Friday, September 11, 2009

Meet fantasy author, Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde, after 19 years in the film industry, shifted to novel writing. His first book, The Eyre Affair, hit the bestseller list in no time. In his first series, the Thursday Next novels, Fforde takes the the worlds of classical literature, no not the worlds in which they were set, but the particular fictional worlds that those authors created and turned them on their heads in a most fantastical and appealing way. Thursday Next works for SpecOps in the real world and goes to live in the bookworld to work for Jurisfiction, the policing body for that realm where characters in novels go about their lives when the pages in which they're featured are not being read. Trust me, the result is a thoroughly entertaining fantasy adventure filled with humor and mayhem. Since then he has penned the Nursery Crime series. His latest book, Shades of Grey, will be released in December. (photo by Mari Roberts)

AW: When you first started out, did you struggle with readers and editors who didn't get your sense of humor?

JF: When I first started out, no-one would even read my sense of humour. I was writing for ten years before I was published and in that time submitted six novels for publication, none of which were ever read. What you do is this: send off a (short) letter with a (short) precis and then a (short) sample chapter and wait for the reaction - hopefully, a request to see more of the book. That never happened. Or at least, not until my agent decided to ignore the precis (which is very odd, as you might imagine) and read the manuscript. She loved it and sold it on word of mouth to my publishers. They understood the humour and the off-kilter approach immediately, and that was it. Most importantly, this sense of humour isn’t uniquely mine; if it was, no-one would find it funny except me. It’s a sort of Muppets-Python-Highbrow-Fartjoke-Sitcom-Radio-Airplane! type of humour that I think has universal appeal.

AW: What advice can you give to writers about writing with humor?

You have to be able to see odd connections; make disparate ideas come together. It’s not something that is fantastically easy to pinpoint or to teach - like creative writing itself. But if you can tell a joke and laugh at something inconsequentially droll, then you’ve got a good chance of being able to get it on paper. Humour is complex stuff, and it’s difficult to say what is funny and why - or even if we should attempt to explain the mystery. Here is a joke that I like which makes no sense at all, but is, to me, very funny:

Two hippopotamus in a mud wallow. One says to the other: ‘Do you know, I keep on thinking it’s Tuesday.’

So advice for writers writing humour? Be funny, but don’t try and be funny in every sentence. Go for the long slow burn of a good set-up and payoff. The rapid flare of a one-liner can be great fun, but after a while, especially in a novel, they can be wearing, and jokes that aren’t funny - or become unfunny because there are too many of them - can rapidly send a reader off a book. I would suggest keeping a book light with occasional chuckles is better than trying to get people constantly rolling in the aisles.

Your website is fantastic. I mean, who needs the interview? (Well, me, actually. Web traffic and all. ;) ) How much time do you spend on it? Does someone help you with it?

JF: The website has grown and spread and darkened since inception in September 2001. We began it without a clear idea of where it should go and we’re still not certain where it’s headed. I simply add to it as and when I feel like it. Mari used to help me with it, but she’s busy with the baby these days, so I do all of the updating, and she does Goliath Merchandising and any specific coding I need I ask her to do, since she’s a lot better at native code programming than I am. Most of the website is written in simple HTML, which makes it very easy to update and correct. Any web-savvy readers will know how dodgy the code can be; one of these days I’ll get someone to go through and correct all the coding. One day. Cost? Hosting only, and my time. We use Goliath to offset production costs of any specific images we want, and also to offset the huge amount of giveaway postcards and stuff.

Do your characters ever wake you up in the night or interrupt you at inopportune moments?

JF: They don’t wake me up, but ideas, notions, scraps of dialogue and various thingumajigs do crop up all the time. I have to write them down or I forget them.

What do you think of social networking like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace? How valuable do you find it to be as an author? How much do you use it to promote your work?

JF: My publishers are always on at me to promote my books through those sites and I do have twitter and facebook accounts, but I don’t use them on a day-to-day basis. It’s all a bit ‘me-me-me’ isn’t it? I try to use them when I have time, and may use them for the publication of ‘Shades of Grey’ in the winter. I have planned a 140 word teaser story for ‘Shades’ - if I can think something up.

AW: Can you tell us about your most memorable convention experience?

JF: Probably at the Ffirst Fforde Ffiesta. Saturday night was Fancy Dress with everyone dressed up as characters from my novels, and there I was surrounded by people from inside my head. It was very odd. I went as Jasper Fforde and came third.

vote it up!


K Stoddard Hayes said...

Thanks for a great intro to an author new to me.

But the hippo joke was all it took. I have to read these books!


Pauline said...

Can't believe I missed this! I love Fforde's Thursday Next books! Been a fan since the first.