Gamebook store

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

No Man’s Land is basically home

The Dark Lord books are supposed to be for kids, but I have yet to find an adult reader of fantasy who hasn't enjoyed them too, usually to the point of laughing immoderately in public whenever they open the book, thereby risking a tasering from the people who used to patrol the streets with nothing more dangerous than butterfly nets. I was recently reading the manuscript for the third book (WIP title The Dirkest Hour) in bed and I had to stop because I was laughing so loud I woke my wife up. It's a little hard to explain... "What's so funny?" "Well, there's this goblin and he's throwing custard at the wall, and then he lets off this horrendous fart and... Oh, never mind."

Jamie has just done an interview on the Hachette Children's Books site. Be sure to read the whole thing if you're interested in the creative process and the craft of writing. Here are a few highlights from the interview - and come back on Friday for more news from Jamie:

Some background before we begin... What were you doing, in the pre-Dirk world?

Well, I started off life in the '80s doing game books - the choose-your-own-adventure type - for Puffin in the Fighting Fantasy series. The first book I ever did, with my writing partner Mark Smith, was called Talisman of Death. Those did rather well, so I went off and did a load of them, then I did a two-player series and it had the only book I ever dedicated to my mother – ‘To my darling mother’ – and it was called The Arena of Death.

I must’ve done about twenty five game books, and then that whole market dried up when computer games came along. So I got back into computer games and had a computer game company called Black Cactus which went horribly wrong in the end and we lost a lot of money. After that I got back into novels, really.

Are there any games we might remember from that computer game company?

There was something called Warrior Kings, which was an RTS, in early 2000, a sort of fantasy thing. So essentially, it’s been thirty years of selling goblins to kids and just doing fantasy left, right and centre, creating endless Dark Lords and big, bad villains, shooting them down or killing them. I’ve lived in that world for so long you begin to think ‘surely Dark Lords have mothers…’ and that starts getting you into why someone would become a Dark Lord.

Do you remember where you were when you had the idea for Dark Lord?

Yes, I was with a friend of mine, Dave Morris. We’ve since started another company, Fabled Lands LLP, and we have an American investor. He’s quite a serious biotech venture capitalist, but he also used to love all of our gamebooks; for him it’s a bit of fun and he can meet up and talk to us and set us working on fun projects. It’s great for us because we’re just free to write whatever we like - it’s like having a patron, like a medieval Medici, except he’s called Big Wedge Frank. So that’s wonderful, and actually we’re doing quite well at the moment.

So it was just me and Dave, having a few beers and riffing off about how great it would be if you had a Dark Lord wandering around Earth. It began with an idea about a Diary of a Dark Lord, so it would be like Darth Vader or Sauron actually writing ‘Had to destroy a goblin today’, or you can imagine ‘Today the hobbits found my ring – Noooo!’, that kind of stuff. And then you start thinking about how could you really do the biography of a Dark Lord? You’d need to make him sympathetic or likeable, and you couldn’t really do that if you were doing it straight – then it would be like trying to make Hitler or Stalin likeable. It had to be jokey. And then the comedy angle led to the fish-out-water stuff, and then having him cursed is a natural progression, cursed into the body of a thirteen year old boy and sent to school is just perfect.

This is a very detailed world you’ve created – how long did it take to do that, and is there loads more that you know about but haven't been able to put in the book?

There is a lot that’s been left out, but nothing’s wasted. I’m writing the third Dark Lord book now and you never know when stuff will come in. But my career has mostly been about creating worlds, so that was the easy bit. You need the nations, but you leave religion out of it as it’s too sensitive these days. Already in the American version we’ve had to take out the word ‘Hell’, so instead of ‘By the nine Hells!’ Dirk has to say ‘By the nine nether worlds!’and there’s other stuff like that.

But normally, if you’re doing a computer game or role-playing game, you’d have a very detailed pantheon of different gods for different cultures, different politics and battle and combat tactics, like you’re creating an entire medieval nation from scratch, with stuff from mythology, science fiction and Japanese themes. I’ve done so much of that it would be easy to parody, but this is a more of a comedy parody and at the same time a great example of the genre and a loving homage

Reading the book is almost like being in the mind of a proper mad person, for whom other people’s reality is incomprehensible; how did you do that?

It was definitely part of me, I’m afraid! I think I started life a bit bemused by the world, so I think I drew on that a bit…it’s a product of all that gaming, coupled with my own bemusement. Although, saying that, I was born in Iran and lived there for the first ten years of my life, and then went to boarding school in England; my dad worked for Shell and we lived on an oil field. So, in a way, that also makes you look at the world from a different perspective.

It gives you a very good understanding of the outsider principle.

I think that’s true. You're born a little bit of an outsider, in a small, unique group of people, then you come to Britain still a bit of an outsider.

No Man’s Land is basically home.

Yes, or the alternative is…I fell to your planet many years ago, from the Dark Lands – I pretend it is fiction, but it’s all true.

Do you know where you’re going next?

Not really. We sort of had this idea to do stuff, and it seemed like a good idea to write, but I never realised it would be so successful and create this writing career for me. It was more like, I’ve got some bills coming in and what can you do when you get to a certain age? I was so evolved as a specialist in game books. It's like pandas and bamboo…if there’s no bamboo, they die. As I still wanted to be a panda I had to learn to do something else.

No comments:

Post a comment