Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer is a fantastic urban fantasy in which magic is in decline and sorcerers who once controlled the weather have found themselves relegated to rewiring houses and delivering pizzas via magic carpet. The novel's protagonist is 15-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange, who in addition to managing a company of crackpot wizards, finds herself at the center of a prophecy surrounding the imminent demise (this Sunday at 12 noon) of the last dragon and the sudden resurgence of BIG MAGIC.
The interview was conducted during Fforde’s 2012 U.S. tour, at The Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, Colorado by 12-year-old Rowan Stormo-Flanagan.
Rowan: How did you come up with the idea for The Last Dragonslayer?
Jasper: The way that I write is I tend to think about generally how somebody does something. I have these sort of central tenets that I write by – 12 conventions – that I’ve made up myself, some quite ordinary, others quite strange.
One of them is “the less well trodden path,” so that when I decide to write a book about magic and dragons, I ask, “how do people usually write about magic and dragons?” They typically have a protagonist who is a wizard, so I decided to have a protagonist who isn’t a wizard. Also, wizards are all powerful and can conjure up storms and everything; they’re amazing, sage-like, full of wisdom and that sort of stuff, so I decided to do completely the opposite. I’ve got wizards who are a bit mad; they’re not very organized and need people to organize them; they have very little power, but they were once sort of mighty.
So, I just take all of these ideas and turn them on their heads.
Rowan: Who inspired the character of Jennifer Strange?
Jasper: I don’t know really. She is similar to Thursday Next (from The Eyre Affair) as she is a very strong, female lead. She’s a foundling, of course, so there is the notion that she is feeling a bit lost, but also I think she has a very strong sense of what’s right and wrong and that’s kind of what drives her. She has a few flaws as well, which also helps I think.
Rowan: I thought it was cool how magic works differently in your novel than it does in other classic wizard books. No wands, for instance.
Jasper: Right – wands and hats – they’re just for the movies. One of the other tenets I go by is the “logical progression of an idea.” I say “Ok, if we had magic in the real world then it would probably be taxed and you’d probably have to deal with all sorts of bureaucracy surrounding it.” So, whenever you do any sort of magic in The Last Dragonslayer, you have to fill in all these forms and you have to have a license as a magician.
Rowan: I also really like the Quarkbeast. How did that come about?
Jasper: Well, I thought Jennifer should have some kind of companion, and she needed to be able to escape from a couple of tricky situations where I thought she could if she had a companion like the Quarkbeast. So I started writing about the Quarkbeast, and I liked the idea that - as she’s quite small, - she has this incredibly fearsome-looking creature, and everyone who sees it just recoils in terror - dogs whimper, and people dive under tables - and I thought that was really funny. But it’s a real pussycat, you know; it never really does anything aggressive at all.
Rowan: Book two of The Last Dragonslayer series is called The Song of the Quarkbeast and is already published in Britain. Can you talk about that?
BEGIN SPOILER ALERT
Jasper: I can. It’ll probably come out in the states in January or February. Originally, The Last Dragonslayer was a stand-alone, but when I got it published I was asked if I could do three. But the first thing I realized was that I’d have to bring the Quarkbeast back, so partly it’s about that and partly it’s about introducing iMagic, which is the other house of enchantment.
END SPOILER ALERT
iMagic is the rubbish company. There’s the good company that does magic, which is Kazam, and then there’s this rubbish company, actually called Industrial Magic. They call themselves iMagic because it sounds hip.
So The Song of the Quarkbeast is about a fight between iMagic and Kazam over who controls magic. Because – after you read this book – magic is gaining in power, and everybody is suddenly interested.
Rowan: When you come up with an idea for a book, how do you start?
Jasper: When I start writing, I have an idea or a theme or what I call a “narrative dare,” which is great fun, the theory being that you can actually write about anything. There’s nothing you can’t write about, although some things are very difficult, and that’s the challenge. So I didn’t set out to write about a person who is the last dragonslayer; I just said “right, it’s about magic and about dragons, but it’s not the usual magic and dragons story.”
I don’t write an outline; I have some ideas, some themes I’m interested in, and I just start writing. I’m constantly rewriting all the time until it’s all in one piece, and then I abandon it and send it to the publishers.
Rowan: So, were there any ideas or other characters from your other books that ended up in The Last Dragonslayer?
Jasper: I don’t think so. Actually, The Last Dragonslayer was the fourth book I wrote. I wrote the Nursery Crime books first – the police procedurals with Humpty Dumpty and The Three Bears – then I wrote The Eyre Affair, and then I wrote The Last Dragonslayer. So in fact it’s just been sitting on my hard drive, gathering electrons since 1997.
Rowan: I loved Shades of Grey. Can you tell me when the next book in that series comes out?
Jasper: I’m writing a screenplay of Shades of Grey right now just to see if I can – just for a bit of fun, because I spent 20 years in the film industry; then I write the third in the Dragonslayer series; then I write what I’m calling my Super Secret Stand-Alone; and then I’m doing the prequel to Shades of Grey, which I’ll be writing in about 2014.
The prequel will be set in the same world, but be about completely different characters and occurs in the two or three weeks before the “something that happened” that they talk about in the book. So you’ll learn more about perpetualite and swan towers and the fall of man; all of that stuff will be hinted at along with a lot more.