Saturday, April 2, 2016

April A to Z - B is for Sam Bowring

Good day to you all, lovely readers. Today, we have Sam Bowring who has recently released a gamebook called Butler to the Dark Lord. I enjoyed it. You probably will too...

For those of us who don't know, tell us about yourself.

I’m an Australian author and stand-up comedian. My main genres are fantasy and children’s books, and I have recently started self-publishing stuff that is too whacked out for traditional publishers. I was named after the family cat. I like croissants a lot.

You have written many novels. How would you describe them to potential readers?

I like to take cliches and tropes of the genre and twist them in new and interesting ways. The Broken Well trilogy is a good example, as it is all about a prophesied child who will end the battle between light and dark. I mean, could a fantasy book sound more cliched than that? But then by subverting reader expectations and playing with the form, the result is something very fun and different – and no, modesty is not one of my weaknesses! Coincidentally, I’m happy to say that the first book of the Broken Well trilogy, Prophecy’s Ruin, is currently free online for the next few months.

You have also written a gamebook entitled Butler to the Dark Lord: A grim choices gamebook. What made you dip into the exciting and perilous world of gamebooks?

I’ve always been a fan of them. I still have a crate of Fighting Fantasy from when my dad and I used to play together. I created my first attempts at gamebooks when I was a kid, though I very much doubt they will ever be released! I was always fascinated with game design in general, but life never really went in that direction. Once it started to become doable for authors to create and publish their own gamebooks online, I really took an interest. I am hoping this is not just a dip!

Your book does not need dice, but it does use codewords. How did you decide to use this system?

My aim was to create a gamebook where the reward was the story itself. I sometimes found the story in the old CYOA’s to be a bit light-on, and I’m not a huge fan of gamebooks full of arbitrary choices, like ‘will you go left or right?’. So I wanted really meaningful, contextual stuff that would shape a reader’s experience, rather than the story functioning as something to get through. There are plenty of gamebooks with great stories, of course, I just wanted to push that angle as much as I could. Codewords are a way of ensuring that choices really have a continuing impact, by keeping track of the ‘state’ of the character – whether they are DRUNK, INFESTED WITH LICE, or ATE TOO MUCH CAKE. Finally, because I didn’t want to write a journey, which I find is a pretty typical gamebook structure, but rather have the character dwell within the same spaces throughout the game over a period of time, the evolution of the character sorts of becomes the journey, and codewords function as a substitute for stats and such.

Do you have plans for a second gamebook? What will you do with it?

I do, and a third, maybe a fourth, haha. Ideally I would love to do more Butler gamebooks – I think going outside of the castle onto the battlefield (where it’s harder to keep your coffee tray steady) would be the next one.

How did you organise your gamebook writing? Did you use a program to arrange the sections?

I wrote it as a book initially. I had an overall plan, written out quite like a regular book storyline. I’ve since seen ways to visually plan a gamebook, and in retrospect they might have been helpful! But I guess I had a kind of a mind map anyway. When it came time to getting it online, I discovered the good folks at, who have a great interface to do exactly what I wanted, and who spit it out at the other end as a mobi file (for kindle), which made it all amazingly easy.

Which gamebooks have you read? Did you draw upon any of them for inspiration for your gamebook?

Well, heaps, as you can probably tell from my answers above. I can say I drew upon them in a way, because I was trying to be something they weren’t, and which I hadn’t seen before. That probably sounds like a wank, haha.

What is your favourite gamebook?

Deathtrap Dungeon and the Forest of Doom are both up there.

Do you have any gamebook bugbears?

Instadeath is pretty rude. I think we agree on that! I admit there is one instadeath passage in Butler, however, which I now kinda wish it wasn’t in there. Oh well! Instadeath is pretty much just giving the reader permission to cheat, I reckon.

Now that you have written a gamebook, what advice would you give someone who wants to write one?

If you want to release something online, have a look at the options for the different platforms out there first, as you may find one that suits you especially, and the interface might actually inform the way you tell the story right from the start. If you want do to an ebook I can really recommend inklewriter, but there’s also twine and story nexus, amongst others, for other forms of IF. All that said, if you’re talking about the actual nitty gritty of  writing one – something that made it easier for me was to have centralised points that all versions of the character pass through before they branch out again. This made is easier to stop the story getting way out of control.

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