Jasper Fforde: Attempt II. Sunday, Sep 30 2007 

I got the second Thurday Next book out of the library and only got as far as the beginning of chapter two. To be fair to the book I’ve developed into an profoundly choosy reader anyway, but there are two reasons I couldn’t go on.

The first was that the entire first chapter was a comic scene that didn’t contribute anything to the plot or develop anyone’s character or have anything interesting to say. I persevered with the Shakespeare Pantomime in the first book because it was halfway through the story so there was enough momentum built up already, but starting with a scene that doesn’t go anywhere is really just a false start. The entire scene could have reduced to a couple of paragraphs, been a lot more punchy and given all the same information.

The second was that everything in Jasper Fforde’s world has to be comically silly. It reminds me of this Boy on a Stick cartoon:

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When everything is special, nothing is special… when everything is comic, nothing is comic. When someone puts on a pair of shoes, you don’t need to give the brand of shoes a silly name… sometimes a pair of shoes is just a pair of shoes.

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Tuesday in the unforeseeable future. Thursday, Sep 6 2007 

I’m slightly miffed because I noticed that one of Jasper Fforde’s books starts with an illustration, and underneath that illustration is a quote taken from page 299 of the book. That’s precisely what I had in mind for my illustrations – taking quotes from the text and illustrating them. I did steal the idea from Homestar Runner but didn’t think anyone else had already done that in books. Except I was going to put the illustrations after the text.

Never mind. I’ll just try something slightly different then instead. I already have something in mind that I quite like.

I’ve been thinking about Jasper Fforde in general. It’s bewildering – he should be one of my favourite authors. I should be reserving all his books at the library and getting excited every time one comes in. In fact I should have read them already. So why would I rather read Moby Dick again than a new Jasper Fforde book? The weird, imaginative fantasy of Fforde seems like exactly the sort of thing I’d like. So why isn’t it?

Maybe the answer is that I just don’t care about Tuesday Next. Now I’ll have to think about why this is the case.

It’s never homage if you want it to be true. Wednesday, Aug 29 2007 

For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out where the line is between thievery and homage; if I wrote, for example, a ‘sequel’ to Dorian Gray, carrying on where the last one left off (maybe the painting gets found and repaired in the modern world and Dorian comes to life as a sort of hedonistic zombie or something), would this be proper? Or would I just be abusing the literary legacy of Oscar Wilde because I really want to be Oscar Wilde?

This “reimagining” of The Famous Five is the latest one I’ve noticed. Also I’ve found a ‘sequel’ of Treasure Island, a murder mystery book with Oscar Wilde as the sleuth, a children’s series featuring James Bond as a child, and of course the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. There are probably hundreds more that I can’t remember right now.

Sometimes I find it acceptable, but other times I don’t. The Extraordinary Gentlemen is okay because by mixing lots of literary characters, there’s no way you could possibly say “this is a natural continuation of the stories of Bram Stoker/Robert Louis Stevenson/Ralph Ellison”. Jasper Fforde’s novels work for a similar reason. But to sincerely have Oscar Wilde working as a detective seems like a corruption and an unforgivable liberty to me; so does the idea of a ‘sequel’ to Treasure Island. This is no longer a homage; this is claiming a famous name/title as your own to boost your own career. It no longer has artistic value. It’s commercial fanfic.

And then there are other things to consider, such as: what about movie/television adaptations of books? In the case of the new Famous Five TV series, what about an adaptation of the extrapolated ‘future lives’ of the characters? I can imagine a lot of Famous Five fans loving the idea of seeing their characters in adulthood, but would Enid Blyton be happy? Hergé said there would be no more Tintin books. How would he feel about the movie? Was it just comics he was talking about, or any medium featuring Tintin?

I’ve written William Dampier into my novel, I’m assuming it’s okay because it’s clearly in no way a sincere attempt to ‘continue’ the life of William Dampier or ‘amend’ it in any way; but I have my qualms. I was also going to include George Orwell but decided it would be overkill.

Quandary. Thursday, Jul 26 2007 

I’ve never quite come to a conclusion about whether it’s a good or a bad thing for a writer to include their own lives in their work; on the one hand it can be disruptive and disingenuous, on the other hand it can be charming and unexpected. Looking at my own work, some of my favourite touches are little observations or incidents from my own life that I’ve manipulated and turned into part of the story. They’re things my imagination would never have come up with on its own. I’m quite sure that if I took them out the whole story would be a lot more mechanical; on the other hand, are they supposed to be there at all? Maybe they just mean so much to me because I’m biased about them; maybe I should only write about stuff that I can see objectively.

The big risk I’m taking with the book I’m writing is that I don’t know whether readers will assume that I am the narrator. The set-up makes perfect sense to me; the narrating is narrating the book, ergo they’re the one writing it, ergo the narrator is a writer. Isn’t it perfectly logical to have a narrator who is also a writer? I always find it annoying when a narrator shows no literary tendencies. But then I think people will assume the narrator’s writing experiences are my own autobiographical experiences.

I use the word ‘sublime’ to describe undefinably good things because I can never adequately define the word ‘sublime’. Monday, Jan 22 2007 

A couple of weeks ago an article in New Scientist was talking about ‘dark matter’, and how if people ever found any they’d be able to make a perpetual electricity generator that wouldn’t violating the laws of thermodynamics. To me, it makes sense that if there’s a hypothetical substance that doesn’t obey the laws of thermodynamics, this can be taken as proof that it doesn’t exist.

I was just thinking about that today because I realised that one of the things I’m trying to do here is probably also impossible. I want to try to figure out what ‘good’ writing is, but if that were possible, it wouldn’t be true any more. If everyone wrote according to a proven template of ‘good’ writing, it would instantly then become ‘average’ and therefore ‘predictable and mundane’ writing. That’s probably what’s already happened. It’s like what Douglas Adams was saying with ‘if anyone can figure out why the universe exists, it will instantly be replaced by something even more bizarre’.

This probably explains why I have so many pet hates but no pet likes. Everything I like is more or less uncategorisable, and if I could think of any definitive ‘pet likes’ I’m sure they could be applied to many things that also qualify as pet hates. I like ‘word play’, for example, but I hate puns.