Q & A
With the immediate announcement out of the way it seems only reasonable to introduce myself a little to those who aren’t regular readers of this blog, have found out about this project and are casting a suitably wary but cautiously optimistic eye over the proceedings.
In short – who is this Drew Wagar chap and is he up to the job of writing a full-length book about my beloved game?
I’ll do my best…
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Drew Wagar, I’m 46 this year and by day I work in IT Security; a career heavily influenced at the outset by the 8 bit programming I learnt as a child. I live in rural Kent, not far from Romney Marsh with my wife, two kids, a dog and a cat. Outside of my family and work commitments I write novels. My favourite authors are Anne McCaffrey and Arthur C. Clarke, with Michael Moorcock and H.G. Wells not far behind.
Have you played Lords of Midnight?
I was lucky enough to be given a 16k ZX Spectrum (rubber key model) for Christmas in 1983 and Lords of Midnight came my way in the following year along with the memory upgrade to 48k – I still have the box and the cassette! I was 13 at the time and recall playing it for several weeks before I first figured out a way of beating Doomdark. My solution was to run all of the Lords down to Xajorkith and wait out the assault before moving them all back north. I fondly remember parading my armies on the plains of Kor, taunting the Witch-king before I marched in and took Ushgarak. It took a while, but victory went to the free!
Since then I have now Chris Wild’s wonderful remakes on my Android tablet and laptop, which have allowed me to do a lot of research and familiarise myself with the land of Midnight once more. I’d forgotten quite a lot over the last 30 years, so it was a fascinating experience to go back. I’ve since reread the original novellas too and was quite impressed how well they’ve stood the test of time.
I did play Doomdark’s Revenge, but for some reason it never quite enchanted me in the same way as the original game. The games after that have passed me by unfortunately, as I had left for university by that point and discovered girls and beer.
What have you written already?
My first published novel was actually a contemporary piece of fiction portraying a battle between a scientific world view and a religious one, seen through the eyes of two very different people who find they have a lot in common. It was called Torn.
I’m most well-known for my Elite: Dangerous novel ‘Reclamation’. This was a story set in the universe of ‘Elite’, which I’m sure most of you are familiar with. This was quite a tough assignment in that I wanted to pay homage to the original game of 1984, the sequels and the current incarnation, whilst writing a satisfyingly gripping story. It is, I believe, the most popular of all the official Elite novels. I spent a lot of time working out what the fans would want from an Elite story, and combining that with a story I wanted to tell.
Since then I’ve been working on my own series of SF/Fantasy novels (I really don’t like genre classifications!) called the Shadeward Saga. These are set on a tidally locked world which has been colonised at some distant point in the past, but where the colonists have lost their technology and reverted to a feudal existence. Thus technology seems like magic. The first book ‘Emanation’ is already out, and the second book in the series is due in the autumn, with the manuscript currently with my publisher.
And, if you look closely, there are a few Lords of Midnight references dropped into both my Elite book and my Shadeward Saga… 😉
Are you a full-time writer?
Alas, no. I would love to be, but writing is an appallingly paid profession unless you hit J.K. Rowling levels of recognition. I have a day job that pays the bills. However, because I commute, I have a reasonable amount of time where I can write (about a working day a week) which means I can crank out a reliable five to six thousand words a week. One day I’ll be able to ‘retire’ and take up writing full-time, but until then this is a good compromise.
Money isn’t really the motivation here either, I only want to write the stories I want to read, so am very selective in what projects I take on.
And the Publisher?
Fantastic Books Publishing is a specialist SF and Fantasy publishing house well used to dealing with these types of works and also has experience of game-tie in novels and the fan-bases that surround them. They currently have just under a hundred authors on their books.
They also have an audio subdivision aimed at converting their catalogue into audiobook form. They also run an annual convention dedicated to gaming, SF and fantasy.
What makes you want to write a book for ‘Lords of Midnight’ ?
Nostalgia plays a part of course, but it’s not the biggest motivator. Rather like Elite, Lords of Midnight (perhaps due to the minimalist hardware capabilities of the ZX Spectrum and the genius of Mike Singleton’s game design) had a certain ‘verisimilitude’, something beyond just the game that made you believe in what was happening and care about it.
There remains an essence to the Lords of Midnight that I still can’t quite articulate to my satisfaction, which sets it apart from the more mundane games of the time. It was bold and grand, taking itself seriously in presentation and style. I remember looking up the word ‘invigorated’ in the dictionary to find out what it meant! The language was grown up and sophisticated. Tension was cleverly woven in by the use of third person text “He stands on the plains of Blood…” and by the fear inducing “The bloody sword of battle…” and “Do you want dawn?”
It boils down to there being a richness to the story around the game, which hasn’t yet been done justice to. I had the opportunity to do that to my satisfaction with Elite, I plan to do same with Lords of Midnight.
There’s also that little matter of the book that Beyond Software said they’d publish for the original winner of Lords of Midnight. I remember feeling disappointed when I leant that was never going to happen. Well, now it is!
What kind of novel is it going to be?
There’s going to be a bit of trepidation over this and I understand the concern. ‘Official’ interpretations of classic works, particularly after a long period of time, raise worries over how the original material is going to be treated.
Firstly it won’t be a quick hack and slash copy of <insert generic fantasy book> skimmed with a bit of ice and with the names changed.
What I intend to do is write the story of the Lords of Midnight in a way that would be very recognisable to original players of the game, featuring events and situations that players will have encountered during gameplay.
I also intend to honour the original lore and modify it only in adversity. Chris is acting as the guardian here and, in his words, will keep things ‘reined in’. We have had to make some modifications, but sensitivity to Mike’s original vision and the fans is uppermost in our minds.
How did you ‘get the gig’ ?
As befits our social media age, it was a chance conversation on twitter on the 8th of April! A chap by the name of Tom had just let me know that the Lords of Midnight had been re-written for iOS and Android (somehow I’d missed that).
I hope the fact that I’ve got a proven track record at putting out books, already have a willing publisher, coupled with the existing credentials at having written an official novel for Elite (which traces its origins back to the same halcyon period in the early 1980s) made me a relatively safe bet, though I did write a prologue for the story, to give Chris and the Singleton family a feel for how I would approach the project.
What you foresee as the biggest challenges ahead?
Chris and I have already spent considerable time looking at various problems. I am a ‘planner’ and I work out the plot of any story in detail before I start writing. No ‘seat of the pants’ scribbling for me.
From a writer’s perspective, the biggest issue with Lords of Midnight (and I hope you don’t mind me being a bit brutal here) is that it is a pastiche of Lord of the Rings. Thus the biggest challenge is figuring out a way to write a story which is true to the source material, but can be sufficiently differentiated from what has been written before.
There a lot of characters involved too, and most of them aren’t very distinct or diverse as represented in the game, another Lord… another Fey… ! We didn’t want to muck about with gender like Battlestar Galactica did, but we’ve had a look at what we can do to widen the appeal. We’ve tried to make sure it is in keeping with the spirit of the game, I think people will appreciate what we’ve done.
Also, the background lore isn’t complete, or occasionally contradicts itself, so we’ve had to close some of the gaps in as sympathetic a way as we can. Chris has already alluded to this on his blog – who are the ‘House of the Moon’ for example? Where does Corleth come from? We need to figure this stuff out.
How long will the book be?
I expect it to be around 120-140k words, which is about the same length as “The Return of the King” by Tolkien.
When will the book be out, in what formats?
Our plan has the book available for the 21st of December 2017. That, as I’m sure you are aware, is the Winter Solstice itself, the height of Doomdark’s power! That gives me more than enough time to write the story and for the publisher to fettle it into shape. I have other projects which I am working on in parallel, so need to give myself appropriate leeway.
It will be available as an ebook initially, in different formats via the obvious online outlets (Amazon, Google Play, Apple iStore etc). It will also come out as a paperback via Amazon’s print on demand service. We are going to investigate the costs for a limited run of special edition hardbacks too, if there is sufficient demand for them.
Will there be fish-mines?
You’ll have to wait and see. 😉
Will there be a Doomdark’s Revenge novel?
One thing at a time! We aren’t committing to that at present because we want to see how “The Lords of Midnight” is received. It’s our fond hope that it will generate more awareness for the games, the story and Mike Singleton’s legacy. We’re signed up for a single book at present.
That said, we are building in hooks for a sequel in order to tell the story of the Icemark if the interest is there. We are planning for the possibility that we will have a series of four books collectively called the “Chronicles of Midnight”. It very much depends on how successful the first book is.
Will you keep us informed on progress?
Absolutely. One of the things I found very inspiring when I wrote my Elite novel ‘Reclamation’ was frequent blog updates on progress, highlighting where things were going well and where issues had cropped up. Having encouragement from fans and well-wishers via social media is a huge motivator for the process of writing a book, which does have its very bad days occasionally! At the minimum I update the word count I’ve reached on my website once a week, which will give you an indication of my progress.
You can follow and get updates in a number of ways. You can follow my blog here www.drewwagar.com (I expect to publish something about once a fortnight) and you can sign up to a newsletter that will just give you the edited highlights on roughly a quarterly basis. I’m on twitter – @drewwagar and facebook if that is your thing.
I like to be pretty interactive, so if you have questions, post them up and I’ll do my best to answer them. However, there will be no spoilers!