|Questions and Answers for Hodder |
(UK Publishers) January, 2001
1: In a single sentence, how would you describe The Eyre Affair?
A: The Eyre Affair is a literary detective thriller with romantic overtones, mad inventor uncles, aunts trapped in Wordsworth poems, global multinationals, scheming evildoers, an excursion inside the novel of Jane Eyre, dodos, knight-errant-time-travelling fathers and the answer to the eternal question: "Who really wrote Shakespeare's plays?"
2: It's an incredibly inventive novel. Is your background creative?
A: During Geography, when I should have been learning the latitude of Matabililand and the meaning of terminal moraine, oxbow lakes and wave-cut platforms, I was actually staring out of the window and listening to the mastodons calling to one another across the prehistoric landscape. With those hearty bellows came the clash of cutlass and the death cry of Blackbeard which was soon drowned out by the screech of tyres as I drove the mighty 58-Litre Fforde Special to a new lap record at Brooklands, a feat only matched by my schoolyard career on the Western Front as I piloted my Sopwith camel above the trenches with even the great Major James Bigglesworth seeking me out for advice. By the time the school sausages had been shown to us and refused for the 87th consecutive time and Latin mercifully dispatched I had, in turn, commanded the Temeraire at Trafalgar, flown a daring low-level mission in my Mosquito to Berlin, burrowed my way out of several POW camps, roundly thrashed Fisher at chess and bowled W G Grace for a duck. I was accelerating through interstellar space in my XB-34 when our English teacher, a mildewy character named Mr Seagrove broke into my daydreams.
'Fforde!' he bellowed, his huge moustache reminding me of two loofas attempting semaphore, 'Name two pronouns!'
'Who me?' I stammered, dropping out of lightspeed and narrowly missing an asteroid.
'Well done Fforde, quite correct. For a moment there I thought you were staring out of the...'
But I was gone already, off to play a duet with Fats Waller until it was time to go home. Thirty years later I can still hear the mastodons calling to one another, their cries muted behind the cacophony of mortgage repayments, phone bills, children's shoes and poll tax demands. But they are still there mixing with the roar of the Fforde Special, the rattle of twin Lewis guns, the clash of the cutlass and WG's indignant protestations to the umpire. And do you know, I think they're getting louder...
3: You have been involved in blockbusters like Mask of Zorro, Goldeneye, Entrapment, and The Saint. What was your particular role in these productions?
A: From the time I realised that people actually made films I wanted to make that my work. I loved the idea of one-sided sets, wood painted to look like ironwork, the shredded paper snow, the rain towers - the idea that you can create reality from fog and mirrors. I think the idea of writing is an extension of this love - the idea that given one's imagination there is really nowhere you can't go, no impossible situations that can't be created, no boundaries that can't be pushed. For thirteen years I was what we call a focus puller. It's a technically demanding job with responsibility for the cameras and keeping actors in focus - something that is a lot harder than it sounds. But the really fun part of it is that the focus puller is standing next to the camera, right at the sharp end of the film making process. I have visited twenty-three different countries on four continents and seen performances second to none from some of the world's finest actors and actresses. Tears, anger, frustration, elation - It's all here. The focus puller has the ultimate ringside seat for any fan of the silver screen.
4: Has this experience had any bearing on your writing The Eyre Affair, or any influence on the style of the book?
A: My filmwork afforded me the huge experience and luxury of travel. I never went to a country or a location without reading about where I was heading, and then making as many excursions as I could when I was there. Travel opens up a huge body of material to work with. I suppose another point is that I have been brought up on film 'Grammar' so a lot of the construction of The Eyre Affair fits quite easily into the framework of a film - subplots, flashbacks, car chases, denouements in burning buildings, frequent location changes, dramatic plot changes and of course the double or false ending - or in the case of The Eyre Affair, the quadruple ending. They are all different ways of telling stories - and stories are something quite fundamental to us all.
5: The Eyre Affair has been described as Lewis Carroll writing a detective story; you create an entire world recognisable yet distinctly different from our everyday reality. Was this a place conceived over time or invented as you wrote?
A: The existence of this world came about through absolute necessity. I wanted Thursday Next to be the person she is and do the things she does but she didn't really fit into the way we did things in our world. Instead of modifying her to fit in with us I thought I would modify our world to fit in with her. It started simply enough with everyone having an increased interest in things literary but her world grew even weirder every day and before I knew it I had thirty different SpecOps divisions policing everything from recapturing werewolves to looking after ripples in Space time. I had the Crimean war still raging, an all-powerful Goliath Corporation, Czarist Russia, reverse-engineered pet dodos and Wales a Socialist Republic. It's a bit like eating Pringles - difficult once started to be able to stop.
6: Why does the story take place in 1985 and (largely) in Swindon?
A: I wanted The Eyre Affair to be told as though it happened 'In deep retrospection', hence the chapter headings giving other people's and Thursday's opinions as though all this happened a long, long, time ago. Swindon was chosen because it is amusing in the same way that Slough, Rutland and Chipping Sodbury are amusing - and also because it was a local town for me until quite recently. 7: The literary references are obviously very important to the plot; not only is the heroine of Jane Eyre kidnapped in the main strand, there's also the hunt for genuine Shakespeare plays and the manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit being held to ransom. What's the background to this?
A: Every book has its own world - some odder than others. Whether they be Gormenghast, Nineteen eighty-four, Lord of the Rings, Paddington Bear or The Clangers, they all have to follow their own logic and it is this that makes them believable and interesting. As soon as the reader falls into how the imaginary world functions, then the framework is all set for the action - any action - to follow. The people in Thursday's world are not so different from us or any less impassioned - just about different things. Soccer hooliganism could just as easily be Kit Marlowe or Shakespearean hooliganism where the two groups of supporters might clash after a double bill of Timon of Athens and The Jew of Malta. All the rabidly keen fans of the Dukes of Hazzard and The Prisoner might have just as easily followed Shelley or Poe. If you look at some of the lengths some Star Trek fans will go to, Thursday's world doesn't really seem so odd at all.
8: You also take a radically revisionist version of history in the novel, i.e. the Crimean War is still raging and Wales is a republic. Have you a particular interest in the historical?
A: My particular interest in the historical is about how global events that affect millions of lives can turn on such small and sometimes whimsical decisions - butterflies wings and tornadoes, really. The fun bit about revising past events is to make it just believable by seeking out 'stopping off points' in history, moments in time where there was a fork in the timeline and then take the less well trodden path. Researching the Welsh Socialist Republic idea I came across several places in Welsh history where such a republic might have happened and who can say what is likely or unlikely? Odd things happen all the time and history hangs on sometimes impossibly thin threads. Winston Churchill nearly died in a fall when a teenager. Without his strength and boozy bluster it could be argued that Great Britain would have negotiated peace with the Nazis. In other instances I do confess I have stretched the limits well beyond breaking point - the Crimean war being a case in point. In this instance it is for narrative reasons; I wanted Thursday to have something in her past, some demons to face. It makes her more interesting.
9: Your main character is a 36 year old literary detective Thursday Next. Why did you choose a female lead?
A: If Thursday Next existed, I would be in love with her. When I started writing The Eyre Affair I saw myself as Bowden Cable (her partner) - but wanting to be Landen Parke-Laine (her true love). There is a line in the book that Landen gets to say but it's really from me: 'Sometimes I think that Thursday Next was just a character from one of my novels, someone I made up in the image of the woman I wanted to love.' So I'm a sad romantic, really. As for her age I always figured thirty-six was about the youngest that her CV permits, yet old enough to be a bit world-weary, old enough to worry about not having a man and yet young enough to go running around like a spring chicken when required.
10: Is The Eyre Affair the beginning of a series?
A: The Eyre Affair is definitely the first of a series - there are many pointers in the first book that relate to later Thursday Next books. The scope for writing books about books is almost unlimited. Watch out for Thursday Next II - Lost in a Good Book...
|Questions and answers for freelance |
journalist Andy Hedgecock October 2001
1) Can you tell me about the way you've set out to engage and interact the reader? Did you see us in the role of the player on the other side of the board? Or was the process much more intuitive than that?
Interaction with the readership is something that I have always thought was of utmost importance. I was in movies for years and one of my constant whinges was the sometimes arrogant disregard that film-makers had for the audience who had paid good money to sit in the dark and be entertained - and then weren't. Writing books and making films are not really so very different, and I always wanted my books to be entertaining, engaging, understandable, and ultimately, fun. In storytelling we should always be having our audience wondering: 'I wonder what happens next?' and I have, I hoped, imbued TN-1 with that in mind. I write books that I would want to read and I trusted upon judgement (or intellectual vanity!) that other people might want to read them, too. In this way you could say that it was intuitive, but much in my book has as its roots something nonsensical in the 'real' world that highlights an either satirical or ludicrous situation in Thursday's. 2) To what extent are your small but significant reality shifts satirical in intent? Were you consciously commenting on the artificial divisions between high and low art? Or were you taking an amusing idea for a walk? This question applies to the material on the Goliath Corporation too Ð were you taking a conscious sideswipe at the way we live now?
Again, I'm not sure. Questioning why I am doing something seems to me strange. Some things are simply great fun because they are, and I'm not sure much is to gain from constant deconstructing of ideas. I look at Turner's paintings and think little about how he did it, or the reason behind his choice of colours, his fulsome use of skies and all the rest of it. I love his paintings because they are good to look at; nothing more. Satire is fun to do and counterpoints the humbug we have in real life by underscoring it with humour. There is so much to satire in the modern world (and some things are beyond satire, chillingly), and so much that we all worry about but at the same time do very little against. As for the differences between high and low art, yes, I don't really see any difference between them at all. I have always railed against the 'hijacking' of Shakespeare by the intelligentsia, something that is now finally becoming acceptable for everyone - when Shakespeare wrote his plays they were for a drunken rabble who liked a good laugh or a scrap. In his time, Shakespeare was not considered high art at all. Interesting, that.
3) Why do you think so many contemporary writers* are willing to credit their readers with the intelligence to cope with a rich and allusive narrative, while many critics seem to prefer fiction that conforms to their expectations of a specific genre? *There's you, Michael Moorcock, Charles Palliser, Iain Banks, Tibor Fischer, Lawrence Norfolk and Peter Ackroyd to name just a few.
I would think that most people who actually want to read books for entertainment have actually some interest in books in general. Most people who browse in WH Smith for a good read will know that Shakespeare wrote plays and did so quite well, and that Jane Eyre is a Victorian romance.
In case anyone hasn't read Jane Eyre either recently or at all, I considerately placed a small precis inside TN-1 to jog the memory - and the 'crap ending' plot device was laboured quite a lot to make sure that most people got the gag. I trusted that the readership would be flexible enough to figure it out, and I have been delighted to see this was the case - no-one has yet accused me of intellectual elitism, something that is frequently leveled at writers.
Another point here is that I wanted to write a book on several levels. That on one level it was a thriller plain and simple, on another a romance, on another a whimsical tract on the way in which books create a world inside their Readers heads.
(I always thought that if someone invented the novel tomorrow it would be hailed as a masterpiece of technology that no-one would be able to figure out. How do you get the imaginative responses from the squiggles on the page to merge with the Readers memories and experiences into a 'real' world inside the mind of the reader? And without any batteries, either. Better than film. Better than Theatre. Only music can come close to doing the remarkable job that fiction does with the human mind.) 4) Influences. Who are the writers, filmmakers and other artists who have informed your development as a writer?
The first book I ever remember reading was Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, the very same copy I still retain in my library, and The Little Prince by St-Exupery has filled me with joy upon every reading (especially the bit with the fox). Paddington and Pooh were favourites in my childhood, as was the Moomin series by Tove Jansson. Later on, Lee's To Kill a Mocking bird made me realise that I will never write a great book, and Heller's Catch-22 and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-5 confirmed this.
The Dutch graphic artist MC Escher whose breathtaking virtuosity should not go without mention - his picture Reptiles (1943) was the inspiration behind the idea that flat pictures or text can come alive in our hearts and minds - and this design now and for always adorns Thursday's car. Alfred Bester for Tiger Tiger, a book I last read in 1975 and from which I can still quote. Three men in a boat by Jerome still makes me laugh (in particular the sequence with the cheese on the train) and Diary of a nobody by the Grossmith brothers was required Fforde reading for as long as I can remember. HG Wells, Jules Verne, Conan-Doyle, Poe, Haggard, Adams, Milligan, Du Maurier, Dahl, W.E. Johns, Herge and Fitzgerald have all been influences, but none more so than Evelyn Waugh and PG Wodehouse, whose consummate skill in word resource management is awe inspiring. Longfellow, Poe, Wordsworth, De la Mare, McGough I mention as poets to whom I have a great respect - and I would also like to add John Gillespie McGee, who was the greatest Sonnet writer the world never had.
But it's not just books and poems. There is a mass media out there which is so abundantly full of material that it would be impossible not to be influenced. Firstly, Radio and Round the Horne written by Barry Took and Marty Feldman. Funniest and inventive radio show ever. Kenny Everett was also an inspiration since he was one of the last great innovators. The 70's were not notable for fashion but it was notable for its sitcoms. I would mention David Nobbs for the inspired Reggie Perrin series and Croft & Perry for giving us the immortal Dad's Army and Porridge with the incomparable Ronnie Barker. The Good Life should be mentioned too as I, like so many other schoolchildren of my time, was hopelessly in love with Barbara Good. Rising Damp, Fawlty Towers & the Q series should not be forgotten, nor should the original Muppet Show and latterly, Dinosaurs, which if you haven't watched, you should. I cannot find words to describe my admiration for the legacy of the Pythons, Peter Sellers, or Pete & Dud. The whole panolpy of latter twentieth century mas media was there for me to draw on - and I haven't even got to talking about films yet!
5) Genre blending. Did you plan to mix the Chandleresque detective elements, sci-fi tropes and alternate history elements from the start? Or did these elements emerge as an essential way of taking the narrative forward? Or are you drawn to these exotic blends of literary ingredients?
Not really. The whole thing just sort of fermented in that direction. In the above answer you will see that I am interested in a great deal of different stuff, and whenever I could fit a piece of interesting stuff into the narrative, then in it went. One of my strengths, I think, is that I don't come from a writer's course or literary background where established ideas are seen as rules to be adhered to. I just made up the whole silly mess as I went along and used the rules that I had plucked from the air as the necessary and important ones, and either ignored or abandoned the rest. Sometimes I think further education can be very stifling; It is sometimes difficult to hear your own voice against the background of other people's shouting in unison. Do what you want to do, write what you want to write. If it doesn't ever get published, then no big deal. It was yours, and yours alone - and that is the important thing.
6) Conspiracies. Why are conspiracies such a durable and popular literary and cinematic motif and what led you to explore the conspiracy theme? Has comedy become the most popular mode for dealing with conspiracies?
A conspiracy is something that strikes a chord with many of us quite naturally in the same way as forbidden love and the triumph of the underdog. They are all bits of story-telling scaffolding, really. They generate jeopardy for the character, and a jeopardy gives drama and movement to the narrative. There are some subjects which will always strike us thus and we writers exploit these 'emotional fish-hooks' mercilessly. Did you ever see a film called 'The Mighty Ducks'? Case in point. Oldest plot device and totally predictable - in fact, you could say that it was a remake of 'Rocky' - but it works, the same way as Rocky works, yet looking at all the individual elements, poor acting, badly shot, one-dimensional characterization, etc, it is hard to see why - but the fact that it does only goes to show how strong these emotional responses are. The degree in which you can use these 'fish-hooks' depend upon one's skill as a storyteller. In 'Strictly Ballroom' the scaffolding is firmly in place and brilliantly used. Conspiracy by the dance federation to stop Scott dancing his own steps at the Pan-Pacific Dance championships, forbidden love with Fran, and the theme of the small guy against the odds. A good story well played but with themes as old as humankind. The skillful use here is that the jeopardy is about dancing! Not life-and-death struggles, but dancing your own steps! A rare and delightful movie, indeed. When they say there are but six stories, they are not far wrong.
7) The alternate history is an enduringly popular form which readers never seem to tire of. Why are we all so fascinated by the idea of paths not taken? What drew you to this theme?
We all muse, at one time or another, about how things might have been. Life can be so full of regret that thoughts on how things might turn out can be one of the most virulent causes of depression - and the most useless. I kind of thought that 'regret' was one of those things that proves evolution isn't a free lunch:
'Okay, listen up guys, Evolution here. You can have abstract thought to allow you to adapt to a hostile environment, but I'm sorry to say that I can't separate forward planning from retrospect regret any more than I can let you walk upright and not have trouble with your backs. Now I know you're going to moan like hell about this, but if you look at the big picture it's definitely in your favour...'
Is this why it's so popular? I don't know. Perhaps we just like to use our minds in this sort of imaginative athletics because we can, in the same way that we can visualize and give procedural grammar to something as bizarrely improbable as time travel. We like to use our minds and our imaginations, and we like to flex them. Perhaps abstract 'what-if' concepts are simply nourishment for a brainy ape stuck in a world of fast-moving high technology, where all we really want to do is sit round a fire and listen to a seasoned story-teller take us to places well outside the grind of life... Who knows?
8) Can you tell me more about your new book at this stage? And can you tell me about anything other current or future projects Ð literary or cinematic?
TN-2 is with my editor at the moment, and TN-3 is on the drawing board. Many of my ideas have a sort of escalating weirdness that needs to be brought down to the ground by clever editing, but I think that TN-2 will have enough surprises in store for most people. My other novels may have an outing after TN-3 is published, and a few original screenplays are with producers, although I have no intention of letting anyone get their mitts on my lovely Thursday. At present I am working on enlarging the website and getting ready for the publication of TN-1 in the States. Jasper Fforde
Q&A for Singaporean Straits Times Sep 2001
1. Some basic facts to confirm: what is your age, and nationality?
I'm 40. British. Lived in the UK all my life, much of my childhood in Mid Wales.
2. When, where and how did you get the idea for Thursday Next and The Eyre Affair?
About 1988 or so, just when I was seriously into penning short stories that are the first step for anyone who wants to attempt writing novels. My Mother used to refer to next thursday as 'Thursday Next' and the name not only has a 'dum de dum' ring to it but also is quietly mysterious. What sort of a woman would have a name like Thursday Next? Her partner Bowden is also an odd name that I liked, totally improbable but just possible. To those who know, a 'bowden cable' is one of those sleeved cables that are used on bicycle brakes. So I had two names and the notion that someone kidnaps Jane Eyre from her novel. The rest of the book grew from an attempt to make this notion believable, even possible, within the framework of the sort of world that Thursday inhabits. My books evolve rather than grow - I have no more idea how it turns out than anyone else, really. I just write and things sort of well, 'turn out'.
3. You've worked in the film business for 20 years. What made you decide that you wanted to be a novelist too? When and how did you find the time to write?
I've always loved writing but came to it late. I wish I'd started much earlier. Sadly, some factions within ones circle - and I try to tell myself this is not an English thing - attempt to dissuade one from striking out on a tangent. It took me until I was in my late twenties to realise that you could do whatever the hell you wanted and not to listen to detractors who tell you that no-one ever gets published, you can't cross genres, it takes seven books and ten years to get published, etc, etc. Well, it took me six books and eleven years, so they were almost right. The one thing I've learnt from all this is that with application, you can achieve your goal. Luckily for me my work was quite sporadic yet well-paid and I could slot my writing in between projects. I used to work on a film for six months, take three months off writing, wait until the money ran out, did some more work and so on and so forth. The difficult bit about writing is making yourself sit at a keyboard for ten hours a day. Luckily I really liked it, so half the battle was won..
4. I was thrilled to come across your name as focus puller in the credits for Quills. What was it like working on that movie?
Quills was the most enjoyable film I have ever worked on - and I think I've done about thirty. The bigger the film the more 'politics' there usually are, and Quills was just big enough not to worry abut an overtight schedule, but not so big that the all sorts of secret agendas come into play. But a great crew and a great cast (Winslett and Rush and Caine are all rare treats to work with) do not necessarily mean an enjoyable film. The one person who can make a difference is the director. They smile, the crew smiles too. They grouse and everyone grumbles. The Americans have a term for it: 'Shit slides downhill'. Everyone who has ever worked for a grumpy boss will know what it's like. On Quills we were very lucky to have Phil Kaufman who was one of the most delightful directors for whom I have ever worked. Twelve week schedule and not one raised voice? Unthinkable usually - but I assure you we managed it. Unusually Kaufman had the screenwriter on set for the whole shoot, and we all got the feeling that we were actually film-making rather than just churning product out like a sausage factory.
5. Why do you think it is necessary or a good idea to write a "literary whodunnit" ? I don't think it's necessary at all, but I like the idea. I have this notion that in Thursday's world everyone finds literary matters that more important - but no-one is any less human with our propensity for violence, crime - and good, too. Writing the book was very much a journey of discovery for me as down the road I found a lot of unanswered questions in popular classics. From straight continuity problems such as Watson's wandering bullet wound in Sherlock Holmes and Robinsoe Crusoe's mysterious appearing trousers (he strips naked, swims to the wreck of his ship, then stuffs his pockets with biscuits) to serious hydrodynamic uncertainties at the end of 'Mill on the Floss', to the ethereal 'Jane Jane Jane!' that Jane Eyre hears as Rochester calls to her to return to Thornfield. Of course, the less generous would say that these are the problems that the overworked and forgetful writer have to deal with too. How should Jane Eyre be made not to marry St John Rivers and return to Thornfield? A messenger? Too bland. Narratively speaking, it's a good way to get over the problem, but these are the parts of books that interest me. I like to think of them all as real people and try and figure out a backstory that can make some sense of what is going on. I think it is highly suspicious that David Copperfield's young wife Dora Spenlow withers away and dies leaving David to marry the far more likeable Agnes Wickfield. Dora? Natural causes? I think not. I can see David Copperfield, that rounded and splendid chap (a sort of 18th century Gary Lineker, really) boiling down fly-papers and administering them to poor little Dora - while out there the reading public has no idea what he is up to. As you can imagine, the scope is vast, and my take on Jane Eyre was that it was Thursday calling to Jane to return to Thornfield and thus changing the ending, an act of nobility that will have serious repercussions for her later on - but you'll have to read 'Lost in a Good Book' to know what they are!
6. You're currently working on the sequel to The Eyre Affair, Lost In A Good Book...What is it going to be about?
The blurbline is the following: 'The world was about to end in a month but I had more pressing matters to attend to. My husband Landen didn't exist, and unless I did something about it soon, he might remain that way for ever...' So as you can probably guess, someone has eradicated Landen in an attempt to force Thursday into doing something that she doesn't want to do. Miss Havisham makes an appearance as Thursday's mentor as our heroine finds that she doesn't need a prose portal to get into books and finds a world within in them that she never realised. The Neanderthals make an appearance and are keen to achieve species self-determination. Since they have been reengineered by Goliath, they have no more rights than a lab rat. Not fair, is it? All this, someone is trying to bump Thursday off, SpecOps are using her new-found fame as a publicity tool, her father appears now and again, more Mycroft inventions...
7. Have you got hate mail or reaction about toying with literary classics
Not at all. I think everyone who professed an opinion was firmly within the loop that this was clearly a piece of fun. I had a letter about my German translation which was wrong and another about Daffodils not being a summer flower, which I found irksome (not the letters; my own incompetence!) so I thought I would use my own stupidity as ammunition and devised the 'Eyre Affair V1.4' book upgrade, available now on my website. This fixes all these problems in the manner of a computer operating system - and also opened the door to another way of thinking about books. Perhaps they are a technology far advanced of anything we have we have at present? After all, you read a book and the pictures form inside your head - a sort of 'Cortex Entertainment System' which is way ahead of the strictly 'observance' technologies of TV and film. Seriously though, the response has been wonderful. Most of the letters (and stuff on the forum which is well worth a look) have been people picking up the torch and running with it. I've had questions about whether dodos make good pets, problems with house training sabre-toothed tigers and a very amusing take on plot inconsistencies within 'Twelfth night'. Food for imagination, mine as well as my readers - could a writer ask for anything more?
8. You've been creating multiple worlds on the internet to contextualise The Eyre Affair's world...Goliath Corporation website, Thursday Next's website. Why and how did you start doing that?
A: It's fun, really. That's the keyword here. Fun. If I can't have fun I won't do it, and writing a links page for the sort of web that Thursday might click on is really very enjoyable. It is important too from a marketing point of view, and since I am only going to have one shot at being a novelist, I need to make sure I give the opportunity my highest consideration. And, if I can give a little more beyond the covers of the book, create a world that can be demonstrably real outside the printed text, then so much the better. It was important to have the site up and running for the launch date, so I spent months on it. My thanks go to Tamlin Roberts who did a lot of work on the technical side. If anyone wants a good webauthor, then call him on: email@example.com Even so, the site is not even remotely finished, but I figured that if I could have enough up for someone to spend half an hour clicking and reading, then that would be enough. There is a bit more than that as it turned out...
9. Are such websites good marketing tools for the book?
It all helps, obviously. The publishers both here and in the States are very keen on them and I think they have been well received. The important thing for me is that all the websites are owned and maintained and written by me which makes them much more accessible and reflect the spirit of the books and Thursday's world - something that would be impossible if anyone else were contracted to do them for me. It gives the book a life beyond the pages, and I think that certainly helps. I sort of see it as an extension of the contract a writer has with their readers 'you pay me and I'll entertain you as best as I can' It's part of that.
10. How many hits have there been on the websites already? Any other sorts of surfer feedback?
jasperfforde.com has a daily average of 160. thursdaynext.com is closer to 470 per day. . 11. Future plans for your world of websites?
Build and build as I see fit and have time to do so. I want to expand the Goliath website which only has one page at present, but it's like writing another book - I had to write most of the website and 'Lost in a Good Book' in conjunction so they would complement one another. Even so, I find myself tweaking the site to fit new ideas in the book all the time. As soon as TN-2 is finished I can concentrate on the site a bit more.
12. You also make memorabilia based on your books (e.g. Dodo road signs). Why do you do that? What are some of your favourite creations? These were originally built as props for the photos within the websites but the idea grew and grew. The mundanities of everyday life such as roadsigns, 'lost dodo' posters, marmalade labels, 'do not disturb' door signs from the Finis Hotel, Mycroft's Splicence, 'Thursday Next' Jigsaw, that kind of thing. Again, it gives a reality to the Nextian universe where much is different but a lot is the same. I made up quite a few of these for the 'limited edition pictures' that go with some signed copies of my book. I suppose my favourite (other than Thursday's car which I love to death) is the 'Goliath chocolate covered spanner' (and it is, believe me. Under a thick quintuple coating of milk chocolate there is a chrome-vanadium 13mm spanner) which is a sort of novelty gift idea from the Goliath Laugh Factory. I thought this was just the kind of dumb and lifeless 'gag' that a committee of suits might dream up as something that they thought would be funny. It isn't, of course.
13. How have sales for The Eyre Affair been like so far? How's it doing on the bestseller lists?
Better ask my publicity people this one. I try to avoid all figures, lists and reviews. It's far better that way.
14. Any word from Hodder about renewing your two book contract? It's normal practise to deliver the two books before renewal. Hodder have been wonderful to work with. I have a fabulous editor there in Helen Garnons-Williams. I was always told that editorial meetings are hell where you have to kill your babies, but with Helen they are a joy. We just giggle and throw ideas around. Publicity, production and marketing have all been wonderful - I hope to be there for many years to come.
15. You work on short films. Tell me about some of your favourite film projects.
I used to. My partner is a documentaries director and I work on her projects as a DOP when I'm not too busy. All other film work I gave up when I became a writer full time. I stayed as a camera assistant for fifteen years -far too long- as I tried to make a go at the writing; I was just moving up to being a cameraman when I got the call from Hodder. The film industry is a wonderful industry to work in. I hope I manage to make it back there in some capacity in the future.
16. The Eyre Affair has been compared to the works of Terry Pratchett and Kurt Vonnegurt. What do you think of these comparisons?
This is always a sticky moment for me as I confess I am not a great reader of contemporary fiction. I was interviewed once by someone who reeled off a list of about eight writers to whom they thought I had found inspiration - and I had to admit that I had only heard of three of them and read none! Vonnegut is a wonderful writer - 'Slaughterhouse-5' is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century and I think that people are really being a mite overly generous if they compare me to him. Terry Pratchett has been abundantly generous to me over the cover quote he gave me so I always feel guilty that I haven't actually read any of his novels. I should really - or perhaps, in a more demonstrable way to show my appreciation - buy them all.
17. Tell us more about your life. Are you married, where do you live, what are your hobbies, and who do you like reading?
I live in Wales, nestled against the Black Mountains near Brecon. I have been living on and off here since the mid sixties and now I am a writer I can live where I choose. At present I am reading all about the Lancastrian entertainer George Formby because in the Nextian Universe he is a hero of the English resistance and eventually ends up as President of England. He is a remarkable fellow; Truly the Mel Gibson of his day. He was the first entertainer into Normandy after the invasion and went on long ENSA troop entertainment tours throughout the war. So I generally read stuff that I need to weave into my books, which happily coincides with all the classics -'Little women' at present, as well as a rereading of 'Sense and sensibility' - and also a host of 'facty' books that add varying amounts of interesting background to the novels. The fun thing about writing about Thursday Next is that it allows me to read a lot more. And since I can't really futz with any books that are still under copyright (Jack Schitt was originally trapped in 'All quiet on the Western Front' in an early draft ot 'TEA'), I am compelled -in the nicest possible way - to muse upon Austen and Trollope. It's a lot of fun.
18. The Eyre Affair is as much a romance story as a detective-thriller. How interested are you in these genres?
I'm interested in all genres. It's all storytelling after all and I don't see why romance can't live in a thriller or a science fiction novel. The trick I guess is to find some sort of balance, a way to keep all the balls in the air without them falling down around me. I like films with a big cast and lost of subplots, so I made TEA a bit like that. If you get bored with a subplot then don't worry, another will be along in a minute. I think it makes for interesting reading and I am also hoping that people who read it for the SF might then find amusement in the romance, and someone who reads it for the romance gets an interest in SF. Who knows?
19. Do you write your books with the thought of filming them later?
Since I was raised on film then I do feel I have a very visual look to things. Some aspects of TEA are actually visual gags that really don't belong in books but I thought: 'Why the heck not?' and put them in anyway. A car chase? in a book? Next I'll be having a sword fight. So yes, I would love to make a film of Thursday Next but I dare say it will not be made unless I am involved in a very real way - the idea of selling my characters and having some stranger do what they want with them is too chilling to contemplate.
20. Despite being a funny book, I get the feeling that there is a certain satiric quality to it all. Pokes at big business, police procedures, and international politics. What are some of the issues that you sometimes bury in your writing?
Everything that worries us all. There is a lot different in Thursday's world but much the same - just slightly skewed. Satire is great fun to do and makes the decisions and policies pursued by government or business that much more daft. In the UK we pay a huge amount of tax to the government on petrol - almost 75%. In Thursday's world the unfair duty is on cheese - with its associated problems of 'grey cheese imports' from Wales - potentially a reason to go to war. Goliath are like every big business that tries to manipulate us. By making Goliath so utterly shameless I am just taking the gloss off some of the terrible excesses of our own worst institutions. The big difference is that Goliath make only the feeblest attempt to disguise what they do - which is, in its way, perhaps a lot more honest than some. I guess it's just a way of looking at everyday life with another eye. If you look at children squabbling in a school yard and then at world leaders squabbling on the world stage - there doesn't really seem to be than much difference - marbles, border boundaries, bubblegum cards or offshore fishing rights - It's just the consequences, being potentially fatal, are that much more serious. Jasper Fforde
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