Interview with Rachel Hyland
for Geekspeak Magazine

This email Q&A orignially appeared in Geek Speak Magazine in the Jasper Fforde section. My thanks to Rachel Hyland for setting such good questions. 30th March 2011

1. To begin with, for any newcomers to your work (bizarre as it is to contemplate their existence), how would you describe your Thursday Next series?

They are a series of books based upon the notion that what we read in books is just a small part of a larger BookWorld that exists behind the page. A fantastical place populated by off-duty and sometimes mischievous bookpeople from the Classics to Fanfiction, and ruled over by the wheezing bureaucracy known as The council of Genres. It is their task to maintain the pageant and integrity of the books within their charge, and these efforts are sometimes thwarted by the very evildoers and bizarre plot devices that give the Bookworld its appeal. Aided in this endeavour but sometimes disagreeing with them are Jurisfiction, the policing agency within Fiction. The adventures follow one of their operatives: A woman from the Realworld named Thursday Next, whose reality-based credentials bring a dimension of independent thought to the proceedings, something that is often absent in the mostly predetermined Bookworld. Confused? Excellent - turn to page one and start reading!

2. In this, the sixth Thursday book, we barely see Thursday at all. At least, not the Thursday we've grown to love. Instead, we have the written Thursday as our protagonist, and yet not the Thursday you write, but the one whose adventures were ghostwritten within Thursday's version of the worldŠ which, of course, you did write. Why would you do this? Do you hate my brain and want it to suffer?

Not at all - I am rejoicing at the elasticity of my reader's imagination. Once you understand the books and the framework of logic that runs between them, then all of the above - and more - suddenly becomes dazzlingly simple. Listen, there are far more complexities in real life: Like the reason you can't sit aunt vera near Mrs Peabody at dinner, because of that whole Kitchen extension thing back in 1982.

3. I should probably make it clear at this juncture that I completely love this book. Nothing says fun to me like being completely befuddled for 350 pages. But with so many layers inside layers, mistaken identities and variations on themes, did you ever find yourself getting confused as to exactly what was going on? How did you keep it all straight? Flowcharts? Graphs? Is there an app, maybe?

I keep it all straight in my head by doing what I usually do. I write a long and phenomenally detailed account of what is going to happen in the book, the references, the subplots and the characters. This takes me about six months to doso, and by that time there is no time to write the book, so I give the detailed plan to my publishers and they simply print that. All my books are actually very detailed plans for books that would have been at least three times better. Sorry about that.

4. The original Thursday lives in an alternate reality in which Wales is a socialist republic, zombies exist and cloning technology has brought back Neanderthal man. You have world championship croquet and rabid gangs of hooligans championing Bacon over ShakespeareŠ and yet Harry Potter is still played by Daniel Radcliffe. I guess my question is: how much of our reality would Thursday recognize, were she to find herself in it? And if the books of Robert Ludlum and Richard Scarry -- which you mention -- are also published there, do they reflect our world, or Thursday's? I mean, is Jason Bourne uncovering terrorist plots relating to cheese smuggling in that version of events; is Busytown perhaps populated with dodos?

It's a very good question. Much of Thursday's world is the same as ours. The fun is in the subtle differences. Caravaggggio isn't spelt the same way to name but one, and Bourne in Thursday's world is female - and the books are none the worse for it.

5. With the geography in the BookWorld remade now (very nimbly and with little in the way of exposition, by the way, for which I thank you), you have landmarks like Le Guin Central and Gaiman Junction in place. What landmark would you like to have named after you?

I don't think I will. If I was in Thursday's world I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to make myself the world's Most Fabulous Man, and then I would become insufferably smug which none of us think desirable.

6. Have you ever actually had something named after you?

My children are named after me, if that counts. Otherwise, no - although there are Thursday Next themed street names in Swindon in the UK. Thursday Street, Havisham Way, Mycroft Road, that sort of stuff.

7. You talk in this series of the purely theoretical Dark Reading Matter, which is lost prose and forgotten poetry made manifest. How much Dark Reading Matter do you think you've personally generated over the years?

The DRM is quite specific in that it is ideas that remain in an author's head when they die, or books that have become extinct due to all the copies having been destroyed. I know I have forgotten a few ideas, but so far my contribution is negligible. Ask me again when I'm dead.

8. Here you mention the possibility of BookWorld litigation regarding authors who kill their characters with impunity. Are you familiar with the work of David Weber? He routinely kills thousands ­ sometimes millions! ­ in his novels, and there are always more than a few deaths we feel very keenly. What kind of punishment do you think would be meted out to such as he, were that law ever enacted? Who would you like to see similarly punished?

It's a sobering thought that one might be called to account. There are a lot of crime writers out there who have inflicted horrific injuries on their creations. A trial would be interesting to write about..

9. This book reveals a very tolerant, and even quite appreciative, attitude towards Fan Fiction. At one point a Hobbit says: "Fan Fiction isn't copying - it's a celebration." Does this reflect your feelings?

I always thought Fanfiction was a waste of time, to be honest - why spend all that effort writing about someone else's work when you could be writing your own? But then I spoke to a Fanfiction writer and changed my opinion, which is now reflected in the book.

10. You make mention of a Thursday Next/Doctor Who crossover story; is there any particular Thursday crossover you'd like to imagine is out there somewhere?

I've not thought about it a great deal. Dr Who gets everywhere; it was a logical choice.

11. I know you've talked previously of the years of dedication and patience you feel a writer must put into learning their craft before being truly publishable. Do you think fanfic is a good way for aspiring authors to do that?

All writing is a good training for writing. I kept myself sane during the times I didn't have enough time to write by keeping a journal.

11. Have you ever read any fanfic? Or, indeed, written it? If so, what was it about?

I've not read any. Do I write it? Fanfiction is tricky to define. If it means using other people's characters, then I do it quite a lot. If the act of being published stops me being a fanfiction author, then I haven't done any.

12 It is revealed in One of Our Thursdays is Missing that there are a limited number of agents on the Jurisfiction payroll at present. You've already honored people like Miss Havisham, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and the Red Queen: to whom else out of established fiction might you consider giving a badge?

The average life expectancy of a Jurisfiction agent is about nine days. They have a saying down there: "If you can survive the first eight minutes, you'll probably make it to lunchtime." Established characters are generally disallowed from joining for that precise reason. Replacing an A2 character simply because they did something dumb and got eaten by Grammasites is just time consuming and annoying. The stalwarts have been there from the beginning, and are now very good at it. New recruits are usually drawn from the ranks of 'the less well read'.

13 One thing that comes up a lot in this book is the ReadRate, or how often a book is read in the "Outland". Can you name a book that you feel, despite what you know is a massive ReadRate, should really be scrapped for parts in the BookWorld? Conversely, what book have you read with a low ReadRate that deserves one much higher?

We'd like to see a greater read rate on that seminal work of how to conduct oneself entitled: "How not to do Dumb things, a guide to life", but sadly no-one seems to have done so. I think there are probably a few idealogical tracts that could do with a little less misinterpreting.

14. The cameo appearance of Agent Square in here is so much fun -- Flatland is one of those books that should definitely have a higher ReadRate. Indeed, I rather wondered if you were a fan after reading Shades of Grey. I thought I detected its flavor -- along with, inevitably, dystopian works like Brave New World and 1984. Indeed, Shades of Grey is very dystopian. And, politically, things in Thursday's world aren't exactly kittens and rainbows, nor in your very noir Nursery Crimes series, nor even in The Last DragonslayerŠ taking it all together, one might begin to think you a bit of a pessimist. Would that be right?

It's hard to observe the human race without coming to the conclusion that we seem to have an almost insatiable desire to spoil stuff. But despite that, there is much in humans that is funny, passionate, and beautiful. And I put a lot of that stuff in my books, too.

15. If you had to choose a dystopian future in which to live, out of any that you've encountered ­ in books, movies, wherever ­ which would you go for? (I think I'd take Logan's Run. At least you get climate control before you're killed at 30.)

In any of them, it's always best to arrive with a bit of cash, influence, or a sense of humour - or perhaps all three.

16. Speaking of Shades of Grey, as surely we must, that book was not only something of a departure for you, with its more pointed allegory, darker edge and definite sci-fi vibe, but it also felt like your first truly incomplete book. We've had faux cliffhangers from you in the past, particularly with Thursday (and while we're on the subject, exactly what happened with that pun-based "serial killer" case in which she was embroiled at the end of First Among Sequels?), but Shades of Grey ends not so much on a cliffhanger as an "At the top of Everest, naked, with no Sherpa and a blizzard fast approaching". Did you always know that book was to be the first in a trilogy? And if so, just how long need we wait for the To Be ContinuedŠ to, well, continue?

Shades was always meant to be part of a series. The first book is pretty much setting the scene and making the world. I disagree that things look bleak for Eddie. At any time he could simply just comply, and everything would be right as rain and gloriously unchanged for the next few hundred years. It will be interesting to see which decision Eddie takes next as Red Prefect - to dismantle the mechanism of the state or get absorbed in the minutiae of small town bureaucracy. SoG-2 will probably be out in 2013, NCD-3 in 2014, and TN-7 'Dark Reading Matter' in 2015.

17. One of the questions that at times seems to plague writers is that of who their favorite writers are. Often they say they have little time to read anyone else's books since becoming successful, as they are kept too busy writing their own. Can you see this ever happening to you? Or has it already?

One of the downsides of being a professional writer is that free time seems to vanish like the morning mist, so I have little time to read. I always take a book on tour, and I always fail to read it. My time is taken up by writing blogs and doing interviews and responding to emails. If I had another life, I would devote it to aviation. If I had another life after that, I would devote it to reading.

18. And do you have a favorite author? A favorite book? A favorite genre? Whose books, if any, do you impatiently await and buy immediately, reading them as soon as they are released?
I no more have a favourite author than I have a favourite artist or musician. If it's good, it's good, and that's what attracts me. I'm not very loyal when it comes to other authors, which is beneficial because it allows me to sample almost everything.

19. I know we've caught you mid-book tour, and I know these 10 cities in10 days things can be pretty grueling. Do you have a story from the road you'd like to share? What is, to date, your most memorable fan encounter?

It's always an adventure. Meeting readers (we don't like the word fan) is always a pleasure and I remain ever grateful for their patronage.

20. And just to wrap things upŠ The Cat in the Hat III ­ Revenge of the Things. Just what kind of revenge do the Things take? Does the fish get it good? (Feel free to answer in Seussian rhyme.)
I've never read it myself, but I'd be interested to see what Fanfiction writers come up with.

21. Also, tell me about the Blyton supremacists. What's their manifesto?

To bring ginger beer and sandwiches and eternal sunshine and adventure to boys and girls everywhere - and they don't care who they have to kill to achieve their goals.

At Geek Speak Magazine , we always conclude our interviews with what we like to call The Final 5; basically the five geekiest and cliche questions in the universe. If I may:

Trek or Wars?     Battlestar
Marvel or DC?     2000AD
Vampires or Werewolves?     Zombies
Unicorns or Dragons?     Quarkbeasts
Time Travel: Pro or Con?     I'll tell you yesterday.
This or that?      The other

Questions set by Rachel Hyland of Geek Speak Magazine .

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