Hi Felicity, thanks for being on Games vs Play. Congratulations on your debut novel, Heart of Brass, which forms the first book in your alternative history series The Antipodean Queen. It’s a real metal-bodice ripping yarn (that reference will make sense to people who have read the book), and I’m looking forward to the second book coming out!
Games vs Play: Included with Heart of Brass is your award-winning interactive novel After the Flag Fell, which tells the story of the Eureka Stockade in the style of a Choose Your Own Adventure story. How did you come to write this interactive historical novel?
Felicity Banks: I discovered interactive fiction in a big way just last year (although of course I’d enjoyed the Choose Your Own Adventure paper novels back in the day). The Windhammer Prize is a really excellent Australian-run contest, so I wrote After the Flag Fell specifically for it.
GvP: After the Flag Fell shares the same universe as Heart of Brass, an alternative 19th century where steampunk technology and a metallurgical magic reign supreme. Can you tell us about this setting, and where the inspiration for it came from?
FB: I was toying with the idea of writing steampunk set in Australia, but was daunted by the idea of researching real-life history. When one of my friends said the phrase “steampunk in the land of drought” something clicked in my mind and I knew it was too cool not to write. Later on I realised I loved magic too much to leave it out, and spent time thinking about a magic system that truly fit into the steampunk aesthetic.
GvP: So you have three completely different stories all set in the same magical steampunk universe? Which one comes first?
FB: Actually there are five stories so far, and I’ve amused myself by writing every single one in a completely different format. Chronologically, the interactive subscription story Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten is first (1836-7 Europe), followed by the novel Heart of Brass (1854 Australia). Either can be read first, or independently. After that, the interactive story After the Flag Fell begins in 1854 Australia (and is included in both print and digital formats of the novel), followed by the interactive Twine story Stuff and Nonsense (which also exists as a scripted live-action role-playing game) set in 1860 Australia, then the interactive novel Attack of the Clockwork Army a few years after that. Those three can all stand alone, but they contain minor spoilers if you read them out of order. All of my interactive fiction is listed here, with links, at the Interactive Fiction Database.
GvP: How different is it writing an interactive novel compared to a traditional novel?
FB: It depends on the kind of interactive fiction. I’m definitely on the most book-ish end, in which stories all head towards the same climax, but with different experiences, relationships, personality traits, and skills for the main character. I do get tangled up in the different storylines constantly, but most game-making engines have ways to keep track of plot items and relationships and so on. That helps a lot. Interactive novels also require more editors because they’ll all experience a different story.
GvP: So, how exactly did you start your career in writing?
FB: I was never not a writer. I attempted a novel at seven years of age, and ultimately wrote more than a dozen novels before the first was published! I’ve tried to stop many times, but it’s an addiction.
GvP: What are your main influences in your writing?
FB: I adore novel writers like Garth Nix, Gail Carriger, Sandy Fussell, Pamela Freeman, Scott Westerfeld—all writers who have marvellous fantasy worlds combined with compelling characters and exciting stories. I admire the game-writers Brendan Patrick Hennessy, Eric Moser, Kevin Gold, Emily Short, and Brian Rushton. And my Tin Man Games co-writers, Alyce Potter and KG Tan.
GvP: The heyday of interactive novels – known to fans as “gamebooks” – was back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Not so many gamebooks are published nowadays. Why do you think this is the case?
FB: My own theory is that gamebooks were SO popular (due to excellent writing) that they spawned a lot of low-quality imitations that gave the entire genre a bad name [we came to a similar conclusion here at Games vs Play, as argued in our article “A Brief History of Gamebooks“]. The up side of interactive fiction’s fall is that it’s now on the rise in a big way, and in a new format: phone apps. Although my novel has higher prestige value (especially with non-gaming relatives) than my interactive fiction, my interactive fiction pays considerably more for the simple reason that more people are reading it. I’m stunned and delighted and how many readers I have.
GvP: You also write interactive adventures for mobile platforms with Tin Man Games. How did this come about?
FB: This is a classic story of being in the right place at the right time. . . after about a decade and a half of trying to put myself in as many “right places”, professionally speaking, as possible. In 2015 I cold-emailed a handful of gaming companies that I liked, including Tin Man Games, asking for writing and/or editing work. Those that replied were polite but very booked up. One of them actually had a position available, and I begged them so hard they eventually told me (politely but firmly) to stop emailing. (Don’t do that…) I said in my email to TMG that I’d enter the Windhammer Prize, which I then won. That meant TMG had the publication rights, so after some weeks passed without contact I emailed them to query what was happening. They said that they didn’t intend to digitally publish the Windhammer games at the moment, and I shrugged and went back to working on my other stories, perfectly content with my $300 prize money. A few hours later I received a phone call. Neil (aka the Tin Man) and KG had just had a meeting and decided they needed to hire another writer for Choices: And The Sun Went Out. We chatted for a while, skyped the next day, and then I was plunged into a story that was already 100,000 words strong with several intersecting strands and an engine I’d never used before. Many panic attacks later, the story is over 500,000 words and is scheduled to reach its conclusion just before Christmas. In the meantime, Choices: And The Sun Went Out won a Film Victoria grant and I pitched an outline for Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten (a prequel of sorts to Heart of Brass but set in Europe so there are no spoilers in either direction). I’m still writing that.
GvP: Can you tell us a bit about some of the stories you’ve written with Tin Man Games?
FB: Choices: And The Sun Went Out is the name of both the first story and the entire app. The app has two unique qualities: First, it’s a subscription story, with new content each week for up to sixty weeks. Second, each story has one or more characters who travel with the protagonist, and a player with an iwatch can choose to have those characters speak to them through their iwatch if they wish. Choices: And The Sun Went Out is a near-future science fiction story about the sun going out. . . then coming back, and then going out again. The protagonist and their AI companion, Moti, need to figure out why the sun is going out and how to fix it. At the same time, top scientists around the world are being murdered, cults are springing up, and it’s not looking good for Planet Earth. Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten is fantastical steampunk set in 1836-7 Europe. Queen Victoria is a teenage princess; magical metals have recently been discovered; and the king has said that those born with soul-eating talent must administer magical last rites to the dead. But there is a new plague sweeping across all of Europe, and the protagonist’s unique powers are essential in saving the world of the living from the world of the dead.
GvP: What projects will you be working on next?
FB: I love working for Tin Man Games, and I’ll definitely continue working with them. I also need to write the next novel in the Antipodean Queen series. And I have at least one secret project in the works, too.
GvP: And finally, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
FB: Mostly. . . don’t! I’m a hypocrite, I know. But new writers need to be aware that even successful writers earn very little, and it’s rarely reliable from week to week, let alone from year to year. My parents always encouraged me to write while also doing paid work. I’m very grateful for that. Even writers need to eat.
Choices: And The Sun Went Out (including Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten) is available on Android and itunes. Heart of Brass is available here as well as Amazon, various Australian bookstores (if they’re out of stock they can order it in for you), and on all the usual online retailers. The publisher will post copies anywhere in the world. You can also read Felicity’s blog here.
Games vs Play would like to thank Felicity Banks for permission to use images appearing in this post. To find out more about the latest reviews, stories and other cool things in the world of games, like us on Facebook. And remember – if you’re game, we’ll play!