Thursday 16 June 2011

Next Thursday....

...I shall be in France, living in a cave - woo hoo!

Anyway, I'm not quite sure why I thought it might be a good idea to write a post about the Thursday Next series, but I did, so I will.  This really is a series and Jasper is up to book six.  We have; The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten. First Among Sequels, and One of Our Thursdays is Missing.  I am not going anywhere near the plot lines but I will try to describe the setting and background pick out some of the main themes.  If you do come to a Ffiesta it is probably a good idea, though not essential, to have some sort of a grasp of these.  It makes the whole event a little less bewildering, though for some people that sense of the surreal is what gives the whole thing its edge.

Anyway, the books are set partly in an alternative Swindon, and partly inside fiction.  In Thursday's world England is a republic, headed up by President-for-life george Formby.  Wales is a socialist republic and Scotland has quite possibly been set adrift.  The Crimean War, of which Thursday is a veteran, is still going on at the start of the first book, though it is brought to an end by Thursday's intervention and we have to offer the Russians Tunbridge Wells as war reparations.

There is a very substantial duty on cheese which makes for a thriving black market.

Technology is not like ours - there are no planes (well, no jets, though you might get the odd bi-plane, though these are rare)  instead you might travel by gravitube, airship or monorail.

Thursday works for Literatec, which is one branch of a sort of multi-purpose police force.  In Thursdays world fiction is big business and fictional characters enjoy the sort of cachet which film and sports stars may enjoy in ours, only more so... instead of Jehovah's Witnesses you may have Baconions knocking on your door trying to convince you that Shakespeare wasn't the author of his own plays, and rather than football cards children swap fictional charaacters.  Literatecs deal with forgeries and illiegal book dealing.  Other branches of SpecOps deal with Vampires and Werewolves (Suckers and Biters), Horticultural Enforcement (Weeds and Seeds) Weird Shit generally and Time Travel (Chronoguard)  Thursday's father Colonel Next is a chronoguard officer and flits about in time.

Cloning is common and can be done quite simply at home with cloning kits (to find out how, read New Splicer) and dodos are common pets (Thursday has a dodo called Pickwick).  Mammoths roam the land and many other creatures have been brought back from extinction - and others have been created by over-enthusiastic home cloner/splicers.  Among the creatures brought back are neanderthals and Thursday finds herself working closely with one named Stig.

Much of english life is under the control of a large and sinister corporation named Goliath (from the cradle to the grave) who have a finger in many pies, they control much of the media and have great influence in SpecOps and politics generally - though President Formby remains incorruptible.

Thursday has an eccentric genius Uncle, Mycroft who is responsible for many wonderful inventions - translating carbon paper, the ovinator, unscrambled eggs, and the prose portal amonst other things.  The prose portal can be used to enter books and is used for nefarious purposes by a supervillain (Acheron Hades) who manages to kidnap Jane Eyre and hold her to ransom.  Many of Mycroft's other inventions also play important roles in the stories.  He is assisted by his wife, Polly, since his previous assitant was meringued.  Mycroft is an afficionado of trashy TV shows and particularly enjoys watching name that fruit.

Thursday learns that she can enter fiction, initially via the Portal but later under her own auspices and whilst there works for Jurisfiction.  Other Jurisfiction agents include Miss Havisham, Mrs Tiggywinkle, Gully Foyle, the Emperor Zhark and Colonel Bradshaw, who just happens to be married to a gorilla.

There's lots I've missed - croquet, earth crossers, Landen, GSD, Zvlkz, battenburg, Hamlet, Emma Hamilton, Friday, Tuesday, Jenny, angel delight, Spike and Cindy, minotaurs, Mrs Danverses.. I could go on and on, and it probably feels like I have, but this post is beginning to feel like a novel in itself, albeit one with out a plot so I'll stop now.  I may say some more about this another time, but if you want to know more read the books, it's a lot more enjoyable than me wittering on

Sunday 12 June 2011

Feeling Blue

I'm not actually feeling blue, except maybe a little bit because it's Monday tomorrow and I have done nothing useful all weekend, but I'm now going to talk about Shades of Grey (SOG) so thought I'd jam in a gratuitous colour reference.

SOG is another series that isn't because we have, as yet seen only one book, but it's my favourite.  SOG2 (Painting by Numbers) is planned for 2013.

SOG is set in Britain in the far distant future in a colourtocratic society, in which there is a caste system in which your position is dictated by the colours that you can see.  Society is run according to strict but arbitrary rules laid down long ago by Munsell and enforced through a system of merits and demerits.  When Eddie Russett, a Red, falls foul of the rules he is sent to East Carmine in the outer reaches of civilisation to carry out a chair census.  He travels with his father who is to act as relief Swatchman - a kind of doctor who treats people with the application of various hues.  On the way to East Carmine he doesn't see the last rabbit, but does encounter a grey (a member of the lowest stratum of society) named Jane.

Once he reaches his destination he again meets Jane and discovers that there is a sickness at the heart of society...

Again I'm not going to spoil the plot (too much, though I'm sure that you'd guess very early on in the book that something is rotten in the state).  Plus as it is only the first episode I don't know what's going to happen anyway.

It'a dystopian fiction, but funny dystopian fiction.  We had lots of fun at the 1985 Ffiesta with some of the themes.  There's the absurd rules, the dress codes, the requirement to have a hobby from a list of approved hobbies, the fact that everybody/every creature is born ready bar coded, the constant fear of swan attacks and lightning, the need to look after your spoon - nobody may manufacture spoons, so it is advisable to guard yours well and keep it with you at all times.  We were also very fortunate in that the Last Rabbit was able to attend, in fact looks set to become a regular attendee!

Anyway Jasper has said that the society of SOG is meant to feel like an english boarding school, bad food and requirement to take part in games and all.  It's certainly a far cry from Mallory Towers or Hogwarts, but none the worse for that.

As I said it's my favourite Fforde book so far, but I think it might be more of a Marmite book than his other work - brilliant with toast!

A Strange story

It seems a bit odd talking about the Dragonslayer series because there has only been one book published so far, though those of us attending the Ffiesta did have reading from the as yet unpublished 'Song of the Quarkbeast' the second volume in a planned trilogy.

Anyway the Dragonslayer books are set in the Ununited Kingdoms.  Here magic still exists, albeit in a much weakened form and hedged about with rules and regulations.  It is used for rather more mundane things than one might expect - pizza delivery, re-wiring houses and unblocking drains for example.

Jennifer Strange, foundling of Our Lady of the Lobster, appears to have her hands full with managing the day to day running of Kazam, following the absence of the Great Zambini.  Kazam is a House of Enchantment employing a number of sorcerers of varying, but much reduced ability.  However Jennifer's life becomes that bit more complicated when she learns she is the Last Dragonslayer - you will no doubt be surprised to hear that this role involves slaying the last dragon, something she is most reluctant to do.

Again, I'm not going to ruin the story for you by recounting the plot, but suffice it to say that with the aid of the Quarkbeast (part labrador, part velociraptor, part food blender) Tiger Prawns (another foundling, newly indentured to Kazam) and a supporting cast including the sorcerers and William of Anorak, (who is, well, a bit of an anorak)  Jennifer fulfils her destiny and outwits those who seek to benefit from the death of Maltcassion (the last dragon).

Although enjoyed by adults (well by me anyway) Dragonslayer is billed as YA fiction and is probably an easy way in to Jasper's work if you want to try it out.  Go on, you know you want to

Friday 10 June 2011

The Next thing

For my next trick ladies and gentlemen I shall attempt to explain the works of Jasper Fforde to those of you who have never read any of his books. After which I shall recite the entire works of Shakespeare backwards in Esperanto.  Which may make more sense.   And be easier.

Okay.  To date Jasper has had 10 books published with more in the pipeline (hooray!).  These books belong in 4 separate series; Thursday Next, Nursery Crime, Shades of Grey and Dragonslayer.

I'm going to start with the Nursery Crime series and break you in gently, as these are probably the easiest to explain.  They are basically police procedurals/whodunnits set in Reading.  So far so ordinary.  However this is not the everyday Reading that you may know and love, or even Reading in festival mood.  This Reading is populated by nursery rhyme characters living side by side with ordinary people and there is a special police division (Nursery Crimes Division or NCD), headed up by Jack Spratt and his sidekick Mary Mary, which investigates crimes involving PDRs (Persons of Dubious Reality).  The NCD also has, amongst its other members, a binary speaking alien love interest for Mary in the shape of Ashley.  We are also granted a look at Jack's somewhat complicated home life with his wife, children and step-children, and the lodger, Prometheus.

There are so far two books in this series.  The Big Over Easy tells of the investigation into the death of Humpty Dumpty and The Fourth Bear involves the disappearance of Goldilocks.  There's more, much more to it than that though.  I don't propose to go over the plot of either book, but just to give you a flavour, we have a homicidal biscuit (or possibly cake) porridge smuggling, a giant verucca, the Jellyman, mad scientists, Dorian Grey as a used car salesman, exploding cucumbers and a beanstalk just to mention a few things!

Confused?  Want to know more?  Go read the books!

Thursday 9 June 2011

Doing silly things and dressing up

Since the Ffiesta a number of my non-Ffiesta ffriends have remarked on the photos and videos that I have posted on Facebook, and I've had a lot of questions ranging from 'What's the FFiesta?' 'What do you actually do there?', 'Why are you all dressed up like that?',  'What have lobsters got to do with it?' and 'Wherever can you go on a bus tour of Swindon?'  to 'Why is Tyke wearing a tea-cosy?' (from my mother) and 'Is it anything to do with the quiz?'.  Oh, no sorry, that one was from the reporter!

This blog post is a possibly vain attempt to answer some of those questions.

The Ffiesta is a weekend of silliness inspired by the works of Jasper Fforde.  Jasper is a big part of the events.  He gives a reading from one of his books - one yet to be published - does a question and answer session, narrates at least one of the bus tours, sits on the judging panels and conducts the auction as well as taking part in some of the other events.  In addition he is around for virtually the whole weekend and mingles with the attendees.

However although without Jasper we would just be a bunch of people doing silly things at random, the books are often just a starting point for the events. 

Some things are taken fairly directly from the books, for example Danverclones feature heavily in the Thursday Next series, so we have a record breaking muster of Danvers complete with marching songs.  We all know that Mycroft loves to watch 'Name That Fruit' so we draft in Frankie Saveloy (and his lovely assistant) and play a round or two.  Thursday plays croquet so we have twice featured croquet at the Ffiesta.  The audience participation Shakespeare came from Thursday and Landen's visit to the Ritz to see Richard III, and developed from there.

Some things are more peripherally related to the books - lobsters are a recurring, though minor, theme in the Ffordian canon which was taken up in 'Hunt the Lobster' and 'Lobster Space Invaders' though what the latter has to do with lobsters is anybody's guess! (Kudos to Derek for his 'claw and step' manoeuvre though)

Other things don't really have much to do with the books at all, we just thought they might be fun - lego building, crusty cards, talent show, hanging out in the bar etc.

As for what you can see on a bus tour of Swindon, just use your imagination - or borrow Derek's/Jasper's.  There's the seven wonders for example (though we didn't manage to take in all of them this year), the magic roundabout, Spec-Ops HQ, the carpet shop and the roundabout nursery.  Plus the opportunity to eat ice-cream!

In summary I think I can say that most of our time at the ffiesta consists of doing silly things and dressing up as per the title of this post.

Incidentally mother, that isn't a tea cosy, it's a fruit-bowl hat!

Monday 6 June 2011

Next time in Swindon...

So the Ffiesta is over for another year, and I have just about recovered.   I think it went well....
Work has already started on the next one.  Mrs Neal is busy collecting your feedback - which we really are interested in, so we can see what people enjoyed and what they didn't, Matt is setting up the new website and I am back to sharing my bedroom with a crateful of plastic lobsters.  I have already started writing next years quiz.  What that means is that I have written a few questions and jotted down some ideas which, lulled into a false sense of security I shall then put away and forget until two days before the next Ffiesta when I shall scrabble around trying to find it and frantically write the rest.

I am getting pretty good at reciting the soliloquy though.  I am trying to teach it to Tyke, who thinks it is hilariously funny to hear me declaim 'To be or not to be' with great feeling ( I am going for accuracy before I start on the speed!)