His sudden change in fortune, he said, can be attributed directly to
his experience of failure. "After those first books I really felt I
could write whatever I wanted, because it wasn't going to be
published anyway," he said. "So I wrote `The Eyre Affair' basically
He began, he said, with the premise that there would be two literary
detectives and that Jane Eyre would be kidnapped.
"I used `Jane Eyre' not only because it's been a firm favorite of
mine for a long time but because she is such a wonderful heroine," he
said. "She broke the mold of female heroines. I of course immediately
realized that this story couldn't exist in our world, so rather than
change the plot to fit our world, I thought I would change the world
to fit the plot."
To create that world, Mr. Fforde said, he relied on his great
interest in "stuff."
"I love facts, and whenever I see something interesting I like to use
it," he said. "I take little bits from here and there and mix them
together, make them interlock like a jigsaw puzzle, try to weave the
strands together in a logic that could be understood.
"I had been reading a book about the Crimean War, and I thought, why
not use it? Why not say that it's this long, attritional war and
weave that into a political theme involving England, and see where
that takes me. And then I had to make the war fit in with the
kidnapping of Jane Eyre. I like to start with a small idea and build
on it. It's ideas begetting ideas."
The character of Thursday Next came about, Mr. Fforde said, in part
"because I think it's more fun to write about girls than it is to
write about boys."
Critics have called his female detective a mix of Bridget Jones,
Nancy Drew and Dirty Harry. "She's a feisty heroine like Jane Eyre,
who is very strong at times but also a bit weak romantically," Mr.
Fforde said. "Where does she come from? I suppose we writers make up
characters we would like to know or be in love with or have love us."
Mr. Fforde was born in London in an upper-middle-class family, his
father an economist, his mother a voracious reader who did charity
work. "There were always tons of books around the house," he said.
"My mother still gets through three books a week."
The first book he remembers borrowing from the library was,
appropriately, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." "I still have a
copy," he said. At 11 he was packed off to boarding school in Devon
in southwest England, and at 18 he left school to try to get a job in
the film industry.
"From the time I was 10 or 11 I wanted to be in films," he said. "So
going on to higher education didn't hold any interest for me at all.
It was slowing me down."