Jasper Fforde tours again

Jasper Fforde, promoting his new book, the latest in the Thursday Next (or TN) series, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, kicked off the tour at Foyles on the Charing Cross Road on Monday. Yours Truly was there. Even though I arrived at 5.45 and the talk wasn’t due to start until 6.30, the queue to get into the gallery had already formed, so I joined it. As soon as I could, I bought a copy of the new book, retaining my place by talking to two women who were standing behind me. One of them went to buy two copies, the other one stayed behind, thus ensuring both our places were saved. Jasper had spent some time signing the books, and if people wanted (IF?), they could wait behind afterwards for a dedication. I managed to get a decent seat and was right opposite the Ffordester, and the room, small as it is, was jam packed with Fforde Ffans eager to hear the great man speak (there were people standing up round the sides of the room, squeezing in as many people as possible). He actually began earlier than he thought, because his mike was plugged in already and whatever he said outside the door was broadcast loud and clear in the gallery. Oops. Just as well it was nothing personal, then.

Never mind. Before it began, I’d already read the first page, but wouldn’t let myself read any more just yet. In he came, to rapturous applause and a roomful of the oddments who read his books. He’d barely begun before he made everyone laugh, so when we were treated to the first reading from the new book, the whole room exploded into giggles. Part of the Jasper Fforde experience is in the absurdity he manages to insert without sounding too ridiculous. OK, so it is ridiculous, but that’s truly what makes it so funny.

He took questions from the floor (sadly, this time, I couldn’t think of a decent question to ask him) and then continued. It’s nice to know he doesn’t plan his books (neither do I) and that when he does try, they go off on their own path anyway and the plan goes out the window. What we get, apparently, is the convoluted plan, complete with dialogue, description and story arc, and by the time he’s submitted the plan to the publishers, it’s too late to write the book, so what we actually get is a long way from the far superior book he would have written if he hadn’t had to plan.

There were another couple of extracts, ones that didn’t give too much away, and more waffle and tangents (writers…), all of which was fascinating for me as a writer, as I can always learn from the masters. And Jasper Fforde is a master. A master of the absurd and the downright silly, but never quite so silly that it’s impossible to suspend your disbelief. This, the sixth book in the series (or TN-6, or Oootim, for short), was written with the assumption that those reading it would already have read about our heroine Thursday Next. This meant that he didn’t have to explain too much in the story, which is always a good thing as it leaves plenty of room for the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks. (The process of how this happens is explained at various points in the series and there really is no point in my trying to explain. Just read the books.)

Afterwards (and it was over far too soon), I didn’t have to wait too long for him to dedicate my book. The last time, in January 2010, I had to wait an age, but this time, having had that experience and knowing what to expect, I was quicker off the mark and only had to wait about twenty minutes. When it was my turn, I asked him if he’d ever thought of giving Thursday any martial arts skills. ‘I don’t know enough about martial arts,’ says the Ffordester. ‘Ah, but that’s what would make it funnier,’ says I. ‘Actually,’ he says, thinking, ‘there are a couple of kung fu jokes in there.’ This, after he’d mused on what it would be like to go to a martial arts event wearing a T-shirt with the inscription I hate Bruce Lee printed on it. (As I write this, yes, I have found a reference to kung fu in the book, and it was funny!) I swear, it was all over in about two minutes. I think everyone wanted to keep him to ourselves for just a bit longer, but didn’t want to keep everyone else waiting. (See, we’re a considerate lot.) But my day was made, and on the bus back to Victoria station, I was already reading and already giggling. On the train back to Brighton, I was still reading and still giggling.  When I was on the bus back from class the other night, I came across a bit that made me laugh so hard I had to turn my face to the window to stop people thinking I’d just been released from the local nuthouse. A simple, silly, puerile joke, but something that would only have worked in this particular series (trust me on this: and if you are a Ffan, I mean page 200, about three-quarters of the way down).

So, yes, the long wait we had to endure between Thursday books has been well worth it. I’ve not finished it yet for the simple reason that I’ve had work to do as well, so haven’t been reading continuously (much to my chagrin). I’m also reading Huxley’s Brave New World at the same time. This was one I was meant to read as part of my English lit studies years ago, but I never could get past the first few pages because of the simple fact that I couldn’t picture it in my mind (thus rendering it, to my young mind, boring). Reading it now, I understand why – it’s amazing, but it’s heavy stuff and a lot of things need to be understood, I think, before much of it makes any sense at all. (Of course, having passed my 36th birthday, I’ve grown somewhat cynical – not too cynical, but it’s there, all the same – and I can, frighteningly, see that the possibilities Huxley was describing are not nearly as ludicrous as they ought to be.)

So, at the moment, my head is firmly in the BookWorld. It may be some time before you can find me anywhere else.

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