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Friday, 22 December 2017

Khan say fairer than that

When I wrote the second Heroquest book, The Screaming Spectre, there was a fellow at Hasbro whose job was to liaise with me and Corgi Books, also publishers of Dragon Warriors and Knightmare. He didn't like what I was writing -- right from the first page of the manuscript, which bore the title The Singing Skull.

"Singing isn't very threatening," he complained.

"Maybe it is a little, when a skull does it."

"And there's that. How can a skull sing?"

"Er... You know this is fantasy, right?"

You can see our working relationship was off to a good start. His list of objections to the book, which included not enough references to Chaos, clothing descriptions not being "gothic" enough, and too much insistence on magic not being about lists of spells, ended with the doomful words, "It is difficult for me to see how this book could ever be made publishable."

Philippa Dickinson, who ran Corgi, called me up. "What are we going to do?" I told her I'd have a revised version of the manuscript ready in an hour or two. We sent that off and the Hasbro chap decided that it was all okay after all. Which just goes to show that if you're hit with what seems to be a multi-megaton criticism warhead, keep calm and carry on. Most likely your critic is just getting themselves in a panic over nothing much.

By the time I was working on the second book, Games Workshop had dashed in and changed my map of the Heroquest world to something more like their Warhammer map. It wasn't actually the same as the Warhammer one, but it had a lot of place names in common (including the curious "Trullheim" - did they know what a trull actully was?) and also made no sense in relation to the events of the first book, The Fellowship of Four. Go figure. Anyway, if you saw my sketch map of the original Heroquest world, here's the detailed version I did while writing Fellowship:

When I got to the third Heroquest book, The Tyrant's Tomb, which is this year's Xmas freebie, I knew to ladle on the Chaos references, objectionable though it was to have to go along with the lazy Chaos-as-evil theme of the Warquest, or do I mean Herohammer, series when I knew that in Mike Moorcock's original concept it was all so much richer, stranger and genuinely nastier.

Only one part of The Tyrant's Tomb fell afoul of the Hasbro liaison guy. I had a sequence in the novella where the barbarian hero has had to smash his way through a stone wall with a mallet. A serpent rears up and his arms are too weak after all that to wield his sword. So he headbutts the thing, smooshing it against the wall. "This doesn't seem credible," scoffed our man; "what if he kills the serpent with a flying kick instead?"

The headbutt was a sort-of homage to Conan biting a vulture's head off. I don't know about you, but the flying kick just doesn't seem as personal. Nor really what I expect Norse-type barbarians to be doing. So this time, sick of pandering to every whim, I threw my hands up. "We'll just cut that entire scene from the book," I told Philippa. It left the fourth chapter a bit short, but along with the novella you were also getting a 193-section gamebook adventure for your money. Or in this case, entirely free. Grab The Tyrant's Tomb here - and happy Christmas.


  1. Thank you for the gift! Now I have something nice to read for the holidays. :)

    Merry Christmas!

  2. A D.Morris gamebook and story I never new existed for Christmas. Santa done good this year. Merry Christmas, Dave.

  3. Thanks Dave, I was very much “laughing face emoticon” after reading this account of editorial encounters; and on a separate note I’ve always been partial to a ‘fantasy land’ map. In regards to GW I’m sure they no more knew the archaic meaning of ‘Trull’ than they would understand that Order and Chaos are *not* just cool- sounding alternates for ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ because they were more interested image and noise than words and meaning ? Some of us, however, appreciate both Tristesse and Deodand Bay. All the best for Christmas : )

  4. You're welcome, guys. Have a great Christmas.

  5. Thanks again, Dave. Merry Christman, Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Kwanzaa and May the cold power of reason brighten your path this Human Light Day!