Piece for ezine getoutthere June 2001

There is a rumour going around -as substantiated as the easter bunny- that novelists have a clear idea of their book before they write it, construct large plot diagrams and even go so far as to sketch characters and chapter outlines. I wish I could do this. I can't. My writing technique is a sort of strange haphazard progression - more akin to fish evolving into mammals than an ordered sequence of events.

"The Eyre Affair" began with two names, one bad guy and the notion that Jane Eyre gets kidnapped from her own book. The first really important step was the realisation that Thursday Next's world needed to be slightly skewed - yet close enough to be amusingly familiar - to allow all the bizarre occurrences to make any sense. Once this framework was in place, anything becomes possible - The Crimean war still raging, the greater interest in literary matters, the all powerful Goliath Corporation, audience participation renderings of Richard III, a Welsh Socialist Republic, neanderthals alive and well - the list goes on and on.

The inspiration for these meanderings are from anywhere and everywhere: things people say, things people do, newspapers, current events, movies, books - all are grist to my mill. Example: Thursday's pet was an Abyssinian cat named Elmo until I visited the Oxford museum of Natural history and came across a stuffed dodo in a glass case. I asked the woman in the museum shop if they sold dodo home cloning kits and she told me to come back in fifty years. I wrote in Thursday's pet dodo that weekend. Most of my ideas arrive this way - then those ideas beget new ideas and other ideas added to those, and so on and so on until something has emerged from the primordial ooze that is closer to a mammal than a fish. Then - the combing starts. Dialogue which is lame is made less lame, conversations tightened up, useless descriptions thrown out and necessary descriptions added in. Holes flagged, points explained, unfunny jokes removed. The combing carries on right up to the moment my publisher tears the manucript from my keyboard-stained fingers.

If it were possible I'd be around Waterstone's with a pot of glue and replacement pages and perhaps after that knocking at your front door with a bottle of tipp-ex and a pen: 'Excuse, me, my name is Jasper Fforde. Do you have a copy of 'The Eyre Affair' by any chance? I've spelt Steller's sea cow incorrectly and I was wondering...' So you see how it works. Scatty and haphazard and totally undisciplined but, but - I do get my own mammal out of the fish at the very end - even if it is a duck-billed platypus.

Jasper Fforde
June 2001

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