Jasper Fforde

Seeking fulfilment in the post-skill world or Why I still choose film over digital – a guest blog by Jasper Fforde

We recently hosted Jasper as part of his bookshop tour for his new novel ‘The Woman Who Died A Lot’ I asked if he fancied writing an exclusive piece for broadconversation – being one of the loveliest men in the world he agreed and here it is:

I built my first darkroom in the cupboard under the stairs when I was ten. I couldn’t afford a safelight so painted a domestic bulb with red paint, and used salt as a fixer. Forty years later I’ve moved on a small amount, but the magic – and I really mean that, for chemical photography is magic – is still very much with me. Sure, I possess digital cameras, and they are superior in almost every way to my old Nikon F. Convenient, fast, lightweight, and with a host of features that was unimaginable in 1971.

I should be embracing this glorious new technological age, but the reason I am not is far from straightforward since there is essentially one point that makes the ongoing Film versus Digital argument utterly fallacious – the method of capture is immaterial. It’s the photographer, not the camera. Some of the finest pictures on the planet were taken with the ropiest film cameras, while some of the worst pictures ever captured were on a top-of-the-line Nikon D800. Yes, sure, you can argue until blue in the face about the feel of film and the look of film, but it’s all really about The Capture – the frozen slice of time that exports the unique worldview of the photographer to that of the viewer. And that does not, cannot, hold sway on the type of camera. It’s the finger, the framing, the timing.

So why am I not digital, since there is no earthly reason for me to still embrace the old technology? This is why: Digital leaves me utterly cold. I take no real enjoyment using it, and any decent picture I take on digital seems, to my mind, not to count. The attraction of film photography to me is not only that old feel and look nonsense plus a smattering of habit and nostalgia, but this: it’s tricky, fiddly, annoying, unforgiving, prone to error, and you have no idea of the results for perhaps a month. It’s right first time or no cigar. Dodgy focus? Tough. Wrong exposure? Camera shake? Wrong Film? Forget to take off the lens cap? Bad luck.

To take a good picture on film requires just that tiny bit more … skill. An acquired expertise. You have to know what you’re doing, and that Placement, Timing and Access – the three amigos of the truly great picture – are not quite enough. And that, for me, is what separates the two with the most yawning of chasms. That something gained with a modicum of skill is worth having so much more, and with that worth, comes a sense of pride, and fulfilment. I don’t think I am alone in this. A film camera repairer I know tells me he’s never been busier, and film stock sales, despite yearly tales of doom, are actually increasing. It can’t be film’s lack of immediacy and certain ropey and granular feel, since that can all be added in Photoshop. No, I think people are wanting something more in what is increasingly becoming a post-skill world, and in this final comment I throw open the argument beyond photography and into any creative pursuit that can now be done by an app, a smartphone or by selecting menu-option-six on a laptop. I think people are finding that the array of skills now available to them without training is while no doubt convenient, less fulfilling. People are increasingly wanting challenges, and through experience and practice, do a difficult thing and make it look easy.

You remember, like we used to.

Jasper Fforde July 2012

 Jasper’s twelfth novel ‘The Woman Who Died A Lot’ is now avalable in the shop. If you are looking for a perfect summer read that is funny, well-plotted and written with verve and panache we highly recommend the Thursday Next series that starts with ‘The Eyre Affair’

Fifteen Shades Better…

You’ve probably all heard the hype surrounding a certain erotic novel… while we’re certainly not prudish (our shelves proudly display works by the infamous Marquis de Sade and also Anais Nin) we can’t help feeling that there are other books more deserving of such hysteria….

Recently the lovely, mad and hysterically funny Jasper Fforde came to visit us, and during his lunchtime signing on 13th July he very kindly signed 15 copies of his comic novel Shades of Grey, where life is lived according to The Rulebook and social hierarchy is determined by your perception of colour. Eddie Russett is an above average Red who dreams of moving up the ladder by marriage to Constance Oxblood. Until he is sent to the Outer Fringes where he meets Jane – a lowly Grey with an uncontrollable temper and a desire to see him killed…

ISBN: 9780340963050 - Shades of Grey

So here’s the deal – we do have a little E.L. James on our shelves… but why not go fifteen shades better and take home a signed copy of Jasper Fforde’s comic, futuristic love story – if George Orwell had tripped over a paint pot or Douglas Adams favoured colour swatches instead of towels, neither of them would have come up with anything as eccentrically brilliant as Shades of Grey.

You won’t regret it – honest! You can find Shades of Grey and other signed editions of Jasper’s work in our fiction department – and if you’ve enjoyed it, let us know!

Events in July at Blackwell’s Oxford

Another set of cracking bookshop events in July, music, storytelling, natural history, one of oue very best comic writers and Elizebetah espionage! It would be lovely to see you at any or all of these:

Tuesday 3rd July at 7pm

The Bookshop Band

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford

Price: £5

The Bookshop Band write and perform songs inspired by books and the members of the band take it in turns to describe the inspiration for each song. During last year, they have completed 18 author events, and written 36 songs inspired by 21 diverse books.

The band is made up of three British musician/songwriters: Ben Please – part of indie-folk band Urusen who have recently recorded an album with platinum-selling producer Steve Osborne (KT Tunstall, The Happy Mondays, U2, Doves); Poppy Pitt – an artist and sculptor who also tours with her own band, Poppy and Friends; and Beth Porter – has played with Peter Gabriel, currently tours with Eliza Carthy and has recorded for Newton Faulkner, The Unthanks, and Maximo Park.

This promises to be a stunning evening and one that, we are sure, will be talked about for years to come…

Tickets cost £5 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623


 Thursday 5th July at 7pm

Walking the Landscapes of Britain

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford

Price: £2

Philip Hughes will be joining us to discuss Tracks: Walking the Ancient Landscapes of Britain. This book focuses on eleven iconic walks across beautiful ancient areas in Britain, each expressed through Hughes’ artwork in paintings and drawings as well as maps, aerial photographs and short introductions about the surrounding area.

Tickets cost £2 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623


Saturday 7th July

Alice’s Day

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford

Free activities throughout the day – come and join us!

Join us for a day of frabjous activities taking place in our magical children’s department here at Blackwell’s Bookshop from 11am – 5pm. Loose yourself in our all day storytelling of Alice in Wonderland or take part in our Alice trail in the Norrington Room. Be transformed by our face-painting artist or entertained by our comical Alice’s Day musicians. Have a balloon made by our balloon sculptress and get creative with our range of Alice themed craft activities, there’s lots to do for all the family and we hope you can join us!

Alice in Wonderland: The Big Story Read:

We’ll be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the telling of Alice in Wonderland with an all day reading of the story by a range of exciting special guests including children’s authors Sally Nichols, Steve Feasy, Jen Campbell and MG Harris! Drop in to listen to a chapter or stay all day to hear the story in full, join us in celebrating this wonderful occasion. If you are as mad as a hatter and would like to take part as a storyteller, a sign up sheet is on display in the children’s department, please sign up before Alice’s Day to have a guaranteed place

For further information, please telephone our Children’s Department: 01865 333694


Friday 13th July at 1.00pm

Lunchtime book signing:

Jasper Fforde / The Woman Who Died a Lot 

This is the new Thursday Next novel from Number One bestselling author Jasper Fforde.

The BookWorld’s leading enforcement officer Thursday Next is four months into an enforced semi-retirement following an assassination attempt. She returns home to Swindon for what you’d expect to be a time of recuperation. If only life were that simple.

Thursday is faced with an array of family problems – son Friday’s lack of focus since his career in the Chronoguard was relegated to a might-have-been, daughter Tuesday’s difficulty perfecting the Anti-Smote shield needed to thwart an angry Deity’s promise to wipe Swindon off the face of the earth, and Jenny, who doesn’t exist.

And that’s not all. With Goliath attempting to replace Thursday at every opportunity with synthetic Thursdays, the prediction that Friday’s Destiny-Aware colleagues will die in mysterious circumstances, and a looming meteorite that could destroy all human life on earth, Thursday’s retirement is going to be anything but easy.

Jasper Fforde traded a varied career in the film industry for staring out of the window and chewing the end of a pencil. He lives and works in Wales and has a passion for aviation.

All are welcome, no booking required, please just come along!


Wednesday 18th July at 7pm

Hugh Warwick / The Beauty in the Beast

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford

Price: £2

The Beauty in the Beast is a delightful portrait of some of the UK’s best-loved wild animals and birds and the colourful enthusiasts who champion their causes. Meet the water vole-woman from Shropshire, the owl-man from Somerset and Gordon, the dancing toad-fancier. These and many other fabulously engaging characters carry a deep knowledge of their chosen species within a distinctly quirky shell. Other animals making an appearance include otters, bats, dolphins, dragonflies, foxes and adders. Hugh Warwick, animal enthusiast and hedgehog fanatic, writes a series of affectionate and lively homages to the animals of the British Isles, composed of fieldwork and interviews with the people who love and conserve them.

Tickets cost £2 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623



Thursday 19th July at 7pm

SJ Parris / Sacrilege

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford

Price: £2

Perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose, the third historical thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, heretic, philosopher and spy. In the pursuit of power, nothing is sacred! Summer, 1584. The Protestant Prince William of Orange has been assassinated by a fanatical Catholic, and there are whispers that Queen Elizabeth will be next. Fear haunts the streets of London, and plague is driving many citizens away. Giordano Bruno, radical philosopher and spy, chooses to remain, only to find that someone is following him through the city. Confronting his stalker, he realizes it is the woman he once loved — she is on the run, having been accused of murder. Bruno travels to Canterbury to help clear her name, and also on behalf of Sir Francis Walsingham. The Queen’s spymaster has long suspected Catholic influence in the ancient centre of pilgrimage, and instructs Bruno to work to expose any enemy plots. As Bruno begins his hunt for the real killer, he is drawn into the heart of a sinister conspiracy hiding in the shadow of England’s holiest shrine!

Tickets cost £2 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623