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Fighting Fantasy authors: ‘We like being cruel to our audience!’ | Books | Entertainment

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Fighting Fantasy

The Fighting Fantasy authors spoke out about their new books (Image: SCHOLASTIC)

Having a Fighting Fantasy book in school was like hiding a dirty little secret. Everyone around you was delving into boring regular books while you, unbeknownst to your peers, were on an adventure. Slaying a malevolent warlock atop a perilous mountain, or dodging booby-traps in a city overrun with rogues and bandits.

These eponymous Fighting Fantasy books were the beginning of an immersive set of tomes where “YOU are the hero!” By throwing dice, turning to different pages, and keeping track of your health and gear, Fighting Fantasy books created an almost procedural and mesmerising experience long before virtual reality (VR) or massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) had been conceived in real life.

These stunning fantasy books were written by the creatives who would go on to build the Games Workshop business: Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson.

In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, the British writers gave the inside look at their brand new additions to the Fighting Fantasy series, while looking back on their epic journey to the top.

Just a few days ago Scholastic released the two latest episodes of the Fighting Fantasy series: Shadow of the Giants (written by Livingstone); and Secrets of Salamonis (written by Jackson).

“I realised I had most creatures and adversaries in my books, but I’d never had giants before,” Livingstone casually said of his new adventure book. “So I was determined to have giants! I placed it in the usual world of Allansia – where most of my books have been set, from Deathtrap Dungeon, Forest of Doom, City of Thieves – but this takes you to a new town with a new mission.”

The story follows the hero learning of a powerful magical crown deep inside Firetop Mountain that could unleash evil iron giants across the world. You, the player is of course tasked with finding a way to stop this new armageddon from taking place.

Jackson was less forthcoming with details about his new brain-busting journey into Salamonis, however. “It’s a secret, actually,” he laughed over Zoom. “It takes place in Salamonis, and there’s a problem going on that only you can solve. But there are some twists and turns that you must go through to get yourself on the right track … but there are a few things I don’t actually want to tell anybody about … I want it to be a bit of a surprise!”

The scribe’s apprehension is a symptom of his devious nature. He’s more than happy to write almost maddening quests for his readers, full of twists, turns, and (literally) dead ends. And he isn’t shy about wanting to torment his fans.

Fighting Fantasy Fighting Fantasy

Fighting Fantasy

Fighting Fantasy authors Ian Livingstone (left) and Steve Jackson (right) (Image: SCHOLASTIC • LEGEND)

“We like to be cruel to our audience!” Jackson chuckled – but this form of literary torture is a mutual understanding, he reckons. “The difficult [Fighting Fantasy books] always seemed to be the most popular, that’s one thing that happened over the years. The last game book I did was Creature of Havoc… and that was pretty tough!”

And he knew what he was talking about – after all, both writers have decades of experience.

Shadow of the Giants and Secrets of Salamonis mark the 71st and 72nd releases (respectively) in the Fighting Fantasy series. Their first story – The Warlock of Firetop Mountain – started blowing would-be adventurers’ minds all the way back in 1982.

But before they were regularly releasing thrilling adventures that would incite a Satanic Panic (“The evangelical alliance published an eight-page warning guide about Fighting Fantasy, saying it was ‘interacting with ghouls and demons’ and ‘you’ll be possessed by the devil!'”) they were just a pair of plucky young gamers looking to make a living in the 1970s.

It wasn’t until 1975 when the Livingstone and Jackson – the owners of a very primitive version of Games Workshop – struck up an exclusivity deal with an American named Gary Gygax, who had just created a brand new game called Dungeons & Dragons. The pair played an early copy (“We became obsessed”) and started to sell D&D mail-order out of their flat. Then, Games Workshop started making a name for itself.

After making a steady income with the now monolithically successful role-playing Game (RPG), they opened their first shop in 1978 in Hammersmith. Livingstone assured me: “It took a long time to become successful.” But, after that, as Livingstone says: “The rest, as they say, is history.”

Although… he might be downplaying their story a little.

At the time of writing, Games Workshop is worth a reported £2.34 billion. Beyond that, Livingstone was previously the President and CEO for video game company, Eidos Interactive. And Jackson was co-founder of another video game corporation, Lionhead Studios.

In spite of their immensely successful video game companies, board game shops and lunchbox characters, however, Livingstone and Jackson have continued to publish new additions to the beautifully creative Fighting Fantasy franchise – where they find the time.

Their impassioned dedication to their own mythos has bred a significantly sized fandom that, to this day, will devour anything they release. And, over the decades, they’ve even had Hollywood come knocking on their doors.

Jackson confessed: “We do get people who are interested [in making a Fighting Fantasy movie], but one of the problems is that you have to follow a hero in a linear experience rather than [an] interactive one.”

“In lots of licensed movies you have a character that’s well known,” Livingstone chimed in. “Whereas, in the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks you are the hero – there’s no licensed characters.”

The pair have found popularity (toys, figures, statues, etc) in their monsters and evil wizards through the years, but the reader was always supposed to be the perfect hero.

“There has been interest in the past,” Livingstone added. “And there’s no reason there can’t be a movie, there just hasn’t been one to date.”

If Hollywood ever does come around, there are dozens of stories to choose from. Jackson and Livingstone’s last new set of Fighting Fantasy books hit store shelves in 2020, so this latest 2022 couplet is rather exciting for the die-hard fans – and newcomers alike. And it is (still!) obvious that the ardent writers could easily keep authoring even more books as fast as they imagine them. But it’s their passion for the series that keeps them going.

Although the rate at which their books are released has slowed down in the past decade, both creatives scoffed at the idea of bringing their seminal series to an end.

“I can’t see myself not writing another one,” Jackson guffawed. “I’ve said it a few times – ‘That’s going to be my last!’ – and you hand the manuscript in and you immediately have an idea for the next one.”

He explores the real world, he confessed, finding inspiration to make “new challenges for the readers”.

After 72 books over 40 years, it seems they can almost create exciting adventures from anything – while also making them instant hits in the fantasy fandom. But they are adamant that they will continue to use their heart and passion for their stories at the core of the Fighting Fantasy series.

The latest Fighting Fantasy books, Shadow of the Giants and Secrets of Salamonis, are available now from Scholastic.



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