I’ve had the pleasure of attending author appearances in smallish venues – I saw Terry Pratchett in a small hall somewhere in Canterbury back in the early 1990s, and Neil Gaiman (promoting the novelisation of Neverwhere) on the second floor of a Waterstone’s in London in the mid-1990s (back before either of them required a ticketing system to prevent a mob scenario). I can now add Jasper Fforde to that list, after attending his appearance to promote Shades of Grey on the third-floor gallery in Foyles on Charing Cross Road.
The event was ticketed, despite Fforde not selling in the same amounts as Pratchett and Gaiman, but I had booked them back in December, so I was able to drag my girlfriend along to her first author appearance (she is a big fan of the Thursday Next series after I foisted them upon her), smug in the knowledge that we would get into the ‘sold out’ event (bit of a misnomer – nobody paid for any tickets, so there was no selling involved).
I don’t know how many people the room packed in – about 100? – but it wasn’t too cramped and we could all see Fforde easily (and hear him clearly with the PA system). Fforde was as funny, educated, charming and engaging as you would expect from reading his novels or his website. He talked about the writing of his latest novel, his first ‘proper’ novel as he calls it – a completely new scenario with his own creations and nobody else’s – and he read out various sections of the new book to illustrate his thinking and the development of the world. It was a very interesting insight to the creative process and into the brain of Fforde.
After about 30 minutes of Fforde talking at us, he opened the floor to questions, something he encourages because it helps him see how people are reacting to his books. He was asked questions that led him to talk about how envisioned Thursday Next (he based her on the female aviators – they just went out and did it, not as a feminist act, but just because it was there), and how a film of the Thursday Next books wouldn’t work because of the nature of books is about reading itself (and, anyway, it would have to be a television mini-series for each book), and how the Nursery Crime Division books were written before Thursday Next (and how he had written the first Thursday Next story in third person but found it wasn’t working, so he changed to first person, with the exception of the flashback chapter, which he realised that it wouldn’t work in first person). It was really informative and Fforde was funny and honest and personable, and the hour was up far too quickly. If you’re a fan of his books, then I urge you to see him in person if possible.