thing on the right that shows where you are in a manuscript. I always work on the MS in one single lump, so doing a word search for something and then seeing where it appears in the novel by the position of the slider, can actually be a great help. Figuring out how many times a plot device is referred to can be done in the same way - if there is a massive jump with no mention of the Men in Plaid for instance, then I should probably drop in a reminder to keep readers aware of what is going on. The same can be said of important characters. Even if they simply drop by to say a single word or nod their head or are referred to, they become more current in the reader's mind, and when you're often weaving several plot threads, it's important.
But in general terms, it's very much rule of thumb and feeling for what's right. The journey up the Metaphoric might have been a good finale on its own but I still felt I needed more action - hence the dogfight amongst the oversized book section. It all comes together in an odd fashion; I write, have ideas, go back and introduce them earlier in the book, feather over the edges, carry on writing up to the 'narrative horizon' and then the whole thing begins again.
Eventually, a book emerges from the murk. It's time-consuming, utterly undisciplined and infuriating for my publishers who like to have a blurb early on, and then find that the blurb is revised twice before the final book. On the plus side, though, I have a great deal more freedom when it comes to 'writing on the hoof'. In any event, I can't do it any other way.
If we're taking about the oversized book section, how did this idea come about? It was one of my favourites.
Mine too. Hang on, you are me. Never mind. The whole sequence is one I rather like, and has a few parallels in popular culture, most notably Star Wars, which remains a primary source for many plot devices and ideas. I saw it on first release when I was sixteen, and a film cannot fail to have an impact at that tender age. I'll never enjoy a film as much as I enjoyed Star Wars - with the possible of exception of Raiders - even though I've seen better films since then.
There is a story behind the whole oversized book section. It was early September and there was a flat spot in the novel, and I needed something exciting and a bit unusual to fill it. On the 3rd and 4th of September 2010 I was invited to give a talk at the Kristianstad Book Festival in Sweden. I duly flew over there to appear, and since I had very little to do other than give a forty minute talk I decided to write instead of taking in the festival and the sights, and over the course of those three days conceived and wrote the entire section in a burst of activity. I liked the idea of dodging books as you would in an asteroid field a la Star Wars, and since we had introduced the Buick Roadmasters earlier, the vehicles were obvious.
I thought of using Oversized Books as they were fed up of being ostracised in libraries and were essentially orphaned and a bit grumbly, so flagged them in two sections earlier to set it up and hey presto. As I was writing the section I thought the long orbit around the central moon and the gravopause would work quite well, and hitching a ride off a gazetteer of hotels right at the very end topped it off quite neatly. The whole section should be marked 'Made in Sweden'.
Oh, and the hotel mentioned in Belgium really does exist, but I remain fairly certain that the Dueffers have never stayed there.
Is Wikipedia a hideous creation designed solely to assist authors into a bottomless pit of almost terminal procrastination?
Totally. And like any good drug dealer, I actually give them money to help me destroy myself. I'm a huge Wikipedia fan, and confess that it is now my first port of call when it comes to research. There are traps to this, obviously, and for more little-known facts then it's the library or Google, but for a quick background on something, Wikipedia is invaluable. But you know you've hit procrastination rock bottom when you press 'Random Article'. There's little hope there but rehab, where you have to live in a world where nouns aren't in blue.
Let's look at some of the themes and characters.
Tell me about the the crashed book.
This was a notion that I've been wanting to include for a while. It gave me a good chance to explore the new bookworld, and explain how it all worked. I liked the notion of 'bits of book' strewn about the Bookworld, and someone investigating it. An idea of sorts was originally part of TN3 when the flight manuals become corrupted in flight and cause a crash, but I never used it in any great length. Air Accident Investigations are always fascinating, and I wanted to have one too - but with my stamp all over it. There was a panic quite near the end of the book when I had mixed up epizeuxis with epanalepsis (easily done) and the US copywriter put me right on this, to which I owe Bruce my thanks. They've dragged my sorry arse out of the shit many times, I can tell you.
What about the journey up the Metaphoric river?
Sort of Benny Hill meets Heart of Darkness - Carry on up the Congo? I started off by having the usual suspects on board, but then thought it would be funnier if it was mandatory to have the annoying foreigner, the fodder, the impersonator and the mysterious passenger - but that I could somehow work them all in. The motif for Speedy Muffler as Kurtz should be obvious to all who are familiar with Conrad's novel, or even Apocalypse Now - the notion of the wayward individual who is allowed to build an empire while he is useful, but then needs to be disposed when he cannot be controlled. Hmm, reminds me of recent current events. There is indeed a rich seam of metaphor lying under Racy Novel.
What about Mrs Malaprop and Lorina Peabody III (AKA Pickwick)?
Mrs Malaprop didn't arrive until almost the last second when I decided that we had, as previously stated, done Mrs Danvers to death. So Danny came out, and a defective Mrs Malaprop came in. She is not a patch on the original, and Thursday finds herself unwittingly malapropising when she is about. Technically, she seems to suffering some sort of Holorimic Malapropism. Lorina is a sort of anti-pickwick. A pain in the bum and an annoying know-all, quite unlike Pickwick. It was fun to mess around with all these characters as they are actors playing characters that we know well, so there is a room for a bit of light comedy. All Thursdays's co-stars are a bit drippy, and quite unlike their real counterparts - and trying to have an easy life while written Thursday attempts to keep them all focussed and on-message for the series.
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 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 driven. There is also a sort of double-gag about Thursday having to find herself to find herself.
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 Real World. 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 about mechanical devices of ludicrous complexity - which brings us to Sprockett. He is a clockwork butler, who requires winding on a regular basis and is a dab hand at mixing cocktails. 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 when questioned:
"What do cog-based life-forms get stoned with?" asked Bowden in an impertinent manner, "Vegetable oil?"
"Actually, sir," intoned Sprockett, "it's sewing machine lubricant for a mild tipple. Many feel that the exuberant effects of Three-in-One are worth pursuing, although I have never partaken myself. For those that have hit rock bottom where life has become nothing more than a semi-conscious slide from one partial winding to the next, it's WD-40."
There is much of Baum's Tik-Tok in Sprockett, and if Baum hadn't used it, I would have had three winding ports for thought, movement and speech. A very good idea for comedy effect, and well exploited by Baum.
Incidentally, Sprockett's name changed quite a lot. He was originally Flashback when still human, and was going to be able to do multiple flashbacks to escape from villains or to look at memories in greater details - sort of like a superpower. When he changed to mechanical he could still do this but I eventually dropped the idea and changed his name to Cogsworth until I found out that this was the name of the clock in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, so he became Sprockett.
The written Thursday has a very curious, perhaps disturbing interest in her mentor's emotional life. What is it about Landon and their life in Swindon that so affects her? Does her meeting Landon change how she sees herself?
Being the written version of someone is a double-edged sword. You have many of the skills, but then you have a lot of the downsides, too. Written Thursday's biggest problem is that she was written with the passion for the real Thursday's husband, yet Landen refused to be featured in the Thursday Next books so is conveniently killed in a house-fire at the beginning of written Thursdays's books (Perhaps it might be as well to explain at this juncture that the Thursday books in our world and the Thursday books in Thursday's are quite different.) So she has all the hots for Landen, but no Landen. It is a sense of loss that drives her, something which her ghostwriter intended. It allows me to look at the notion of someone who loves someone - but can't have them. And how do they deal with that? More importantly, should a writer consider the emotional stress wrought upon their creations by clumsily written backstories?
Tell us about the killer mimes.
I've always found mimes a bit creepy and a profession who take themselves too seriously. Anyhow, the whole incident with the mimes simply popped into my head with a single line: 'We had driven into a mimefield' It was a gag I simply couldn't not use, and I just like the whole silly notion. It's very Bookworldish.
What was the plot thread that you found most enjoyable to write?
Written Thursday being in the Realworld, I think. It might have been fun to have more of her coming to terms with the somewhat bizarre place we call home, but there wasn't time or even a place to drop in two visits to the Realworld. I needed to keep Thursday's home life alive and well and in our minds for TN7, which will take place mostly in the RealWorld.
In any event, we have an outsiders take on the Realworld. From what it feels like to breathe (gurgling and whiffling) to walking in a crowd (fraught with danger) or going to sleep (like dying, I should imagine), written Thursday finds the real world a bizarre place to be. As professor Plum explains:
"You'll get used to it in the end, but if you go out there accepting that 75% of talk is utter twaddle and 85% of people's lives are spent prannying around, you won't go far wrong. But above all, don't be annoyed or distracted when random things happen for absolutely no purpose."
"There's always a purpose," I said, amused by the notion of utter pointlessness, "even if you don't understand what it is until much later."
"That's the big difference between here and there," said Plum, "when things happen after a randomly pointless event, all that follows are simply unintended consequences, and not a coherent narrative thrust that propels the story forward."
I rolled the idea of 'unintended consequences' around in my head. "Nope," I said finally, "you've got me on that one."
Metaphors play a vital role in your world, and in the end, in the revelations behind the Peace Talks. Why are they important?
Metaphor is only of real importance on Fiction Island - in Non-Fiction, Metaphor is mercilessly hunted down and eradicated. Fiction is the world of ambiguity and inference, Non-fiction the world of clean and clear facts. I like the idea of Metaphor being the magic dust that transforms shopping lists into revealing windows into shopper's souls. Writing is a dark art, but it is by the very complex and often subtle use of metaphor and all the other mechanics of meaning and ambiguity can we hope to convey so much with so little. That being so it follows that much of Fiction runs on Metaphor, and with a commodity so powerful, its production and supply becomes a matter of great concern. And drama is never far away..
Did you know when you began to write this novel whether the written Thursday would find the real Thursday Next?
No. And up to the last draft, she didn't. I was going to leave it for another book. But then I thought I already have enough dangling plot-points, so I'd wrap it up nice and neat.
Here's a random one. Given that you don't much like Cadbury's chocolate, why do you promote it so highly in Oootim?
The Cadbury family bankrolled my Great-Grandfather ED Morel to wrest the parliamentary seat from Winston Churchill as an independent in 1922 at Dundee. After Morel died in 1924, Cadbury's sent a huge box of chocolates to his widow every Christmas for the next twenty-six years. Not the best chocolate perhaps, but an impeccable left-wing pedigree!
Do you think authors talk the most amount of rubbish when asked to describe their profession?
We're certainly up there. Obviously, it's a question of degrees. Some authors are utterly truthful about our smoke and mirrors flim-flammery, but others seem to like to choke us with pseudo intellectual 'brighter than thou' claptrap. I try to remain grounded, but I do find myself sometimes straying into the misty überbollocks netherworld of 'inferred narratives' and 'exported worldviews'. Mind you, when it comes to talking utter, utter, crap, some popular musicians, poets and actors knock us authors into a cocked hat. This is both gratifying in that we're certainly not the worse, but also annoying in that since we're authors and by definition writing our own material, we should be the best.
What's next for you?
The book for 2012 will be a true standalone. It's time I did one. We're not sure of the title but it will probably either be called Dreamless or REM. It's a cop thriller and murder mystery, but with the Fforde spin. Expect the unexpected. After that we'll be back with Shades of Grey 2: Painting by Numbers for 2013, and what happens when Eddie is Red Prefect. Will he be able to dismantle the mechanism of the state, or will he become embroiled in local politics and the ongoing rhododendron problem? Oh, and at the same time we'll have Dragonslayer 2 and 3 in 2011 and 2012. Busy times.
Jasper, thank you for taking the time off to talk about yourself to yourself.
Thank you, it's been a real pleasure to talk to myself about myself.
Jasper Fforde, February 2011
This section was originally written as Thursday was going around the Bookworld looking at pieces of crashed book. This went in on about day 25 and came out on day 60. It's just not necessary, and a bit: 'lets see what books we can feature' which is a touch of empty cleverness we could do without - I have quite enough of that already.
Interestingly, the Samantha featured here became Scarlett for a while when I wanted to add a red herring ('Scarlett O'Kipper' gettit?) But then I remembered I knew two people called Scarlett, and I didn't want either of them to think that I thought they were a drunken slag who likes to have casual sex with Goblins. (They don't) so she became Carmine and she could still be a red herring.
Similarly, Danvers-54 and Danvers-752 were more featured, until I thought we'd really done the whole Danvers deal to death. This was 1300 words that took a half day to write, and was utterly pointless. I'd like to think there isn't much of this in my books, but I'd be lying.
Sam and I took the tram to Aviation Allegory, where Danvers-54 was waiting for me on the Conceited Man's planet within Saint-Exupery's masterpiece, The Little Prince. Of the conceited man, there was no sign which was perhaps just as well. I had met him once or twice at the Bookworld's annual conferences, and he had never been anything less than a crashing bore.
"I thought I said the investigation was closed?"
"You did," said D-54,"but Sprockett told us to report anything 'squiffy' just in case."
"He did, did he?"
"Yes. Hello Samantha. Lorina said you took a Goblin home last night."
"I wish everyone would shut up about the goblin."
"So it's true then."
And she shook her head and made 'tut tut' noises.
D-752 had conveniently found us a very long ladder with which to reach the planet, which was no more than fifty feet across and floated in a large darkened chamber with all the other planets mentioned in the text. The floors, walls, and ceiling of the setting were covered with best quality AOL - 'Absence of Light' in longtalk. The Bookworld is illuminated from an unknown light source which seeps into everything from dark caverns to the inside of cupboards. I'd heard it say that light was supplied as a bonus feature of the much-vaunted but never seen Fourth Dimension, but it wasn't quite so useful as everyone made out - since it is impossible to switch light off, darkness becomes an additive process. Mostly from a tin, but it can be painted on with a roller if you're in a hurry.
Quite near the bottom of the ladder there was a tattered rent in the floor through which I could see clouds, and feel dry heat and dust. There were also several voices chattering in Arabic, and faint cries of gallic relief. I looked up the ladder which was rested against the underneath of the planet more then twenty feet above, and was disturbed to see that D-752, from her position on the small asteroid, was actually hanging head down and walking about as easily as if she had been on the ground.
"It's okay," she said, gauging my look of consternation, "there is localised gravity. Half way up the ladder you'll be coming down."
She was quite correct. It felt peculiar as I passed the halfway point of the ladder, and found myself needing to switch ends - a feat made quite easy by the lack of any gravity at the midpoint - so I was now climbing down the ladder that I had, a minute ago, been climbing up. I stepped off the last rung of the ladder whilst above me Sam was climbing up to join me.
The small planet felt soft and yielding underfoot, a little like dry cardboard, but D-54's excitement at her discovery was, I thought, unfounded. Embedded in the ground was not the Black box as I had hoped, but the back axle of a car, painted yellow. I looked up toward the rent that we had walked past on our way in. I could now see the hole was bone-shaped, made where the axle fell through the skin of the book.
"It hit Wind, sands and stars with such force it went straight through and landed up here. If we hadn't been alerted by the Conceited Man who was outraged at the intrusion, we may never have known."
"Where is the Conceited man?" I asked.
"On the other side of the planet. If it had hit him we really would have been in trouble."
I bent closer to the axle which was in perfect condition, just mildly scuffed where it had punched its way through the skin, and with the bolts where it had been attached to the car torn off.
"You got me out of my shower for this?"
The Danvers looked at one another. I sensed I was missing something.
"It's from a Transgenre Cab," explained D-54, "There was a taxi moving through the book when it broke up. The people who have been lost will include a taxi-driver, and any number of occupants."
"And that's bad, right?"
"Maybe, maybe not," said D752, "all we're saying is that not only the residents of the book perished in this accident. Anyone who could afford to move around the Bookworld in a cab was someone with wealth - or importance."
I looked at them both in turn, then at the rear axle. It had a certain solidity to it that marked out Trans-genre taxis from mere props; travelling in and out of books all day could exact a considerable amount of wear and tear. Transgenre taxis were designed to last. It didn't make a huge amount of sense on it's own, but in conjunction with the filing off of the ISBNs, could mean an awful lot - or nothing at all.
"Why don't you have a quiet word with Transgenre and see if they have any cabs missing?" I asked, "In the meantime, get this junk off to the recycling yard - and not a word to anyone. I don't want Lockheed asking awkward questions about an investigation that has closed."
While D-54 and D-756 manhandled the back axle down/up the ladder to be taken off for salvage, we walked back out of Prince and past the rent which was already beginning to repair itself.
"Is something fishy going on?" asked Samantha when we had reached the bus stop.
"No," Sam was a good friend but she didn't need to know, "just the Danvers being suspicious. Can you hold the fort until this time tomorrow? I need a day to sort something out."
"You can tell me, Thursday."
"Okay, it's a date with Slam Dunk. He's asked me to join him for a weekend in Chicklit. Apparently there is some good shopping to be had, and I could do with some new shoes."
"Oh!" said Sam, "Enjoy yourself. I went there once. Chicklit is good fun as it's mostly shopping and parties, but don't wander over the border into Dubious Lifestyle Advice or you'll be worried about your weight for months."
There. Now you know why scenes get deleted.
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