BOOKTHINK: I imagine that took some meticulous planning.
OXRIDGE: At times it felt like writing two or three books in one. [Voice enthusiastic]. Justin Thyme is a complex multi-stranded whodunit with more than its fair share of legitimate clues and red herrings, but there are also those hidden elements, some of which are specific to the first book, while others relate to later books in the series. As Justin himself discovers: Everything is Connected to Everything Else! Therefore, I needed to know every single detail of the plot right down to the final page of the last book. I know some authors find such discipline a tad stifling, but personally, I think planning pays; it shows in the writing and reassures readers that the author has a specific destination in mind!
BOOKTHINK: Your work has also been compared to that of Dan Brown [The Da Vinci Code].
OXRIDGE: Hmmm ... I imagine that's only because of the ambigram design on the front cover. Like Mr Brown, I first discovered ambigrams through John Langdon's amazing book "Wordplay." The artist in me recognised at once that this was something I had to try for myself. Initially I considered creating some original ambigram designs for a picture-puzzle book but couldn't find the right project. When I started Justin Thyme, I saw at once that an ambigram would illustrate perfectly how there's far more to this book than first meets the eye. It's a design-concept that's certainly captivated target-age readers.
BOOKTHINK: As an established author - and with such a fantastically marketable idea - I'm curious why you decided to publish the book yourself.
OXRIDGE: It just sort of happened. I'd grown tired of the eye-straining illustrative work and had long been considering a change of direction. Shifting into full-time writing was one option, but I was also tempted to establish a small publishing house. I had not planned on doing both simultaneously, but as I completed my final draft of Justin Thyme, I realised that I was going to need an editor I could trust implicitly or those carefully concealed clue trails could be destroyed by the simplest bit of editing. For similar reasons, I needed a sympathetic typesetter and a layout designer I could take into my confidence. And being the only person to know exactly where all the clues are, only I could give the proofs the final stamp of approval. In the end, the simplest way to ensure the integrity of the hidden elements seemed to be by doing all the jobs myself. So I made a conscious decision not to offer the manuscript to any publishers.
BOOKTHINK: It sounds like you took on a monumental amount of work.
OXRIDGE: Yes, especially if you consider that I did the illustrations and cover graphics too. I suspect there aren't many authors who can claim they've created the complete book, doing absolutely every stage of the work entirely themselves, apart from the actual printing. [Looking suddenly uncomfortable]. Sorry if that sounds horribly smug!
BOOKTHINK: Most people who self-publish a book are actively looking for mainstream publication; are you planning to remain independent?
OXRIDGE: That was the plan initially, but to be perfectly honest, I can't continue doing the jobs of about six different people. Right now I'm busy dealing with marketing and publicity, handling orders, running the JT website (which I designed and built), not to mention packing and mailing endless boxes of books. I'm not complaining, but it does make it almost impossible to find any quality time for writing. I'm desperate to press on with part two of the series, but it needs my total concentration; for that reason alone I'd seriously consider a contract from a mainstream publisher, now that book one's clues are securely in place. And lately I've had emails asking me about foreign rights, who the US publisher will be, and I've even had an enquiry from a film studio. I have to admit I'm starting to feel a bit out of depth; I suspect I'm going to have to decide whether I want to be a publisher or an author - or clone myself!
BOOKTHINK: What would Justin do?
OXRIDGE: Well, he has a time machine, and he's far cleverer than I am ...
BOOKTHINK: You seem to have much in common.
OXRIDGE: Really? [With a ghost of a smile]. Well, as a child I was mad about inventing things. My bedroom was full of home-made Heath Robinson-style mechanical contraptions; my parents used to call me the absent-minded professor. I could recite the periodic table of elements or memorise a pack of cards but rarely noticed what day it was! Like Justin, I've never celebrated my birthday, have always disliked my name, and both of us avoid wearing watches - even though I must have a dozen of them stuffed at the back of my desk drawer!
BOOKTHINK: Why's that?
OXRIDGE: I suppose I don't feel the need to live my life by the clock. Why eat at five, go to bed at ten, and rise at eight-thirty, just because that's what everyone else does? I eat when I'm hungry, sleep when I'm tired - and work in between! If that means writing until dawn if I'm feeling inspired, then I just sleep until midday. Justin's pretty much the same but, being thirteen, his parents prefer him to be on time for his breakfast!
[The rain eases off as we arrive at an old wooden bench in the shelter of some moth-eaten pine trees. Panama Oxridge dries the bench with a large white handkerchief. We sit down and I gaze despairingly at my heels].
BOOKTHINK: Ruined! [Sigh]. Okay, one last question, Is Panama Oxridge an anagram of your real name?
OXRIDGE: [Almost laughing]. Nearly everything's an anagram of something, I suppose. [Stares for a moment or two across the loch with a glazed thoughtful expression, then withdraws a shiny thermos flask from his mackintosh pocket]. Fancy a cup of hot cocoa?
Three days later, the postman delivered a small brown paper parcel. On the outside were three words:
HOT COCOA - HEELS?
Inside was a fabulous high-heeled shoe made entirely out of chocolate and a small white card which said, "Nearly everything's an anagram of something, I suppose ...
"Best wishes from the paradoxical Panama Oxridge"
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