This week's author hails from across the pond, but Jasper Fforde's books are pretty funny on this side as well. Fforde is the author of the Thursday Next detective series. The fifth Thursday Next book, "First Among Sequels," will hit shelves this July.
For more on Fforde, Thursday Next, Goliath Corp and the Toast Marketing Board (OK, read the books, you'll understand that part), check out his website.
WN: Your bio said you got 76 rejection letters from publishers before “Eyre Affair” got picked up. What made you keep working at it?
FFORDE: When I finished my first novel I was convinced then and still am now, that it would be enjoyed by the reading public. Sadly, this isn't enough. A far greater battle is convincing a publisher of the same thing. The book business is exactly that - a business - and if a book isn't going to make money or is an unacceptable risk, then only a brave publisher will touch it. After the initial rejections for the first book I resigned myself that this would either take a long time or I would never be published. Once that fact had been entered into the equation and I realised that I was doing this because I enjoyed it, then all the rejections suddenly seemed that much less important. After all, I was earning a good wage in the film business and it wasn't as though agents and publishers were reading my book and rejecting me - they just didn't like the idea of it. So I wrote 'No surrender!' and 'Press on regardless!' on post-it notes and stuck them on the wall of my office. I felt a bit low after each rejection but redoubled my efforts each time.
WN: Why don’t you write chapter 13 in your books?
FFORDE: I'm not sure why this might be so but suffice to say that since I write most of my books 'on the hoof' but also want an 'interconnectiveness' about them (two things that would seem at first sight to be mutually incompatible) I tend to leave blind or 'partially sighted' alleys for myself to exploit later - or not. You know when you see an asphalted road leading into a field? Well, you just know there will be a housing estate there - they just haven't built it yet. That's what the chapter 13 thing is.
WN: If you could take the ProsePortal into a book, what book would you want to visit and why?
FFORDE: The Little Prince by Antoine de St Exupery. Because I love the book, I suppose, and where love is concerned all the usual rules go flying out of the window and things just become 'so' without the annoying baggage of reason. Witnessing the events described in the book would be like witnessing an historic event. Being there when something truly, truly wonderful happened...
WN: How do you come up with the names for characters?
FFORDE: Names just come to me all the time. I see something nonsequitous in a newspaper article, or a sign in a museum, and think: “Now that would make a great name!” Norman Bailey or Bowden Cable, for instance. Sometimes it is the rhythm that stands out: Dum-de-dum. Thurs-day-next. Or it could be a word that when split has a very ordinary first name within it. Paige Turners is a good case in point. It could be a name but isn’t and is truly an awful pun. So bad, in fact, that I never used the full name in the book - she was known as either ‘Paige or ‘Turner’ until the end of the book when I put them together for the benefit of people who hadn’t spotted it - and hey presto - you’ve been punned and you never knew it.
WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
FFORDE: I have no trouble with writing other than the overwhelming urge to search eBay for things I don't need and can't afford. I have been doing a book a year for the last seven years and a deadline is a pretty good incentive to me. I was a freelance assistant for many years and that sort of uncomplaining follow-orders-or-get-fired ethic seems to have stuck with me.
WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
FFORDE: I’m working on the fifth in the Thursday Next series at this very moment. It’s exciting to write as I never quite know exactly how a book is going to end - so I’m desperate to find out! The title is “First Among Sequels” and it will be out this July. I can tell you that It is fourteen years since Thursday Next pegged out at the 1988 SuperHoop, and the Special Operations Network has been disbanded. Using Swindon's Acme Carpets as a front, Thursday and her colleagues Bowden, Stig and Spike continue their same professions, but illegally. After that... It’s a surprise!
WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
FFORDE: Probably the 'Alice' books by Lewis Carroll as they were the first books I remember choosing to read of my own volition. (Important, I think; the first fifty or so dowdy reading primers are chosen for us. It is a 'learning to walk' moment when you have the power to read, and, critically, choose to do so) I must have been seven years old at the time and was swept away by Alice's madcap escapades and respectful irreverence of established nursery characters and situations.
On subsequent readings I enjoyed it even more - truly a multilayered book from which you can either just enjoy the story or, on a deeper level, understand the subtleties of the White Knight's 'names of names' metalanguage. It is no accident that many of the characters in my books originally appear in Alice - The Cheshire Cat, the Red Queen, the King and Queen of Hearts. I think the mix of highbrow and nonsense greatly appeals to me; Lewis Carroll was an extremely intelligent man and could make humorous connections in his writings that are as fresh, full of genuine charm and as delightful now as they were in the late nineteenth century.
But for all that Grade-A nonsense there is a strong and very logical construction of Alice's world. Everything that happens is entirely reasonable given the framework that Carroll creates. Alice herself is only mildly curious about growing larger or smaller, feels only timidity meeting Humpty Dumpty and will quite happily assist Tweedledee and Tweedledum to do battle. This ‘compassionate observer' of all that is weird and wonderful and unexpected is something that I try to reflect upon Thursday. There is little that surprises or fazes her - she just shrugs and gets on with the job in hand; an unflappable guide to lead us about a fantastic place.
I think it would be fair to say that I am influenced by almost everything I see and read or hear. All writers are. I just tend to take life's rich tapestry and wring it out into a bucket, distill the contents and spread it thickly on paper.
WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
FFORDE: Do it for fun. Do it for yourself. Do it because you want to write. Writers write because they can't stop. They scribble notes in books, write poetry, jot down good snippets of dialogue and generally exist in their own little world. Write, write and write some more. Write what you want to write, no matter how daft it seems. Don't be frightened of dumping a sentence, character, chapter or book and starting again. When you've finished one book, write another. You'll be surprised how much better the second one is to the first. Above all, enjoy it. Even if you never find a publisher, you'll still have been on a wonderful adventure.