Friday, 10 July 2020

Gamebook Friday: Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland

The other day I stumbled across this review of Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland, originally posted back in August 2018, on Nerds Like Me:

"What particularly drew me to the book was the art – illustrated by Kevin Crossley, the art is luxuriously detailed, and deliciously dark to fit the subject matter, but it manages to skilfully mimic the illustrations from the classic releases of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland whilst changing small, sinister details to bring it in line with the tone of the book. These are very pretty books, inside and out...

"Story wise, this is a little Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland meets that horrifying Return to Oz movie, but where Burton’s Alice seemed cagey of going too dark and seemed flimsy because of it, Green charges head first into the bleak and grim and the book is so much better for its commitment to the tone. It’s incredibly sinister, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers, but it’s the kind of sinister that gives a sort of pleasurable chill as you read – and the ante is upped because if you make the wrong choice then you could very well find yourself dead. There’s a higher level of involvement and thus a high level of investment...

"Rating: 5/5 – this is a perfect example of a expertly-crafted game book. Even aside from the complexity of constructing a normal Choose Your Own Adventure book, the added game mechanisms could easily have catapulted this into a jumbled mess, but instead it works so well and runs so fluently that it really is an exceptional example of its genre."

If you've not picked up Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland for yourself yet, you'll be pleased to hear that it is back in print and that you can buy a signed copy direct from the author.

People who missed out on the original Kickstarter have been making the most of the opportunity to secure a signed copy for themselves, which you can do here...

Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland - Back in Print!
(£13 including UK P&P)
520 section ACE Gamebook
Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland bookmark


Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland


Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Warhammer Wednesday: Inferno! classic reprints

Black Library have released the next batch of classic Inferno! reprints. Each issue is a facsimile of the original magazine, available to print on demand for two weeks only, and you can purchase them as a single collection that will get you issues 26-35!

The period covered by this collection just happens to be the time when I was at my most prolific, in terms of making contributions to Inferno! magazine. Of these ten classic issues, six contain short stories or comic strips by Yours Truly, and they are...

Inferno! #26 - Firestarter! – Necromunda short story

Inferno! #27 - The Nagenhof Bell – Warhammer short story

Inferno! #28 - The Executioner’s Tale – Warhammer comic strip

Inferno! #29 - Bad Medicine – Necromunda short story

Inferno! #32 - The Miner’s Tale – Warhammer comic strip

Inferno! #34 - Mark of the Beast – Warhammer short story


To order the collection of ten issues*, or just the edited highlights, follow this link.


* These issues are available to order until 6:00pm GMT on Saturday 18th July 2020.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Tie-in Tuesday: Robin of Sherwood back on ITV4

Some of you may remember that back in 2016 I wrote a novelisation of the unmade Robin of Sherwood TV movie The Knights of the Apocalypse.

If you're a fan of the seminal '80s sword and sorcery TV series, or even if you've never seen a single episode before, you might be interested to know that the show is being repeated, from the beginning, from 13th July on ITV4.


Happy Deathday, Sir Arthur!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world's foremost consulting detective, died 90 years ago today, on 7th July 1930.

Unsurprisingly, my own work has been influenced by his in more ways than I can count, but most obviously there is the character of Ulysses Quicksilver, from my Pax Britannia steampunk novels, the elements of The Lost World that appear in NEVERLAND - Here Be Monsters!, and of course my contribution to the anthology Further Associates of Sherlock Holmes, edited by George Mann and published by Titan Books, entitled Sherlock Holmes and the Beast of Bodmin.


Monday, 6 July 2020

Thought for the Day

"That's the thing about writing. It's all doubt. Doubts about plot, story, character etc, let in every other doubt, the real doubts, about yourself, your very self."
~ Russell T. Davies

Friday, 3 July 2020

Gamebook Friday: What I learnt from running 6 gamebook crowdfunding projects on Kickstarter

If you check out the About page on this website you will see, under the simple rules and indisputable truths, "Good judgement comes from experience. Experience? Well that comes from bad judgement."

So for today's Gamebook Friday blog post, I am going to discuss how experience with previous Kickstarters has guided me, or encouraged me to adapt, when running new Kickstarters. To date I have run 14 crowdfunding projects on Kickstarter, but for this piece I am going to focus on the six ACE Gamebook Kickstarters.


Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland (ACE Gamebook #1)
This was my third Kickstarter, but it was the first time I had tried crowdfunding a gamebook, and a gamebook that wasn't connected to a pre-existing series or that made use of a known ruleset.

What I learnt...

  1. Properties that are out of copyright can provide you with a very fertile creative field to plough.
  2. Use a tripod when recording yourself for a Kickstarter video.
  3. People are more likely to support a project if it is strongly connected to an existing popular brand.
  4. I should have bought many more copies of Shadows Over Sylvania before it was removed from sale.
  5. A well-known brand can have global appeal.
  6. Gamebook readers really have had enough of mazes!
  7. Chooseco, who publish the Choose Your Own Adventure brand, really don't like you using the phrase 'A Choose Your Path Adventure Gamebook' on your book and will threaten legal action.


The Wicked Wizard of Oz (ACE Gamebook #2)
After Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland was published, people asked if I was going to write a sequel, which got me thinking about which other classics of children's literature would be suitable subjects for gamebook adaptation. As it turns out, quite a lot.

What I learnt...

  1. Just because a brand is popular in the US doesn't mean it will have the same following in the UK.
  2. Having bonus content contained within the book that is only intended for Kickstarter backers only annoys people who buy the book via conventional outlets after it is published. (I have since made the Oz bonus material available here.)
  3. Allowing readers to play as one of six different characters means writing a lot of extra sections.
  4. Readers want a meaty story. Just because you've written a lot of different scenes, doesn't mean that on a single playthrough a reader will get to enjoy many of them, so narrative design is key.
  5. Proofreading is vitally important. Don't let anything go to print until you have checked the final layout of the book. (You can download the errata for The Wicked Wizard of Oz here.)


NEVERLAND - Here Be Monsters! (ACE Gamebook #3)
Having learnt from my mistakes with The Wicked Wizard of Oz, I made sure that there was no game content that was reserved solely for Kickstarter backers, and I made sure that everyone's adventure would be a satisfying experience, and not too brief, no matter which character you played as.

What I learnt...

  1. Drawing your own maps might be fun, but painting them is a whole other matter.
  2. Make sure you have all your physical rewards ready before you start sending out book rewards because...
  3. People really appreciate it if you send out high level rewards first, or at least at the same time as everybody else's. And yet, all too often these are the ones that get sent out last.
  4. It is very hard to get people to write and post Amazon reviews. (185 backers on Kickstarter, 13 review on Amazon.co.uk, 3 reviews on Amazon.com.)
  5. People can get funny when you change the cover design of a series.


Beowulf Beastslayer (ACE Gamebook #4)
This was a book I had been wanting to write for a long time, but in that time my approach to the adventure had changed quite dramatically. It was not as long as NEVERLAND - Here Be Monsters! or The Wicked Wizard of Oz, but it was still probably my most ambitious published gamebook to date.

What I learnt...

  1. Not everyone will appreciate you going to the trouble of writing in an epic, poetic style, if all they really want you to do is rehash past glories.
  2. People who back gamebook projects in general aren't all that fussed about miniatures.
  3. Having a celeb give you a cover quote for your book is really cool.
  4. Having the original illustrator of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain illustrate your book is really really cool. (It pays to approach the masters. After all, what's the worst thing that can happen? They might say no. Then again, they might say yes.)
  5. External Pledge Managers can be useful.
  6. Teachers don't like to have to pay for teaching resources.


'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas (ACE Gamebook #5)
I have a long held fascination for the history and legends of Christmas. (I even wrote my History A-level extended essay on the origins and history of the Christmas carol.) I am particularly fond of Krampus, the Germanic Christmas Devil, and so it was, I suppose, inevitable that one day I would write an adventure gamebook featuring the anti-Santa as the Big Bad.

What I learnt...

  1. If you can afford it, commission some art before launching the Kickstarter, so that people can buy into your vision for the gamebook right from the start.
  2. Greyscale computer-generated art can work in an adventure gamebook.
  3. If you write a book tied very strongly to a particular event, or time of year, do not expect strong sales all year round. But on the plus side, you have the perfect occasion to promote your gamebook every year.
  4. Obscure European folklore may mean that your book finds a new market elsewhere, outside of the UK.
  5. While external Pledge Managers can be useful, sometimes it's quicker, cheaper, and easier to do it yourself.
  6. If your book is thin enough, it can be sent through the post as a large letter rather than a small parcel.


Dracula - Curse of the Vampire (ACE Gamebook #6)
This is the ACE Gamebook that, as of writing this blog post, I am still in the process of writing. I am sure I will learn a lot from this one too but for the time being here's...

What I learnt...

  1. If you can, and you are confident the Kickstarter will fund, start writing the book before running the crowdfunder; people will be more likely to back your project if there is a sample of it that they can try out for themselves.
  2. Don't just promote your Kickstarter to your target audience. For example, someone who loves vampires, and is a member of a Gothic-themed Facebook group, might have played gamebooks in their youth but is unaware they are still in print. So spam up those Gothic groups as well as the gamebook and RPG ones.
  3. People love the idea of playing as the Bad Guy.
  4. It's worth offering people the chance to place a Late Pledge.


What other things should you bear in mind if you are planning a crowdfunding project of your own?

You need to keep promoting your project. Kickstarter is not an effective promotional platform. You are the platform; Kickstarter is merely the means to collect people's pledges.

Timing is important too. Apparently the best times of year to run Kickstarters are March and October, which are both far enough away from the two big spending periods of people's lives annually - Christmas and the summer holidays.

Budgeting is vitally important. Bear in mind that you will spend a lot of time simply promoting and fulfilling your project, let alone creating the finished product. If you're happy to do that for free, fine, but it you want to be paid for your time you will need to factor it into your budget. To help keep costs down, where possible offer digital rewards rather than physical ones. And always include a contingency fund! There's always some unexpected cost that will crop up before the day is done, and if you don't actually need it, then that's your reward for running a successful and efficient Kickstarter.

Once your project has funded, keep people up to date with your progress on said project - once a month is enough - even if it is only to tell them that there is no news; at least that shows your backers that you haven't forgotten about them. And if you project is going to be delayed, the sooner you can let backers know the better, and keep updating them. Don't go quiet on them.

But the most important thing I have learnt from crowdfunding gamebooks (and other things) is this: under-promise and over-deliver. Too many Kickstarters come unstuck because project creators do the exact opposite - they over-promise and under-deliver. If you think it will take you nine months to complete the project and deliver it, tell your backers it will take twelve, because you never know what issues might arise during that time. Worst case scenario, you deliver the book when you said you would. But if there aren't any setbacks, you'll get your rewards out early, and I've never had any backer complain because they received their books sooner than they expected.



Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Warhammer Wednesday: Heroes of Pariah

For one week only, the Black Library is celebrating the release of Psychic Awakening: Pariah with three collections of stories starring the three factions that appear in the book - the Space Marines, the Sisters of Battle, and the xenos architects of the Pariah Nexus, the Necrons.

The Necrons Bundle includes my short story But Dust in the Wind, along with eight others, a novella, and a novel - but the likes of Ben Counter, David Guymer, Nick Kyme, Cavan Scott, and Gav Thorpe. It is a collection that will immerse you in the ancient horror of the alien robot race – perfect for any aspiring Overlord or someone who wants to find out more about their Necron foes.

You can download the Heroes of Pariah: Necrons eBundle here.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Thought for the Day


"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Friday, 26 June 2020

Gamebook Friday: Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland back in print!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I am delighted to report that Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland - the adventure that kicked off the whole ACE Gamebooks range in 2015 - is now back in print in paperback.


It should be back in stock on Amazon soon, so you won't have to pay over £400 for a copy.


In the meantime, you could always buy a signed copy direct from the author. (Collectors may notice that it now says 'An ACE Gamebook' on the cover.)

Click the image above to buy a signed copy of Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Warhammer Wednesday: Angels of Death

Back in the day, circa 1995, I contributed colour text to Codex: Angels of Death, the Blood Angels and Dark Angels Codex for Warhammer 40K Second Edition. I also wrote the background section for the Dark Angels that appeared in the book.

I began my day today by downloading the original soundtrack to the new Angels of Death animated series, created by Warhammer Storyforge, and coming out later this year. You can find out more about the soundtrack and its composer, Jonathan Hartman, as well as how to download it yourself, here.

Strangely, I have not written any fully-fledged short stories featuring either Dark Angels or Blood Angels. The animated series may be about Blood Angels battling the Tyranids, but the Angels of Death OST is the perfect accompaniment to my Warhammer 40K Quick Read Journey of the Magi, which you can download here.


Journey of the Magi

On an artificial world far from the light of any sun, three sorcerers of the Thousand Sons emerge from a portal, Together, this trio will face ancient horrors – but the prize that awaits them is worth any danger.

Long have these three sought the Godstar, piecing together its location from scattered scraps of knowledge. The immortal guardians of the place sleep, but it is not undefended, and the children of Prospero will pay a heavy price for that which they seek as they delve deep into the ancient mysteries of the necrons.


If you've not seen it yet, here's the latest trailer for the Angels of Death animated series.



Monday, 22 June 2020

Thought for the Day

"How To Be a Writer, #29291:
When the sun shines, write sunshine.
When it rains, write rain.
When in doubt, drink tea."
~ Joanne Harris, author

Friday, 19 June 2020

Gamebook Friday: Stormslayer

Last month I asked people on social media what topics they would like to see me cover in my Gamebook Friday blog posts. The first suggestion that received a write up was Ian Reynolds', who asked for "Anything to do with Horror and in particular Vampires." This week I'm running with Matt Ward's idea, as he wanted to know how I came to write Stormslayer.


My fifth Fighting Fantasy gamebook, Howl of the Werewolf, was published by Wizard Books in 2007 and well-received by the fans. In 2008, Wizard decided to relaunch the FF series, with a uniform cover design, and I was asked to supply a new title for the initial tranche of four books to be released.

This all happened over ten years ago, and I do not have my planning jotters from that time accessible now, so there is a lot I have forgotten, but I'm pretty sure that Stormslayer - or rather The Eye of the Storm, as it was called in my initial outline - was an idea I had while Puffin Books were still the gatekeepers of the FF franchise. I may have even made some notes while I was in my final year at uni, when I had only had two books published so far. I'm sure I remember a sketch of an interlocked crystal made up of four constituent parts, one for each of the four classical elements.

The Eye of the Storm, by Stephen Player.

Before submitting an outline to the publisher, I brainstormed ideas for the gamebook. I had always wanted to do something featuring a weather mage, so he would be the villain of the piece. With a weather mage as the Bad Guy, a quest to collect artefacts linked to the four elements suggested itself, so I needed a setting which could encompass earth, air, fire and water. The Old World kingdom of Femphrey suited perfectly. For one thing, no one else had set an adventure there yet.

A map of Femphrey drawn by a French fan.

While coming up with weather- and elements-related encounters, I also had a flick through Out of the Pit, looking for suitable monsters to use, including some that hadn't appeared in a gamebook at that point, and Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World, which led to me including a Decapod (or Abyssal Horror) in the adventure.

Abyssal Horror, by Stephen Player.

I was also writing the Pax Britannia series for Abaddon Books at the time, so a little bit of steampunk might have snuck into the adventure...

Steam Golem, by Stephen Player.

Part of my plotting process is drawing a map. In the case of Stormslayer, I wanted the player to be able to visit any of the four major locations linked to the elemental treasures in any order they wanted, and for the linking encounters to vary accordingly.

Once I had all the encounters, monsters and maps ready, I wrote up the outline and sent it to the publisher. Once this had been approved, I started writing, coming up with many of the details of the gamebook in the process.

I also introduced some mechanics involving the days of the week. A passing reference in Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World mentioned that different types of  magic work better on the days associated with them, and are negatively affected by days associated with their opposite element, and so this became a vital element of the adventure.

After Stormslayer was published, all sorts of things happened that I wasn't expecting. For one thing, the book appeared on TV...

Someone playing Stormslayer during an episode of Channel 4's 24 Hours in A&E.

And then all these images started appearing online, which were clearly inspired by the adventure...






It turned out that Stephen Player, the artist who had illustrated the adventure, was using my illustration brief with his art students in San Francisco!

But it's not only budding artists and people waiting in A&E who have been inspired by Stormslayer. Recently I was contacted by Christopher Griffith, who has an MA in Creative Writing and who has turned my gamebook into a short story. If you would like to read it - but please be aware that it contains many massive spoilers for the adventure! - then click the image below.


Monday, 15 June 2020

Facing Oblivion

And now a word from our sponsor...


Thought for the Day

"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Happy Deathday, Mr Dickens!

Charles Dickens died 150 years ago today.

According to Scrooge and Marley (Deceased): The Haunted Man, Jacob Marley died 28 years before that, on Christmas Eve, 1842.

Will there be any more Scrooge and Marley (Deceased) stories? We'll have to wait and see, but for the time being that are still these two to enjoy...


Scrooge and Marley (Deceased): The Haunted Man
A year on from the events of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge finds himself visited once again by the ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley, who brings with him a new proposition. Just as Marley helped Scrooge to avoid the cruel fate that the last of the Three Spirits foretold, Marley wants Scrooge to help him reduce his time in Purgatory.

And so begins an epic adventure that will see the former friends face off against all manner of phantasms, freaks and fiends, with just one thing at stake… Everything!

      

Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghost-hunting partner Jacob Marley (already a ghost himself) visit the cathedral city of Cloisterham in order to investigate the disappearance of a young man... A certain Mr Edwin Drood.

      

Monday, 8 June 2020

Thought for the Day

"My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read."
~ Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Warhammer Wednesday: Herald of Oblivion


With the news from Games Workshop being all about New Warhammer 40K lately, this Warhammer Wednesday I would like to draw your attention to Tin Man Games' adaptation of my Path to Victory gamebook Herald of Oblivion.




If you haven't played Herald of Oblivion yet, you will find the links to download it for the platform of your choice here. I also have it on good authority that the iOS and Steam iterations will be on sale at a knockdown price from tomorrow (Thursday 4 June 2020).