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Jamie Fry Interview
Welcome to Jamie Fry – ‘The Warlock’ – the guy in charge over at the official Fighting Fantasy website. He’s a big figure in the Fighting Fantasy scene and is known as something of an aficionado when it comes to the classic gamebooks.
Jonathan Hicks Perhaps you’d like to introduce yourself?
Jamie Fry: Greetings, my name is Jamie Fry and I am the webmaster (or Warlock) at www.fightingfantasy.com and all associated official social media. Some seasoned readers may know my other site that is www.fightingfantasycollector.co.uk. I’m a family man with 3 kids and live in Poole. I have a day job at the Local Authority.
JH: How and when did you first come across Fighting Fantasy?
JF: My most vivid memory is seeing the green spines in my local newsagent and seeing the Warlock magazine on the shelf. This would have been when I had my paper round in the mid-eighties. I recall buying House of Hell and Talisman of Death first with the pittance I was paid but it was well worth it. I vaguely remember having contact with them at school as well but don’t remember the green spines so well then and therefore must have had access to the originals not realising their later significance at the time. I was never lucky enough to have them bought for me as some did from school book clubs but I soon discovered the rest in the local bookshop and I would borrow very dog-eared copies from the local library to slake my thirst (ending up having to create my own adventure sheets because there were always used, nowadays I would not dream of marking the adventure sheet). In my late teens I got distracted by girls, beer and work so lost sight of the books for many years until I re-discovered them again in the early nineties when the last few came out. My wife bought me the 10th Anniversary Yearbook as a present which re-kindled my interest but by then a lot of my earlier copies had long disappeared when I moved out of my childhood home. Some fans still tell stories that their cherished book collection has been uncovered by parents when clearing out the loft trying to get rid of the last traces of their off-spring.
JH: You’re known as something of a collector of Fighting Fantasy and the checklists and price guides are required reading for FF enthusiasts. Tell us more about the collection and how it came about.
JF: Back when my renewed interest in the books started again back in the mid-nineties I did not realise it was to end very quickly. Books were still available in the shops so I would pick up the odd title here and there but never really kept hold of them. At this point my first child was born (1997) and FF pretty much took a back seat again. However, in 2002 I discovered that Icon books under the Wizard imprint were re-releasing the books once more with new covers and in a different order. I then set out to buy every book as they were released. It is at this point that my love for the books was re-kindled. In search of a checklist of the books and every related product I would discover no one site could cater for such a need so I set about collating all this information and sometime around 2004 I tracked down Ian and Steve to check the idea out with them and with their blessing I set about putting together www.fightingfantasycollector.co.uk which is not maintained these days due to my commitments to the official site and such like but it stills acts as an on-line pictorial museum of all the books and collectables. Today, the site content has manifested itself into my guide which I make available as a pdf or through the Issuu platform and update it on an annual basis. For the record my earliest guide more or less reflected everything I owned at the time but now it is far bigger than I had ever imagined and contains references to many items I can only dream of seeing let alone owning. One of the best sights was recently at the Fighting Fantasy Fest where I witnessed people walking around with pages from my guide using the checklist as intended to record what they had and what they still needed. It was especially touching to receive a request from a young girl whom handed me her list to see what i had she could buy, I only had an original Starship Traveller left but she still wanted it!.
JH: What’s the rarest thing you have in the collection?
JF: It has to be the original Puffin shop display. I bought it off a store called They Walk Among Us back in 2005. According to the ebay listing and the picture that accompanied it, it belonged to and was from the office of Steve Jackson himself. I took it with me to the Fighting Fantasy Fest a few weeks back and I could have sold it many times over for many times more than I paid for it. I currently value it at £40, although on reflection it could be worth more based on the demand and the fact it is the only one known in existence. In fact if I left it for too long on its own I couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t have gone missing that day. I know one fellow collector had his eye on it but it isn’t leaving my collection anytime soon. I also have the original colour pen and ink map of Allansia, the one from inside The Trolltooth Wars that Leo Hartas tells me is the only one he drew and sent off to Penguin. He recalls you were very lucky to receive it back from the publishers in those days. Others exist, but another rare favourite is the FF logo tombstone bookend by Clarecraft.
JH: You took over the official Fighting Fantasy website a few years ago. How did that feel, to get your hands on the go-to FF website?
JF: Back in 2009 is when I first met Steve at Gamesfest and got talking about my guide, my website and a few other ideas I had. it was around that time Ian made contact with me (!) to ask if I would sell his surplus books for him, of course I would, what a stupid question. I was squealing like an excited teenager at a Vamps concert when I heard from him. A few visits to his home later I came away not only having spent a considerable time with him (and Steve) on several occasions, I saw things in his personal collection very few will have the privilege of seeing with their own eyes but I walked away with several hundred books signed by them both. This lasted about a year and on one such visit they popped the question. Again, who was I to say no. On the way home that day, if twerking was invented then, that was what I did all the way back! The site had gone dormant since its upgrade a few years earlier and this was it turned out to be due to the then resident Warlock, Dave Holt, unable to spend the time on the site due to personal reasons. They both felt that since I had already got a fan website with followers and was well known for my guide they felt I was best placed to take the role on. It was a slow start as I had a lot to do in the background. Looking back it has been harder than I first imagined but in my eagerness and passion I persevere.
JH: What are your day-to-day duties for Fighting Fantasy?
JF: I do not have daily tasks as such but as I look after all the social media feeds I will check them every day and regularly tweet or put a post on Facebook to keep the fans informed. I try to put news on the official website every week and make tweaks here and there as required. I also monitor the e-mail traffic as well. Through that we get a lot of licensing enquiries, amateur adventures and artwork for the website, lots of queries about the books and collectors wanting to buy books in order to complete their collections. It may come as a surprise but I have to find out what is new and upcoming the hard way, it is rare to get the heads up if something has changed or new is coming out or happening. I often find myself trawling around for news and hope I have found it in time to post it to the website as soon as possible. So, if you see stuff before it is on the official site that is why.
JH: What’s your favourite gamebook?
JF: Those that have read anything I have written or said in the past may think I keep changing my mind but I can be forgiven if that is the case because of the sheer number of titles available and reading through different ones the favourite may change. However, having said that, my ultimate favourite will always be House of Hell, more recently I re-played Forest of Doom and loved it. I keep coming back to Deathtrap Dungeon and Trial Champions as well. I have fond memories of Temple of Terror and strangely, Beneath Nightmare Castle which others take a dislike to. Oh and The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, that is the epitome.
JH: It’s been a while since we’ve seen any reprints of or new Fighting Fantasy books. Can you give us an idea of what’s next for FF?
JF: The last I heard neither Ian nor Steve have any known plans to write a new title other than for the 40th Anniversary in 2022 (both will be in their seventies by then). That is still 8 years away to wait and anyone thus far trying to fill the gap with new titles have been turned down, that could change of course (fingers crossed). Equally, whilst we have seen an upsurge in interest for the gamebook genre, this particular brands publisher has little appetite to pursue re-prints let alone new titles. Apps are going to keep coming out and miniatures of different types will be released. It is rumoured that a boardgame might materialise as may a card game. Plans for merchandise such as t-shirts are in discussion as well. We may even see a movie of some kind as well. Who knows really, I still get excited about what is around the corner and telling the world about it.