Back to Vietnam after 16 years, Jasper Fforde, the British author in the mystery and detective fiction genre for young adults and children has a style which seems tailor-made for a passionate cult following. He met writers, book-lovers and students in Hanoi to share colourful stories about his career and his unique views on literature and the writer’s career.  

The author has his first meet with local readers at a discussion entitled ‘Mystery and Detective Fiction for Children’ with Vietnamese literature critic Dr Pham Xuan Thach. Gently reading his short story ‘Shuttle’, Jasper Fforde started the discussion by letting the audience enjoy a sense of his writing. The story is representative of his unusual writing style. Here witches do not have as much power as they used to. Instead they can only use their limited failing powers to do housework. 

Answering the question about his core vision when writing and finding inspiration for children books, Jasper said: ‘I don’t see any difference between children and adults’. 

In his opinion, children can understand very complex ideas. This opinion is shared by Vietnamese literary critic Dr Pham Xuan Thach who joined the discussion. According to Dr Pham, Vietnamese adults mostly cannot accept the truth that children are equal to them and they are also very smart and complicated. This common thought of parents and grandparents creates a barrier for children and stops them accessing their favourite books and developing a reading habit. 

The discussion was getting heated with questions posed by journalists and young writers who attended the event. While journalists and reporters focused on Jasper Fforde’s viewpoints on children’s reading habits in the UK and on writing books for children, Vietnamese young writers were interested in his career stories and advice. For Jasper Fforde, true writers will always know they are writers, as they love to read and to write all the time. Also, talking about the belief that children prefer internet and visual entertainment to reading, Jasper Fforde has very positive viewpoint. He said: ‘Children may love other things but they still love books and book sales are still strong. So we still have to write good books and find our motivation every day.’ 

Apart from the discussion, the author also joined Israeli writer Etgar Keret and Vietnamese writer Di Li to discuss about ‘Contemporary society reflected in short stories and novels’ and delivered a creative writing workshop named ‘Daydreaming with ink: Write the way you want to write’ for junior high school students at Thuc Nghiem School (Hanoi). 

At the end of the workshop, Jasper Fforde shared: ‘My visit to the school was very interesting with the children bright, attentive and eager to hear what I had to say. And while it would not be wise to consider one class as representative, my impression was that reading fiction and creative writing was not something that Vietnamese students were in the habit of doing to any great extent.

This view was supported by my conversations with Vietnamese publishers and it seems there might be room for a vibrant fiction publishing industry in Vietnam, with local authors writing for a home audience. The benefits of reading are long proven, but there might too be a very sound economic reason as this area of publishing would seem to be an untapped resource ready to be developed, so long as the habit of both reading and writing can be fostered in schools, the home, and libraries.’.

Jasper’s thoughts were what prompted us to invite him to Vietnam. His short trip has not been only an opportunity for the local audience to know more on UK contemporary literature but also for him to understand local culture and look for potential opportunities to have more UK and Vietnamese collaborations published.