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fantasy, Writing

Fighting Fantasy – The 30th Anniversary; An interview with Jonathan Green


This is Jon, daring you to not  support the project.

This is Jon, daring you to not support the project.

For those of you not familiar with Jonathan Green, he is an author who has an extensive catalog, and who is an expert on Christmas no less. Even more interesting is that if you type his name into google, as the search suggestions are coming up ‘Jonathan Green Execution’ is one of the suggestions. As far as I know, he’s still alive, which means he either escaped or has powers beyond the scope of most people.

As an experienced writer of tie-in fiction, he has written everything from Doctor Who adventures to Warhammer novels,  Sonic the Hedgehog gamebooks and Moshi Monsters stories. The night before Twistmas being one of his masterpieces.

His latest book, DARK HEART – A Collection of Short Horror Fiction, is a collection of some very dark horror stories indeed, and is the first e-book he has released himself.

However, the reason that I’m writing this article is because Jonathan has also written for one of the coolest and oldest franchises in fantasy gaming history. In fact, it’s the franchise that really kicked things off in this country, with the original authors being two of the most influential men in the UK gaming industry period.

What am I referring to? Fighting Fantasy. Anyone who is anyone, and anyone who has played a fantasy game, will have most likely done so because of the influence of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. Those two great names aside, Jonathan is a gamebook guru. Since 1992 he has written seven Fighting Fantasy adventure gamebooks. They are Spellbreaker (Fighting Fantasy) (1993 and 2007), Knights of Doom (Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks)(1994), Curse of the Mummy (Fighting Fantasy) (1995 and 2007), Bloodbones (Fighting Fantasy)(2006), Howl of the Werewolf (Fighting Fantasy)(2007), Stormslayer (Fighting Fantasy) (2009) and Night of the Necromancer (Fighting Fantasy)(2010).

Fighting Fantasy is now 30 years old and to commemorate this, Jonathan has launched a Kickstarter Project. You Are The Hero is going to be a fascinating look into the world of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, from the early days of Games Workshop right up to the present day, and beyond. He has already interviewed the creators of the Fighting Fantasy series – Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone – who are both keen to have their story told. In fact, Steve Jackson once said to him, “You are the perfect person to write this book.” High praise indeed!

Having met Jonathan at both Asylum and the Black Library Weekender 2012, and being a keen fan of his Pax Britannia series with Abaddon Books, as well as being a keen Fighting Fantasy player in my youth, I decided that I would interview him to find out a bit more about him, and this amazing project. To which I have pledged I might add!

As with many gamers, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was what attracted Jonathan to the genre “Simple as that.”. Being an only child was one of a number of factors that led to Jonathan discovering Fighting Fantasy.

“I did inevitably dabble with D&D with a couple of my school friends, but none of us really wanted to be the dungeon master and the poor guy who ended up fulfilling that role wasn’t the most imaginative of us. Hence we’d be given room descriptions such as, “You enter a room that’s 60ft by 40ft” and battles where we were told, “Your +6 sword does 20 Hit Points of damage” which really kind of killed it for me.”

nightofnecro

Two of Jonathan’s most celebrated Fighting Fantasy books.

Killed it? More like hammered a nail through its skull whilst singing a bad rendition – I know of no good ones to be honest – of ‘I saw momma kissing santa’ and wearing an ill-fitting spandex onesy. I truly cannot blame Jonathan for finding Dungeons and Dragons somewhat lacking in the gaming aspect after such an horrendous sojourn.

As a result of this somewhat horrific gaming experience, Jonathan decided that he would start to write his own gamebooks instead. Something that I’m sure many people will have tried, and failed at, at some point.

Hearing this, I must admit I got a bit excited and fanboyish. As many of you know I am a fan of steampunk, and the The Ulysses Quicksilver series is very much in that theme. The thought of a gamebook set in this universe had me all of a quiver, so I found myself asking him whether we could indeed expect such a thing?

His answer pretty much made Christmas for me – alongside actually meeting Mr B on 21st December, another memory I shall cherish until struck down with dementia.

“Yes I have. I can’t say any more than that at the moment, but watch this space. Or rather watch www.JonathanGreenAuthor.blogspot.com for more news as and when.” This was a total squee moment and – I believe – an exclusive!

After a cup of Earl Grey Tea – black, with lemon, naturally – I managed to gather my thoughts and put the interview firmly back on track, asking which of the Fighting Fantasy books had the most influence over him. For me, the greatest book was City of Thieves and I was keen to compare influences.“I suppose The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Fighting Fantasy), since it’s that book that really made me want to be an author, rather than just write for a hobby. however, I would also like to add Deathtrap Dungeon (Fighting Fantasy) to the list of influences, along with Dead of Night and Legend of the Shadow Warriors (Puffin Adventure Gamebooks).”

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So far the interview had been easy on Jonathan. That’s not really like me as I like to challenge the people I interview, sometimes asking them things that they really don’t want to be asked. I’ve even pissed off Randy Couture. Taking a nibble from my scone and a sip from my cup of tea, I came up with a question as fiendishly difficult as any puzzle that Jonathan has come up with to bamboozle and befuddle his readers.

Taking a deep breath, I asked him which of the Fighting Fantasy books summed up the entire range. Hah! Take that Jonathan! The question hit him like a haymaker to the jaw after a hard night’s drinking, and the first thing to come out of his mouth was “Crikey, that’s a tricky one!”.

It was his turn to pause and ponder, I almost expected him to roll a D6 for Luck, pen poised I awaited a more eloquent answer. Finally, after wetting his mouth, he spoke, “I suppose if I had to pick just one I’d say Deathtrap Dungeon since the set-up is the most honest and explicable of any gamebook every written. Why else would you enter a dungeon full of apex predators if it wasn’t to win I’m a Dungeoneer Get Me Out of Here, and someone had shipped in all the monsters and built all the traps Crystal Maze style on purpose?”.

That was actually a good answer, not least because it gave me an idea for a story based on a reality series set far in the future where celebrities have to endure terrible ordeals far beyond those of eating Kangaroo scrotum, and in which they actually die if they fail. I digress. In a nutshell he had hit the nail on the head. Deathtrap Dungeon, for those of you who don’t know, is based around the adventurer being sent into a dungeon that is – as the title suggests – a deathtrap. Great riches await the successful adventurer, and a myriad of horrendous deaths await those unsuccessful adventurers. It is literally a do or die. There is no ‘survive this and you’ll be alright’ ending. You either get out, or you die. Simple.

steveian

The Gods of Fighting Fantasy, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone

Having written seven well-received books himself, I asked Jonathan which books he wished he had written and why. As with all of his answers, Jonathan was straight to the point and honest, saying that he wished he had written The Warlock of Firetop Mountain or Deathtrap Dungeon “because they sold so many” and Dead of Night.

Having covered his background and influences, I moved on to the crux of the matter. What had got  him to start this project?

I wrote a piece for SFX Magazine earlier in the year about the history of Fighting Fantasy and its legacy and realised that even after 7,000 words I had barely scratched the surface. That thought stayed with me and I continued interviewing the creators long after the piece was published until we come to this moment, when we’re halfway through the Kickstarter, with almost two thirds of the funds needed to produce the book raised.

Seven thousand words and he had barely scratched the surface? Given the number of people who have been involved in Fighting Fantasy, this is hardly surprising and gives an idea as to the size of the book that we can expect from Jonathan should the Kickstarter be successful. The names of those that have been involved is mind-blowing to anyone that is still keen on fantasy gaming and roleplaying and is basically a who’s who of fantasy; authors and artists alike.

The support that Jonathan has received from these luminaries has been fabulous, and is a key indicator as to how much they want to see this project succeed. Both Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone have been very supportive, agreeing to be interviewed in depth, and offering to help out with rewards – such as signing copies of the book and agreeing to go to lunch with fans – , as well as retweeting Jonathan’s endless tweets on the matter.

Just by supporting this, YOU become a hero!

Just by supporting this, YOU become a hero!

He has also got support from the grassroots fans, the people who actually made Fighting Fantasy the success that it is. as well as “gaming websites and a number of artists, such as John Blanche, Iain McCaig, Russ Nicholson, Tony Hough, Leo Hartas and Martin McKenna.” The latter has agreed to produce a brand new cover for the book.

Not wanting to hang around, Jonathan has already started work and said, “I’ve interviewed loads of the original writers, illustrators and cartographers. I’ve also got some great interviews lined up, including one with Geraldine Cooke, the editor who originally commissioned The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. This really is going to be a unique book!”

And that – for me – is key. I don’t want a crappy Pannini sticker book celebrating 30 years of Fighting Fantasy, or an author who’s never even played a Fighting Fantasy book to be writing this, I want an author who has penned a number of books and who really and truly understands how to write a book that will pay homage to the genre and which will make it truly unique.

We finally came to the last, and most important question, What can pledgers expect to get? For those of you who aren’t aware of Kickstarter projects I shall sum them up in a nutshell. Man A – let’s call him Jongee – comes up with an idea, but doesn’t have the funds to get the idea off the ground. He creates a project on Kickstarter and then offers those that pledge money towards the project incentives to do so. With books and games, this always includes a copy of the book or game depending on how much has been pledged. From there the rewards just keep getting better.

YOU ARE THE HERO, has some amazing rewards including; “A fantastic ‘coffe table’-style book for starters, written by someone with inside knowledge, full of interviews with the original creators and famous fans of the series. There will also be loads of artwork throughout, from full page colour paintings to brand new illustrations commissioned especially for the book.

On top of that, depending on the pledge level, there are Adventurer’s sets on offer (the eponymous two dice, a pencil and an eraser, plus a badge), fine art prints of FF illustrations, the chance to be interviewed for the book and the opportunity to go for lunch with Steve and Ian themselves (and me).

I’m also hoping to announce some new rewards which really will be the kind of things which money can’t buy (normally).”

Seriously, if I’d won the lottery last night, I’d be all over this like a rash. Lunch, with three legends of Fighting Fantasy, and whilst you’re masticating you drop in an idea for a book that you’ve had and see if they bite. This is really the only time that money can buy such an opportunity.

Hopefully, this article has shed some light on why Jonathan is the perfect man for such a monumentous task, and why he can shoulder such responsibility, whilst whetting your appetite for a project that just simply has to be supported!

If so, and you want to support the project you can do so by going to the YOU ARE THE HERO page on Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1412864360/you-are-the-hero

And after having done that, Tweet about it, tell your friends on Facebook (and like the YOU ARE THE HERO Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/ComicHeroes#!/pages/You-Are-The-Hero-A-History-of-Fighting-Fantasy-Gamebooks/449514028443744?fref=ts), email all of your contacts and ask them to do the same.

About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7. Matthew was Features Editor, Technical Consultant and regular columnist for magazines such as ‘Fighters’, ‘Combat’, ‘TKD & Korean Martial Arts’ and ‘Traditional Karate’. These are the four leading martial arts magazines in the United Kingdom. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed 'Practical Taekwondo: Back to the Roots', which has been sold around the world. With regard to his martial arts background he has been studying martial arts since 1991. In 1995 he hosted Professor Rick Clark of the ADK and since then has been studying pressure points and their uses in the martial arts and on the street (initially as a Special Constable and as a Door Supervisor). All of this practical hands-on experience means that he is uniquely placed to write fight scenes that are not only plausible but some of which are based on personal or anecdotal experience. Matthew has had a number of short stories published by Fringe Works, KnightWatch Press, Anderfam Press and Emby Press.

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