More on this later but I had the privilege of meeting the enigmatic Jasper Fforde yesterday. The occasion was an interview and lecture: ‘The Kenwood Mixer Approach to writing science fiction’ given at the Space, Time, Machine, Monster – a scifi / fantasy / horror conference for the Valleys at The University of Glamorgan, Wales. Saturday June 21st 2008.
Jasper’s talk is given within the context of his series of humorous science fiction stories: mainly those with Thursday Next as the heroine. ‘she lives in a world where time and reality are endlessly mutable— someone has ensured that the Crimean War never ended for example— a world policed by men like her disgraced father, whose name has been edited out of existence.’ She polices text, struggling against literary mobsters who, working within books we know well, threaten the fabric of existence – at least as it exists inside the books. For example Jane Eyre is kidnapped, which means suddenly all the pages of Charlotte Bronte’s of Jane Eyre are, from that moment, are blank!
A question from the audience interests readers and writers alike. Did the heroine know she was in a novel? Very few books are based inside other books, and so this question has a relevance mainly to the Thursday Next series, but don’t we wonder sometimes how much awareness a strong fictional character has? This is why we like to read: travel inside the plot, experiencing it through the character. Jasper creates an extra layer of reality / unreality by placing his characters inside known fiction and so, yes, Thursday does know she is a character, and so all the more fascinating for that!
On novel plots, Jasper distinguishes between front of house (eg. names of characters and what they are doing) and the back of house (eg how and why things are different). In between he considers writing as the nearest thing to telepathy. I knew I’d met this idea before and looked through my interview notes with other science fiction authors and couldn’t find a specific mention until I googled it. All over the web there are writing tutors and authors saying that writing and reading is the nearest thing to telepathy. I probably said it myself, having subconsciously picked it up at a lecture - like telepathy.
Jasper also said that it is the characters that matter most in science fiction as in all stories. I’m not sold on that anthropomorphic idea. It smacks of the arrogance of Humanity that they are the most important thing in the universe. It seems to me that sometimes the plot is the hero. Examples surround us, such as 2001: Space Odyssey, War of the Worlds, Day of the Triffids, The Time Machine. Yes, these stories have characters, sometimes powerful, but it is moot whether a good scifi book’s premise is more crucial than the thrust of the characters as it is with literary novels. Perhaps we shouldn’t generalize otherwise I’d have to agree that literary novels are all character and no plot, while scifi is the opposite.
More on Jasper’s lecture and our chat later, but meanwhile I have a secret to impart.
A questioner from the audience asked when will Wales become an independent Socialist Republic. Jasper revealed that Wales already was, but it was a secret kept from the English. Hah, but I was there with my notebook, and now I’ve told the world…