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An interview with Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is a novelist living in Wales. He is the son of John Standish Fforde, the 24th Chief Cashier for the Bank of England, whose signature used to appear on Sterling banknotes, and is cousin of the author, Katie Fforde. His early career was spent as a focus puller in the film industry, and he worked on a number of films including Quills, GoldenEye, and Entrapment.

His published books include a series of novels starring Thursday Next: The Eyre Affair (2001), Lost in a Good Book (2002), The Well of Lost Plots (2003), Something Rotten (2004) and First Among Sequels (2007). The Big Over Easy (2005), which shares a similar setting with the Next novels, is a reworking of his first written novel, which initially failed to find a publisher. It had the working title of Nursery Crime, which is the title now used to refer to this series of books. The follow-up to The Big Over Easy, The Fourth Bear was published in July 2006 and focuses on Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

How would you best describe your books

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!

What do you think you would have become if you weren't an author?

Easy! An amateur writer. I wrote seven books in eleven years before I was published, and that was twelve years ago. So I guess right now I'd be doing the old job - in the film biz - but with, ooh, let's see - fourteen unpublished books on my hard drive. The point about this is that writers write. They do it because they really can't stop. It's a passion.

The Eyre Affair was first published in 2001. Do you think your writing has changed much since then?

I hope that it has improved. All writers I think should attempt one thing and one thing only: write better books. I'm still learning. By the time I get around to my twenty-sixth, they might actually be quite good…

The Woman Who Died A Lot is the seventh book in the series. Has everything turned out the way you planned it at the beginning of the series?

The original book, 'The Eyre Affair', way back in 2001 was a standalone, and there has been no overarching plan since then - I like to write series books but have little idea what happens from the one to the next as I write almost exclusively 'on the hoof', which seems to be the only way I can work - just let the ideas flow. This might come as a surprise as my books often read as though there are interconnected plot lines running though them. This is part of what I call my 'no plan plan' where I leave little jumping off points for myself to pick up later, or not.

This must be a question you get a lot, but how did you come up with the idea for Thursday Next, BookWorld and Bookjumping?

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. I tend to take ideas and run with them when I'm writing, and as I was trying to figure out a sequel to The Eyre Affair I mused upon what the Bookworld would look like, and what the population might get up to. Considering that everything devised by Mankind has error and mischief hardwired at inception, I thought it would be a place that needed a policing agency - I then ran with that, and see where it took me.

There is a lot of inventiveness in The Woman Who Died A Lot, mainly with the extraordinary things that Thursday manages to pull off. How do you come up with all those experiments, sequencing of dodos, home cloning kits, and the like?

It's like I've said: take ideas and run with them. I read newspaper stories, and if I read something about cloning mammoths, I think to myself: 'Ah, now how would that happen in  my off-kilter satirical world?' and before you know it, we're there. Ideas are associative, and very promiscuous - one idea can generate hundreds more. I started off with dodos, went to mammoths, then to saber-toothed tigers and then Neanderthals, which ended up as one my favourite plot lines.

There was a big advertising campaign launched by Hodder & Stoughton, with a Twitter “take-over” and Google+ hangouts. How has your experience with social media been, and will you be taking part in these initiatives for your upcoming book releases?

Impossible to say, really - I managed to get eleven books read without it, and one with it, and  I can't really see much difference but then I'm kind of established, so I guess I wouldn't. There is talk that Twitter and Google will help new writers get launched, but there is, in fact, only one thing that gets new writers launched - good writing. We should be wary of people who tell us marketing and sales is the product, when it isn't.

Outside of Thursday Next you have written three other book series - The Dragonslayer trilogy, Nursery Crime Division and Shades of Gray. The Dragonslayer trilogy in particular is a young adult series. Why did you decide to venture into the young adult books? Was this much different to writing the Thursday Next books? Did you encounter any difficulties with your target audience?

The Last Dragonslayer was written in 1997 and had been sitting on my hard drive for a number of years. I thought it might be a good time to give it a launch, and I'm glad to say that it has been well received. The reason I attempted a YA book was because at the time I was unpublished, so was experimenting with all sorts of writing.

All of your series have books forthcoming. Do you have any plans to start a whole new series or will you first finish up the four series and your standalone that you are currently working on?

I'm not sure the TN series actually has an end - it's a kind of ongoing series. The third of the NCD series will possibly not be written for a while as the whole 'retelling nursery stories' is a bit tired at present. The Dragonslayer series should finish next year, which leaves Shades of Grey for 2014.

If you were given the chance to rewrite any scene from any of your books, would you do it? If so, which scene and, more importantly, why?

I'd have made Thursday Next a librarian, rather than an operative for SO-27. Much funnier. I'd also have made the Bookworld geographic, as it is at present. Much easier to understand. Ah well.

If you could name your top three all time favourite fantasy books, which would they be? Do you have any special recommendations?

I have lots. Here are three in no particular order:

What does the future hold for Jasper Fforde?

In the long term, death and obscurity. In the shorter term, more books - I'm currently writing the third in my YA trilogy called 'The Last Dragonslayer' about an off-kilter look at sorcery and dragons, and after that, a standalone I've been tinkering with for a few years. In the even shorter term, I might go and make myself a cup of tea. It's an exciting time.
Jasper Fforde, November 2012

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Thank you Jasper for taking your time to talk with us and good luck with all your future writing.

Our Jasper Fforde reviews

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

Something Rotten is the fourth novel in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. If you have not read the previous novels in order please go and start with The Eyre Affair, followed by Lost in a Good Book and then the Well of Lost Plots.The resourceful literary detective Thursday Next returns to Swindon from the BookWorld accompanied by her son Friday and none other than the dithering Hamlet. But returning to SpecOps is no snap - as outlaw fictioner Yorrick Kaine plots for absolute power, the return of Swindon’s patron saint foretells doom, and, if that isn’t bad enough, [...]

10.0/10

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The Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde

The Woman Who Died a Lot was first published in July 2012, author Jasper Fforde's seventh book in his Thursday Next series. A blend of alternate history and comic fantasy it is grand reading material, combining excellent writing and great inventiveness with more great jokes and groan-worthy puns than you could shake a stick at.We find BookWorld's leading enforcement officer Thursday Next four months into an enforced semi-retirement following an assassination attempt. She returns home to Swindon in order to recuperate but finds herself faced with an array of family problems - [...]

9.6/10

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First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next is back. And this time it's personal… Officially, Literary Detective Thursday Next is off the case. Once a key figure in the BookWorld police force, she is concentrating on her duties as a wife and mother. Or so her husband thinks… Unofficially, Thursday is working as hard as ever - and in this world of dangerously short attention spans, there's no rest for the literate.Can Thursday stop Pride and Prejudice being turned into a vote-em-off reality book? Who killed Sherlock Holmes? And will Thursday get her teenage son out of bed in time for him to s [...]

9.6/10

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One of our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

It is a time of unrest in the BookWorld. Only the diplomatic skills of ace literary detective Thursday Next can avert a devastating genre war. But a week before the peace talks, Thursday vanishes. Has she simply returned home to the RealWorld or is this something more sinister?All is not yet lost. Living at the quiet end of speculative fiction is the written Thursday Next, eager to prove herself worth of her illustrious namesake.The written Thursday is soon hot on the trail of her factual alter-ego, and quickly stumbles upon a plot so fiendish that it thr [...]

9.5/10

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

There is another 1985, where London’s criminal gangs have moved into the lucrative literary market, and Thursday Next is on the trail of a new crime wave’s Mr Big. Acheron Hades has been kidnapping characters from works of fiction and holding them ransom. Jane Eyre is gone. Missing. Thursday sets out to find a way into the book to repair the damage. But solving crimes against literature isn't easy when you also have to find time to halt the Crimean War, persuade the man you love to marry you , and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays.Mad as pants. Yes [...]

9.5/10

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Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

It’s a shame that the title of this book is similar to another very famous title as the subject matter is completely different and this book to most people will be much more satisfying to read. Shades of Grey is set in a fairly dystopian world after the “Something that Happened” which is never explained and so this could be a future reality of the world we live in now. The main character, Eddie Russett, is a Red, which defines his place in The Collective. The Collective is based on the colours that people can see. With a hierarchy that is bottom heavy, Purples are at the t [...]

9.0/10

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Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next, literary detective and newlywed, is back to embark on an adventure that begins, quite literally on her own doorstep. It seems that Landen, her husband of four weeks, actually drowned in an accident when he was two years old. Someone, somewhere, sometime, is responsible. The sinister Goliath Corporation wants its operative Jack Schitt out of the poem in which Thursday trapped him, and it will do almost anything to achieve this - but bribing the ChronoGuard? Is that possible?Having barely caught her breath after The Eyre Affair, Thursday must battle corrupt politicians, [...]

9.0/10

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The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

Leaving Swindon behind her to hide out in the Well of Lost Plots (the place where all fiction is created), Thursday Next, Literary Detective and soon-to-be one parent family, ponders her next move from within an unpublished book of dubious merit entitled 'Caversham Heights'. Landen, her husband, is still eradicated, Aornis Hades is meddling with Thursday's memory, and Miss Havisham - when not sewing up plot-holes in 'Mill on the Floss' - is trying to break the land-speed record on the A409. But something is rotten in the state of Jurisfiction. Perkins is 'accidentall [...]

9.0/10

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