I was on a panel once with a writer originally from Haiti, and he commented that fantasy writing has little relevance on the island, as many Haitians already believe in fantastic creatures undertaking bizarrely unusual adventures. Whether this is still true I have no real idea, but it raises some interesting concerns for me as a fantasy writer - for my stories have to be somewhat beyond the scope of my audience's everyday experiences to be fantasy at all.
This might seem self explanatory, but even in the short time I have been writing, the world seems to have lurched to ever more vertiginous extremes, and ideas that I thought were well within the realms of fantasy now seem actually far closer to the truth. That's disturbing for two reasons.
Firstly, that while chaos is really very lovely in a coastline or a forest or a cup of tea, I'm not convinced it would be much fun on a global scale. I'd miss Radio 4 and I've got used to the idea that my Co-op always has a ready stock of chutney. Secondly - and far more importantly - I'd be out of a job if I couldn't think up ideas that weren't actually likely to happen.
So what's going on? When I approach my fantasy writing, I tend to take our reality and then simply exaggerate. A sense of familiarity gives readers a smoother transition to the warped reality I am attempting to depict - an anchor, if you will, from which I can then springboard the reader into new and exciting realms. An extremely valuable by-product of this exaggerating process can often be satire.
Thus, for example, the current affairs programme 'Question Time' on the BBC becomes 'Avoid The Question Time' in my books, whereby politicians are invited to obfuscate, misdirect and generally bamboozle the studio audience to win cash prizes; I have reengineered extinct creatures in my books, who then escape and breed, and have to be shot; I once used the Danish as scapegoats for the economic woes of a UK languishing under a failing right wing government. Why the Danes? Because I thought they were the least offensive nation in Europe. In another book I had the Crimean war still raging, and I also suggested that the high burden of tax on fuel in the UK was switched to dairy products, and the outrageous price of cheese give rise to violent cheese pushing gangs known as 'Stiltonistas'.
Now this all might seem like good, clean, honest, fun - and for the most part it is. But occasionally the exaggeration comes perilously close to reality. Someone was arrested for cheese smuggling in North America; The Danes were indeed vilified during the cartoons controversy; things have just taken a turn for the worse in Crimea. And strangely enough, someone is discussing the possibility of reengineering mammoths somewhere in Siberia - even my jokey mathematical theory known as 'Human Expectation Influenced Probability Theory' is now taken quasi-seriously by at least one renowned statistician.
So what's going on? Either I'm just not having odd enough ideas, or our planet is moving into a new age of extremes where humans, ever keen to push boundaries in order to have an edge in a rapidly inflating marketplace, are doing whatever it takes to get ahead. I'm not sure this is a new phenomenon; Humans have been gloriously and inventively unpredictable for thousands of years. Perhaps the movers and shakers, the technologists, the risk-takers, the beautifully strange, the unique one-in-hundred million individuals who move things on and upwards are just statistically more abundant given that there are a lot of us, and in this connected world, are more likely to be discovered and heard. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, because we have some problems brewing that need some seriously batshit imaginative solutions - of the good sort, naturally.
So am I worried? Not really. In a landscape of extremes, the story of an accountant living in Sidcup and not doing very much may very well become fantasy, and when it does: Tremble ye mortals, for the unbridled drama of double-entry bookkeeping will be unleashed upon the world.
Until then, I'll keep writing the weird stuff I do. I love it, even if sometimes - just sometimes - it comes true.
Jasper Fforde is a best-selling fantasy author living in Wales. His thirteenth book - for children of all ages - 'The Eye of Zoltar' was published in the UK on the 10th April 2014. Jasper will be speaking at this year's HowTheLightGetsIn, the world's largest philosophy and music festival, held annually in Hay-on-Wye in association with the Huffington Post UK.Suggest a correction