Q: In our last chat you mentioned working on One of Our Thursdays is Missing, and here we are, and Thursday Next is indeed missing. Why make her disappear?
A: The way I approach most of my stories is by setting myself a challenge and then see what happens. In the past I have attempted to show how a teenager can save the world by doing nothing (First Among Sequels) What would happen if society were obsessed by visual colour (Shades of Grey) or even how the Three Bear's porridge could be at radically different temperatures when it was poured at the same time (The Fourth Bear). It's a form of narrative gymnastics that is great fun, and opens the door to all sorts of interesting plot devices, switches and turns. It makes one utilize a certain ingenuity to circumvent narrative problems, too. Great fun.
Q: Tell us a little about your new, proxy heroine, the written Thursday? What makes her special, or capable? Clearly there's a lot to live up to...
A: Oddly, I preferred Thursday when she was still unsure and afraid of BookWorld. Where everything is dangerous and perplexing and death, disaster, danger and mayhem lurked at every corner. The Thursday we saw in First Among Sequels felt a bit too superhuman and a bit world-weary so I wanted to get back to a Thursday who had more problems than experience. The written Thursday fits the bill perfectly. She has much of the same passion and sense of right and wrong that Thursday possesses, but is still uncertain and sometimes a bit lost. She knows it too. The fear of her own shortcomings when measured against the real Thursday is one of the things that keeps her drive. That, and finding the 'real her'.
Q: The BookWorld, here, has been 'remade', and it's a startling process we witness at the beginning of the novel. Why, and how, have things changed in Thursday's world?
A: It's one of those ideas that I should have had way back in 2002 with Lost in a Good Book and the creation of the BookWorld! This new, improved BookWorld makes it so much easier to navigate. Instead of all the books being stuck within a central library that you have to enter by reading, all the various genres are on 'Fiction Island', itself one of hundreds of islands in the Bookworld. If you want to visit a certain book, you simply go by train to the correct genre, and knock on the front door. It adds a sens of geopolitical fun to the proceedings, too. I had this idea and thought it was sound, but the problem was, I had already established the BookWorld. So I simply added a chapter on the front saying that Bookworld 'had been remade'. Fiction is like that. It can be anything it wants. All it needs is the agreement of the reader. And by long experience, I have discovered the reader to be bounteously flexible.
Q: You've always had a way with mechanical inventions, but it seems here you've raised the stakes a bit. Tell us a bit about Sprockett, or the canon that literally blasts your heroine into the Real World. What is it that you love about gadgets and devices?
A: The key here is that they are mechanical inventions, and there is a certain degree of 'Steampunkishness' that creeps into my books. It all harks back to when life was simpler, and you could understand how something worked simply by looking at it. Today that's pretty much impossible, but I still enjoy writing about mechanical devices of ludicrous complexity - which brings us to Sprockett, Thursday's companion in One of Our Thursdays is Missing. Sprockett is a clockwork butler, who requires winding on a regular basis and is a dab hand at mixing cocktails. Unfortunately for him he is only a Duplex-5 model and the Empathy Escapement Module was never perfected. Like Frank Baum's Tinman, he can't really feel any emotion - or so he believes. He's a great foil for Thursday, and allows me to imagine what issues might cloud a clockwork existence - erotic dreams about bevel gears, perhaps, or even the choice of booze when questioned:
"What do cog-based life-forms get stoned with?" asked Bowden in an impertinent manner, "Vegetable oil?"
"Actually, sir," intoned Sprockett, "it's sewing machine lubricant for a mild tipple. Many feel that the exuberant effects of Three-in-One are worth pursuing, although I have never partaken myself. For those that have hit rock bottom where life has become nothing more than a semi-conscious slide from one partial winding to the next, it's WD-40."
Q: The written Thursday has a very curious, perhaps disturbing interest in her mentor's emotional life. What is it about Landon and their life in Swindon that so affects her? Does her meeting Landon change how she sees herself?
A: Being the written version of someone is a double-edged sword. You have many of the skills, but than you have a lot of the downsides, too. Written Thursday's biggest problem is that she was written with the passion for the real Thursday's husband, yet Landen refused to be featured in the Thursday Next books so is conveniently killed in a house-fire at the beginning of written Thursday's books (Perhaps it might be as well to explain at this juncture that the Thursday books in our world and the Thursday books in Thursday's are quite different!) So all the hots for Landen, but no Landen. It is a sense of loss that drives her, something which her ghostwriter intended. It allows me to look at the notion of someone who loves someone - but can't have them. And how do they deal with that? More importantly, should a writer consider the emotional stress wrought upon their creations by clumsily written backstorys?
Q: Tell us about the killer mimes.
A: I've always found mimes a bit creepy and taking themselves a little bit too seriously, like all actors, really. Being a writer I am in the top five of the professions who talk the most amount of bollocks about what it is they do for a living, but at least writers are behind actors and artists. And sometimes poets. Anyhow, the whole incident with the mimes simply popped into my head with a single line: 'We had driven into a mimefield' It was a gag I simply couldn't not use, and AI just like the whole silly notion. It's very BookWorldish.
Q: What was the plot thread that you found most enjoyable to write?
A: Written Thursday being in the RealWorld, I think. It might have been fun to have more of her coming to terms with the somewhat bizarre place we call home, but there wasn't time. From what it feels like to breathe (gurgling and whiffling) to walking in a crowd (fraught with danger) or going to sleep (like dying, I should imagine), written Thursday finds the real world a bizarre place to be - and from the orderly BookWorld resident's point of view, totally without any sort of understandable plot-line or resolution. "If the realworld were a book," she says, "it would never find a publisher."
Q: Metphors play a vital role in your world, and in the end, in the revelations behind the Peace Talks. Why are they important?
A: Metaphor is only a real importance on Fiction Island - in Non-Fiction, Metaphor is mercilessly hunted down and eradicated. Fiction is the world of ambiguity and inference, Non-fiction the world of clean and clear facts. I like the idea of Metaphor being the magic dust that transforms shopping lists into revealing windows into the shopper's soul. Writing is a dark art, but it is by the very complex and often subtle use of metaphor and all the other mechanics of meaning and ambiguity can we hope to convey so much with so little. That being so it follows that much of Fiction runs on Metaphor, and with a commodity so powerful, its production and supply become a matter of great concern. And drama is never far away.
Q: Did you know, when you began to write this novel, whether the written Thursday would find the real Thursday Next?
A: No. And up to last draft, she didn't. I was going to leave it for another book. But then I thought I already haven enough dangling plot-points, so I'd wrap it up nice and neat.
Q: What's next for you?
A: The next book will be standalone. It's time I did another. Then we'll be either back with Thursday or Jack Spratt - or maybe even Shades of Grey 2. Lots of options.
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