Top 10 Authors – Jasper Fforde

I discovered Jasper Fforde through my ongoing attempt to read through the top 100 books of 2007 (so far I’ve read 68 of them). The Eyre Affair has been a constant on the top 100 until recent years, but I’m sure it will be back because it is a great book. A really great book.

I was so in love with The Eyre Affair that I wanted to immediately buy Jasper’s entire back catalogue, so convinced was I that I would love them all. Fortunately I was poor, so instead I kept putting them on hold at the library and slowly made my way through every Fforde book I could get my hands on…

Until I got to The Well of Lost Plots. I did not enjoy this book. In fact it was so disappointing it made me afraid to pick up another Jasper Fforde novel. Maybe I just wasn’t clever enough to get it, I’m sure the idea of writing a book without a plot was a challenge that some people really did like. I did not. I like story and this book had no story. None. It was plot-less.

There is no doubting that Jasper Fforde is a very talented, intelligent writer. He did stuff in his books that left me in awe and made me wish I could write like him. As weird as this sounds he jokes about grammar and it is really funny. Better still, you have to know the grammar rule to realise it is a joke. Maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy the Lost Plots?

Whatever may have become of my relationship with Jasper, I loved the nursery crime series, I loved the Dragonslayer series and The Eyre Affair will always rank in my favourite books of all time. And if you can, do what I did, read it both before and after you have read Jane Eyre, you’ll get a lot more out of it. Just don’t buy the entire back catalogue once you fall in love with it, limit yourself to one book at a time. Unless you are rich, then buy them all, authors need to make money too!

First lines

A piece of advice that all writers are given is that you should always grab a reader from the first line. While a good first line is a great thing to aim for, I don’t think it will keep a reader going if the second, third and fourth line are not much chop. I also find it hard to believe a reader would be inclined to put a book down after just the first line, even if it was staggeringly bad. In fact even then I’d want to keep reading to see if it got worse.

Here are the first lines of three of my favourite books…

“First the colours.” – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I do think the fifth line in this book is great; “Here is a small fact, you are going to die.”

“My name is Moon.” – Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer

“An old blue Ford pulled into the guarded parking lot that morning, looking like a small, tired dog after a hard run.” – The Long Walk by Richard Bachman/Stephen King.

None of those first lines particularly hook me, though I do like the imagery of Stephen King’s sentence, but the point is that I loved ALL of those books.

I think a well written blurb will always do ten times more to sell your book to a reader than a first line ever will. That’s no reason not to put a bit more effort into your first line, but I do wonder if it might just be publishers cold-reading manuscripts who care deeply about first lines.

My friend Liz explores more first lines here.

Editing

I know many will disagree, but I think good editing can turn nearly anyone into a good writer. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to edit your work if you want to present your story in the best light possible. I just wish I didn’t hate doing it so much.

I’m editing the pantser novel at the moment, and just by the very nature of pantsing there is a lot of editing required. I have to insert foreshadowing, play up character traits to help make secondary characters more recognisable, sometimes insert them into scenes where they previously weren’t present and generally cut out any questions that were raised in the novel that I never went on to answer.

It is hard work.

It will be interesting to see how much longer it takes to edit the pantser novel compared with editing my more traditional planned novels, which generally just needed a prose tidy-up. I think what I am seeing now is the compromise that comes from the much faster pantser writing process. It is almost enough to put me off trying it again. Almost.

Indecision

I have 5 projects I identified as being possible targets for my time off. Last week, when I was working, I thought I had identified the one I wanted to hit first. It was the epic novel I have been trying to write for 15 years that really needs some time dedicated to it. This week I’m questioning that choice because it is a totally brand new piece, and will realistically take at least 4 to 5 months to finish if I’m disciplined, over a year if I’m not. I feel like I need a quick win first.

I am a fiercely logical person, and logic is telling me to do the re-write of the novel I wrote last year. It won’t take as long and I have beta-readers lined up to give me feedback. The problem is that re-writing is never as exciting as writing new words. But maybe that is the best taste of a writer’s life I could give myself during this time off? After all it is the re-writing I always seem to sacrifice when I am working.

Then there is the young adult story which I got 30,000 words into and then totally dropped the ball. I love the story, it is funny, it is magical and it has no end. It probably only needs another 20,000 words, which seems like it should just be a few weeks work. Maybe that’s the one I should be doing?

The final temptation is the screenplay. Again, just 90 pages, it doesn’t sound like it should take that long, and I’ve wanted to write a screenplay forever. But knowing it is my first one, so likely to be crap, and both story ideas I have are stupid (yes, I’m thinking Spiders Man for those who know me), so I think it might also be a waste of time. But it would be a fun waste of time.

I’m a week in to my freedom and haven’t picked any of them, so I think it is time to just grab one and run with it. Re-write, here I come… I think.

Comfort work trousers

The mid-year sales are on, so on Thursday night I went to the shops and got myself a set of yoga-pants (given I no longer have a need for more work clothes). I’ve only discovered yoga-pants recently –they are not as daggy as normal tracksuit pants, so at a stretch you can wear them out in public.

The moment I got them I wondered if I was making a mistake. Tapping away at the back of my mind was a short story I wrote back in 2009 called The Visitor where the character worked from home and wore what he called ‘comfort work trousers’ that looked very much like pyjama pants.

The story was a fictional look at the break down of social skills that might occur if we all started working from home. When I wrote it, it was meant to be over the top, but as time goes by it seems more and more like a glimpse into the future. I really hope not my future.

Despite the fear, I must confess that I’m wearing comfort work trousers/yoga-pants as I write this. I’m sure it will stop there, but if I start confusing my front door bell for a warning buzzer from the computer then I promise I’ll go back to work.