Monday, April 18, 2016

April A to Z - O is for Outsider! - an interview with Gavin Mitchell

Hello all! Today, we have Gavin Mitchell, the writer of teh awesome adventure Outsider! - the story of an assassin with psychic powers who juggles his job with finding his lost love and discovering the identity of his father whilst also discovering a sinister conspiracy in his city. Yes, that old chesnut. You can read his story for free and either play it online or download it.  Do that and then read his interview.

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

I live in Walsall, work in engineering, tell stories and teach tai chi and run role playing games for the library. 

What inspired you to write a gamebook?

Essentially Outsider was inspired by going to an all male school (not by choice) going to university, meeting a gay woman and having a relationship with her. Around the time I was with her I acquired Black Vein Prophecy and spent a lot of time reading the reviews on the old Fighting Fantasy website by Mark Popp; later on I acquired Cretan Chronicles Return of the Wanderer and various old FF books in a charity shop and it revived my interest (though it never fully waned) in my old childhood favourites, and it’s never slackened since. After the demise of the relationship I had the idea for Outsider (it’s no doubt obvious where the starting sequence of the dark elf leaving the witch’s son comes from, though it also owes the end of Neuromancer a debt) and since FFs and gamebooks were still strong in my mind it was logical to make the idea into one. Virtually the complete idea for the background, denoument and the lead character’s potential fathers came to me at one go; I even wrote most of the endings at the start. Of course there was close on a year in total of writing to follow, but nothing was ever really changed or retconned. 

You wrote Outsider! Years ago. How did you organise the gamebook and randomise the sections? Did you do something different in New Day Rising, you latest book?

 I basically just then started writing from the beginning (really) and rolled colour coded D10 dice for the paragraph numbers, checking back occasionally to ensure the references and call backs lined up. The two dungeons were mapped, but pretty much nothing else. The Outsider sequels, rather than dice, used a random number website which I called up on my mobile phone as required; there wasn’t the technology back then. 

 I had the idea for New Day Rising maybe five years ago, but I have far less time for writing now than I did fifteen years ago. The idea for Interloper! New Day Rising Gaiden came about more recently (last year) but New Day Rising was easier to get behind for various reasons. The current translation of Outsider into Spanish, the absolutely fantastic artwork associated with same which puts my efforts to shame, and some very positive comments on, inspired me to start writing New Day Rising... very slowly. 

Both of your books seem to have the hero being unhappy with their lot. Why do you include this theme?

 The notion that the hero starts off unhappy with their lot goes back to the absolute dawn of mankind; the oldest myths, legends, fairy tales and even religions, as described in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. Unfortunately this template has now been over used particularly by Hollywood trained screenwriters, but there remains the logic; if the hero *is* happy with their lot what motivation is for them to do anything? A lot of horror and thriller fiction features an everyperson or wageslave put under threat, but this tends not to be done in sf/fantasy. In any case, Severian and Interloper aren’t remotely as miserable as Black Aria, more mildly disgruntled :).

Both books also include you learning to be a necromancer in some way. Is this something else you like?

 Necromancer is just one of the many possibly-tired fantasy clich├ęs which spring to mind for pulp fantasy and RPGs, usually as evil antagonists. Counts, crusaders and assassins all come from the same trading card deck, but me being a lifelong metal fan and general curmudgeon the necromancers and assassins of course end up as the protagonists. 

 Both books have the same setting and it looks like book 2 will include some fallout from book 1. Is there any more you can say about this? Are the two heroes going to meet?

In Outsider this was deliberately dark and gothy, in NDR it’s more for comedy value. The two sequels are set maybe a hundred years after Outsider, when Altgarten / Algarth is making its progress from Reformation / Renaissance to modern civilisation, which is a central theme. As for the heroes meeting, I may well have already spoilered myself, but on the level of pure metafiction, there were really only a few ways Force Awakens was going to go :)

New Day rising includes rules for companions. You had companions in Outsider, but with fewer rules. Are there any more extra rules in New Day Rising?

New Day Rising contains companions and whereas Outsider was more of a homage to old school gamebooks and FF, NDR takes much more inspiration from games like Baldur’s Gate and FFVII. It may well be the first gamebook where you have a standard ‘adventuring party’ though I may well be mistaken. No further new rules I hope... 

You never number your sections in numerical order – can you explain why?

I think the only commercial gamebooks where the story line followed the paragraphs in numerical order were the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which were aimed at a younger audience, contained less if any violence and brutality, had no true RPG rules and were lame in general. Try as they might the reader is unlikely to be able to avoid reading the facing pages, and if your story line relies upon reveals this is going to kill it. If the facing paragraphs make no sense in context your brain is less likely to take it in. 

ou are a keen martial artist and you have written a book on martial arts. Has this influenced your gamebook writing?

 The relationship between martial arts and gamebooks for me is an interesting one, and not one any fans necessarily want to hear about. At the time of writing Outsider martial arts and their esoteric side were obviously an interest (I studied aikido, having previously studied karate and kung fu) and the story contains elements of them. However on finishing Outsider and vowing never to write again (this lasted six months) I threw myself into martial arts completely, and this only intensified over the next couple of years till what was once a hobby became a calling; giri, the duty that can never be repaid. I joined the senior students’ training sessions of the late master Erle Montaigue and currently teach three times a week. Of course, including working full time, storytelling and now running tabletop RPGs twice a month does not leave much time for writing. However, martial arts is certainly better than writing for the health and temper. 

You also do martial arts classes. Where and when can people benefit from your training?

My classes are in Sandwell, West Midlands and up to date information can be found at Salamander Tai Chi on Facebook and Martial Arts Register. 

Do you have any other works, gamebook or otherwise, lined up?

 So in conclusion, the arrival dates for New Day Rising, Interloper! New Day Rising Gaiden and any possible breakthrough into serious literature (I had a dream about this once)? I am also working on a short story called Electra in an attempt to break into serious literature. Later than you can bear. Or, more optimistically, manana...

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