A small part of my collection

Fighting Fantasy

When I was a kid I loved Fighting Fantasy books. They're a type of book some people refer to as "Choose Your Own Adventure", since you aren't meant to read them cover to cover: instead you have roughly a page of story, then make choices as to what you do next. Should you go left, or right? Listen at the door, or barge in? Each page/paragraph would be numbered, and each option would have a number after it too - once you chose an option you would riffle through the book to the appropriately numbered section and see what the results of your action were. A battle, a treasure, a piece of information, death, or a new choice.

I still have a full set of the books, since I started collecting them right from the time they launched, along with Warlock magazine. At the age of 12-13 I would sit in the parlour with my dice, character sheet, and a chocolate digestive, and lose myself in creepy forests and dungeons. As soon as I completed one book (or, more likely, died) I would start the next. If a character somehow survived I would let them start a new book with all their statistics and equipment from the previous adventure intact. Note that this didn't happen often, since Fighting Fantasy books were notoriously unfair - sometimes the direction you pushed a lever might be the different between success, and immediate death. Just like life, I guess.

My First Book

My obsession endured, and eventually I created my own Fighting Fantasy adventure in 1988 when I was 15 (my first ever book, I suppose - pre-dating Turner by many years). I wrote this book because of another obsession: I'd fallen in love for the first time. I sat in the deep window ledge of my bedroom to write the book, in case the object of my affections walked past my house. It didn't matter that I hadn't spoken to her yet. I planned to wave and smile casually if she looked up. You know, unrehearsed, natural, cool. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. I had a cardboard Halloween skeleton on the wall next to my bed. I found out later that it was visible as you walked down the passage by my house. Some of the locals thought it was a real skeleton, and I was this creepy 15 year old Boo Radley figure in thick glasses and a mess of hair with a skeleton in his room, sat spying on people. It would have taken more than a wave to give me any kind of credibility.

Anyway, I wrote that book so I had something to do while I waited. It was a Fighting Fantasy (FF) book of 500 entries (they normally had 400). I spent all summer writing it by hand in a hardback book, with no planning - there wasn’t much room for sheets of notes on my window ledge once I’d crammed myself in. I got by with just a lot of knowledge of the gamebooks, and my love for Port Blacksand, the setting I chose from my favourite FF book City of Thieves, with its cover showing the undead Zanbar Bone stroking a scythe below a nightmarish city adorned with heads on spikes. Despite my lack of planning, the last entry finished on the last page, final line of the book. Fate, eh? I found that handwritten book recently.

I have never played it. No-one has. It's been in a box for the last 30 years. I should re-read it. It’s a testament to what you can achieve when you’re in love.*


Harvest Festival - Interactive!

For Halloween I decided to try something new: taking my novella Harvest Festival and making the opening of it interactive, like a Fighting Fantasy book. Harvest Festival seemed ideally suited because of the rapid nature of the action, with split-second choices that could mean life or death for Callum and his family.

I tried various tools, and it took a long time to get as far as I did, with lots of varied options for the player, but it is now available for the world to play. I first released it via the book website Life Of A Nerdish Mum, but you can get to the adventure directly:

Have a go, let me know what you think. Did you win? I'm not ruling out the idea of doing this properly at a future date, with a full version of the story and multiple endings, possibly as both an online game and as a printed Choose Your Own Adventure format. A few of my short stories could work like that too. We'll see. Thanks for playing it, and thanks to everyone who bought or reviewed Harvest Festival - and to everyone who does in the future.


* Just to fill in the gaps - yes, I did eventually go out with that girl, even though she was way cooler than me. My first girlfriend, and I loved her dearly. Sometimes nerds get lucky, which is probably why I wrote Cold Fusion 2000 and 2000 Tunes.

Update, 2020-04-29: I rediscovered my book the other day, and scanned it all in, whilst also replaying it. It has the terrible title "A Holiday To Remember" and involves exploring the setting of one of my favourite gamebook, Port Blacksand from FF5 City Of Thieves by Ian Livingstone. I had a map of Port Blacksand so used it to create my book. No plan, just a pen and blank pages, yet I managed to end it with entry 500 on the final page.

It's amazing what an imaginative kid could do when they are inspired by other books. I didn't do well at school (and never even turned up for one of my GCSEs, Maths), and yet I had written a book none of my teachers knew about. Many kids have hidden talents that need to be encouraged, and reading is one of the ways to unlock their imaginations and creativity. I'm grateful to Fighting Fantasy for that. Some of the early pages:

Maybe one day I'll change the setting, update the text and choices, and release it with the caveat that it is based on juvenilia, who knows.