Meet author Jasper Fforde (no — that’s not a typo!). If you like magic, hilarity and crazy action, you might want to give The Eye of Zoltar a look. It’s the third installment in Fforde’s Chronicles of Kazam series. We asked him to tell us about the book — and a whole lot more.
What advice would you give to aspiring young authors?
Write, and write NOW. Think long term. Writing is a skill to be learned, not a gift that will ooze out effortlessly. It may take 10 years to get published, and that 10 years needs to start as soon as possible. The one piece of advice I would have given the younger Jasper would have been to start writing earlier. I began when I was 27, and was published at 39, seven novels later. Listen to your aged relatives. Listen to other people’s aged relatives. Ask questions. Find out about stuff — any stuff. World affairs, history. BE KNOWLEDGEABLE. Know the difference (and want to know the difference) between “dog’s” and “dogs” and “there” and “their” and “lesser” and “fewer.” If you’re old enough, get a part-time job somewhere that has a lot of people of very different backgrounds — a fast food joint is a good start, or Saturday mornings in a shoe shop or hardware store — and just listen to people’s lives. Take notes about stuff, keep a diary, try to figure out why people do the strange stuff they do. Read, watch TV, go to the theatre, see movies. Converse. Do stuff. But most of all, write.
What can you tell us about your latest book, The Eye of Zoltar?
The Eye of Zoltar is the third in the Chronicles of Kazam series and is set in the Ununited Kingdoms, a modern-day world that mixes cars, TVs, magic, despotic kings and dragons. Jennifer Strange works for Kazam, a company that rents out wizards to do mundane jobs like loft conversions and unblocking drains. In an earlier book she defeated a powerful wizard named Shandar who was attempting to rid the world of Dragons, and now he’s back to try again. To stop him, they need a Magical Jewel named “The Eye of Zoltar” which is apparently hidden in the land next door — the Cambrian Empire, a lawless, dangerous place where tourists flock to engage in something called “Jeopardy Tourism.” With a princess disguised as a handmaiden, a wizard who can only do magic by depleting his own life force and a rubber dragon named Colin, Jennifer Strange must go in search of a Sky Pirate, the legendary graveyard of the winged serpents known as Leviathans, and battle Railway Companies, flesh-eating slugs and unstoppable Hollow Men. It’s a lot of fun.
Most of the books you’ve written have been for an adult audience. What sort of experience has it been for you to write for a youth audience?
Children can and do understand very complex ideas: Betrayal, loss, happiness, camaraderie, jeopardy, danger, unfairness. Normal school life, in fact. I tend to write the same but make the protagonists younger and cut down on the number of subplots and allusion, which is something only really gained by age. A story for children needs to crack along at a fair pace, too — no weighty exposition. They get bored far more easily — and will have no qualms in telling you so.
Your books are filled with absurdist humor. From where do you draw your inspiration?
Everywhere. To take an example from The Eye of Zoltar, I was tracing Jennifer’s journey on a map in present day Wales, and it takes them past a little town named Llangurig. I did a quick Google search to see if there was anything remarkable I could use, and there was — the railway to Llangurig only ever had one train before the line was pulled up; something to do with a contractual obligation. The entire “Battling Railway Companies” chapter and subplot grew out of this one fact. I take a small nugget of information, then simply exaggerate, and add human greed and contrariness. Usually works!
Besides your own books, what are the top five books that you would recommend to young readers?
- The Little Prince by Antoine de St-Exupéry. A warm, lyrical tale about a prince who lives on his own planet, and about his journey to earth to try and find answers about life. Also warns about the danger of Baobab trees, and how to draw pictures of snakes eating elephants.
- Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl. Or anything else by him, really. Always engaging, and always a bit subversive. Great fun.
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Rollicking tale of pirates, evildoing, treasure and life at sea. Unputdownable from almost the very first word. “Long John” Silver remains the best villain in children’s fiction, hands down.
- Holes by Louis Sachar. Delightfully surreal stuff from beginning to end.
- Stig of the Dump by Clive King. Barney discovers that living in the chalk pit at the bottom of the garden is Stig, a caveman. Despite not having a common language, a strong friendship develops.
Random Question: We understand you’re into aviation. What can you tell us about your interest in it?
My dad was a pilot during World War II, and although he never flew after 1945, I was always fascinated by it. I’ve had a pilot’s license since 1985, and own and fly a vintage aircraft built in Kansas in 1940. I’ve even visited the site of the old factory (now a GM truck engine factory) and will happily talk about airplanes for hours — but I don’t, because it’s hideously boring if you’re not interested. Flying. It’s the reason birds sing.