So once again, I spotted that Jasper Fforde, surely one of my favourite writers, was going to start his book launch tour for the 7th in the Thursday Next series, called The Woman Who Died A Lot. I’d got my place early. So early, in fact, that they weren’t yet officially released. But you have to get in quick, as places are soon gone.
This was the third such book launch event at Foyles I’ve been to with Jasper Fforde and I got there in good time. I bought my copy of the book, which is not officially released until Thursday (haha… Thursday… never mind), and found a decent seat. I got talking to the guy who sat next to me, whose name was James, and managed to plug Brighton Plot Bunnies quite mercilessly. By saying that Jasper had answered some of our silly questions a few months ago, I was able to do the Plot Bunnies name-dropping thing.
The room was packed out as usual, and Jasper began by thanking a few people for coming. All the names went in one ear and out the other except one: MINE! Wow. Could there be another Dawn there? Just how likely was that? (Not very, I think.) But then, I did tweet him that I was going (sort of on behalf of Plot Bunnies, sort of for my own selfish reasons, i.e. to be one of the first people in the world to get my hands on a copy of his latest book and to get it signed and stamped and to get one of his coveted limited-edition postcards).
He talked about the differences between 2001 and now. 2001 was when the first in the series, The Eyre Affair, was published, and things were very different. Pluto was a planet, he said. Indeed. We were still smarter than our phones. He spoke about mind-worms, a running theme, as one of the characters is a mnemonomorph – someone who can mess with memories – and he asked if anyone in the audience had their own they would like to share. After a couple of examples, he got his pen out, as he liked the idea of ‘family butcher’ and had forgotten about ‘heavy plant crossing’ (I always imagine a huge cactus with spurred boots and a stetson – Jasper himself pictures a triffid).
He talked also about the several different plot threads throughout this book. There are four, he said, so this is an added-value book, as most writers offer only one or two. He went through what those plot threads were and explained how he had changed the title of the book right at the last minute, from Dark Reading Matter to its current name. There wasn’t much dark reading matter in the book, he realised, and The Woman Who Died A Lot sounded cool. After a call to his editor (who had already had the cover designed and was initially resistant – until she heard his idea), the new title was a done deal.
Opening to questions, he was asked a lot and he tried to get through them all. I kept putting my hand up but it was only at the end that he realised there were questions from my end of the room. I first of all thanked him for the Q&A session he did with us, to which he replied, ‘That’s OK, it was good fun.’ Then I asked my question: Given the somewhat unusual nature of his books, had anyone ever told him that he was the only author they read? After the audience laughed and Jasper responded with an indignant remark along the lines of, ‘You mean you read other authors?!’ he said no. No one had ever said that. The books have so many external references in them, about other books and writers as well as current affairs (which he rips the piss out of with great aplomb, I might add), that if someone were to hole themselves up and read only his books, they would have to be certifiably insane (this as I twiddled my finger near my temple to indicate the same). Plus, they wouldn’t get the jokes, of which there are many.
After one more question, he had to wrap it up. There had been so many, in fact, that he didn’t leave himself any time to read from the book, so he said, ‘You’ll just have to read it yourself.’ Hmph, thinks I, damn! Actually, I’d already read the first couple of pages, only stopping myself from going any further because I wanted to finish re-reading the previous title, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, to recap on a few things. I found myself very glad I did, because he mentioned something that was in that book that I’d forgotten about until I read that part on the train to London. Day-stayers, Synthetic humans made by the evil and all-encompassing Goliath Corporation, designed to replace people they think will be useful – but for only 24 hours, before they expire. And the person who’s been replaced… doesn’t know they’ve been replaced.
As you can see from the above, there would be very little point in my trying to explain too much. Jasper gets asked all the time what the books are about. So do his readers. The best even his publicists could come up with when they released The Eyre Affair was, ‘Don’t ask. Just read it.’ Which is really the best advice I can give.
Oh, and this one is for Laz, as he was wondering whether Jasper plans his books. That was covered, too, and the answer is… No. He doesn’t. Convoluted they may be, but he gets away with it by planting the seed of an idea in the book he’s currently writing, even if he doesn’t yet know where that idea could lead in terms of plot. Then, one, two, or even three books down the line, he’ll think about it again and write it in. (This was how he managed to come back to the idea of Thursday seeing herself coming out of a motorway service station sometime in the future. He thought it was a good idea, but didn’t know what to do with it, so left it in anyway. Three books later, it’s there again – and all is revealed.) He says he only writes to a plan in the sense that he has no plan, so he can basically do what he likes.
As I was near the front during the talk, I was near the back when it came to the queue. I was trapped in the jazz section of the shop for almost exactly an hour, seeing the names of eminent jazz musicians on CDs, not knowing who most of them were but guessing most of the music on them I would dislike heartily (I don’t much like jazz). I also passed the world cinema section, which was far more interesting, of course, but eventually, there he was. The man himself. I took the opportunity to ask him another question, and he said that was OK, so I did. I said we often take homemade munchies to our Plot Bunnies meetings and did he have any recommendations? After a nanosecond’s thought, he said, ‘Scones.’ ‘Any particular kind of scones? Cheese…?’ ‘Cheese??? No, just scones. But they have to be warm.’ And went on a rant about how, if scones are cold, they’re not proper. So he signed my book, stamped it (all his new books have special stamps made) and placed a postcard inside. And not wishing to hold up the queue – or Jasper himself, of course – I thanked him again and then left.
And that was it. Another day in the crazy world of Jasper Fforde and his books. And so the tale of Thursday Next and her unbelievable antics continues…