There’s this thing I like to do: Once a year I pack suitcases with, among other stuff, some black dresses, a couple of grey granny wigs, dark glasses, and the lyrics to “Leaning on a Lamppost.” This year I also packed a tattered lace wedding gown and a plastic skull. The first four years I packed for three of us – my husband, our son, and myself. This time, it was just my husband and I, as the boy couldn’t go. I left the mammoth and the dodo behind, too – luggage allowances and all. You’d be amazed at how much room a froufrou wedding gown takes up in a suitcase.
My family and close friends know that this bizarre ritual is part of our trek to the Fforde Ffiesta. Not all of them understand why we go, but they accept it. They accept that the rest of the year we don’t go out much, we don’t visit often, because we’re always saving our money so that we can instead spend a weekend in Swindon, a smallish nondescript city in England, most noted for its Magic Roundabout. But, Swindon is also the literary home of Thursday Next, heroine in a series of books written by the extraordinary Jasper Fforde. And therein lies the allure.
Jasper’s books are difficult to describe. They’re a riotous genre-defying amalgamation of fantasy/sci-fi/fast-paced mystery thriller filled with wit, social commentary, and literary references. The Ffiesta is a literary festival celebrating all things Fforde, organized by a small, but brilliant group of Fforde fans – the Fforganizers. Attendees are passionate about the books. They’re a friendly lot, fun and full of words, and just a little insane – but in a good way. Having been at all five of the Ffiestas now, I am happy to number them among my friends. There is something exhilarating about spending a sleep-deprived weekend amongst like-minded souls who totally get your dorkiness and even embrace it. How can you not make friends with that?
The weekend was jam-packed with non-stop goodness. There was the Friday evening pub quiz; hunt the lobsters; cipher-solving group puzzles; a village fete; a rousing game of Lobster Space Invaders; croquet (it is, after all, England); a bus tour of Swindon with Jasper as tour guide and Derek (a Fforganizer) as the mustachioed ice cream peddler; Nanowrimo hours; literary karaoke; Royal Angst poetry writing competition; Hamlet soliloquy speed-reading competition (for which the plastic skull was needed); Name that Fruit; a murder mystery performed by the Fforganizers; formation of the Danvers Clone brigade (53 members this year – a record!); fancy dress parade in which participants dressed up as characters from Jasper’s books. And throughout the goings on Jasper was everywhere. Reading from his latest not-quite-yet-in-print book; talking, answering questions; presiding over competitions; auction-erring; and at the end of it all, awarding prizes. That’s a lot to pack into a weekend. And, yet, we were all a bit sad when it was time to leave. There’s talk of extending the time a few extra days next year, for those who can, with a group road trip. Itinerary as yet to be determined.
And I, my friends . . . I am SO there.