Monday, 27 August 2012

Celebrating 30 Years of Fighting Fantasy - An Interview with The Warlock


It's been 30 years to the day since the publication of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the book that began the Fighting Fantasy legacy. To celebrate, I slung on my backpack, took up my sword and set out into a land of mythic beasts and hallowed forests to find the Warlock himself, Jamie Fry - the editor of the official Fighting Fantasy website and well-known collector.

I guess we'll start at the beginning. Where and when did you first come across Fighting Fantasy?

In another interview I recall saying it was when I found a copy of Talisman of Death in my local newsagent. However, my memory is a little hazy as it might have been now I think about it a bit more like the Warlock magazine. I lived in a small town in Dorset where I had a paper round. I must have been about 13 or so at the time and hadn’t seen them until then, not even at School. After that discovery I went off to the bookshop in search of the books and never looked back. Being a late starter to the series I had a lot of catching up to do and the Library came in useful after that. Due to limited funds I never did own them all the originals and hence why I had to build up my collection again.

What is your favourite book in the series?

Always going to stick with House of Hell. I have to say I prefer the earlier ones, probably because Ian and Steve wrote them. Whilst I was at the ‘Blood of the Zombies’ book signing earlier in the month someone had mentioned their favourite being ‘Forest of Doom’ and Ian replied that he wasn’t impressed with the artwork. A few days later I had a run through of the book and remembered it like it was yesterday, so you can add that one to my list. I still walk through a wooded area today thinking something is following me because of that book.

Do you have any favourite books that aren't FF?

Well I have tried Lone Wolf, Fabled Lands and Legends of Skyfall in the main. I have collected some others, Grailquest, Blood Sword, Duelmaster, The Way of the Tiger etc but have never gotten around to playing them properly. I have got to find time to read DestinyQuest though.

What aspect do you enjoy most about FF?

It has to be what I can’t do in real life. I can go where I want, do what I want and do it all over again by making different choices. My imagination runs wild when I am reading the books and I immerse my self in that world. I enjoy the collecting, the challenges. What else, everything really. It’s like when I go for a walk, I cannot simply just walk, I look for wildlife, double it up with fossil hunting or throw in a bit metal detecting. Same as a book, much prefer an interactive gamebook where I can write stats down, roll a dice, draw a map etc instead of reading a novel front to back.

You're well known as a collector of the series and the author of the Fighting Fantasy Collector's Checklist - what is the most valuable book in your collection?

I think it has to be Allansia, closely followed by Revenge of the Vampire (58) and Curse of the Mummy (59). I never know why Allansia commands so much but it has to do with rarity. The original box sets are rare to find as well and can be very expensive to collect. Beyond the books I think artwork is the thing to look out for, not easy to find nor cheap to buy but a delight to own. So not a book but the most expensive item in my collection is an original pen and ink map of Allansia by Leo Hartas from The Riddling Reaver, it is my pride and joy.

How did you end up becoming the editor of the official Fighting Fantasy website and how did it feel when you got the position?

As you can imagine these things do not happen overnight and had to slowly infiltrate the world of gamebooks in order to get close. It all started back in 2002 when I wanted to start up www.fightingfantasycollector.co.uk but new I had to check the position on copyright. I have to say Penguin Books were as much use as a chocolate fireguard, so I hunted both Ian and Steve down to where they were both working at the time and made an approach. Luckily for me they agreed. It wasn’t until 2008 I approached them again with a view to writing the Collector’s Guide, again they had no problem with it and looked forward to seeing it. I then met Steve in 2009 at Gamesfest 4 where I queued like everyone else with a pile of books for him to sign (stuttering) and to show him the latest version of the guide. That day I spent more time with him after the signing for a further ‘chat’, I also met Jonathan Green that day.

In 2010 I had a surprise contact from Ian asking if I would like to sell on some of his surplus gamebooks. On the back of that conversation I went to see him in London. At first I didn’t know what to do with myself, speechless, punching the air many times I planned for the visit. It was like a gamebook adventure in itself. I got a tour of his collection, books, maps, art and his original notes for the books! I was probably the happiest fan ever that day. I visited him again in 2011 to exchange more books and it was then he asked me to come back some months later to see him and Steve to discuss the website. It was this day they offered for me to take over the main site and move Fighting Fantasy forward. I also learnt that day that Ian was writing a new adventure and had to keep it a secret for months. I feel very privileged to hold the title of ‘The Warlock’ and one I am immensely proud of, especially since as a boy they were my heroes growing up and now I am working with them. (cheesy grin on my face as I write this)

There has been a recent revival of the gamebook format - why do you think this is?

Nostalgia maybe, the new book? There is a generation of 30/40 year olds out there with fond memories, children they want to share the legacy with (and money to spend). I think it has something to do with electronic gaming as well. Playing games such as World of Warcraft and Skyrim amongst others has triggered memories and they go to the loft to dig out those old books. So many tell me this only to find their Mum has thrown them out! Social media has helped immensely. I have found it so much easier to promote FF through this media than any other way and the great thing is you can get the hype going, someone passes it on and it just spreads. The iOS and android versions allow people to access them in a different way.

Have you ever dabbled in tabletop roleplaying - Advanced Fighting Fantasy perhaps?

I dabbled in a Dungeons and Dragons lunchtime club at School but stuck to sneaking a read of whatever Fighting Fantasy book I had in my bag at the time to avoid getting picked on. Sadly, I have never played the Advanced FF system, maybe someone could change that. Later in life I have enjoyed playing Heroquest and the advanced system from time to time. I changed direction for a while to collect and paint miniatures.

Where do you see the series going in the future - will there be more book releases?

Initially, Thanks to Tin Man Games we are going to see a revival of some of the original titles in iOS and Android formats, who knows they might even bring them to PC. I have been campaigning for some merchandise to be produced but no new books on the table at the moment, although Ian talks about writing one with Steve for the 40th Anniversary but I think you will agree that is way to far away. Ian wrote this one out of loyalty to the fans as he felt they were the true reason the series is still alive today. With that in mind, if you all shout loud enough maybe you will inspire him and Steve to re-consider the position.

Finally, any juicy news that you care to share with us?

You will have to roll a d6 and test your luck I am afraid. Nothing concrete is the honest answer, even if I did know anything I would not be able to tell you. We get lots of proposals as you can imagine but at the moment nothing to report. Lets hope someone invests in the interactive House of Hell movie sometime soon or something similar hey?

Thanks to Jamie for answering my questions. Blood of the Zombies is out now. You can follow Jamie on twitter @jamie_fry