You Are The Hero! An interview With Jonathan Green

Jonathan Green - Author
With Fighting Fantasy Fest just around the corner (Tickets for the fest are available HERE) and You Are The Hero! gnawing at its heels, I thought now would be an appropriate time to get to know the man who has brought both of these exciting projects to life. Jonathan Green is a familiar name to many of our readers having written broadly in the realms of fantasy and science fiction. He has written SEVEN Fighting Fantasy game books as well as an impressive number of novels and short stories set in the grim 40K and Warhammer backgrounds for Black Library. Jonathans highly regarded Steampunk series, Pax Britannia, continues to draw a rabid fan base and there’s even some Cthulhu short stories on the way, right on!
Big thanks to Jon for taking the time out to answer my questions and everyone look out for You Are The Hero! in the very near future.

The Fighting Fantasy series is close to the hearts of many of our readers both as a launch pad into gaming/fantasy and warm feelings of nostalgia. What was your original motivation to write and then fund You Are The Hero? Documenting valuable history or more of a love letter to Steve and Ian’s glorious creation?

It began a couple of years before Fighting Fantasy’s 30th anniversary in 2012. I badgered Icon Books (current publishers of the FF series) about producing something like Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! epic – a trilogy of adventures to mark three decades of FF. When this idea was rejected, I then suggested producing a ‘coffee table’ style fully illustrated history instead, but such a project was deemed to be too costly.

Never one to let a good idea die, I approached SFX magazine and persuaded them to publish a history of Fighting Fantasy. What was originally commissioned as a piece 3,000 words long became 7,000 words, and in the process of writing it I realised that I had still only just scratched the surface. Even just in researching the article, and conducting initial interviews with Ian and Steve, I realised there was so much about the series that I didn’t know, that I wanted to dig deeper.

So I began planning a history of FF ebook, one that I would self-publish, expecting it to be about 30,000 words long. At Games Day 2012 I got talking to Christian Dunn (Black Library editor at the time, lifelong FF fan, and champion of Kickstarter) who suggested I use Kickstarter to find a market for the book and fund it. Kickstarter launched in the UK on Halloween that year and I launched my project at the beginning of December.

Thanks to the generous support of the fans, YOU ARE THE HERO has become a large format A4 hardback, full of original full colour artwork from the series, wrapped up inside a fantastic, newly commissioned cover by ace artist (and sometime collaborator) Martin McKenna. The best way to describe YOU ARE THE HERO is as a celebration of Fighting Fantasy. It is a carefully researched history, but is also a history written by a fan and so it shows FF in a positive light throughout (although that’s not to say there aren’t a few potentially controversial bits I there).
During your research I imagine you’ve had access to the Jackson & Livingstone vaults, any fanboy moments?

Loads! Being allowed to use never before published photographs from 1982 in the book, seeing Iain McCaig’s original watercolour paintings for Casket of Souls, seeing Steve’s original handwritten notes for the SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK rules set, as well as Ian’s handwritten drafts of adventures such as City of Thieves and flowchart maps for legendary gamebooks like Temple of Terror… Some of these things are going to be displayed at the FF Exhibition that forms part of Fighting Fantasy Fest, so other fans can enjoy them too.

I’m a firm believer in the magic of FF, those books are special and appealed to a certain type of youthful mind and that they opened doors to creativity and imagination. What doors did those books open for you?

If it wasn’t for Fighting Fantasy I wouldn’t be a published author today. The first books I seriously tried to write as a teenager were Fighting Fantasy adventures. The first book I had published was a Fighting Fantasy adventure (Spellbreaker). If it wasn’t for this I wouldn’t have got to know Marc Gascoigne (then consultant editor on the FF line for Puffin Books, now publisher of Angry Robot Books), and if it wasn’t for that connection I wouldn’t have ended up writing colour text for Games Workshop products. If I hadn’t been doing that, I wouldn’t have been involved in some of the initial discussions that led to the creation of the company’s Black Library publishing wing. It was Black Library that published both my first short stories and novels which meant that I then ended up being invited to write for Abaddon Books and creating the Pax Britannia steampunk series. And it was this that led to me making contact with Snowbooks, who are publishing YOU ARE THE HERO. Fighting Fantasy has only ever opened doors for me, both professionally and socially. And how I’ve come full circle, having just written the history of FF gamebooks!
You’ve written three FF gamebooks yourself. How did you get involved in writing for the Fighting Fantasy universe?

I’ve actually written seven. (Oooof! – N) The first FF adventure, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, came out when I was ten years old. I imagine I fitted their target demographic perfectly – middle class, literate, only child, geek… My enduring love of FF was why gamebooks were the first things I seriously tried to get published. It took two years, two completely different ideas, and at least four re-drafts before I was finally commissioned in 1992 at the age of 20. Having written one, it became much easier to get other books commissioned. The rest, as they say, is history. Interestingly, I’m still the newest writer for the series, despite Spellbreaker being 21 this year!1untitled

Of particular interest to readers of our blog is the work that you did for Black Library: Dust In the Wind amongst others. I’m always curious about authors (much like comic book writers) who sort of dip in on these pre-existing worlds that have masses of history and lore…did you already have an interest in that world as a player/enthusiast or was it simply a good gig that came your way?

The latter. I was aware of Games Workshop before I started working for them, but only just. I remember seeing the original boxed set of Warhammer in a hobby shop in Bath when it first came out, with a suitably awesome piece of John Blanche art on the front, but I never played the game. Dungeons & Dragons was what my friends and I played. It was my connection with Marc Gascoigne that led to me meeting Jervis Johnson and it was him who brought me on board. I had to do a lot of homework in those early days, but I’m pretty well-versed in the lore of both Warhammer and 40K now.
Of the original FF books, which is your favourite and why?

Deathtrap Dungeon – it’s just the most perfect explanation for a dungeon crawl that features a host of apex predators and weird cultures existing side-by-side, alongside all manner of crazy – and lethal – traps. And it’s a great alliterative title. Of course, the fact that the book was illustrated by Iain McCaig doesn’t hurt either.

What can we expect from the Fest? Any aspect in particular you are excited about?

To be honest, I’m excited about the same things that the attending fans are getting excited about – meeting my heroes. As well as our Guests of Honour – Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone – there are six FF artists coming, of whom I know one (Tony Hough, having worked with him a number of times) and have met another (John Blanche), but the rest I haven’t met yet and they were as much my heroes as I was growing up as Steve and Ian were.

We also have the aforementioned Exhibition of rare FF memorabilia and never-before-seen items from the Warlocks’ vaults, and the first ever FF auction. There will be traders, gaming sessions, fantasy-themed photographic portraits, a costume competition, Fighting Fantasy miniatures, the first look at the new The Warlock of Firetop Mountain app, and the official launch of YOU ARE THE HERO – A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. Every attendee will receive a goodie bag (which includes an exclusive Zagor the Warlock miniature) and will also have their name put into a hat to win the chance to appear in a forthcoming Tin Man Games FF app. Oh, and you can go for a drink at the Black Lobster Tavern too!

With You Are the Hero’s journey almost reaching paragraph 400, what’s next for you?

A long lie down in a darkened room somewhere… But seriously, I’ve got a host of projects on the planner. I’m editing an anthology of pulp shark stories for Snowbooks that’s coming out in May 2015, called Sharkpunk, there’s a new novel to write, and I’m working on the Tin Man Games adaptation of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

Keep up to date with Jon’s various writing projects HERE
And you can follow Jonathan on twitter: @jonathangreen


1 thought on “You Are The Hero! An interview With Jonathan Green

  1. Awesome interview lads. Answers several questions I’d have asked Jonathan. Doesn’t seem so long ago everyone was online with their dial up modems trying to see if Bloodbones was a fact or myth. Never dreamed I’d get chance to meet the creators of this phenomenal series but thanks to his ceaseless work over the past two years, (and I know some things have been harder than a first stab at Creature Of Havoc to achieve) I finally will. The 7th of September will be the most amazing day ever! 🙂

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