Award winning author Jamie Thomson is the author of numerous books, ranging from Choose your own adventure style adventure books to his newest series, revolving around a Dark Lord trapped in the form of a ten year old boy. Jamie was kind enough to answer a few questions about him and his work.
Paul Weimer: Let’s start off with the deceptively simple opening: Who is Jamie Thomson?
Jamie Thomson: Jamie Thomson is the Greatest Living Writer to Ever Walk the Earth. Well, alright, perhaps not the entire earth. My village anyway. Actually, that’s not quite true. Oh alright, Jamie Thomson is the Greatest Living Writer in this room. At the moment. As long as no-one else walks in. He has also been in writing and computer games and fantasy and SF and all that stuff for years, and years and years.
JT: Game books/choose your own are different. They are complex webs of choice and path, but that isn’t really the hard bit. The hard bit is having to come up with so many different plot events. A normal, traditional narrative-based novel may be based around a single plot device or event, or a handful of ideas with a twist or two, written up into tens of thousands of words. A game book has to have a hundred of these ‘encounters’ or events and twists, each done in a few paragraphs, it is true, but nevertheless it requires a lot of ‘ideas’. And the best game books are those that don’t just substitute ‘and here’s a monster, roll some dice to fight it’ for a good idea or narrative event.
PW: Dark Lord: The Early Years is your newest book, the first book in your series about an evil overlord seemingly trapped in the form of a 10 year-old boy. What was the inspiration for the character?
JT: The inspiration was my own fall to this wretched planet you humans call earth, all those years ago…
Actually, it was more like 30 years of creating 2 dimensional Dark Lord archetypes in choose your own adventure game books, computer games and board games to be knocked down by the reader/player. Me and my business/creative partner Dave Morris often used to speculate about the real back story and motivation for a ‘Dark Lord’ and out of that came the logical development of a story from the Dark Lord’s point of view. And if you’re going to write a book from the point of view of a Dark Lord, it can’t really be done straight – your hero is effectively Hitler and how can you make him sympathetic or likeable? One way to get round that is to throw a big dollop of comedy in there and a redemptive story arc to give him the sympathy required. Things just naturally came on from there really.
PW: How does Dark Lord: The Early Years tie into the other books in this universe? Where should readers begin reading in your world?
JT: The Early Years is the first in a series and that’s definitely the place to start. It doesn’t tie into any other worlds I’ve created in the past, it’s entirely original in that sense, though of course it does tie into various fantasy archetypes that are necessary if you’re going lampoon it. I say lampoon – it does gently mock the genre, but in a loving way, and it’s also a great example of the genre in it’s own right. Well, I hope it is, anyway!
There’s a second book out in the UK, and a third in the pipeline, so the world is being developed all the time.
PW: What are the challenges in writing for a middle school audience?
JT: In some ways, you write just as if you were writing for adults, but you can’t have any sex, and the violence must be toned down. Not toned down that much, mind! You can have plenty of death and that, just as long as it is not graphic or too upsetting.
The real challenge is the language. And I don’t mean advanced words. I firmly believe that new words within the context of a great story are an excellent way for kids to learn. If they are engaged enough, they will look up that word, and learn it. If the story doesn’t grab them, then they won’t. But nevertheless, you can’t have long, complex sentences or concepts that are hard to grasp. So you have to portray what are still quite sophisticated emotional plot lines and narrative events, but in snappy, easy to digest, efficient prose. I find short sentences that convey what you’re trying to say as easily as possible is the way to go, but it is quite hard to get into that writing mode.
PW: So, what’s next for you?
JT: My Orcish legions will overrun England, and then all of the Europe!. With the Spawning Vats in place, a new horde of cross-bred Orcs and humans will sweep across the Atlantic and invade the US, and then…. No, hold on, I’m getting carried away.
Actually, the British version, Dark Lord: The Teenage Years has just won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2012 over here – a prestigious children’s book award. This is certainly going to open up some doors for me and my Dark Master, Dirk, so we’re very hopeful about the future. There’s book 2 to come out in the States (Dark Lord: A Fiend in Need) and I’ll be starting the third in the series very soon.
I’ve also just finished the first in an all new series of books for kids which I am very excited about as well.
Also, we are working on getting our back catalogue of old game book titles out on new digital platforms – Kindle, Android, Apple and so on. These modern devices suit game books rather well. We’re not expecting the kind of crazy sales we got back in the day, but still, we’re hoping for some new readers, not just ‘nostalgia sales’ as it were!
PW: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?