Jasper Fforde Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde

An interview with Jasper Fforde

Three separate interviews in which Jasper Fforde discusses the Thursday Next series, his Nursery Crime novels and Shades of Grey, the first in a trilogy set in a future world recognizable as our own - but only just.

Jasper Fforde discusses Shades of Grey, the first in a trilogy set in a future world recognizable as our own - but only just

What is National Color?
National Color is the Chromatic elite who supply the synthetic hues available—at a price—to the citizens. Although one might be Red and never able to witness "the alleged splendor of a bluebell spring," that Red can see a synthetic blue, as supplied by National Color. Although a poor copy of the original, the Univisual shades do permit a tantalizing glimpse of what the world might actually look like if you could see all the colors. Synthetic hues, however, are limited in scope (mock-hued daffodils, lemons, bananas and melons are all the same shade) and cost a lot more. Mind you, they do impress at dinner parties—unless one of your guests is a Yellow, in which case it would probably give him or her a headache.

The communal color gardens, the boast of any village, are fed by an intricate network of capillary beds beneath the ground which are supplied from the CYM feed pipes that crisscross the country as part of the National Colorization Program. It is the fervent wish of every village that they will be connected to the grid and thus have an endless variety of hues on tap—full gamut, full pressure. Needless to say, East Carmine, the village our hero finds himself in, is neither on the grid, nor particularly wealthy. And that's a cause of much consternation.

Do you think readers will agree with National Color's enforcement of politeness? Everyone agrees that people should be more polite!
I agree—in any regime there is always something that one should agree with, and in Shades there are quite a few notions that, on the face of it, seem like a good thing—the strict adherence to good manners, the fact that learning a musical instrument is compulsory, as is dancing, performing musicals and an hour's Useful Work every day in order to properly discharge your duty to society. But a cage is still a cage, irrespective of the nature of its bars.

What is a Chromaticologist?
Eddie's father is a Swatchman, or Chromaticologist. In Eddie's world, health issues are dealt with by viewing "healing hues." If you have a skin condition, a bald patch or tuberculosis, the cure can be accomplished by the viewing of a color specifically blended to engender the necessary effect. In fact, there is only one fatal illness, The Mildew, and if you catch that, there is nothing but The Green Room, a chamber of soothing shades that lead you comfortably, painlessly and euphorically to a place where you are no longer a burden.

Institutionalized mercy-killings are one aspect of the book readers may find disturbing. Are these included for shock factor?
Not really. Aspects that we consider normal today could very well be repugnant in the future—eating animals, for one thing, or abundant choice, or invasive surgery. I was simply trying to demonstrate that what is acceptable today may not be acceptable forever, and vice-versa. Social mores change with time, like fashion—who knows where it might all end up? I especially like the idea that waste, impoliteness and overpopulation become "abominations," although I'm not sure recycling one's aunt will ever truly catch on.

Did the story change at all as you wrote or did you map it out ahead of time?
My first draft was pretty much a travelogue—Eddie wandering around East Carmine and being introduced to Technological Leapbacks, the Janitor, the Apocryphal man, the lack of spoons, Mildew, barcodes, the Fallen Man, the Chromogencia evening, High Saffron, the Caravaggio and Violet deMauve—not to mention the linoleum factory. The main thrusts of the story I added later. It's an odd journey, and a complex one, but one that I hope readers will enjoy.

Did you have any worries about writing such a bizarre world?
Of course. But I've never been averse to a little risk—after all, writing without risk is not really writing at all. Sometimes one has to just let fly with a high concept piece and see where the pieces fall. As it generally turns out, the central story is familiar, but just with different rules of engagement. Whether it is Eddie's quest to side with Jane when what he really wants is to have a quiet life married into the Oxbloods, or with Jack Spratt in my NCD [Nursery Crime Detective] series trying not to be a boring stereotypical detective, or even with Thursday Next trying to have her husband reactualized from nonexistence, my approach to writing has always been that of telling a conventional story, but in a wholly unconventional setting.

Which character do you feel most attached to?
Eddie. He's a reluctant hero, someone who wants to lead a normal life but is called to step up and be counted. Without Jane he would have simply returned to his home village and Constance. But Jane changes all that. I think it is that sense of unrealized potential in all of us that I find most interesting. Ordinary people do exceptional things in exceptional circumstances.

What were the literary influences upon the work?
1984 and Brave New World, to go back to primary sources. In both the afore mentioned books, there are large cities with a centralized government that is very much the dominating force. In Shades I wanted the forces of oppression to be much subtler and internal, so everything is more localized, but no less oppressive. The citizenry are dispersed, with communication and transport limited, and idle and seditious thoughts banished from the head by a cocktail of the compulsory staging of musicals, tea dances, and the minimum of one hobby. There is the fear of the dark to keep people bound to home village, and the ever-present possibility of Riffraff, lightning, and swan attacks. Keep them amused with ballroom dancing and entertainment, but keep them in line with fear.

What are you working on now?
The sixth in my Thursday Next series, which will be titled One of Our Thursdays is Missing. In the first book of the series I had a real person attempting to find their way around the fictional world, but here I will have a fictional person attempt to find their way around the real world—potentially a much harder proposition.

2010


An Interview with Jasper Fforde by Simone Swink
(first published in January Magazine - 2005)

It's hard to recommend one of Jasper Fforde's novels without laughing to yourself. Plus the novels themselves are rather complicated to describe. It's best just to hand them over and hope your friends share Fforde's jubilance for poking fun at some of our most revered "classic" books. For anyone who has ever suffered through the agonies of dissecting Shakespearean plays, Jane Eyre, or any book by Dickens under the guidance of an uninspired teacher, these novels are an amusing reminder that a good story is what is most important when it comes to reading.

Fforde's first book, The Eyre Affair, was published in 2001 and introduced readers to a memorable heroine, a resourceful literary detective named Thursday Next. She is Jasper Fforde's kick-ass version of a female detective, the Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot of literary investigation. Her moniker comes from Fforde's mother who used to refer to next Thursday as "Thursday next." On his web site, Fforde writes that he felt the name "not only has a 'dum-de-dum' ring to it but also is quietly mysterious."

Thursday tackles crimes in a world parallel to our own where books are paramount, the Crimean War still rages and Wales is a socialist republic. Like many of us, she has a beloved pet, though Thursday's is nothing as mundane as a cat or a dog, but a dodo named Pickwick. In The Eyre Affair, Next unravels the case of a Shakespearean forgery while pursuing a villain, Acheron Hades, who is traveling through great works of literature and holding literary characters for ransom. At first, Hades is stealing characters from individual books, which only changes that particular book. Soon, he starts to steal from the original manuscripts and that changes all editions in print. Thursday Next and the Special Operations Network Literary Division are racing to stop Hades before the title character of Jane Eyre is no longer in her own book.

Three more novels have followed The Eyre Affair : Lost in a Good Book (2002), The Well of Lost Plots (2003) and Something Rotten (2004). All rousing tales from an author who received 76 rejection letters before The Eyre Affair was published and who has been described in the British press as a "grownup J.K. Rowling."

Fforde is an ebullient reminder of the joys of the printed page -- both in his novel and in many others. He democratizes the "classics" for many of us scarred by school encounters and those who shudder with boredom at their very mention. One wonders what terrain Fforde could wander if he did not have to worry about copyright laws. We talked recently Fforde's forthcoming book, his ideal cast for a film of one of his Thursday Next novels and why Pickwick goes "plock."


Who or what inspires you when you write?
Personally I have a great deal of fun doing it, which is an inspiration in itself really. It really allows me to daydream, as in "schooldream" which is daydreaming with ink and get paid for it which is something I don't say to schools when I go in and talk to them.

The inspiration comes from everywhere, from what I grew up with. There's so much silliness and nonsense in the world that we regard as normal working procedure. The satirical point of the view may be to counterpoint that. The way we look at classics has been hijacked by the intelligentsia -- Shakespeare is highbrow and seen as something clever people do, which isn't right at all. I basically pull inspiration from everywhere ... I'm interested in lots of stuff.

Aside from Thursday, who's been your favorite character to write?
I have a great deal of affection for a lot of them. Bradshaw is sort of totally English and very fun to write as is his wife, the memsahib. Little conversations between Emperor Zhark and Mrs. Tiggy-winkle comparing starching on cuffs. The ones I don't like make an appearance and disappear forever. Acheron is like Zhark -- perhaps he's just gone through the character generator.

What characters do you get the most feedback on?
Oddly enough, the one that people seem to ask quite a lot about is Pickwick. He remains a firm favorite for many people. That pained me for a while because he's quite dense really, he walks into furniture. The reason people show huge affection [I think is that] when I write about Pickwick, I write about every family pet I ever owned. When people read him, they read into him every family pet they every owned, which tells you a lot about how reading works, since what I'm doing is highlighting things and throwing out mnemonic tags. In fact, people turn up at talks with little stuffed dodos they've made themselves. When I get questions at end of a talk, often people say "why plock?" [the sound that Pickwick makes].

Why does Pickwick go "plock?"
That seemed right. That explains writing: if it seems right, write it. There's a lot of instinct about writing. Human experience is infinitely subtle. I write a lot of stuff that I don't know really works. It's strange writing, it really is. There's stuff that's almost unlearnable.

What can readers expect out of your next book -- The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime?
It a departure I think. It's less like the Thursday Next series, where the thing I most enjoy is that it's a big canvas, I can write whatever I want and as long as it fits together in a "Nextian" logical way, then it works. The Big Over Easy is a crime thriller so it has to fit within stricter narrative rules of crime thrillers. I had all these bizarre ideas and they didn't fit within the rules of writing a crime thriller. So it's different in that way. It uses characters ... it imagines nursery characters.

Investigating the crime of Humpty Dumpty's fall?
Was he pushed? Suicide? Accident? The idea is [that] it's based in a small town outside London called Reading. There's a small police department called "Nursery Crime," run by a bunch of social misfits who no one wants to work with headed by Jack Sprat of "no fat" fame. And here, you have fictional detectives who are more important than the crimes they detect because, in crime fiction, they are. The most important thing in Miss Marple books or Morse books is Marple or Morse. But, we find out who killed Humpty Dumpty and why.

Why divert to the "Nursery Crime" series? Why not another Thursday Next book?
I can't do Thursday Next forever and a book a year is hard work. Look at The Well of Lost Plots . The density of ideas and concepts is very very tight. A book a year is very hard, so I thought: Let's have a break and move on to something else. You can get reader fatigue as well as writer fatigue. So I thought: Let's get a break and take something I've already written. As soon as I looked at [The Big Over Easy], I realized why it was not published when I wrote it in 1993, 1994. I'm returning to Thursday next year with another idea which I'm working on at the same time.

A book a year?
For an author just starting out, you've got to deliver the goods every year or sooner or people will forget you or you will lose momentum. There is a contract that exists between author and reader. With Thursday Next, there were subplots left dangling. Plus it's good for me to keep writing and writing.

You were a focuspuller and very familiar with the world of film. Why not go inside the world of movies?
It's a good point. I think the right medium for that would be movies. And I think there would be a movie there where you actually, with CGI, where you actually would be behind famous movies and then behind the scenes there is something else going on. I think there's potential there for a really good film. This was partially done in The Purple Rose of Cairo and again in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. I think if you could merge the two, it could be made. You would have to use some mainstream movies so if they were not owned by the same studio, you would be in trouble.

Who plays Thursday Next in your ideal movie version?
Me.

I don't know ... I won't sell the rights. I don't know whether it's filmable. I'd like to have a go at doing it. If it was the actress, you'd have to have an unknown, probably from theater because no one is famous from theater. The point with the Thursday Next books is you have to suspend all disbelief so you would need an extremely talented unknown. That would be cheaper, too.

Four novels with intricately plotted details from famous and obscure works ... must be a lot of research. What stands out?
The thing about research with me ... I think about which book to attack, in a reverential way of course. Then I look for the angle. I read it and get angry reading it as I do. I decide I'm using Wuthering Heights and then I read it and get angry and decide Heathcliff needs rage counseling. I make the policy decision first and then go into books. The books have to be ones people know and have read. There's quite a lot of research.

It's time-consuming to spend two days reading a book. That's half a week, a lot of time. But it's quite nice.

Your bio says you wrote for yourself for a while. What's it like having so many faithful readers?
It's very nice. To a great extent, I still write for myself, write what amuses me. Fortunately, I have a quirky sort of strange sense of humor that appeals to other people and that's good. I still sort of write for myself though there are some areas of the book I feel I have to put in and I feel I have to deliver. I think it's very important that at the end of Something Rotten everything is pretty much explained and that dangling subplots from two books back, like why was she in the motorway, are explained. It's important to deliver the goods and not cheat readers.

I like to have all the clues there: the whole Granny Next thing, that Granny Next is here. Some people who e-mailed me and rather rudely called the house, people got it because there were enough clues there for people to guess it ... that is the sort of the thing that I have to think about the readership. It's kind of tricky with crime thrillers as you have to button the killer at very end so you have to have enough clues.

In the first book, you focus on Jane Eyre. Why did you end up choosing that book?
It was never anything else, it was an instant choice. I think it's perfect because not only is it a cracking good read, but because what I think I was doing is having fun with perception of classics. Fun to mix highbrow and lowbrow humor. What's important for me with Jane Eyre is that even if you have not read the book or seen the movie, you still known her. She is already there in people's minds. If The Eyre Affair was about obscure characters in a babbler novel, there's no gag. The fact that it's Jane Eyre, like Dickens, is kind of rock solid and when you go through the looking glass, when you start shifting them and wobbling them, then that's the gag. It's in public domain so Charlotte Bronte cannot sue me.

Tell me about influences on your writing. The ones that perhaps are not so obvious in the books?
Well, gags from radio and TV sitcoms of the 70s. There's a lot from modern TV, reality TV. Even lines I've picked up from people that you meet when they say something interesting. Just stuff taken from everywhere which is what writers do. Steal from everywhere. I suppose a lot of influences come from comedy radio shows. I love radio, it's a marvelous medium.

What's on your bedside table now?
I'm reading Agatha Christie. I have to give my talks. I try and make my talks at bookstores as interesting as possible. I've been doing the Something Rotten tour and they have a theme to them. At the moment, I'm reading crime thrillers by notable crime thriller writers to formulate my new talk. I think there's Adventures of Jarrod of Wales, the 11th century chronicler of Wales. He went on tour of Wales and then wrote about it. He lived 10 miles from me in what he describes as a beautiful house. Now it's just a mound of grass near here. There's usually a flying book as well.

You maintain an unusually large and rich website. Why?
It is a helluva lot of work. I may have to cut down slightly because there's so much I need to do. It just sort of goes. Every year I add more to it. The Web site when it was launched, it had perhaps 14 pages. I thought it was big then. But it's changed over the years. I learned HTML [Hypertext Markup Language] to do the site. It's actually very easy and I have an idea and I add it. It's not hard, just takes a long time to do. I have spent one or two days a month on it over five years.

You've explained the Thursday Next and Bowden Cable names elsewhere. But what about Landen Parke-Laine?
If it had been translated for an American audience, it would be Landen Park Place. Landen Parke-Laine is what you get on the monopoly board in the British edition at the very end. And Landen Parke-Laine just sounds like a name.

One of the most interesting devices that comes up is timeslipping. If you were a member of Chronoguard, where would you travel in time?
The meteor hitting the earth 72 million years ago, that would be quite a show. That's always the argument that time travel would never be invented because there would be crowds and crowds of tourists at the sermon on the mount. There's a very good argument there for time travel never being invented. Though it would be fun to go around and see all these things. How does it all turn out? It would be fun to go into future and see.

You pilot a 1937 DeHavilland biplane from time to time.
I love aviation. I'm a huge fan of airplanes. I've loved them forever. There are all sorts of aviation references. The DH 82 that belongs to Thursday's mother is a reference to a Tiger Moth. Miles Hawk (a character in the 3rd book) is in fact a racing aircraft made by Miles Aircraft in the inter-war period. There are all sorts of sneaky references.

You do a thorough job posting all the questions you have been asked by interviewers. Are there any you wish people would ask you?
Not really. Whenever I'm giving talks, I always ask people to think of the most obscure questions because I enjoy those the most. I always get the same questions: Why does Pickwick say "plock" and will there be a movie? I like the really obscure questions because there's so much in the books. There are tons and tons of references and I like when people get the little ones and ask me about them. It's good for the audience [and also] they realize there's more there.

This interview was first published at January Magazine. It is reproduced with the permission of January and Simone Swink.



Jasper Fforde discusses The Eyre Affair, the first book in the very successful 'Thursday Next' series (2002).

Q. How Did This Book Get Started?
A.
This is my first published book although the fifth that I've actually written. I started this one first and finished it second from last. Writing is like that. Full of surprises and drama that excites no-one but me.' It all began back in those Halcyon days of 1988 with two names and a notion scribbled with a pencil on the back of an envelope: Thursday Next and Bowden Cable and someone kidnaps Jane Eyre. Like many ideas of mine it grew and festered in my mind a little like the gunge that you find on refrigerator seals, waiting for the time when it would ripen sufficiently for me to give it life on paper. The first draft was a deadly serious screenplay written on an old typewriter. This ultimately became a short story on a 486 Toshiba running DOS and then lengthened into a serious attempt at a book. By 1993 I had 40,000 words, some of them in the right order - here the book stalled and I wrote another three before returning in 1997, finally arriving at a first draft by new year's day 1998.

The action originally started as Thursday goes in to tackle Hades and was written initially in the third person - the 'retro telling' of chapter five is a direct consequence of translating third to first person and trying to keep the various parts of the story all running together without losing pace.'

The original title of the book - you heard it here first - was 'The LiteraTecs', then 'Thursday Next' for a bit before the obvious choice popped into my head.'

Q. Why Jane Eyre?
A.
Why Jane Eyre? The most important thing about JE is that it is an excellent read, full of romance and fab characters and a burning building at the end - something that fitted in well with what I had planned. The other point about JE is that it is a very familiar piece of work - I think most people have a good idea that it is a romantic Victorian novel even if they haven't actually read it. It gave me problems too. I was stalled on the writing for about three years as I couldn't see how I could commit literary heresy and put words into Jane's mouth. I got round the problem by skirting it completely, coward that I am - I think I gave her only two lines - and short ones at that! '

Q. Thursday Next? What sort of a name is that?
A.
My mother used to sometimes refer to 'next Thursday' as 'Thursday Next' and I suppose this is where it comes from. As soon as I thought about it I knew it would be an excellent name for a heroine. Mysterious but intriguing, I am still trying to figure her out. '

Q. What is a bowden cable and where can I buy one?
A.
Bowden Cable. Another name that sounds sort of familiar and has a little jaunty 'doo-dee-doo-doo' sound that I like. (the same goes for Victor Analogy) In truth a 'bowden cable' is the sleeved wire that is used to control bicycle brakes. He's a bit of a geek and has a sense of humour so dry it has been designated an 'extremely arid place indeed' by the Goliath Geographic Services. '

Q. What about Acheron Hades?
A.
Acheron Hades. With a name like this you would have to be a thoroughly bad piece of work. Acheron is a tributary of the river Styx, across which you might be ferried on your way to the underworld. The thing I like about Acheron is that he is actually a bit crap and seems to enjoy playing at being a bad guy far more than he is at actually being one. With a name like Hades he had to be fairly demonic, although it's a puzzle to me why Thursday and Bowden never realise who he is. '

Q. And Goliath and Jack Schitt?
A.
Jack Schitt and the Goliath Corporation came hand-in-hand. Who else but Jack Schitt would work for a company like Goliath? Schitt was always Schitt but Goliath started off as The ACME Corporation (of road runner fame) then became, in turn, The HUGE Corporation, The VAST Corporation, The Snargett Corporation until finally it clicked perfectly into place as Goliath. They own everything and do everything, Cots to coffins. The Goliath Corporation regard individuals as 'units'. '

Q. 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?"'

Q. 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...'

Q. 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.'

Q. 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.'

Q: 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.'

Q: 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.'

Q: 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.'

Q: 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.'

Q: 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.'

Q: 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...'

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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The Arsonist
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Published Jun. 2014

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