Back in 2012, the author Jonathan Green had the fantastic idea of writing a book about Fighting Fantasy – the 1980s literary phenomenon that captivated millions of young readers, introducing them to a world of magic, monsters and adventure, where THEY were the hero of the story.
The enduring popularity of Fighting Fantasy meant that Jonathan’s book – You Are the Hero – easily passed its Kickstarter target. Eighteen months later and the end result is a simply glorious book that is the definitive history of these iconic gamebooks and the writers, artists and editors that played crucial roles in their huge success.
A direct offshoot of this project – and another great idea of Jonathan’s – was to launch the book with a one-day convention celebrating Fighting Fantasy. And so Fighting Fantasy Fest was born.
Being a huge fan of Fighting Fantasy (and appreciative of the massive impact it’s had on my life) there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity to meet fellow fans, marvel at some of the memorabilia, and – most excitingly of all – meet Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone: the two men who started it all back in the early 1980s.
So, hefting a bag of books that I hoped to have signed, and channelling my inner thirteen-year-old, I made the trip across London to the Hilton Hotel in Ealing where the day was due to unfold. Paul – intrigued and amused in equal measure by my fanboy giddiness – came along for the ride.
We arrived at the venue and registered just in time for the first major panel of the day – a talk by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone on the origins of Fighting Fantasy. Jackson and Livingstone – both naturals in front of a microphone – spun an absorbing tale that covered the entire history of the series, from its humble origin with the publication of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, to its rapid evolution to a 60+ book series with 17 million sales worldwide. They were accompanied by editors Geraldine Cooke and Philippa Dickinson, who offered fascinating insight from the publishing side of the fence. It was an absorbing tale packed with witty anecdotes and amusing photos, and the entire audience was enraptured. The talk ran over by thirty-five minutes. No one cared – I think we could all have sat there all day.
After the panel, we had a good look at the assorted memorabilia on display – everything from first editions to hand-drawn plotting maps to original cover illustrations. One of the most impressive items was a copy of White Dwarf #1 (as if creating Fighting Fantasy wasn’t a big enough achievement, Jackson and Livingstone also founded Games Workshop).
Pleasingly, a lot of the artists who contributed covers and illustrations to the series were present, and it was cool to meet the likes of Chris Achilleos and Russ Nicholson, and have them sign my copy of You Are the Hero. For me – and I’m sure for many others – the brilliant artwork these guys provided was just as crucial to my enjoyment of the books as the stories themselves, so it was great to meet some of the talented folk who made these books so vivid and memorable.
After a very pleasant chat (as always) with Dave Bradley of SFX magazine fame (who is also a huge FF fan) we made our way to what, for me, was the main event of the day: the signing. I mentioned before that Fighting Fantasy books were a huge part of my childhood, but I can’t emphasise their impact on my life enough – these books introduced me to fantasy, a genre I’ve loved ever since. Without these books, I may never have ended up with the passion – and the career – I have today. Being able to meet Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson (not to mention the lovely Geraldine Cooke), and being able to tell – and thank – them for their positive effect on my life, was a truly gratifying moment and one I’ll always be thankful for. Naturally they were all lovely people, which just made it even more satisfying. I made the journey home feeling tired but very, very happy.
Fighting Fantasy Fest, you were an absolute blast. Huge thanks to Jonathan Green for organising such a brilliant day.