Most authors don’t have yearly weekend festivals named after them. But then, most authors aren’t Jasper Fforde. His fans are loyal enough to travel from around the world for the annual Fforde Ffiesta—and for good reason. With more than 15 novels under his belt and four popular series, he’s a fantasy powerhouse who creates complex worlds and strong characters you can’t help but root for.
Fforde is perhaps best known for his Tuesday Next books, a series about a literary detective who fights crime in a parallel universe where Dodo birds still exist and the line between books and reality is razor thin. But he’s also explored the world of young adult literature with his Chronicles of Kazam series, starring Jessica Strange, a teenaged indentured servant who works at an employment agency for magicians. We recently chatted with Fforde about his latest YA novel, The Eye of Zoltar (HMH Book for Young Readers, Oct. 7), and what exactly happens at a typical Fforde Ffiesta:
BookTrib: You’ve written many books for adults, while The Eye of Zoltar is your third aimed at young readers. What’s the biggest difference in writing for adults vs. a younger audience?
Jasper Fforde: Luckily, my adult books are not that adult—they embrace my impish sense of humor, and my often childish wonder at the world that surrounds us. My adult audience tends to be those who still like to be enthralled by imaginative ideas that hopefully brings them back to that initial rush of excitement we all had upon first embarking on our reading adventure, and before the trammels of grey adulthood closed our minds to all that is exciting and weird.
So…my leap from adult to children’s books wasn’t so very great. The wonder and imagination and humor remain, but I just lower the age of the protagonist, cut out a few subplots and ramp down the allusion. For the rest of it, I pretty much leave it alone: betrayal, sacrifice, good and evil. Kids get it all. They’re in school, after all!
BT: Jennifer Strange, the protagonist of The Chronicles of Kazam series, is an orphan, an indentured servant, a de facto-manager, and remarkably self-reliant for a 16 year old. What was your biggest inspiration for her character?
JF: I like Jennifer because she is very much the reluctant heroine. She has to be at Kazam Mystical Arts Management (A sort of agency for sorcerers) as she is an orphan working through a four-year indentured servitude (The UnUnited Kingdoms in which the books are set have an ‘Orphan Based Economy’ as a source of cheap labor) and does what she does essentially because she feels it is right, but also because she has to. For Jennifer, there is no choice over what she gets to do. There is no running away, no abandoning anyone—life gets chucked at her, and she simply gets on with it. That unswerving loyalty to duty I find very interesting, as it makes her less of a superwoman, and more ordinary. Could we, would we, do what she does if we were placed under similar circumstances?
BT: Between the Thursday Next books, The Chronicles of Kazam and Shades of Grey, it’s clear that you’re interested in alternate realities, or worlds that mirror our own but with certain magical, technological, or societal changes. What do you think draws you to creating these types of parallel dimensions?
JF: I think fantasy is the cutting edge of drama. Books set in our world use recognizable rules, regulations and conventions to power the story. Change something in our world—twist it ninety degrees—and then see what new narrative ideas are generated. I often think that the present day is just one of trillions of possible outcomes. Why this one? Why not something else entirely? Since we as humans often consider what might have been or what might become, I thought I’d exploit that collective musing and engineer daydreams into potential reality.
BT: Publisher’s Weekly has used the term “whacked-out humor,” to describe your books. And—to be honest—you had us laughing out loud while reading The Eye of Zoltar. How important is humor to you as both an author and a reader?
JF: As the saying goes: ‘When you have their mouths open with laughter, it’s possible to tip in a little food’. I’m not saying my books are entirely full of deep philosophical ideas, but amusing books are engaging books and if I want to try and explain how the options markets or insider dealing worked—and kids should know this, given recent events—then comedy is a good way to do it. Options Market: Yawn. Options markets explained as Princess Marriage options: Good silly fun. Collateralized Debt Obligations: Nope, couldn’t make that funny.
BT: We recently learned of something called the Fforde Ffiesta, a convention for fans of your books. How did this come about and what exactly happens at a typical Ffiesta?
JF: This all began when a group of “Enthusiastic Readers” (I’m not keen of the term “fans”) decided to hold a weekend of Fforde-related tomffoolery in Swindon, UK, where the Thursday Next books are set. Ten years later, we’re about to have the Ffifth Ffiesta. It’s small–about 120 people, and of those there are a core of 40 people who turn up every time, so it’s more of a family get together. I usually read from the next book to be published; there are games, fancy dress and I’m around all weekend, chatting about writing and, well, stuff. It’s a lot of fun, and I should also point out that I organize none of it: the hard work is undertaken by a hardcore group of Fforganisers who work tirelessly to make the weekend a success. We have never had less than four people from the US turn up. It’s an international event! A note about the title: the Ford Fiesta is a car made by Ford Motors from the 1980’s and onwards.
BT: Are you planning more books in The Chronicles of Kazam series? And if so, could you tell us a little about what’s next for Jennifer Strange?
JF: The next (and possibly final) outing in the series will be Jennifer dealing with the unexpected turn of events at the end of Book Three. Without issuing too many spoilers, I think we can safely say that Jennifer’s wisdom, guile and bravery will be challenged to the limits in a titanic battle of wits with the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen. And they’ll probably be a few trolls. Nasty ones.
Click here to catch Jasper on his US tour.