Monday 27 August 2018

Happy Birthday, Zagor!

36 years ago today, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, was published for the first time.

Steve Jackson: “When Ian and I first decided how to split the Warlock writing duties, we agreed to site a river in the middle of the adventure and force all readers to cross the river at the same place. Ian would write the adventure up to the river, and I would do the river and beyond, including the maze and the treasure chest puzzle. So we both started writing. After a month or so we realised we were both using very different combat systems. We’d discuss this, and both realised it needed sorting out. But there was nothing between them; there was no reason why we shouldn’t use Ian’s ‘Strength’ instead of ‘Stamina’. I think Ian’s combat was simultaneous rather than turn-based.”

Ian Livingstone’s original plan for the first half of the Warlock’s dungeon.
(© Ian Livingstone, 2014 and 2018)

Ian Livingstone: “It was a joint decision to keep the combat as simple as possible, so as not to interrupt the flow of the adventure. Adding Luck was a later decision. The final terminology was Steve’s; Skill, Stamina and Luck over my Combat, Strength and Luck.”

Jackson: “To sort it out, someone had to back down and agree to use the other’s system. We’d meet at Ian’s to discuss all this but end up playing pool and drinking beer. No decision was made. In the end, when we handed our two halves of the book in to Philippa, the difference in writing styles was obvious.”

Philippa Dickinson started to go through the completed manuscript and immediately made some crucial observations. A few of the teething problems the book went through included the fact that choices were not presented in one uniform style, there was both a Wolfman and a Werewolf at different points in the adventure, and a copyright-protected song even appeared in the first draft.

Philippa Dickinson: “What I absolutely remember is sitting them down and saying you’ve written two different books here because they had very different writing styles… Ian’s was quite analytical and Steve’s was full of exclamation marks… You cross the river and it’s a completely different voice. So one of the things that I asked them to do was to even it up…

“I understand that sometimes the things that the editor says are very annoying, and Steve and Ian were very tolerant of the annoying things I came up with, and they would mostly listen to what I had to say. Somebody once described the skill of an editor as being to help an author not muck up a book. It’s always got to be the author’s book and what you have to do is to find a way of communicating what you’re saying, and you must to be able to flex your editing style to work with an author… It’s a very satisfying process when it works.”

Philippa Dickinson’s ‘Notes for discussion’, prepared after reading the first draft of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.
(© Ian Livingstone, 2014 and 2018)

The biggest problem was the obvious change in writing styles that occurred halfway through the adventure.

Jackson: “In the end Muggins here volunteered to rewrite Ian’s section so as to keep the styles consistent.” (As word processors had yet to be invented, this meant retyping huge sections of the manuscript.) “And that also sorted out the combat system. I was doing the rewrite, so I stuck with my combat.”

Ian Livingstone’s handwritten notes regarding the familiar Fighting Fantasy rules for combat.
(© Ian Livingstone, 2014 and 2018)

To find out more about the origins of the The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and the series it inspired, pick up a copy of Jonathan Green's YOU ARE THE HERO - A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks today!

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