It’s not often that an author can attract people of all different ages, from 8 to 18 to 68 . . . , but Jasper Fforde of Wales is among the few.
Adult readers fell in love with him back in 2001 with “The Eyre Affair,” the first title in his “Thursday Next” series about a literary detective whose job is “spotting forgeries of Shakespeare’s lost plays, mending holes in narrative plot lines and rescuing characters who have been kidnapped from literary masterpieces.”
Since then, Fforde has published 10 more titles for adults, including those in a second series, featuring Jack Spratt of The Nursery Crime Division. “In the first book, ‘The Big Over Easy,’ Humpty Dumpty is the victim in a whodunnit, and in the second, ‘The Fourth Bear,’ the Three Bears’ connection to Goldilocks’ disappearance can finally be revealed,” Fforde’s website notes.
Patty Russell, Washington, said she discovered Fforde’s books by happy accident.
“ . . . since I am a fan of most classic literature, I thought it would be fun,” Russell told The Missourian. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but, boy, was I hooked. I love the literary allusions, the word play, and the general cleverness of the books. The idea of a literary detective was delightful, and how literature was shaped by her and others’ interactions in the books was really clever. I was hooked and have read several other books in the series.”
Children and teens were introduced to Fforde more recently with “The Last Dragonslayer,” released in 2010 in the United Kingdom (but just last fall in America) as the first book in “The Chronicles of Kazam” series, which follows the life of Jennifer Strange, a 15-year-old who runs an employment agency for magicians at a time when magic is drying up.
Strange’s quest is to slay a dragon with a bad reputation, said Missourian Book Editor Chris Stuckenschneider.
“In reality the dragon has gotten a bad rap, a twist that sets this very clever little novel apart from other fantasies,” she notes. “Accompanying Strange on her mission is her stalwart Quarkbeast, a unique canine-type creature with jaws of steel, and a rather testy personality.”
Young fans of Fforde’s work can’t get enough.
Rachel Bolte, an 8-year-old patron of Scenic Regional Library in Union, has already read “Dragonslayer” and has the second title in the series, “The Song of the Quarkbeast,” which is just now being released in America, on reserve.
“I liked how he kept us in suspense about who was going to be the last dragonslayer,” Rachel said of “Dragonslayer.”
“I liked how he told the story.”
While Fforde’s books aren’t easy to label — Christy Schink, the children’s librarian at Scenic, describes them as “fantastical alternate history”; and Fforde himself describes them (on his website) as “an eclectic mix of genres, which might be described as a joyful blend of Comedy-SF-thriller-Crime-Satire” — they are easily digestible, said Stuckenschneider.
“Fforde’s novels for young people and adults blast readers with a scatter-shooting of genres. He skillfully plays with words and turns out books with elements of mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy overlaid with his signature humor,” she said.
“At the onset, Fforde’s writing may seem all fun and frolic, but there are some serious undertones as well — environmental concerns pop up, as do wisecracks about British class differences and politics.
“Catchy and jam-packed with creativity, readers are sure to relish Fforde’s offerings, and be impressed with his new venture into the world of children’s literature.”
Fforde fans will have a chance to meet the British author next week when he comes to Washington Public Library for a presentation Wednesday evening, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m.
He’s in America promoting the U.S. release of “The Song of the Quarkbeast,” the second title in his “Kazam” series for young adults, but Fforde told The Missourian he’ll tailor his presentation to the audience and what they are interested in hearing.
“As soon as they file in and I say a few things, the audience’s reaction gives me a good idea about where I should level my talk — broad, specific, question based, anecdotal, writing-based,” Fforde wrote in an email interview.
“It all depends. I like Q and As most of all, as it often gives me a chance to talk about something I haven’t considered before.
“I talk and write very much on the hoof, and good questions with their unconsidered, off-the-cuff answers often reveal to myself things I’d never considered before.
“It’s an author thing, I think.”
Fforde’s presentation in Washington is sponsored by Washington Public and Scenic Regional libraries, as well as The Missourian.
In the following Q&A series, Fforde answers questions posed by Missourian book editor Chris Stuckenschneider about making the transition from writing for adults to writing for children, his “Kazam” series and what it’s like living in “the used book capital of the world.”
Having been highly successful in writing books for adults, what inspired you to make the jump to children’s literature? Was it having your own children? What are their ages?
Oddly enough, “The Last Dragonslayer” was written in 1997, as part of the “Six novels and 10 years of writing” most authors have to go through before being published.
I was experimenting, I think, with various forms, and looking at YA as a possible outlet. My daughters at the time were 9, and that probably had a bearing on it.
I went on to write two others after LDS, and it languished on my hard drive gathering electrons for 13 years until my agents suggested we gave it an airing.
Hodder picked it up in the U.K. pretty quickly, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt soon after.
Because I don’t write serious contemporary novels but absurdist fantasy, the leap from adult to children wasn’t so very huge — kids can understand complex plots, so where my YA book differ is less subplots and allusion, and hack out any long exposition and description. Pacey plotting remains pretty much the same.
“The Last Dragonslayer” combines creative, fun characters and a mad-cap plot with serious overtones. What do you hope children take away from your book?
That books are still worthy of their attention, I hope. I can’t think of a better habit to get into than reading — it improves everything: Empathy, broadness of social understanding and a more inquiring mind.
I would not delude myself that this book will change anyone on its own, but I like to think that my books give a small puff into that cloud of collective consciousness that hovers above us all — and that the cloud is laden not with selfishness and short-termism, but perhaps a feeling that good will prevail, loyalty is important, dragons are totally cool, young women can do pretty much anything they have a mind to, and that wildernesses should survive unsullied by mankind’s intervention.
Around the fifth grade, boys sometimes lose an interest in reading. Seldom do they want to pick up a book they consider girly, and certainly not one starring a female. Despite this, boys really enjoy Jennifer Strange — find her adventures great fun. Why did you choose to tell your Dragonslayer trilogy using a girl as the main character?
It’s a great shame, the whole “guys not reading stuff” issue, as I think it tends to hobble our male’s social maturity in later life. Major problem, I feel.
I was glad to hear that boys liked Jennifer, and as an appealing character, she presses all buttons. Girls like her because she can do pretty much whatever she wants, but is not without her difficulties — everyone likes an underdog who fights back.
Boys like her because for the most part, boys like girls, even if they claim not to — especially girls who are sassy, know their minds and can kick some butt.
In “The Eyre Affair,” there’s a reference to the Quarkbeast. Now he appears in your up and coming title, “Song of the Quarkbeast.” Where has the beast been all these years?
This relates to question one, as the Quarkbeast came into being in 1997. He was always there, much like my other unpublished characters, looking over my shoulder and hoping that it’s their turn next.
I often pepper my books with allusions to my other books, and in this case, one I hadn’t published!
What is it like living in Hay-on-Wye, the used book capital of the world? Are you surrounded by a network of authors? How long have you lived there, and where did you previously call home?
It’s very lovely, thank you, and we’ve been here almost 15 years. We’re actually here because I lived here when a nipper — one of the truly great gifts of being an author is you get to live where you want, and for my wife and I, moving to this area of the Welsh Marches with its broad valleys, grassy hills and babbling brooks of almost indescribable loveliness seemed like a logical move.
Hay-on-Wye was a bonus, and as bonuses go, it’s a pretty good one.
You spend time flying — what other hobbies do you enjoy, in addition to reading and writing? What types of books do you like to read?
I still enjoy photography — a very long love affair beginning with a darkroom under the stairs aged 9. I still use film on occasion “for fun” but realise that digital is actually much better for many reasons — and besides, method of capture is immaterial: The subject is everything.
I still enjoy going to the movies, although good quality TV is slowly supplanting the movies for originality and broadness of subject matter.
Aside from the flying I also enjoy trailing vintage cars which pretty much equates to coaxing a 1918 Model T Ford up impossibly difficult muddy slopes.
Reading is harder these days, due to all the other demands upon my time. I have a “retirement pile” of books (retirement? Hah!) and I try to have at least one book on the go, usually nonfiction. I’m currently reading about TWA.
To read more about Jasper Fforde, visit his website at www.jasperfforde.com.