Fighting Fantasy Letters
Webmaster: Mark J. Popp

These letters have either been written to me, or passed on to me from Fighting Fantasy fans. They are written by people "in the know" who have either written, illustrated or somehow contributed to Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks.

Kevin Bulmer
Marc Gascoigne
Stephen Hand
Steve Jackson
Martin McKenna
Paul Mason
Iain McCaig
Penguin Books

Kevin Bulmer
 

Letter From Kevin Bulmer
(To Mark J. Popp)
Date: Mon, 6 Dec 1999 18:06:32 -0000

Hi Mark,

Just a quickie here. Noticed a review of Freeway Fighter on your site (Fighting Fantasy book 13). The reviewer didn't like my art and made a witty comment. Obviously he's free to his opinion but a few words in my defence: 

The artwork for this book was done in a 9 day stretch as a favour for Ian since (as I understand it) the previous artwork was rejected at the last moment. I would have preferred several weeks and the opportunity for some sleep but, on the understanding that I'd be able to do a later book justice
and show what I can really do, I agreed to this one. As you can probably tell, I never did get the chance.

I have produced artwork for several books and magazines, computer games and television series.

Regards,

Kevin

P.S. Congratulations on an excellent and detailed site!!!

Marc Gascoigne
 
Letter From Marc Gascoigne
(To Jason Harris)
Date: Tue, 4 Jun 96 17:55:50 -0700

Hey Jason:

>I'm interested in writing for the series, and am wondering what the guidelines are for submitting >manuscripts.  Any information you can provide me would be appreciated.  Thank you!

Here are our current guidelines. Please note that, while we do pick up writers who send in such proposals, it doesn't happen all that often. Also, note that there are a limited number of free places in the schedule for the next couple of years. On the other hand, feel free to have a go; we're
always happy to offer a critique of young writers' submissions.

Best wishes,

Marc Gascoigne                                    Puffin Books
FFed@overload.demon.co.uk               http://www.penguin.com

Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks Initial Guidelines

Introduction

The following are some basic guidelines for anyone wishing to write for the Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone presents... series, in the Fighting Fantasy range of adventure gamebooks published by Puffin Books. Please note that these guidelines were established to help us to process your work properly and with good speed. If they are not followed, we may not be able to deal with your submission.

Before sending in an entire, finished manuscript, we prefer you to send us a brief proposal accompanied by a sample of your style, in the form of some paragraphs from your adventure and a synopsis of how you intend it all to progress.

Important

The Fighting Fantasy series is about to undergo a reformat. All future adventures will be 300 paragraphs, and a maximum of 30,000 words. Please do not submit a proposal for a longer adventure.

What to send

Please send us the following items from your proposed Fighting Fantasy adventure:

   * Background, including any new rules
   * 100 sample paragraphs
   * Synopsis of the rest of the plot

If you have not written your adventure already, miss out the sample paragraphs, and just send a short synopsis of your idea, both how it starts and how it continues. We'll tell you if it's worth proceeding with.

Background

Just like the start of any FF book, this should detail any new rules you intend introducing, and the Background story which leads into the adventure paragraphs proper. The basic rules and combat system you use must be the standard FF set-up, but originality and variations are welcome (for
example, a new fear characteristic for a 'haunted house' adventure). Please note that the increasingly common Test your Skill mechanism is not a standard part of the rules, so it must be defined in these new rules if you are going to use it. Also bear in mind the various options for fighting more than one opponent.

Please note that your adventure must use the Fighting Fantasy rules and no others. It must be for one adventurer only; you can provide companions along the way, but the reader must be playing only one hero. It must be set somewhere on the established FF world of Titan, and therefore be a fantasy adventure (although it can incorporate elements of other styles, e.g. 'horror', where appropriate). If in doubt, do some research: be familiar with Titan - the Fighting Fantasy World and some recently published FF gamebooks.

Paragraphs

These should ideally be the first 100 paragraphs of your intended adventure. You can number them 1-100 if you wish, and need not put each one on a separate sheet of paper at this stage. A few paragraphs either way is acceptable, but please do not send us an entire 300 entry gamebook.

Synopsis

This should continue from where your sample paragraphs end, and detail over two or more pages the rest of the plot, its setting and any special features we should note. Include details of new monsters, tricks and traps, special games (these are all essential if your adventure is to have any
chance of being accepted), and any other points about your plot that you think we would find attractive.

Format

All submissions must be typed, double-spaced, with wide margins all round, on one side of A4 paper only. If you use a computer, print out at the highest quality possible rather than Draft, and separate any continuous stationery. Do not 'Justify' your text. New authors must also send a large,
self-addressed envelope with sufficient postage (or IRCs, if not based in the UK) to cover the proposal's return. Keep a copy of everything you send, in case it gets lost. (A system for handling PC or Mac disk-based submissions is being instituted but is not yet ready, so only send hard copy submissions for the present. Submissions by e-mail _are_ acceptable.)

What happens

All of this information will give us enough to decide (a) whether we like your idea, and that it is not too similar to another book in the range, and (b) whether your style is suitable for the Fighting Fantasy list. Remember that we are looking for original ideas, new and exciting adventures and
really inventive encounters with new monsters, puzzles and traps.

Because we do also have to put out books occasionally, we should take about six to eight weeks to read and fully assess your manuscript. After that time, we will either reject your proposal, or take the next steps toward publishing a finished gamebook. Either way, you will hear from us by letter.

Send it to

Your proposal should be sent to Richard Scrivener, Puffin Books's Publishing Manager, or Marc Gascoigne, the freelance FF Advisory Editor. If you have any queries or need more information or advice, write to or email either of us and we'll advise you.

Puffin Fighting Fantasy Editor:
Richard Scrivener, Puffin Books, 27 Wrights Lane, London, W8 5TZ, UK

Gamebook Advisory Editor:
Marc Gascoigne, 95 Morley Ave, Mapperley, Nottingham, NG3 5FZ, UK
email: FFed@overload.demon.co.uk

Interview with Marc Gascoigne
(With Puffin Books UK)

When did you start writing?

I've always written, or so it seems. It was an outlet for my over-active imagination. Another was playing fantasy games. Just as I left school, I helped found a Dungeons and Dragons fanzine. It was because of that experience that I got a job designing for Games Workshop, from where it was a short step into writing for the Fighting Fantasy gamebook line. Since then, well, I just expanded into writing about stuff I'm interested in....

Where do you get your ideas?

Asking questions. I'm always the annoying bloke who points out the holes in the movie plots. Sometimes I watch or read something and start asking myself things like 'Instead of doing that, what would happen if they did this instead?' It's like daydreaming with a purpose. Asking questions, questions that always come down to a simple, 'But what if...?'

Can you give your top three tips to becoming a successful author?

1. Write loads. Get used to handling words almost without thinking about them. They are just tools for making your dreams real, like computer games are really just pixels.

2. Write, pure and simple. 'Get it down, change it later' is written on a piece of paper and stuck to my computer.

3. Be original. Let your mind wander away from everyday stuff. Look at simple things from new angles.

Favourite place in the world and why?

Dublin, in Ireland, because it's full of friends. Every time I leave I feel very sad, but there's always the expectation of going there again soon... 

What are your hobbies?

Sleeping, collecting horrible Xmas records, finding things out, designing typefaces, playing guitar, drinking nice wine; oh, and failing to finish designing my own web site. One day...)

If you hadn't been a writer, what do you think you would have been?

Something else creative... besides, I already have a day job, as an editor, designer and typesetter on a comic book.

Stephen Hand
 
Letter From Stephen Hand (#1)
(To Mark J. Popp)
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 01:27:52 -0000

Dear Mark,

I was astonished to find your web site, and to find people discussing work I did nearly ten years ago!

What can I say? One time favourite sub-author and some great reviews; please thank everyone for their interest and all their kind words.

Best wishes,
Stephen Hand

Letter From Stephen Hand (#2)
(To Mark J. Popp)
Date: Sun, 3 Oct 1999 01:48:32 +0100

I resigned from Games Workshop early in 1987 to concentrate on freelance writing and game design. A guy called Jim Bambra had left Workshop about a month or two before me, and we decided to get together to write some gamebooks. To be honest, we did not want to write Fighting Fantasy (excuse the heresy). We did not think that the series was particularly interesting, so we put some concepts together which we tried to sell to various publishers. Everyone rejected us, which showed what we knew!

Part of the problem had been that in the UK, the success of Fighting Fantasy had resulted in every publisher rushing out gamebook series of their own. Trouble was that most of these rival series were quite poor, which meant poor sales and lots of publishers getting their fingers burned. So while some people said nice things about our ideas, our ideas were not good enough and/or publishers were being too conservative. Enter, Mr. Robin Waterfield.

The way I understood the Puffin FF editorial system, there seemed to be two editors on the team. One editor was your usual management-type person who dealt with contracts, delivery schedules, arranging edits, supply of art etc., while the other editor was more a games content editor. The latter was someone who effectively policed the plot, game play, structure, style and consistency with the rest of the FF universe. Robin Waterfield was that man.

Robin said he had no interest in our original ideas, but that he'd like to see a proposal from us for a Fighting Fantasy book. As I say, we had not wanted to write FF, and there were parts of the "standard contract" that left something to be desired, but we ate a portion of humble pie and decided that the range would be good exposure - despite the tucking away of the authors' names in microdot on the inside cover. 

Robin sent us the writer's guidelines, Jim and I put something together, and Robin offered us a contract. At which time the first of many Penguin editors got in touch. At this stage, I went out and bought the standard FF source books and a copy of Tasks of Tantalon. I also had a few of the old gamebooks lying around. So we did some simple research and decided to use the Old World, simply because no one else was really using it, and because the few notes that had been written about the Old World meant we could have some fun with the place.

At no point did anyone else have any input into the creative process - something people may not be clear about. I understand that Steve and Ian had to approve everything that went out under Fighting Fantasy, but they had no direct contact with us or had any input. Robin did make comments, but they were limited to game play.

Jim and I had two different approaches to writing. Jim was more a standard fantasy scenario writer, whereas I was always trying to push the limits of what was possible, and was very much into pulp horror. Between us we found a good balance. We decided that we would ignore what had been written in FF before and create our own world within FF. "Our" Old World would be a grimy, realistic, human, political, horrific medieval world - a sort of Hammer Horror pastiche set in a plague-ridden peasant village. People would have real motivations, the world would be filled with dark secrets and terrible surprises. I know all this reads as arrogant, but that's the way we discussed it at the time.

One thing I myself had learned from the excellent Lone Wolf books was something I call, "writing big". Look at these two paragraphs:

1
"The Orc scowls menacingly then reaches for his club. You will have to defend yourself:
Orc        Skill: 7        Stamina: 7"

2
"The bodies of the slain lie strewn across the battlefield, your position is hopeless. Realising you have no choice but to pull back and rally your forces, you turn only to see... Something bars your way. You try to face it but it eludes your stare. Your assailant is an Forgotten Shade and you will need every ounce of courage to overcome it:
Shade    Skill: 7        Stamina: 7"

Paragraph 1 is very typical of your average gamebook. Events feel isolated, low key and a bit flat. Paragraph 2 is written big. It is over the top (some would say too long, verbose and melodramatic), but feels more exciting and satisfying. Structurally both paragraphs are exactly the same - there is a fight with a 7/7 creature - but contextually, they are worlds apart. We decided to write big, so every challenge (even when minor) had character. An event would be: the most evil, the most important, the most tricky, the most melodramatic, the most underhand. Every element would be part of an epic whole. I felt that there was no reason not to rise to this creative challenge, to try and create something dramatic and unique. We also wanted to create new creatures and villains, while retaining some of the usual rag-bag of Goblins etc. so that we didn't alienate ALL our readers. We did not always succeed in our goals, but I think Dead of Night worked out well over all.

On that first book, what happened was that Jim and I plotted all the scenes and characters together. Then we divided the different scenes between us, so I would write one area, and he would write another. When we finished, we actually swapped documents and edited each other's work. This may sound strange, but it worked and lead to a fairly even book written by two very different writers.

For Dead of Night, Puffin gave us a choice of artists from their list. We had to choose one artist for the cover and one for the contents. We submitted three choices for each slot, but got none of them. At first we were a little disappointed, but that feeling soon vanished when we saw just how good Terry Oakes and Martin McKenna were. I chose the same artists for my other two books because I wanted to create total consistency and continuity, and because Terry and Martin usually bettered my vision.

Something else people may not be aware of is that FF authors were asked to provide detailed briefs for all illustrations in their books, including the little decorative fillers that are dotted around the text. Being a bit particular, I wrote up to three pages for each illustration - specifying exactly what was in view and where, and even where the picture should break through the edge of the frame to create a dynamic effect. (At the end of this mail are word-for-word copies of two art-briefs I provided for Shadow Warriors - 1 filler, 1 full page. you may find it interesting to compare). The artists had to work to briefs because they had to have their work ready at roughly the same time the book was finished. So the artists could not work from the book itself. Truth be told, I sometimes had to prepare art briefs for scenes I had not yet written or even invented. I was occasionally forced to come up with a strong visual image, and then later plan the story around that image. The artists and authors both had schedules to work to, and I had no problem bending my methods to help the artists.

Terry's covers had total class, especially Shadow Warriors. And I loved McKenna's work. He had a way of seeing what was in my mind's eye, and then improving on it. The tone I was writing, he was illustrating - the Old World as a dark, dirty, and fearsome place. I know all appreciation is personal and subjective but anyone who has voted either artist as their least favourite in your poll should feel ashamed. I would love to work with these guys again. Martin, where are you?

After much hard work, Dead of Night was finished. Jim and I were pleased to be immediately invited to write another book. Jim decided not to write another, so I worked on Legend Of The Shadow Warriors alone. It was a blast. Now I had no reason, other than my own failings, not to go way over the top. I tried to create a world that I as a kid would love to have visited (albeit with armed guards) - a total Hammer Horrror reality with real history and personalities. I tried to create a quest that no one had done before, and I tried to take up some serious issues. At the end of the book, you don't kill the bad guy, you forgive him and help him. This to me seemed a stronger and more courageous ending than the usual easy death and explosions routine - who murders the murderers? I also started to build up characters and themes that I wanted to develop over time. 

Although Puffin listed these titles as kids books, I pushed myself really hard in writing them, and never saw them as hack work. I wanted to surprise and engage my readers with twisting plots, interesting issues and situations that readers could resolve with strategic thinking. As I said before, I wanted to make a corner of the Old World my own, and I myself wanted to carve out a corner of Fighting Fantasy that was my own. I hoped that readers would see the difference in my books from the rest, and that they would have fun following the ongoing characters and themes in my books. I also hoped that people would see a difference in writing quality. Yes, I know how this reads...

Moonrunner was the last of the three, and was the most enjoyable to write. Again, we have a serious message. A war criminal commits atrocities but time has passed. Do you go after him and hold him accountable, or do you forget about it? The hero decides that he has an obligation to the victims of the criminal, and so seeks to enforce justice. Yet even here the villain is brought to trial, not killed. The main influence for this book was my love of 1940s American pulp film serials (The Crimson Ghost, The Whispering Shadow, SOS Coastguard etc.). And I wanted the player to feel like a hero in a pulp serial. So from the very first scene, in which the hero is found by a dead body and wrongly accused of murder, the pace never lets up. Karam Gruul himself is the archetypal Fu Manchu/Moriarty villain with death traps and evil schemes a-go-go. Martin was pushed for time on this project, so his work wasn't quite up to his usual standard - but was still awesome. How he managed to do the Shocker so well from the brief I gave him, I will never know.

Working with Puffin was fine. Puffin's own editors seemed to change every so many months. Robin Waterfield actually left early in my time writing for them. But Robin's replacement was Marc Gascoigne, an old chum who actually has to take the blame for me joining the gaming industry in the first place. Marc stayed on FF until the end, and was my main contact for Shadow Warriors and Moonrunner. I always found Marc professional and good to work with.

My books really were horrific in a fun way. After Dead of Night I learned to make my initial submissions (and art briefs) more horrifying than I actually wanted the finished book to be, because I knew that Puffin would always ask me to cut something, to make things more acceptable for children. So I cut the more extreme stuff, which left me with the level of horror that I actually wanted.

I also dealt with a fine gentleman by the name of Roger Wells. Roger was Puffin's copy editor. When I finished writing the books, a copy would be sent to Roger who would then improve grammar, correct errors, fix mistakes, polish style and so on. Roger once paid me a compliment that leaves me feeling proud to this day. He said that my writing was very clean and did not need much doing to it, and that it was far better than the typescripts sent to him by a very famous author who needed endless corrections (and who I shall not name here). That author is much more renowned and successful than me, but I have the smug satisfaction of knowing that my writing is cleaner (though that might not show in this mail). Small things amuse small minds.

I had planned to write more FF but my freelance work went on hold when I joined a PC games company called MicroProse. Strangely enough I started work there as a Designer, but ended up working in management as a Producer and then as Director of the UK Development group - which was a full time job and then some. Throughout this period, Marc Gascoigne kindly kept hassling me to write another FF book and used to wind me up by saying that he was grooming another author to copy my style and to replace me. I did actually start work on two books: Blood of the Mandrake and Smuggler's Gold, but my job never gave me the free time to get more than halfway through each.

Also, while I really enjoyed my time on FF, certain events unfortunately made me resent the idea of writing another book. One particular speech at a Puffin Fighting Fantasy party and a few items printed in the UK press seemed a little mean-spirited, and hardly encouraged the average FF author to write another book under the Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone banner.

Despite these hiccups, my time on Fighting Fantasy and working with Puffin was fun. I greatly enjoyed writing the books, and am genuinely pleased to see the good reviews posted on your site. You can not please everyone all the time, but the trick is not to delude yourself into thinking that you can. As long as someone likes your stuff, the effort is more than worthwhile. And it is most gratifying to see your reviewers pick up on some of the points I tried to work in to the text.

With not having written FF for 8 years or so, I have not been following events on the Puffin front. I've merrily been receiving royalty cheques every six months and that's been it. So I only found out that Puffin were no longer publishing Fighting Fantasy only a couple of weeks ago. I received no formal notification, so you guys probably knew before I did. 

Generally, people should understand that there was no FF "family" or anything. Writing in all genres is pretty much a solitary process, with just the author and the computer working long into the night. Contact with any publisher in any media is usually limited to the odd phone call, the rare personal meeting, and quite a few mails. A company the size of Puffin/Penguin simply does not have the time to mail updates to its hundreds of authors every time something happens affecting their books. It is usually left to the author to touch base from time to time, to find out what is going on.

On the personal front, after a seven year stint with MicroProse I left the company early this year to take up a Director position with a software development company called Edcom. We have a game (Grand Prix World) being published by Hasbro Interactive later this year, and have other game projects lined up for 2000 onwards. I suspect that a computer game based around managing a Formula One Motor Racing Team will not be of even the remotest interest to the average FF reader.

Fighting Fantasy itself was part of a career that has involved short stories, magazine articles, play scripts, board games, computer games, and the spreadsheet-driven excitement that is Senior Management. It's been cool, but the adventure is still ongoing. Given the right circumstances I'd certainly consider writing another game book, but I suspect it will never happen. Certainly, I am totally into my work on computer games at the moment and am having a lot of fun.

Well, I hope you find this interesting. I think when any author discusses stuff it can come across as vain, shallow and boring. I've tried to give you an interesting mix of history, ideas and news. What you do with this stuff is wholly up to you.

Sample Art Briefs from Legend of the Shadow Warriors

These were meant for internal use only, and written as if to be spoken - so please excuse any unusual grammar.

Filler 6
"At the climax of the adventure, the big bad villain summons the Shambling Undead from their unmarked graves. They are the fallen of a battle which took place thousands of years ago. The battlefield is now a barren plain, ringed by arid mountains. In the foreground rises one of the undead. It is generally skeletal, but shows a healthy covering of caked dirt and decayed flesh, preserved by the intense heat of the dry earth. The creature wears dark, ragged gowns and has long dark hair. Its face is emotionless as it awaits the command to slaughter. The creature holds a nasty-looking pole weapon which is little more than a long straight blade at the end of a long shaft (like a makeshift spear, but shorter and wider, not made for throwing). He holds it in both hands, diagonally across his chest so that the blade is near his left shoulder. We only see the creature from thighs upwards, the rest of his legs are still below the earth. It is as if the creature is standing on a sprung trap door. It does not climb out of the earth, it just rises in upright position, ready to do battle. Earth falls off it, and crumbles away from its legs as it rises. Behind this figure are many, many more Undead rising in like fashion, holding different weapons. These others become tiny silhouettes in the distance."

Full Page 21
"The reader, for some "unknown" reason, has strayed off the road through the Witchtooth Line mountains, and has followed some really obscure and perilous mountain paths to, of all places, an archaeological dig! In truth, unbeknownst to the reader, his mind has been subtly controlled bringing him here. Such mind control is the faltering last vestige of yet another ancient force craving release, and that thing is here.

We look at a rough face hewed from soft, stony rock. The face is all uneven where it has been cut and hewn, and various natural seams run in many directions. The rock and sand "floor" runs from us up to the foot of the face, slightly heaping before the rock, like crashing waves. A few feet above the peaking sand is the object of the dig.

This thing runs up the centre of the page, suspended in the rock, almost reaching the top of the page. It is a skeleton, but not just any skeleton. It is a humanoid about twenty five foot tall, and only parts of it are visible, the most forward projections. Much of the skeleton is still obscured and needs digging out. So, we see a bit of the feet, knees, ribs, hands, etc. but not uniformly so. It would look silly if we saw bits protruding in left and right pairs. The skeleton is in a dynamic position, not clawing or walking, just suspended as if frozen in ice. It is largely humanoid, but with "demonic tendencies"; long talon-like bony fingers, clawing foot bones, and is slightly unnatural with its thicker and sharper bone joints. The skull is also much larger and built up. Again, it is humanoid but not human. The nasal cavity is shaped differently, the upper "lip" is more simian and the brow is heavily built up. Two small curved pointy horns crest the skull and the incisors are fanged. Only the top half of the skull projects from the rock face. We should be able to see the jawbone, but it just isn't there. While the thing's eye sockets are empty, an even darker core of shadow acts as a sort of pupil. There's menace in them thar sockets!

The thing is a Pan-Terric Behemoth, very rare and seen by very few people in the whole history of Titan. It has been here for years waiting for some upheaval of the earth to free it again. However, a group of scholars from a city to the south discovered ancient documents speaking of the creature, and came to dig it up for archaeological interest. Sensing the party's presence, in such an out of the way place, the Behemoth used its will to lead it here. It was not good luck which made the team's first excavation so fruitful. The Behemoth needs a servant to free it. Then it will kill that servant and walk Titan once more, cutting a swathe of death through the land. Once it is free of earthly restraints, its flesh will reform and it will regain all its powers. Until now, it has only been able to exert its willpower. There were five people in the party, now only one remains. This man was deemed most useful as a servant, so the Behemoth had him murder his colleagues - especially as, having seen the skeleton, they had very strong doubts about unearthing it.

Now that the reader has come, the Behemoth sees an even better servant. All sorts of horrific events follow, with the Behemoth using its will to control the reader and/or the archaeologist.

Built up around the right side and top of the skeleton is a crude wooden platform with a ladder. Hanging from this rickety, thin wooden scaffold (it's not very large, looking like cube frames stacked perilously on top of one another with a ladder going up one side, and a few planks on top) are lanterns, ropes and so on. And standing on it are a pitcher of water and cleaning cloth, ropes and various tools. Other tools and bits of archaeological equipment (bags, cutting and scraping tools, pickaxes, spades, supplies etc.) are strewn all over the ground between the reader and the rock face (too many items  for one man alone - a clue that the archaeologist is lying when he says he's done all the work alone). To the left of the skeleton, and appealing to the reader for help, is the archaeologist. This fellow really has no perception of his murderous deeds and feels a "genuine" enthusiasm for the dig. Tents and bodies are not in sight, this picture concentrating on the dig.

The archaeologist looks quite small beneath the gargantuan skeleton. He is a thin man in his late thirties. As he's been digging alone, he is hot and weary. He is stripped to the waist, but wears a neckerchief. He wears stout knee-high boots over baggy leggings, all of which are dirty and scuffed. He has shoulder length wavy hair and his face is full of the imperatives of academic research and interest, as if everyone should be interested in his findings. A torn strip of cloth serves as a sweatband which he wears round his forehead. He has no facial hair, but could do with a shave. His alert eyes have bags beneath them. His frame is muscled but work weary. He wears a wide belt from which hang a number of small tools including a magnifying glass and a small hand brush. A spade sticks up out of the sand beside him; he's taking a rest while he appeals to the reader to lend a hand to the dig. One hand beckons excitedly to the skeleton, the other holds on to a large tatty, faded map of the area (mountains, trails etc.). If the reader refuses to help, the skeleton forces the archaeologist to attack him. If the reader agrees, the skeleton will pick him as its next servant, and force the reader to attack the archaeologist! So, at this stage, the mute, impassive bestial skull looks down on events with more than trace of gleeful malice."

Letter From Stephen Hand (#3)
(To Mark J. Popp)
Date: Mon, 4 Oct 1999 14:14:13 +0100

[MJP] What kind of work did you do at Games Workshop?

I worked at Games Workshop as a board game designer. Prior to joining the company I sold them a design for a game called, Chainsaw Warrior. While at Workshop, I had another three titles published - Chaos Marauders, Fury of Dracula and Curse of the Mummy's Tomb.

[MJP] Did you end up doing any non-FF writing?

In addition to FF, I sold a board game to West End Games called, "Star Wars: Escape From The Death Star", and had a variety of short stories and non-fiction articles published in the UK press. I was also doing various other bits and pieces of work and was in discussion for further contracts when I joined up with MicroProse. I had this insane belief that I could hold down both full time and freelance work. In reality, I had to let the freelance work go - something which I did not find easy to do.

[MJP] You mentioned in an earlier letter that you found certain portions of the standard FF contract unappealing, may I ask what those were?

Sadly, I don't think it is appropriate to discuss contract issues in public. Please accept my apologies for not going into any detail.

[MJP] Did you have any kind of personal relationship with Steve & Ian?

I met Steve and Ian a couple of times, but had no relationship with them. To be frank, I wrote my books for Puffin and not for Steve and Ian. As I said in my last mail, there was no FF family. The books were put together by however-many-it-was different authors who each had their individual dealings with the Puffin editorial team - Puffin were running Fighting Fantasy. By the time I was writing the books, "Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone" presents was a logo and a trademark that helped to market and sell the books. As I said before, Steve and Ian had to approve everything under the FF logo, but I was lucky in that I never had to change my work to gain approval. That is except for the "horror" cuts Puffin had asked for, as I discussed earlier. The working relationship I had was with Marc Gascoigne and the unsung heroes of FF, Puffin editors: Annie Eaton, Jane Heslop, Helen Hatfield, Alison Stanley and Richard Scrivener.

[MJP] What happened to Jim Bambra, both personally and professionally?

I have not kept in touch with Jim much over the years. He worked with MicroProse for a while, and then left to work for Eidos Interactive.

[MJP] Do you have any examples of your work that had to be cut out by Puffin?

I don't think I have any of the edited material left. I used to make the edits on my word processor and would delete the cut material. When I have more time I will take a look through my old files to see if I have kept anything - though I'm pretty sure I haven't.

[MJP] What can you tell me about Blood of the Mandrake and Smuggler's Gold, your unpublished Fighting Fantasy books?

Blood of the Mandrake was (for better or worse) going to be a continuation and closure of many of the themes I had been developing through Shadow Warriors and Moonrunner. The whole Mandrake conspiracy theme was going to be brought to a dramatic end, and I was going to further or finish the careers of some of my running incidental characters, such as Kauderwelsch. Having a new twist on this Frankenstein character from episode to episode again was something one would find in Hammer Films. Basically, Mandrake would have been more horror and melodrama. I would also have begun to set up some new themes and characters for future books. 

Smuggler's Gold would have been fun to do - the quest alone would have been unlike anything seen in any other gamebook ever written (please excuse me if I don't expand on this, but the concept is still original and I am saving it for future possibilities). For me Smuggler's Gold would have been a "time-out" from my main line. We would still have had the grim reality of the Old World as I saw it, but the plot would have been lighter and more humorous. Moreover, Smuggler's Gold would not have furthered any of my ongoing themes, but would have taken place somewhere around the edges of those themes. After Smuggler's Gold I planned to get back into the Old World properly again.

[MJP] What was said in the UK press and the Puffin FF party that turned you off FF, as you mentioned in an earlier letter?

Again, I think it would not be appropriate to go into any detail. Your site is a celebration of Fighting Fantasy. What's past is past. 

[MJP] Are the royalty cheques a decent amount, or merely pocket change?

Royalty cheque values vary. I think the amounts are decent given the books are so old, but some people would regard them as pocket money. Obviously, one makes the most money just after a book is newly published. Now, some years later, I could not live off the royalties, but they are still enough to bring a smile to my face.

Steve Jackson
 
Letter From Steve Jackson (#1)
(To Robert LaVallie)

Many thanks for the kind words. I'm flattered you still remember them after all this time! If you are recollecting the FF books, you might want to try amazon.com as they feature in their lists. But they're on special order only which probably means they have to locate them individually.

Letter From Steve Jackson (#2)
(To Robert LaVallie)

The Trolltooth Wars is on its way to you. Thanks for the info on the websites. Just the sort of thing that will help in persuading publishers to consider taking up the series! When I've had a chance to go through them, I'll see if there's anything I could contribute (like updating on the complete booklist). At the moment I'm working with Peter Molyneux on a computer game called 'Black &
White'. Should be out next year.

Letter From Steve Jackson (#3)
(To Robert LaVallie)

Thanks for the review. Well written - and I especially appreciated the score! I'll look out for it appearing on one of the FF websites (which I have now been to visit several times).

Funny you should mention the river. The river was originally used as the 'halfway point'. Ian wrote from the entrance to the river. I wrote the river onwards (+ rules + keys). The book nearly got rejected by Penguin when we handed the two manuscripts in because there was an obvious difference in styles. In the end I drew the short straw and had to go over Ian's sections re-writing them in 'Jackson style'. That's why WoFTM was the one and only book we wrote together.
It made more sense to write books individually.

Letter From Steve Jackson (#4)
(To Robert LaVallie)
Mon, 7 Jun 1999 14:54:09 -0400

[Robert] First, I have heard that the cards from England are different sizes than the ones produced in America.  Is this true?

[Steve Jackson]  Yes. The English cards were designed to fit efficiently into a European master sheet. The US cards were produced to standard baseball card size.

[Robert] Also, is the numbering of the first 139 cards the same for both sets?

[Steve Jackson]  From memory, yes.

[Robert] Next up, the treasure cards.  In America, they are numbered T-1, T-2... T-8.  In
England, they are numbered 140-147.  Is there any reason why this is so?

[Steve Jackson]  Merlin's US office claimed American collectors preferred sub-set numbers. I preferred a complete set which finished neatly at number 150, so the UK set ends at 150 but bowed to experience on the US set!

[Robert] Lastly, for the American set, can you give me the card breakdown?

[Steve Jackson]  Sorry, I haven't got that info here.

[Robert] I know there are 139 cards in the basic set.  I also know there are eight treasure cards (T1-T8).  That makes 147 cards.  Now, I also know there is a card 148 and 149.  What are these cards?

[Steve Jackson]  Jeez, it's some time since I did those cards. From memory, cards 148 & 149 were two special cards - 'banknote' cards which represented Gold and Silver currency. These currency cards could be exchanged with the publisher for rare treasure cards.

[Robert] Lastly, there is that all-secret card 150.  What is this card?  I have heard that you sign this card or something like that.  Am I even close concerning this?

[Steve Jackson]  Card 150 was a special card (sorry, it's a secret!) which you could only get from the publisher and only if you proved you had completed all the quests. Merlin had me sign the first 100 cards that were produced. The US office never did. So only the first 100 UK cards are signed. They might even have been numbered, too.

Letter From Steve Jackson (#5)
(To Mark J. Popp)
Mon, 20 Sep 1999 11:41:18 +0100

[MJP] Why was the decision made to cancel the FF series? Was sales volume that low?

[Steve Jackson] FF had a good long run - 16 years in print in the UK. But all good things come to an end. By 1998, sales of new titles had reduced to a few thousand. Ian and I maintained this was because Penguin were not promoting them at all. When the Deathtrap Dungeon PC game came out and Eidos spent a lot of money promoting it, Penguin wouldn't put a penny into linking any book
advertising. In the end they agreed to let us have the rights back.

[MJP] Are you interested in expanding the series; perhaps with a different publisher? I think the demand is there to continue.

[Steve Jackson] Absolutely. I am contacting publishers and agents to try to set up a new publishing deal. The books are still in print in many countries; I have set up new deals for example with a publisher in the Czech Republic who is up to number 28. In the UK, publishers are likely to be more interested if there is 'something new' to offer. I'm working on that one. I'll keep you informed.

[MJP] I understand you attended school in Canada. As a Canadian, I was wondering if you missed living here?

[Steve Jackson] Yes and no. I lived in Lachine, a suburb of Montreal, between the ages of 4 and 11. We had a nice detatched house with all mod cons: big car, garden, Little League and my collection of baseball cards. When the family had to move back to England, we lived on a Liverpool council estate where all the pavements smelled of dog doo and the school was ROUGH! At the time I thought I have arrived in hell! Canada is a beautiful country - I was skiing in Whistler in April and it was magnificent. Britain is such a small country and it would be nice to have the Great Outdoors nearby. But then if I had stayed, Games Workshop, Fighting Fantasy, FIST, Battlecards... Would they ever have come about?

Martin McKenna
 

Letter From Martin McKenna
(To Mark J. Popp)
Mon, 3 Apr 2000 03:58:05 +0100

Hi Mark,

Amazing to find such a lot of stuff about FF. Congratulations on such a thorough site.

Your site is quite a reminder for me of those bygone days. Seeing it all in context I'm surprised at how much artwork I did for all that stuff, and reminded of how much of it was rushed and a bit shoddy! It might be vaguely of interest to you to learn that I was offered the job of illustrating that elusive 60th gamebook, so it was planned at least. I turned it down for one reason or another, and after that I heard no more about it. Don't know if it ever got published. Also the exciting Legend Of Zagor boardgame - I did all the interior art stuff for it (cards, adventure sheets, little tiles that went on the board etc.). 

Best wishes,
Martin McKenna

Paul Mason
 
Letter From Paul Mason (#1)
(To Mark J. Popp)
Sun, 23 May 1999 00:26:15 +0900

Hi Mark

Just found your site and read your very fair review of The Crimson Tide (which was set in The Isles of the Dawn, which I don't consider to be in Khul...), and details of my other books.

I feel I ought to apologise for the difficulty of Crimson Tide. This is caused by two factors. One was my determination to write the most difficult FF book ever, so that's my fault.

The other was dingbat Marc Gascoigne altering the SKILL of the mudworm from 6 to 12. He was a total idiot. A mudworm is a big creature that lives in paddy fields. They'd hardly be able to grow rice if there were bloody great giant worms coming out all the time! The idea with the mudworm was that it was supposed to be a challenging opponent for a kid, but obviously Marc forgot that you start the book as a kid.

I was surprised at the solution saying that it was possible to complete the game without cheating, because by my estimation the mudworm lay on the critical path (though I do try to build in multiple possibilities, so I may have missed an alternative). At least, the critical path to the 'standard' solution. I seem to recall when I wrote it that I also regarded giving up the quest and becoming a peaceful monk in the monastery as a form of success, though I recognise that most FF fans wouldn't see it the same way!

I was very impressed by the solution provided on your site, by the way.

On the subject of Magehunter (which is the book I'm most proud of) I should point out that I learned from my mistake with Crimson Tide, and deliberately built in multiple victory paths, and different levels of victory. The solution you present is, I'm sure, valid, but there are other approaches, including the Riddling Reaver option, which includes the aerial fight 'out of the flying pan into the nest' illustrated on the cover.

You also mistook the location of Magehunter: it takes place in Kallamehr, the city Steve Williams and I created in our first book, The Riddling Reaver. Even more appropriately, it ends where that book began, at the Rangor Tower. I tried to convey the different point of view of the protagonist by using Arabian terms in Magehunter where Western terms had been used in RR (so 'Baron' became 'Sultan').

I'm grateful to Chris Page for his review of Slaves of the Abyss, and glad he liked the cover. It's one of my favourites, and as with most things on FF, we had to fight for it. We won the cover battle, but had to compromise on the ending. Originally the book ended with you sacrificing yourself, remaining in the Abyss in order to free the prisoners. Steve J complained at this, and said that you should jolly well get lots of money and treasure at the end (which perhaps says something about his philosophy of life), so I altered it to provide you with godlike powers. Chris is right, though, that the book is weird. I feel it myself, and would suggest that it's something about the 
chemistry of me and Steve Williams. If you look at my later books, I think you'll see that they're weird, but a bit more 'of a piece'. Slaves was the product of an almighty, but very peaceful, battle between Steve and my ideas of what an FF book could be. You can also see this on Black Vein Prophecy, where my concept of the Isles of the Dawn as very Chinese runs into Steve's peculiar Renaissance courtier sort of vision.

On the other hand, his comment about the 50 foot opponent misses an important piece of psychology. If you were fifty feet, and your opponent 6, you would have enormous overconfidence. That was how we felt about it, anyway.

As to the slaves: they're the citizens of Kallamehr, enslaved by Bythos. The Abyss is where Bythos lived. I didn't think we made it _that_ obscure. 'The Crimson Tide' is a far more obscure title: I'm amazed I got away with it!

Anyway, as I said, I enjoyed looking at your site, and it made me regret that FF died before I finished The Wailing World (which would have been FF sixty something). I was really looking forward to writing that, and I think I still have my 50-odd paragraphs around somewhere. Still... can't be helped. The same thing happened to the book I planned for the Virtual Reality series.

I don't know if anyone on the FF mailing list would be interested in any of the above. Let me know if you think they would be.

Letter from Paul Mason (#2)
(To FF List)
Wed, 26 May 1999 19:34:35 +0900

Graham Hart asked me about the end of FF, and if I could shed any light on the mystery.

I'm afraid I can't, really. I can only tell you that writers, or at least this writer, were kept in the dark as much as fans. I was waiting for a contract for my own book proposal 'The Wailing World' for two years, continually reassured by Marc G that the series hadn't been canceled.

The reason for the cancelation was money. There was a perception of retailers that the craze was over. I don't think many Puffin staff had ever really liked FF very much (they liked the money, of course). They never made much effort to promote the series (they made even less effort to promote my Robin of Sherwood gamebook series - even in the year in which two Robin Hood movies came out!). In a way FF was a victim of its own success. Its early sales were so spectacular that when it settled down to levels more comparable with 'Arabella and Her Jolly Nice Pony' or whatever all those other books Puffin publish are called, it seemed to be doing so badly in comparison that it could be axed with relative impunity.

As for exactly when FF ended, I doubt if _anyone_ could answer that satisfactorily. One answer might be 1996. Another might be 1998, when they finally got around to admitting the truth.

I would like to point out that to the very best of my knowledge Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson were in no way responsible for the cancellation of the series. Indeed, I would be very surprised to learn that they weren't as disappointed at its demise as the rest of us.
 
 

Letter from Paul Mason (#3)
(To FF List)
Sun, 04 Jul 1999 21:18:29 +0900

Not strictly Fighting Fantasy, but very close:

I am currently preparing, as an experiment, to publish my first electronic format gamebook, working with Dave Morris. The first book will be the Virtual Reality gamebook 'Heart of Ice' (the rights having reverted to the author).

The book will be done in PDF format, which I hope will be acceptable to just about everyone except Robert La Vallie. What I'm interested in, as I work on preparing the thing, is what you punters would be looking for in such a book. Obviously, there are a variety of technical tricks that can be employed (of which the most basic is replacing paragraph numbers with hyperlinks), but the more technology is employed, the more it becomes less of a gamebook, and more of a crude adventure game. So I'm interested in any opinions on what _you_ would look for in an electronic format gamebook.

We would be aiming to sell individual books online. Once we'd published a few, we'd also be making the whole lot available on CD-Rom. If it takes off, that is.

And folks, I hate to have to break this to you, but we wouldn't be able to put any numbers on the spines...

Iain McCaig
 
Letter from Iain McCaig
(To Mark J. Popp)

I've been out of Fighting Fantasy for some time now, not because I didn't love the books, or the genre, but because film-making has been a pretty absorbing task. I'll talk to Ian Livingstone in the next week or so and see what he and Steve have in mind for the future. I like the idea of one last book to finish it all off. What I'd really like to do is make a 'Fighting Fantasy'/Allansia film. I might mention that to the dynamic duo when I talk to them. Do you think there would be an audience for it? 

Since leaving the UK for the US in 1990, I have been working in the Motion Picture industry, specifically for Industrial Light and Magic and Lucasfilm. I have just finished a stint as one of the four chief concept designers on 'Star Wars--Episode One'.  I have also, finally, directed and co-produced my first film, 'The Face', a short that won the Gold Medal at the Houston International Film Festival. Now, I'm busy trying to get the financing together for my first feature film, and illustrating the book version of the same. 

Star Wars Episode One...George Lucas is VERY close mouthed about the new film and we've all signed contracts that will essentially terminate us if we spill the beans. I CAN tell you that it is the story of young Obi-Wan Kenobi and his first meeting with young (very young) Anakin Skywalker. 
Luke and Leia's mother is a young girl in this film. R2D2 and C3P0 are in the film, as are Yoda and Jabba. It's set abut forty years before the three Star Wars films that you know. The best description of the film that I'm allowed to give you is that it's the epic to end all epics! More than that, and you'll have to consult the official Star Wars website, where they are stategically leaking the news. 

Thought you might like to know that I am a Canadian, too! Well, triple-national (Canada/ USA/ Great Britain). I was born in Santa Monica, but raised by Canadian parents in Victoria, BC. It's still my favorite place on earth. I'm hoping to get back there to make films one day soon. 

I enjoyed your site, and I'll check back in regularly.

Penguin Books
 
Letter from Penguin Books
(To Chris Lawson)

Thank you for your e-mail enquiring about Fighting Fantasy books which was forwarded to me, as
am assistant to the editor who looks after the Fighting Fantasy series. Unfortunately, I have bad news. As you suspected, no 59 was the last title to be published, and there are no plans to publish any further titlesinto the series. I am sorry to be disappointing. You also request e-mail addresses for Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson and ask whether there is a fighting Fantasy website.  I'm afraid that there is no website and these authors are not on e-mail, so you will not be able to contact them in this way.  However, if you would like to send your comments in a letter, we will be happy to forward it to them. You should address the letters:

c/o Children's Marketing Department
Penguin Books Ltd
Wrights Lane
London
W8 5TZ
ENGLAND

Thank you once again for contacting us. We are very glad you are such a fan of the Fighting
Fantasy books and are sorry not to be of more help.

With best wishes,
Miranda Baker


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