Jasper Fforde im Interview

by Bücherstädterin Daniela

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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