Saturday, April 18, 2015

April A to Z - P is for Paul Gresty

Hello all. Today, we catch up with the excellent gamebook writer Paul Gresty after hearing from him from 2013 and 2014, we see what he's been doing this last year (besides writing some excellent articles for this blog).

You went to Fighting Fantasy Fest. Did you enjoy it?

It was excellent. I especially liked the sense of community about it all, and getting to meet a lot of people face to face who I'd only spoken to online. Plus Jonathan Green recognised me, which was a pleasant surprise. It's nice when the people you respect actually know who the hell you are.

Oh, and I got to pretend to be Russ Nicholson. Russ asked me to mind the artwork he'd brought along while he went to speak on one of the panels. So I sat in his place and tried to convince a few people I was actually him. Nobody believed me though.

You've started work on Fabled Lands: The Serpent King's Domain. How is it going?

It's going well. Much of the work so far has been in detailing a solid setting for the story. The Weeping Jungle contains a society and infrastructure as complex as anything you'll find in Sokara or Golnir. If you want to know about the inheritance laws in the region, or how naming conventions for young children differ in the north and south of the territory, I can tell you about that. As to whether all this information will show up in the final book, I'm not sure. But it's important to have that foundation, that's as precise as anything else we've seen in Fabled Lands so far.

In terms of getting words on paper, I'm writing each city / area / encounter as separate documents, effectively. Later, when it's all done, I'll use gamebook-writing software to 'assemble' the whole thing. That way, it's easier to integrate Dave and Jamie's parts of the book.

What do you have to do when picking up an existing system with an existing world stuffed with canon?

First, you compile spreadsheets. A lot of spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets for codewords and cool story hooks. Spreadsheets for entry points into each book. Spreadsheets by title and spreadsheets by theme. Spreadsheets for all information you glean.

For a while, my world was a world of spreadsheets.

But really, as long as you know the books well, it's not so bad. Working with Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson is kind of daunting, just because they're both really experienced, and really knowledgeable. I have a little mantra that I say to myself every time I send out a group email containing ideas or background information. It goes, 'Please don't think it's rubbish and fire me. Please don't think it's rubbish and fire me.'

Would you like to tell us about MetaHuman Inc.?

It's an app for Choice of Games in which you take the role of CEO of a company that specialises in designing superhuman abilities, either using ultra-advanced technology or sinister magical forces. Writing it has been a learning experience. When I first sent my 40-page proposal to CoG, they said, 'It's a good idea, but it'll be insanely long and complicated. Simplify it.' So I simplified it. And now I'm seeing that it's still insanely long and complicated. It contains about 200,000 words of content - in other words, as much as three or four Fighting Fantasy books. And I think it's going to be great - it's the sort of nuanced interactive fiction I've always hoped I'd have an opportunity to write. But, man alive, it's been laborious getting it finished.

It's almost finished now, anyway. We're about ready to go into the playtesting phase for that. So keep an eye open for it over the next few months.

What about Arcana Agency? Will we see a sequel?

There's still a lot of love for Arcana Agency. And the book didn't have a huge print run, so that's kind of surprising. A sequel is possible. One of the folders on my desktop is labelled 'Deathless Wanderer', and it's full of artwork and planning documents and whatnot for that book. I think it won't happen soon. But it may happen.

I should say that the book's editor, Richard Hetley, deserves a lot of credit for Arcana Agency. We funded the book through a Kickstarter, the length of which we set at 60 days, and Richard worked tirelessly throughout that promoting the thing. It simply would never have been published if not for him. Since then, he's also done a lot of solid work on the Kickstarters for the Way of the Tiger republications, and the Lone Wolf Board Game.

You have created or are part of lots of wonderful projects. Do you have any tips on landing such sweet gigs?

Oh, I don't know. I'm still kind of a novice at this. People will occasionally approach me with work, these days, which is a nice turnaround. It saves me a lot of begging.

I think you need to be conscious of which publishers or developers are working in your sector, and what sort of projects each one might be interested in. And that doesn't necessarily involve a lot of research - just take a look at what's on your phone or your bookshelf right now. Any approach to a company should be professional in tone, and it's better to propose a few different ideas at a time, rather than just one.

Also, keep in mind you're going to get turned down a lot. So long as your ideas are competent and appropriate, there should be no embarrassment or ill feeling around that. It's part of the job.

What about time management tips?

Heh. That's the kind of question that somebody who's overloaded with work, writing and babysitting might ask. Anything you want to share, Stuart?

I have a day job that allows me to work from home a lot. I do much of my writing then. Plus I'm the only early riser in my family. When I'm working well, I'll get up at 5:00am or 6:00am every day, just to have a couple of hours to myself.

Prioritise all of the jobs in your life. Identify all the really important work you have to do - all of the stuff you absolutely cannot let slide. And then don't do it. Do some writing instead. Seriously. There's always going to be something more urgent than writing another page in a book you need to finish four months from now. To get any writing done, you have to put it first. Human nature being what it is, you'll always find some way to pull your ass out of the fire before you hit your deadline for the other stuff.

Oh, and it's a noob tip, but make sure you're comfortable with your computer. A couple of years back I got a laptop with big, fat keys, and no numberpad cluttering things up. I'm a fast typist anyway but, sweet mother of Moses, my fingers are like mist, now.

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