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THIS STORY LAST UPDATED: 10 March 2004 1304 GMT
Jasper Fforde's alternative Swindon
Skyrail over the Brunel Centre, Swindon. From Jasper Fforde's website
Skyrail over the Brunel Centre, Swindon. From Jasper Fforde's website
Croquet at the County Ground, an underground train system and dodos for household pets...

...welcome to Swindon's alter-ego in the best selling books of author Jasper Fforde.
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London has Dickens, Dublin has Joyce and now Swindon has best selling author Jasper Fforde.

It's an unlikely adoption which has resulted from the critically acclaimed author, Jasper Fforde, setting his series of 'Thursday Next' novels in Swindon... yes Swindon.

But it's a Swindon in a parallel universe.

A surreal, 1985 Swindon where croquet is played at the County Ground, a train system rattles underground, a skyrail runs eye-level with the Brunel centre and home-cloned dodos are the household pet of choice.

A Swindon which, according to Time Out, "is a really exciting place to live".

Jasper Fforde
Jasper Fforde

Wise cracks aside Fforde's surreal version of much-maligned Swindon has well and truly put it on the literary map.

In return the unlikely location setting has been credited for helping to make the books hits all over the world.

Many of Swindon's overlooked charms make an appearance: The Stratton bypass, Oxford Road, Commercial Road and the infamous magic roundabout as well as the County Ground.

And Swindon's streets could soon be returning the favour by bearing some of Fforde's characters' quirky names including Thursday Next and Penzler Pick.

We caught up with Fforde to find out more:

Wee Ronnie - I've Found You!Why did you decide to set your books in Swindon?

"Well why not? is a good answer to that question.

"Many years ago, 20 years ago, I came here working as a runner for a film company. We were making a film called Champions shooting on the Lambourn Downs, and I was staying in what was then the Crest Hotel, and I thought this a terrific place to set a book or a story, or something."

Low airship over Swindon. From Jasper Fforde's website.
Low airship over Swindon. From Jasper Fforde's website.

What struck you about Swindon?

"I don't know it was just different.

"It's very obvious to set books in London or Bristol or somewhere like that or Bath. They're all slightly elegant and that sort of thing.

"But here, I thought, why don't we just create a place where anything can happen and in my books anything does happen.

"The Swindon, that Thursday Next lives in, is a sort of parallel Swindon which is sort of similar but different.

"I'm very much promoting an alternative sort of Swindon. You can actually come here and see what my alternative Swindon would look like but you have to sort of screw up your eyes slightly."

What are the similarities and the differences?

"The similarities are the layout. Certainly, you know, all the road layouts and everything are the same.

"And the differences with my Swindon and Nextian Swindon, as I call it, is that it has an underground system for instance. It has a monorail system, it's very, very modern and lots of things go on there. There's
four theatres and there's tons going on there all the time."

Pete & Dave's dodo emporium. From Jasper Fforde's website.
Pete & Dave's dodo emporium. From Jasper Fforde's website.

How do you come up with these character names?

"Braxton Hicks, Bowden Cable, Thursday Next, I don't know, I love thinking up new names.

"It's a long sort of British tradition, I think, in writing. Dickens came up with ridiculous names, you know.

"I just see something written down and I go 'that sounds like a really good name' because I like a name that could just be a name, it isn't but it could just be a name.

"Bowden Cable is actually those cables that are the breaks on bicycles. That's what a Bowden Cable is and it could just about be a name. I just like them and they have a good ring to them."

What do you think of Swindon naming some roads after characters in your books?

"I think that would be wonderful, absolutely honoured. That 300 years from now, when I'm completely forgotten, there will be a road there named after a character is tremendous."

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