Jasper Fforde im Interview

This is [re­al­ly] what my books are about: they’re full of stran­ge, unusu­al, weird ide­as.

Pas­send zum The­men­land Groß­bri­tan­ni­en der Stutt­gar­ter Buch­wo­chen 2016 sprach Jas­per Ffor­de in ei­ner mo­de­rier­ten Le­sung über sei­ne Bü­cher und spe­zi­ell den vier­ten Teil der Thurs­day Next Rei­he „Es ist et­was Faul“. In die­ser Rei­he wird die fik­tio­na­le Buch­welt mehr­mals be­reist. Ei­ner von vie­len Grün­den für Sätz­chen­bä­cke­rin Da­nie­la, ihm und sei­ner Frau Mary nach der Le­sung bei Speis und Trank noch wei­te­re Fra­gen über das Schrei­ben und sei­ne Bü­cher zu stel­len. Wie ent­steht ein Buch? Was sind sei­ne Lieb­lings­cha­rak­te­re und was hat „Shades of Grey“ da­mit zu tun? Das In­ter­view er­schien erst­mals auf Deutsch in der 21. Aus­ga­be des Bü­cher­stadt Ku­riers. Hier nun das In­ter­view auf Eng­lisch.

Gre­at Bri­tain being last ye­ars Guest of Ho­nour at the Stutt­gar­ter Buch­wo­chen 2016 one of the country’s po­pu­lar aut­hors, Jas­per Ffor­de, took part in a rea­ding and Q&A ses­si­on of and about So­me­thing Rot­ten, part four of the Thurs­day Next se­ries. As the­re are nu­me­rous trips to the fic­tio­nal book world in this se­ries, Sätz­chen­bä­cke­rin Da­nie­la had more than one good re­a­son to ask the aut­hor and his wife Mary even more ques­ti­ons about his books and wri­ting in ge­ne­ral af­ter­wards. How does a book come to life? What are his fa­vou­rite cha­rac­ters? And what does Shades of Grey have to do with it?

BK: Your sen­se of hu­mor is very Bri­tish. Would you also con­si­der yours­elf Bri­tish in other ways?

JF: Yes, I think so. In many ways. I’m very po­li­te. Even if the cof­fee is re­al­ly bad, eit­her way I’ll say ‘lovely’. What’s stran­ge and de­light­ful about get­ting around Eu­ro­pe is that all of us in Eu­ro­pe seem to be in­tent on streng­the­ning our ste­reo­ty­pes. You go to Ger­ma­ny and ever­yo­ne is re­al­ly Ger­man, you go to Fran­ce and everyone’s very French, Spain and they’re Spa­nish, Ita­ly and they’re Ita­li­an. Ever­yo­ne re­al­ly wants to be this very sort of strong iden­ti­ty, which I think is gre­at and I want to think about this being Eu­ro­pe. That we can be this one joi­ned, won­der­ful, huge, big, uni­fied Eu­ro­pe and yet be all very in­di­vi­du­al and have this won­der­ful sort of na­tio­nal cha­rac­te­ris­tics.

BK: Your books are full of crea­ti­ve ide­as. What’s your se­cret?

JF: When you’re an aut­hor or if you’re working in any sort of crea­ti­ve en­dea­vor you have to fi­gu­re out your strengths. I think what I found out, and this is from very far ear­ly on, is that I can think up stran­ge ide­as. I can take very or­di­na­ry ide­as, put them to­ge­ther and so­me­thing new and unusu­al will come out of it. I think if I have a strong point – that’s whe­re it lies. This is re­al­ly what my books are about: they’re full of stran­ge, unusu­al, weird ide­as. What I had to learn was to be able to take the ide­as and stitch them to­ge­ther into a nar­ra­ti­ve that kind of makes sen­se.
If I tried to wri­te a strai­ght no­vel, a li­tera­ry no­vel about some is­su­es that peop­le who live in North Lon­don have, and no­bo­dy else does – it would be ter­ri­ble. I think up weird ide­as. That’s my sort of thing.

BK: Are the­re any good ide­as that ne­ver made it into the books?

JF: A lot. I have a litt­le ide­as book. I’ll go ‘That’s a good idea’ and I’ll just wri­te it down. I’ll wri­te a hea­ding and just flash it out in a pa­ra­graph, just so I won’t for­get. The­re are all sorts of ide­as. So­me­ti­mes, when I’m wri­ting, I think ‘I have an idea’ and I go ‘Oh, that’s good’ and I wri­te it into the chap­ter. But then I think that this idea is too good. So I take it out and ex­pand it into an en­t­i­re no­vel la­ter on or use it in ano­t­her book. They get re­cy­cled.
When I was wri­ting my first two books they had all sorts of ide­as in them that I re­al­ly lik­ed. When I was wri­ting my third book, I was thin­king ‘Right, should I take tho­se ide­as out of tho­se first two books, and use them to make the third book even bet­ter?’ And I went ‘No, I’m go­ing to keep the­se books, be­cau­se I like them and I’ll just in­vent to­tal­ly new ide­as in this book’. That works, be­cau­se the first two books then got pu­blished and they were still in one pie­ce. I have ide­as but I’ll reu­se them. I can’t think of any good ide­as that I felt I couldn’t use,

BK: Your prot­ago­nist Thurs­day Next feels like a re­al­ly rea­listic fe­ma­le cha­rac­ter. How was she born?

JF: It’s a tri­cky one to ex­p­lain, be­cau­se a lot of wri­ting is in­tui­ti­ve. I crea­ted Thurs­day wi­thout thin­king about wri­ting. I was just ban­ging the wor­ds down and go­ing ‘Yeah, that works’. I like her a gre­at deal. She knows her own mind. She does the right thing be­cau­se it’s the right thing to do and that’s very much a gui­ding princip­le.
I think she’s mo­de­led on fe­ma­le avia­tors like Bes­sie Co­le­man, Ame­lia Ear­hart or Amy John­son. The­se wo­men li­ved in an era not de­fi­ned for equal rights bet­ween men and wo­men. Not only were they doing so­me­thing that so­cie­ty would not want them to do – they did so­me­thing that even men wouldn’t do be­cau­se they were so dan­ge­rous and so ris­ky. Tho­se kind of wo­men did tho­se things sim­ply be­cau­se they wan­ted to do them – not to make a state­ment.
Amy John­son flew to Aus­tra­lia in 1930. She had ba­si­cal­ly just pas­sed her dri­ving test and had about 70 hours of fly­ing time, which is not­hing. She bought a se­cond­hand air­craft, loa­ded it up with fuel and set off for Aus­tra­lia. The mo­dern day equi­va­lent would be put­ting yours­elf in­si­de a skip on top of two thousand tons of dy­na­mi­te and an­noun­cing you’re go­ing to Plu­to. It’s that kind of un­be­liev­a­ble sen­se of ad­ven­ture. She took off on a very grey and rai­ny day from Lon­don. No one had be­lie­ved that this girl could do this and when she fi­nal­ly lan­ded in Aus­tra­lia she was a huge star.
Thurs­day was kind of ba­sed on that princip­le of re­al­ly strong will, see­min­gly wi­thout a per­so­nal agen­da. She just does the­se things be­cau­se she feels they’re right and im­portant. I don’t re­al­ly know whe­re she co­mes from. I see mys­elf more like a “Lan­den”* cha­rac­ter in the books, being sort of a/the nea­rest, very spe­cial per­son.

*(Thurs­days Husband/S.O.)

BK: She’s also a mo­ther in the books. How do you think that fits to­ge­ther?

JF: I wri­te by a princip­le I call the ‘less world trou­bling path’: if there’s an ob­vious way of doing so­me­thing I won’t do it. The ob­vious thing to do with Thurs­day is what ever­yo­ne else is doing with their fe­ma­le cha­rac­ters: Have a pa­ra­de of un­sui­ta­ble boy­fri­ends mo­ving through her per­so­nal life. I thought ‘No, that’s what most peop­le do’, so I’m go­ing to make her a ‘one guy gal’. She and Lan­den are de­vo­ted to each other and it would only be na­tu­ral at one point for them to have child­ren. She is a re­mar­kab­le lea­ding lady but at the same time also sort of un­re­mar­kab­le. The do­mestic pro­blems she has with her child­ren are in her case a bit unusu­al** but still re­lia­ble. It makes her or­di­na­ry and ta­kes off the edge of her being a su­per­he­ro.

** e.g. one of Thurs­days child­ren has is­su­es with the in­sti­tu­ti­on of time tra­vel and the other one is a ge­ni­us

BK: Every prot­ago­nist needs his vil­lain. From all your books, who’s your fa­vou­rite vil­lain?

JF: I don’t know. Ache­ron Ha­des is qui­te a good vil­lain but he’s a bit bo­ring. Vil­lains shouldn’t be su­per­vil­lains, in a se­cond look they should not be qui­te as evil as they seem. The Go­li­ath Cor­po­ra­ti­on is a good vil­lain. I’m try­ing to think about my vil­lains now.

MF: Jack Shit.

JF: Jack Shit is a good vil­lain be­cau­se he’s nas­ty through and through. Fe­lix Se­ven is good be­cau­se he’s amo­ral. It’s not a ques­ti­on of ha­ving mo­rals or im­mo­rals, he’s amo­ral.

MF: Aor­nis.

JF: Aor­nis Ha­des, she’s a good vil­lain. I like her. She’s a mne­mo­no­morph: she can chan­ge your me­mo­ries. Be­cau­se if you can’t re­mem­ber so­me­thing, how do you know it ever exis­ted? The idea of an evil per­son who you can ne­ver re­mem­ber be­cau­se every time you meet them, they era­se all me­mo­ry of what they’ve been doing. How would you even­tual­ly de­feat so­meo­ne like that? That was qui­te a dif­fi­cult task for me. La­ter on in the se­ries the prot­ago­nists are try­ing to find Aor­nis and of cour­se she is in the hou­se and has been the who­le time – they just can­not re­mem­ber it. I think that’s qui­te fun and her name is good, Aor­nis Ha­des. She li­kes to shop as well.
And there’s Cin­dy who’s an as­sas­sin and that’s qui­te sweet be­cau­se she’s mar­ried to so­meo­ne who kills vam­pi­res and he can’t bring him­s­elf to tell her that and she can’t bring herself to tell him she’s an as­sas­sin. This is a litt­le sort of fric­tion wi­t­hin their re­la­ti­ons­hip. It’s qui­te fun. Vil­lains are gre­at fun to wri­te but Aor­nis is pro­bab­ly my fa­vo­ri­te. I think she’s ori­gi­nal. I don’t know an­yo­ne who has done that.

BK: You also have a book that’s cal­led ‘Shades of Grey’. Now ever­yo­ne is tal­king about ’50 Shades of Grey’. If you could name it dif­fer­ent­ly now, would you do this?

JF: I wouldn’t have cal­led it that if ’50 Shades of Grey’ had al­re­ady been writ­ten. But it is cal­led ‘Shades of Grey’ and chan­ging a tit­le of a book is like chan­ging the name of the lead cha­rac­ter. It’s very dif­fi­cult to do. When I’m wri­ting a book and the cha­rac­ters have had the same name the who­le time I’ve been wri­ting it and then I de­ci­de to chan­ge their na­mes for some re­a­son it all seems wrong and it just doesn’t work. I of­ten chan­ge it back. I had a cha­rac­ter that was cal­led Scar­let and I de­ci­de to not call it Scar­let and then I chan­ged it back be­cau­se it just didn’t work with ano­t­her name.
So cal­ling ‘Shades of Grey’ so­me­thing else, wouldn’t work. Un­less my pu­blisher says to me ‘Look, we re­al­ly have to chan­ge this’, I would say ‘No, keep it as it is’.

BK: Do you con­si­der wri­ting a se­cond book of ‘Shades of Grey’?

JF: Very much. It’s the book I’m most proud of. It’s a pro­per no­vel.*** It’s not using peop­le from other people’s fic­tion. I do like it. It’s the least well of all my books. But peop­le who like it re­al­ly like it, which is won­der­ful. They re­al­ly get it.
I will be doing a se­quel even­tual­ly. But be­fo­re a se­quel, the­re will pro­bab­ly be a pre­quel first. I’ve got to fi­nish the book I’m working on, then I’ll have the fourth part of the Last Dragonslayer-series and then there’s a stand-alone set in the ‘Shades of Grey’ world. It will be set a coup­le of weeks be­fo­re the event that hap­pen­ed in ‘Shades of Grey’. So we get to know how the world re­al­ly came to be around and then we’ll go back to Jane and Ed­die. But I don’t re­al­ly know what’s go­ing to hap­pen in the­se books, I just make it up as I go along.

***It fo­cu­ses more on the in­di­vi­du­al sto­ry­line of the cha­rac­ters.

BK: Can you ima­gi­ne wri­ting Thurs­day Next books in ten ye­ars?

JF: Yes, ab­so­lute­ly. I’ve been buil­ding up to ano­t­her Thurs­day book which is cal­led ‘Dark Rea­ding Mat­ter’****. The last book in fact was go­ing to be ‘Dark Rea­ding Mat­ter’ but I star­ted wri­ting and the­re was not­hing about dark rea­ding mat­ter and so it didn’t work.
May­be the next one will get the tit­le be­cau­se I love the idea that the vi­su­al book world con­ta­ins only about ten per­cent of the amount of books that have been writ­ten and there’s this dark rea­ding mat­ter out the­re. All the things you can’t re­al­ly get to any­mo­re: books that have been era­sed, ide­as that peop­le have had when they’ve died, con­ver­sa­ti­ons that are no lon­ger around. It’s all tho­se mo­ments and they end up in the dark rea­ding mat­ter. And if you can get into the ‘Dark Rea­ding Mat­ter’, it could be a po­ten­ti­al gold mine for pu­blishers. The­re could be all kinds of in­te­res­ting, ex­ci­ting things. I’m not a hund­red per­cent sure what I’m go­ing to do with it. But it’s an ex­ci­ting idea.
We’ll even­tual­ly go back to Thurs­day, be­cau­se I like her and there’s no re­a­son why I should stop wri­ting about her. But there’re a lot more pro­jects I have to wri­te as well. May­be in three or four ye­ars we will get back to her. But I’ll have to re­read a lot of my Thurs­day books to get back into it , I’ve al­most for­got­ten how she feels like as an cha­rac­ter.

****Al­lu­si­on to dark mat­ter: Dark mat­ter is a pre­dic­ted mat­ter to ex­p­lain the mo­ve­ment of vi­si­ble mat­ter in the uni­ver­se and is yet not found.

BK: You’re wri­ting many dif­fe­rent se­ries. Is it easy to switch bet­ween your prot­ago­nists when star­ting a new book?

JF: I think it is, ac­tual­ly. This perhaps needs an ea­sier examp­le. You can talk to your grand­par­ents and you speak to them in ano­t­her way. Then you can talk to your fri­end and you speak to them in ano­t­her way. Then you talk to your par­ents or your si­b­lings and you can talk to them li­ter­al­ly wi­t­hin five mi­nu­tes. You talk to all of them dif­fer­ent­ly be­cau­se the ru­les of en­ga­ge­ment are dif­fe­rent for all of them. I think it’s the same with wri­ting. You know whe­re you are, the ru­les and re­gu­la­ti­ons. And then you just wri­te it. So when I’m doing a Thurs­day book I know pret­ty much ex­act­ly how Thurs­day talks, her cha­rac­ter and ever­y­thing. When I’m wri­ting a ‘Shades of Grey’ or a ‘Last Dra­gons­lay­er’ book it’s all ut­ter­ly dif­fe­rent but you just shift across. We know that dif­fe­rent peop­le have dif­fe­rent ru­les and – ima­gi­ne mi­xing them up. That would be qui­te a good co­me­dy.
Hu­mans can do it qui­te well. I don’t think it’s any­thing re­mar­kab­le.

BK: Do you have a fa­vou­rite prot­ago­nist?

JF: I think I al­ways had a las­ting af­fec­tion for Thurs­day be­cau­se she got me pu­blished for the first time. In a way I like all of them, you have to in a stran­ge sort of way. You have to like the prot­ago­nist, even the bad­dies. All the­se cha­rac­ters have some litt­le foi­ble in them, some litt­le pro­blem that they are try­ing to get past. That makes them qui­te fun and at­trac­tive.
I have a lot of af­fec­tion for Me­la­nie who’s a go­ril­la and has this pro­blem with hair and she has this litt­le Coco Cha­nel dress. So­mehow she wants to be more hu­man but she hap­pens to be a go­ril­la. Her hus­band Brad­shaw is de­eply in love with her and he doesn’t see it as any­thing he shouldn’t be. You can see that he’s very de­fen­si­ble. I think their re­la­ti­ons­hip is very sweet, even though she’s a go­ril­la. But she’s a tal­king go­ril­la, so it’s okay.
This stran­geness is what makes tho­se cha­rac­ters unusu­al and bi­zar­re. I have a gre­at af­fec­tion for Em­peror Zark who is a god em­peror of twel­ve star sys­tems who would not blink to kill mil­li­ons of peop­le. But when he’s in an ele­va­tor tal­king to Mrs. Tig­gy Wink­le (who is a hedge­hog from the Bea­trix Potter’s books) they dis­cuss laund­ry and we find out that Em­peror Zark has a mo­ther who he has to obey and do as she tells. He’s this im­men­se­ly power­ful em­peror yet he has to do what his mo­ther tells him. So there’s al­ways so­me­thing in the cha­rac­ters that makes me af­fec­tio­na­te towards them. The­re are bad­dies but they are not re­al­ly bad. There’s al­ways some rede­eming fea­ture that makes them more hu­man.

BK: You wri­te your books as first per­son nar­ra­ti­ves. Could you also ima­gi­ne wri­ting your books as third per­son nar­ra­ti­ves?

JF: There’s ac­tual­ly two books [that al­re­ady are third per­son nar­ra­ti­ves]: The ‘Nur­s­e­ry Crime’ books which are not pu­blished in Ger­ma­ny be­cau­se they’re with Hum­pty Dum­pty and Gol­dy Locks and for some re­a­son they felt like they wouldn’t trans­fer into Ger­man. I like first per­son and I think the re­aders like it as well be­cau­se the prot­ago­nist is the pro­xy you. When you speak in first per­son, the prot­ago­nist isn’t just ta­king the re­aders hand and gui­ding him through the sto­ry. You are ac­tual­ly al­lo­wing the re­ader to be in the protagonist’s body. The re­ader be­co­mes the prot­ago­nist. What is hap­pe­ning to the prot­ago­nist is what’s hap­pe­ning to you and you have very di­rect fee­lings. I think it works.
But the­re are pro­blems with first per­son nar­ra­ti­ves. You can’t go away from the ac­tion if it’s not hap­pe­ning to the prot­ago­nist. Ever­y­thing has to hap­pen in front of the prot­ago­nist and that can be pro­ble­ma­tic.

BK: What’s your fa­vou­rite time of the day to wri­te?

JF: I need time. The thing about wri­ting is that I have to do qui­te a lot of it. The mi­ni­mum time that I need to spend wri­ting is four hours a day. Other­wi­se I will ne­ver fi­nish a book. It is re­al­ly just: get down to it, get emails out of the way, clear the desk and just go.

MF: Switch the in­ter­net off, no eBay.

JF: No eBay, no che­cking e-mails. The in­ter­net is the worst thief of time. Not say­ing that if the­re wasn’t in­ter­net I would not be doing so­me­thing else. Un­plug it, shut ever­y­thing down and you just get on with it.

MF: The other thing is nee­ding it to be peace­ful and quiet. Jas­per ends up get­ting up very ear­ly and star­ting work at five in the morning be­cau­se we have two small child­ren. They get up at se­ven and lea­ve at nine. So he has a quiet hou­se from nine to three.

JF: A very quiet hou­se and then I’ll have to pick up the kids. So­me­ti­mes I might try to get back to work. It de­pends on how things are go­ing but in ge­ne­ral I’m try­ing to get it done bet­ween five and three.

MF: He’s got a say­ing on his wall: ‘Four hours a day, is the only way.’ You have to at least get that, it’s an un­bro­ken law.

JF: Other­wi­se no book will ever pro­gress.

MF: Other wri­ters say that too.

BK: How many hours would you spend wri­ting if you were not a full-time aut­hor?

JF: If I wasn’t an aut­hor I would pro­bab­ly spend more time wri­ting. Be­cau­se when you start so­me­thing new and ex­ci­ting and the­re is this huge pas­si­on for it than you can’t stop yours­elf from doing it. I must have been working qui­te hard to wri­te the ne­ar­ly se­ven no­vels I did in the twel­ve ye­ars whilst I was hol­ding down a full-time job and ha­ving kids as well. That’s li­ter­al­ly se­ven to eight thousand wor­ds a day which is a huge amount.
I’ve been wri­ting for about 25 ye­ars now. The pas­si­on is still the­re but not the dri­ve be­cau­se I have other things I’d like to do. I get bu­si­er when it gets clo­ser to the dead­line. But eight hours, I should be able to use them. Some days are re­al­ly gre­at and I get a lot of work down and other days it’s ex­tre­me­ly slow and I can spend all morning on a pa­ra­graph. I want so­me­thing to hap­pen in it but I don’t want to have it as a long pa­ra­graph. I want to have it qui­te short be­cau­se I want to keep the pace up and I could keep working on it for two hours but it’s like rub­bish. It’s not working. I stop for lunch, come back and in ten se­conds I’ve done it. And I go ‘Now did this take ten se­conds or did it take two hours and ten se­conds? Was the two hours mocking around part of the crea­ti­on of that pa­ra­graph?’ No idea at all. But that’s how it works so­me­ti­mes.
And then so­me­ti­mes I sit down and wri­te an en­t­i­re chap­ter and I ba­re­ly touch a word. Other times I wri­te a chap­ter and then re­wri­te it. It’s up and down, fe­ast and fa­mi­ne, ag­o­ny and ec­sta­sy. It’s all of them.

BK: Do you wri­te on mul­ti­ple pro­jects at the same time?

JF: I work on one book at a time but of­ten some­bo­dy says ‘Will you do a short sto­ry of so and so?’ I don’t do it of­ten the­se days but Mary and me used to do the web­site a lot. I’m wri­ting a litt­le short sto­ry every now and then. When peop­le want some con­tent be­cau­se I’m go­ing to a fes­ti­val and I want my three fa­vou­rite books of last year or so­me­thing and then I wri­te that. But it’s not­hing big and I couldn’t do two books at a time. I ne­ver tried it but I don’t think so. I’ve got to con­cen­tra­te on one thing at a time.

BK: Last ques­ti­on: If you were a book, what kind of book would it be?

JF: That’s a good ques­ti­on. I ne­ver had this ques­ti­on be­fo­re. What kind of book would I be? I sup­po­se it would be a work in pro­gress. It would look a bit like a first or se­cond draft and I’d pro­bab­ly feel like I could have done things bet­ter if I worked har­der and con­cen­tra­ted more.

MF: I think he’ll de­fi­ni­te­ly be a book with il­lus­tra­ti­on in it. That’s so­me­thing he has al­ways thought of.

JF: And the­re would be il­lus­tra­ti­ons in the books.

MF: And he would do them, co­lou­red il­lus­tra­ti­ons.

JF: I would en­joy that. In one of the Thurs­day Next books we have a fic­tio­nal Thurs­day Next and she has to go into the real world. She’s so ter­ri­fied. She heard about the real world and that it’s ter­ri­fy­ing. She gets ad­vi­sed ‘Don’t worry about it’ and she says ‘What do I do when peop­le talk to me? What shall I say? I have no bluff ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m writ­ten in a book.’ They say ‘Out in the real world about eigh­ty per­cent of talk is bull­shit and ni­ne­ty per­cent of life is spend mocking around, not re­al­ly con­cen­tra­ting.’ That’s why I’m say­ing a first or se­cond draft. You could al­ways look back at things and say ‘I could have done bet­ter.’ or ‘What if I star­ted wri­ting when I was eigh­te­en?’ But you can’t do that.

BK: Thank you so much for the in­ter­view.

JF: You’re wel­co­me. Thank you.

Foto: Sätz­chen­bä­cke­rin Da­nie­la

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