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|Letter from Jonathan Green (originally posted on
|In the summer of 1994 I left university with the commission to write
my third Fighting Fantasy gamebook, ‘Curse of the Mummy’. With this duly
completed I moved to Nottingham to have a bash at making my living as a
Whist doing all manner of dead-end jobs to pay the rent I set about
planning my fourth gamebook for Puffin. It was entitled ‘Saga of the
Stormchaser’ and was set in and the northeastern corner of Allansia.
As far as I remember the hero was actually the king of Vynheim, in
Frostholm, and in true Viking fashion he was a hero of epic proportions.
The plot involved Lord Logaan the Trickster himself setting you off on
your mission to thwart an evil magician and stop him from awakening an
ancient evil (as usual!). On your voyage across Bjorngrim’s Sea towards a
distant isle at the end of the Giant’s Teeth chain you fought with sea
monsters such as a Killer Whale, you visited the Claw, a rocky island that
was home to a tribe of savage birdmen, as well as encountering the
demonic, shape-changing Mara.
In my second gamebook, ‘Knights of Doom’, I utilised the system of
introducing different skills that the reader could choose for their hero.
In ‘Saga of the Stormchaser’ your crew took the place of these skills with
individual characters displaying a whole range of different abilities.
There was a barbarian strongman, a Valkyrie warrior-woman, a dwarf and
several others (although their specific talents escape me for the moment).
Having written the introduction to the adventure, the first 100 paragraphs
and a detailed plot synopsis I sent the whole lot off to Marc Gascoigne
(Puffin’s Gamebook advisory editor). I awaited a response with baited
breath. However, at an earlier meeting I had mentioned to Marc that I also
had a good idea for a voodoo-pirate adventure and he liked the sound of
this better. So, ‘Saga of the Stormchaser’ was put to one side while I set
about preparing the proposal for ‘ Pirates of the Black Skull’.
After making a few alterations (such as removing blood drinking from a
ceremony) it was accepted by Marc and passed on to Richard Scrivener at
Puffin, the Publishing Manager who actually commissioned the gamebooks.
(This was the usual process for getting a gamebook commissioned while I
was writing them.) The plan was for ‘Pirates of the Black Skull’ to be
FF61 as I’d written FF59 and Marc had his own gamebook planned
(provisionally entitled ‘Night of the Creature’, I believe). However, as
it turned out he was occupied with other commissions and so my proposal
was brought forward to be FF60. It took a while for Richard to get back to
me and he also wanted a few changes made. Then the problems really began.
The Fighting Fantasy series hadn’t been selling as well as it had in
recent years. I know that other writers have expressed their feelings as
to why this happened and I also have my own theories. However, this is a
subject that has debated for a long time and at the end of the day it
isn’t going to change the fact that FF did come to an end. So, on with my
story… Richard wrote to me in August 1995 explaining that the delay in
commissioning me was due to Puffin looking at ways of re-vamping the
entire series. The thrust of this was the inclusion of some kind of
electronic dice in a fold-over cover. There was also talk of improving the
paper quality and of having full-colour illustrations throughout. In the
end the electronic dice idea didn’t prove to be viable but other changes
still needed to be finalised.
In January 1996 I was eventually commissioned to write FF60. Two changes
to the Fighting Fantasy series had finally been decided on. Puffin felt
that some of the more recent gamebooks had become too complicated,
alienating the child target audience that FF relied on for its sales. They
wanted the gamebooks to be more straightforward and less obscure. The most
notable change, however, was that from now on all FF gamebooks would be
only 300 paragraphs long, rather than 400, and my next gamebook was to be
the first in the re-vamped range! (At one stage there was talk of Marc
having to edit the previous 59 to turn them from 400 paragraphs to 300.
God knows how he would have managed it, especially with a beast like
‘Creature of Havoc’!) They wanted the manuscript ready by the end of
February (for publication in October or November that year) and a change
So I set to work… I met the deadline, and also produced a map for the
book, while an artist called Mike Posen was commissioned to produce the
illustrations (I have no idea who Matthew Jeffrey is!) Then we waited. The
finished illustrations came in for approval, and we waited. Eventually the
inevitable news came. It had now been over 18 months since the last FF
gamebook had been published and Puffin was cancelling the Fighting Fantasy
I was very disappointed. My fourth gamebook wouldn’t see publication and I
had plenty more ideas for more. (These included a sequel to ‘Curse of the
Mummy’, a weather-mage ransoming the kingdom of Femphrey by messing up the
weather in ‘ Eye of the Storm’ and the horror-inspired ‘Howl of the
Werewolf. And those were only the beginning!) Not only was it the end of
the series but it was also the end of my hopes of full-time freelance
writing. Having signed a contract I was still paid my initial advance for
FF60 but that was it. Without the steady income from FF I just couldn’t
afford to do it. I moved to London and became a full-time teacher (what I
had trained to be originally) and five years on I still write on a regular
basis for Games Workshop’s publishing arm, the Black Library.
But I expect what everyone’s dying to know is what ‘Bloodbones’, as
‘Pirates of the Black Skull’ was eventually called, was all about. The
blurb on the back of the book was as follows:
Bloodbones lives! Cinnabar, evil Pirate-Lord and scourge of the twelve
seas, is back from the dead, seeking revenge and with the dark powers of
voodoo at his command. Only YOU can stop the pirate captain and his crew
of bloodthirsty cut- throats. Prepare to set sail on the adventure of a
The premise behind the story was that when you were twelve years old the
pirate- lord Cinnabar pillaged your village, Clam Beach on the
northeastern coast of Ruddlestone, killing your family. You swore to have
vengeance against Cinnabar and on your sixteenth birthday you left Clam
Beach and became a cabin boy on a ship bound for Allansia. For the past
six years you have sailed the seas of Titan, learning more and more about
Cinnabar. This eventually leads you back to Ruddlestone and the notorious
Port of Crabs. However, once there in ‘The Jolly Roger’ you discover that
Cinnabar died six months before. Dejected you leave the tavern only to be
set upon by pirates.
This leads you to investigate further. The first part of the adventure
involves you exploring the Port of Crabs in search of the pirates’ secret
base. You then stowaway onboard their galleon until you have to jump ship.
However, all is not lost and eventually you come to a remote island where
the pirates’ true base is. Having explored, and survived, the island you
pursue Cinnabar as he tries to escape which leads to the final showdown.
(Quite a lot happens for 300 paragraphs really!)
There were a number of puzzles and loads of new monsters, including a real
cat o’ nine-tails, a giant chameleon, giant praying mantis and a giant
mosquito, the half-spider half-scorpion Scarachna, the Behemoth, a
Treasure Golem and the ghostly Jack A-Lantern. However, the real stars of
the book were the pirates, which such names as Crivens, Doctor Malefact,
Garboil, Strake, Silas Gallows, the Anchor Man, Jango, Keelhaul Jack, Sima
the Monkey Man, Malu the Witchdoctor, Bladderwrack the Cook, One-Eyed
Lagan and Iorga the Bear!
The book was influenced by Tim Powers’ ‘On Stranger Tides’, ‘The Tempest’
and ‘ Robinson Crusoe’ amongst many other things (including the Sci-Fi
classic ‘ Forbidden Planet’). Ironically of the four FF gamebooks I have
written ‘ Bloodbones’ is probably my favourite!
Jonathan Green July 2001