Wednesday, 24 December 2014

For the next few days two of my books are available for free download on the Kindle. You can get copies of  "Thrall", the first part of the Crimson Man, and "When All Moons Rise" from the Amazon Kindle store. Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The son of an old friend (Dennis, of Clash of the Princes fame) has launched a point and click adventure on Kickstarter. As I admire young fellows setting out to build things for themselves, particularly adventure games, I thought I'd post a link to the project here in the hope that it might be of interest to at least some of my meagre number of readers.

Enjoy, Vincent the Vampire...




Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Jack Vance RIP


Jack Vance died a couple of months ago. This is my little homage to him, one of fantasy's greats and an important influence on my own writing. I first became aware of Jack Vance when I was about 14 years old, when my brother brought home The Eyes of Overworld from the local book exchange. There was something about this book that fired my enthusiasm, not in the same way that The Lord of the Rings did, for that was a totally immersive experience at 14. No, it was something else. Jack Vance had style.

His characters spoke with polite, elliptical yet crisp mannerisms, that on the surface said one thing, yet nakedly revealed the speaker's real message. The opening pages of Eyes of the Overworld demonstrate Vance's economical style at its best:

On the third day of the fair Cugel had disposed of only four periapts, at prices barely above the cost of the lead itself, while Fianosther was hard put to serve all his customers. Hoarse from bawling futile inducements, Cugel closed down his booth and approached Fianosther's place of trade in order to inspect the mode of construction and the fastenings at the door.

Fianosther, observing, beckoned him to approach. 'Enter, my friend, enter. How goes your trade?'

'In all candor, not too well,' said Cugel. 'I am both perplexed and disappointed, for my talismans are not obviously useless.'

'I can resolve your perplexity,' said Fianosther. 'Your booth occupies the site of the old gibbet, and has absorbed unlucky essences. But I thought to notice you examining the manner in which the timbers of my booth are joined. You will obtain a better view from within, but first I must shorten the chain of the captive erb which roams the premises during the night.'

His neologisms and names were fascinating. The monsters: erbs, grues, simes and bazils - barely described, if at all - were evocative of an entirely different sort of world. A place occupied by such fantastic personalities as Phandaal, Magnatz, Pharesm and the dismal Lodermulch and Nolde Hruska. I found his inventiveness and sense of the apposite in the creation of his names and places to be dazzling, and I have never fallen out of love with his use of language. While I dearly loved Cugel and his two books (why, Jack? Why no more?), I think he really hit his fantasy stride with the Lyonesse series. And yet they, despite fully demonstrating his wonderful skills, also fell prey to what I think is his weakness.

Jack Vance often seemed to have less interest in the story than in creating fantastic situations, cunningly, magically revealed. He seemed to be a fan of the simple solution, often wrapping a story up with almost peremptory haste, which could make the plot suddenly seem thin and not entirely satisfying. Three volumes of Lyonesse, full of inventive Vance at his best, each book possibly better than the last, and then at the end everything is pushed along with an unnecessary haste, and a resolution that seemed implausible in human terms: a quick war, the baddies killed, all set to rights. The end was not important to Jack, I feel. The spectacle along the way, the amazement of magic, strange worlds, that was what his stories were about, and that is how his stories should be read. They are an exotic buffet of fruits and flavours never before savoured, but rounded out at the end with bread and butter pudding and a glass of warm milk.

Alas, so there was a limit to his genius. He could not pull and push his creatures to be loved and loathed, but only to be one or the other. My favourite fantasy author he remains, despite this weakness, for his works are the best of comfort food. Just pull out any one of those beloved volumes, reach into it anywhere, and savour every word.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

How I stopped being a Fighting Fantasy writer, part 2


And then there was the contract, most enticing: clause 15 on page 8:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright
15. The Publishers undertake that the name of the Proprietor/Author shall appear on the title-page and on the cover or binding and jacket of every copy of the Work published or licensed by them and (etc).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------

I defy anyone to find a copy of Clash of the Princes that fulfils that clause.

At the time that was the most important element of the whole contract to me, since it meant that I would be able to escape the umbrella of iron that the Penguin/Jackson/Livingstone team had lowered over my name and that of every other writer on the series. The hope sprang into my heart that I might actually be able to make a name for myself and help to develop my own career. I will confess that I had felt slightly peeved when Steve Jackson came to my home town to promote the Fighting Fantasy series and the implication in the local media was that Seas of Blood - which was the latest in the series - had been written by a couple of blokes called Steve and Ian. Though I will also confess that I had a very enjoyable evening at that time with Steve drinking cocktails in a bar on South Terrace, where there was much bonhomie. His handler, a nice girl from Penguin Australia, even asked me if I minded Steve and Ian taking all the credit. To which I replied in the negative, and claimed (truthfully) that I felt as if I had won the lottery and this attribution of authorship thing was neither here nor there (I was drunk, of course). And mainly I blamed the idiotic local media for not actually opening the book, leaning across the radio desk, and asking, "Hey, Steve, who's this Andrew Chapman fellow with his name floating unattached to anything on the title page?". But I was livid at this breach of contract by Penguin in the case of Clash of the Princes.

So I wrote Penguin a letter. I don't have a copy of that letter, but it must have had a testy tone. I remember Martin and I showed it to Martin's father before we posted it. Presciently, he observed, "You should post it if you never want to write for them again."

Ah, if only youth had listened to the wisdom of age. But bridge burning was my thing back then, and so I posted the letter and burned that bridge down to the waterline. No doubt that poisoned pen did some damage, but the books were also duds, particularly compared to the other three I had written. Also, I have no doubt that better writers with better ideas had come on board the series by this time. My advantage of being first (or nearly first) out of the chocks had blown away in the wind along with the smoke from the burning bridge.

Thus, indeed, Martin's father's warning came to pass. I was no longer a Fighting Fantasy writer.

On an end note, though I think Clash of the Princes is pretty well the worst idea I have ever had (with the possible exception of joining the Australian Public Service) I was gratified at least to read this nice review which I discovered as I started thinking about writing on this topic.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Crimson Man

I have released my fantasy epic, The Crimson Man, on the Kindle. This book is composed of three novels bundled into one large book. These are Thrall, Freeman and Bringer, also available separately. At 250,000 words it is a hefty tome and quite the longest story I have ever written.


In brief:

For centuries the Farlig in their long ships have been sailing to undiscovered worlds through the mysterious portal that lies at the heart of the Sea of Mists. And for centuries the raiders have returned with their vessels brimming with slaves and the spoils of war. Yet when Eorl Volsung Silverhair returns with the slave Anatol Kirilov from a place called Earth, the Farlig suddenly find themselves living within a prophecy as old as the Sea of Mists itself. The Crimson Man has arrived. Long have the seven Farlig Keepers watched with their magic for this great hero’s arrival. Long have they feared the first glimpse of the wave of terror and destruction from which it is prophesied he must save them.

Friday, 7 December 2012

How I stopped being a Fighting Fantasy writer, part 1

It was my friend Dennis who first raised the idea. We had been playing a game of Ace of Aces, a two-player game of WWII aerial combat, in which each player has a book containing a multitude of pictures showing the view from the cockpit of a fighter biplane. The idea is that each player attempts to shoot the other down by referencing their individual manoeuvres and passing a coded number to the other player, the game state is updated. Each player turns to the relevant page and sees where their fighter is placed in relation to the other person. Anyone who gets the other player in their sights, scores a hit.




It is a very elegant game from the days before electronic games were much more sophisticated than "Pong". You can have a closer look at it on Boardgame Geek.

Anyway, Dennis it was that put the perfidious idea in my head: "Wouldn't it be great to have a two player version of a game book," to paraphrase him. Well, with respect Dennis me ol' mate, no, it was a terrible idea. Except at the time, I didn't realise that, and so I began to mull the idea over in my mind. Thus Clash of the Princes was born.

Reading is a solitary activity. No one is going to want to wait around twiddling their thumbs while the person they're playing with silently reads a few pages, maybe tosses some dice, reads some more, then maybe finally does something that affects their game. Neither of those concept killing ideas occurred to me, or if they did, I brushed them aside. But I did realise that it would be a lot of work to pull off, after all a two player book system would need... two books, at least, and maybe a bit more. I'd already written three, and they had taken me quite a bit of time and effort to put together. Plus this one would require the invention of some two-player mechanism.

So I looked around for some assistance and decided to ask my friend Martin Allen to write the thing with me, though this would be his first game book project. We developed the concept of a competition between brothers for a throne and decided to split the work down the middle with each of us taking on one book. Martin would take on The Warrior's Way and I would tackle The Warlock's Way. It was our plan all along to make the books able to stand alone, with the two-player element added as a sort of bonus feature for those that wanted to use it. We always envisaged the books being released separately.

Since the books would have to stand alone (so we thought), the single player part of each volume would have to be as long as a standard game book: 400 "paragraphs". We settled on tacking on another 100 paragraphs to each book to accommodate the shared sections. Thus we were looking at 1000 paragraphs, or two and a half books. Warning bells should have been sounding in my head at this point. This was a lot of work to be throwing at something that we had no real idea was a good idea (it wasn't), and for an idea that had been greeted by Penguin without enthusiasm.

Writing it was agonisingly slow, and there were many uncertainties about developing the two-player elements. I'm certain that it was a much longer and more tortuous process than would have been required to write two and a half "regular" game books. Yet finally it was finished and sent to Penguin, where it disappeared into a cloud of disinterest. No doubt the publisher's good sense told them that this was a stupid idea that would never fly.

Many months went by. Penguin could neither bring themselves to go ahead with the project, nor reject it. Yet finally there was movement. Some other publisher was going to bring out their own two-player game book! I think this may have been Mark Smith's and Jaimie Thomson's Duel Master series, but I'm not sure. In any event, it put a firecracker under Penguin's arse (or at least the cheek devoted to Fighting Fantasy). Suddenly they wanted Clash of the Princes and they wanted it NOW. Finally some editorial work went into it, pushed along by this sudden sense of urgency, and much anxiety on the Puffin editorial team's side that the two-player mechanism might not work.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

I have finally released Invaders : the gamebook for the Kindle. Unfortunately I could not arrange enough suitable illustrations in a timely fashion and so have elected instead to go with a non-illustrated version (though there are a small number of images in the book's introduction). Invaders was originally written in 1986 while I was in Japan, and was intended for inclusion in a short-lived Australian series of gamebooks planned by Puffin Australia (at least it was my intention that it should be included, ha ha). This series died quickly after the release of its first title. As to what the title of that book was, or indeed who wrote it, I cannot say. Clearly they should have led with Invaders instead ;)



I have always been a bit proud of Invaders, so I'm pleased to be able to get it out there for the reading pleasure of at least a handful of people.

Friday, 23 March 2012

When All Moons Rise is once again available as a paperback, currently from Amazon, distributed by Ingram.

Monday, 6 February 2012

How I became a Fighting Fantasy writer - part 3

In due course, the rejection letter arrived:

21 April, 1983

Dear Andrew

ASSASSIN

Thank you very much for sending us your manuscript. Unfortunately, Penguin Australia is not publishing books of this nature at present, although our UK company has published several very successful manuscripts like yours.

If you wish to pursue the matter further, you could send your manuscript to Penguin in England, etc.


Well, OK, I'm determined never to be a wage slave again, so I'll send it to England, though of course the postage in those days was horrendous, and return postage for the manuscript even harder to arrange, particularly for someone with no income. But off it went. In the interim, too ignorant to give up, I started working on my next Fighting Fantasy book: The Rings of Kether.

Remarkably, the letter from England was not long in coming.

3 June 1983

Dear Mr Chapman

Thank you for sending us your manuscript for ASSASSIN! Which looks very good. However, as you know, we publish the fighting fantasy games by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone and we cannot take on other books in their area. Maybe you could approach Penguin Australia, etc.


Comedy? Farce? In truth I don't recall what I did next. Did I throw my hands in the air, or did I plug on with Kether?. I can't imagine that I was inspired by this interchange. But a few weeks later, another letter arrived from Penguin Australia.

29 June, 1983

Geraldine Cooke of our Penguin company in the UK thought we may be interested in your 'fantasy game manuscript'.

Could you please send me a copy of you manuscript. I'd certainly be delighted to consider it for our Australian publishing programme.


Much more encouraging, so off went the manuscript again, where it vanished into the sort of silence that I - and doubtless thousands of other writers - have become all too familiar with. The weeks passed, the months, nothing. Was it actually being read? Or was it just some oversized coaster collecting coffee rings on the editor's desk?

And then another letter, but unexpectedly, this time from England.

11 October 1983

I am writing to you again about your manuscript ASSASSIN.

If you have still got the manuscript, and have not sent it out to another publisher, I would be most interested to look at it again as our policy has slightly changed in this area. I am now trying to broaden the scope of our fighting fantasy games books. If I am able to consider your manuscript, it is possible that we could talk about other ideas.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope that you do not find this change of heart too extraordinary.

Your sincerely,
Geraldine Cooke


And this was followed up by another letter from Penguin Australia.

25 October 1983

I am sorry for the long delay on your Assassin manuscript. Our UK company wishes to reconsider it since they are expanding their Fighting Fantasy series, so we have sent it to them today.

PS I hope something good comes from all this delay and to-ing and fro-ing.


Blood oath, you and me both, darlin'. Unfortunately, all this delay had led to a cash crisis, ie, I had none. The torture of employment could not be avoided any longer. Worse, my only prospects were back with the Australian Public Service, and in November or December of that year I was offered a dismally junior position with the Department of Social Security. In some respects this situation was better than that offered by the Bureau of Statistics. True, the pay was less and I had to contend with the shame of failing my sacred vow, plus there were the death threats from recently released criminals demanding their dole money NOW, but on the other hand, I didn't have to move to Canberra, and there were real people to talk to rather than the automatons that populated the warrens of the ABS.

And from Penguin? Silence. Long, tortuous silence. The treasure seemed slowly to vanish at the end of the rainbow.

Then disaster. The Department of Social Security had overstaffed itself. The most recently employed staff were all to be redeployed. To my disbelief I found myself suddenly working for an organization that made the ABS look like a jolly lark: the Australian Tax Office. At the beginning of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life there is a faux short about an accountancy firm where the poor clerks toil at their mechanical adding machines, desks all neatly in rows, one man looking over the next's shoulder. That was the Adelaide office of the ATO in 1984. Worse, they had time clocks, so there would be no skiving off. This was a tight spot. As I was led to my place in the galley and chained to the desk, could my boss see the beads of sweat on my brow? Was there a hint of irony in his voice as he clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Andrew, you're really going to enjoy it here, much more interesting than Social Security".

Sweet Jesus, I was in a tight spot. How was I going to get out of this one?

I think that moment had to be the nadir of my working life. Fortunately, it lasted only 4 weeks.

16 March 1984

I am writing to you about your two manuscripts and particularly in this instance THE RINGS OF KETHER.

...

We have now decided to set up a series of STEVE AND IAN PRESENTS.... I am writing to ask whether you would wish your manuscripts to be included in this series.

...

Yours sincerely
Geraldine Cooke


The next morning I rang the gang at the ATO and told them I was never coming in again.

Monday, 14 November 2011

How I became a Fighting Fantasy writer - Part 2

So there I was, newly unemployed, back in the rust belt of South Australia, and determined never again to be subjected to the tedious wage slavery of such organisations as the Australian Public Service. Yet I had no clear idea of what to do, only some vague impulse to create something. Paint? Draw? Write? And then by chance The Warlock of Firetop Mountain passed through my hands on its way as a present from my parents to my younger teenage brother.

This was so early in Fighting Fantasy history that there was not even a Fighting Fantasy series yet. There was only "Warlock of Firetop Mountain".

Years before this, back in third year university, where I had majored in psychology, we had been given valuable time on the university's new mainframe to learn the intricacies of the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). The new mainframe (a Vax-11/780) was a great improvement over the old (a Cyber 173), mainly in that it was also provided with video terminals. The old Cyber had to be fed punched IBM cards and waited on patiently for it to spit out a few pages of dot-matrix output.

I immediately began using this valuable computing resource to write an interactive random text-based dungeon bashing computer game based on D&D. In first year I'd done half a subject on Pascal and Fortran programming, and chose Pascal for the job. My programming skills were not well developed at that time, and I recall overhearing some real Computer Science students who had somehow got hold of a hacked version of my game decrying how badly written it was. Eventually enough people were spending enough time playing hacked versions of my game that the system admins deleted it from everyone's storage.

As soon as I saw the future Fighting Fantasy book #1 I realised that it was just a text based dungeon bashing computer game based on D&D without the surrounding hardware. I knew that I could write one, too.

I started work on Assassin, choosing a science fiction theme rather than fantasy because clearly these Jackson and Livingstone fellows -- whoever they were -- had already cornered the fantasy corner. As I wrote it, in an ad hoc, haphazard way, not really planning my way through it, I wrote my own combat rules. Since I had no idea that a Fighting Fantasy series was being spawned, it didn't occur to me that I would be part of it. I wrote expecting that Assassin would stand apart. And finally, at the end, I had this ungainly manuscript of some 360 sections -- the future Space Assassin -- which I sent off to Penguin in Australia.