April A to Z – J is for Jotun – an interviw with Wayne Densley

Hello all! Today, we have Wayne Densley, mastermind behind the Chromicles of Arborell series  and creator of the Windhammer competition which is the source of many awesome gamebooks that are available for free! Wayne has created a world to almost Tolkienesque levels and he is only part way through it. So the interview is a big treat…

For those of us who don’t know, who are you?
I am Wayne Densley, author of the Chronicles of Arborell gamebook series and organiser of the annual Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction.

You have created the Chronicles of Arborell gamebook series. Can you tell us of the rich world of Arborell?The Chronicles of Arborell is a fantasy gamebook series designed around a core set of gamebooks but expanded through supplementary series of companion gamebooks, novellas, novels, wargames, fantasy languages, journals and microgamebooks. The world within which the series is set is known to its human settlers as Arborell and it is a world in a constant state of conflict. If the nations of Men are not at war amongst themselves then their fight lies with the Oera’dim, the indigenous populations that once held dominion over the world. The Oera’dim, or Hordim as they are known to men, have, through a series of devastating wars, been relegated to the cold wastelands of the north. I think that what makes the world of Arborell so interesting is how the long history of the world has shaped both the Oera’dim and nations of Men. Both have overcome great adversity and have much in common, but because of their natures are constantly in conflict. Regardless, it is the common ground that will save them both and as the series develops will see blood enemies come together as allies against foes far more dangerous than themselves.

You are continuing your work on Vaeyawch, which is a prequel to the gamebook series. How is that going? How does it fit into the overall world?Vaeyawch is one of the prequel series of gamebooks and will be completed this year. It is set early in the history of human settlement of Arborell, before first contact with the Oera’dim and is very much a tale about how the prejudices of the Old World find their way into the New. In this adventure the last of the Gaels, Shalengael, has gone missing and it is your task to find out what has happened to him. The problem is that you are not the only one looking for him.

You have a very organised flowchart detailing the books you have released, where they stand in the timeline and whether they are gamebooks or novels. Which books have you planned next?Vaeyawch is the next major title to be released and that will be followed by the next prequel gamebook, The Halls of Elanna. I will also be looking at completing a number of new advanced Legends of the Deep Guild microgamebooks for patrons of the Chronicles, and will be continuing to convert all of the current fifty free titles over to commercial products. If I get the time this year I will also be completing the fourth Windhammer companion novella, The Shoulders of Emur.

Earth and Stone and the Jotun War, the two big gamebooks to accompany Windhammer are still not out. When will we see them?I have decided to release all the new titles from the Chronicles in their chronological order. This means that my priority at the moment has to be the prequel gamebooks and the Wildlands gamebooks and companion novellas associated with Windhammer. When these are completed I will be releasing Earth and Stone. At this time 800 sections of Earth and Stone have been completed but the remainder of the Windhammer books have to be finished before E&S can take its place. The Jotun War will be released once all the supplementary books to E&S have been completed.

How did you come up with the world of Arborell?The world evolved over the two decades that I have been writing it, the original idea to create a world with a depth of culture that would immerse a reader completely and give them an epic story in the process. It is the reason why the Chronicles has spread across so many different formats, each new title another piece of a cultural tapestry that defines who the Men of this world are, and the surprising complexity of the Oera’dim they face. It is a great job to have and something that provides no end of challenges to complete.

What was your favourite bit of world building?The challenge of making a world that is consistent and logical, but surprising nonetheless. If there is any specific part of the world building process I have found most satisfying is would be how the Oera’dim themselves have evolved, and how their mythologies have shaped who they are. The development of the language of Haer’al has also provided huge opportunity to weave a consistent world together and provides ongoing inspiration for character and place names that give Arborell its own distinctive strength and feel.

Do you have any hints for writing a gamebook?I have found most writers develop very specific and individual processes for writing their gamebooks. For myself I like to plan everything in detail first, determining the central storyline then fleshing it out with valid and interesting alternative pathways. I tend to map out the whole story next, establishing all the physical locations of the adventure, and making sure that each aspect of its progress fits to a practical timeline. Once that is done I have found it valuable to write out the entire story with all its alternatives and then identify those parts of the different branches that can connect together. The writing process invariably expands the narrative, adding additional connections and new pathways until finally all is done. For me I tend to rewrite everything at least a few times and then spend a fair bit of time playing the book through and testing the balance and logic of any encounters or events that are found along the way. It can be a very large and complicated task to complete but always worth it in the end.

How about creating a world and a very long narrative?Creating a world is really all about its foundations. To have a world with a consistent tone you have to have a clear idea about how it got there and what its underlying history is. I wrote the creation myth of the Oera’dim, the Sorrows of Gedhru and Aume, to crystallise how the world had been created and with that as a basis wrote the ongoing back story and mythologies of the Oera’dim. The mythologies were written to define the nature of the Oera’dim and the Song of the Dromannion was written to explain the reasons for human settlement of Arborell. I believe that if you get the foundations right it is very easy to then develop a world that feels consistent and believable. In a way it grows upon itself, the places and peoples developing to fit neatly into those historical foundations.
Long narratives are a process all on their own. The Chronicles is planned to encompass eighty different titles but that number will change as I find new things to include and better ways of presenting the myriad little stories that are a part of the continuing history of the world. The one thing that is important in developing long narratives is to encapsulate each individual story so that it is important in itself. Readers won’t plough through successive titles unless there is a progress to the story that compels them to the next, and that is the challenge of really large series. The Chronicles is made up of ten different sub-series, each an important part to the overall progress of the story. For me the challenge lies in making each individual title within those ten sub-series an interesting and compelling story on its own.

You are also creating a language primer. How do you go about that?In much the same way as you develop a world. Find the right foundations, give the language itself a history of its own and everything else falls into place quite well. Haer’al is currently being revised and will have an expanded 3200 word list, plus grammar and pronunciation guides and will have the original text of the Sorrows of Gehdru and Aume provided in its original untranslated form. I believe it is the most comprehensive fantasy language ever produced and I am very proud of it. I will also in the coming years develop two further languages, the first a Battle Code of the Oera’dim, the second a dialect known as Broeg, spoken by the Ah’marg of the Sanhar Wastes and one that will prove important to the latter stories of the chronicles.

How about the Windhammer competition, which regularly gets about 15 entries? How did you feel last year went?Last year’s comp went very well. The entries were of a high standard and the range of gamebooks very much met the competition criteria for originality and breadth of genre. I think this year’s Windhammer Prize will be just as much fun as the last. I am very much looking forward to it.

Windhammer is going ahead in 2016. Do you have any hints for potential entrants?Read the guidelines carefully and think hard about the subject matter for your entry. It has been my experience that the best performing entries are the ones that set themselves apart from the main body of entries. A novel idea and a well written narrative do very well.

You have recently started using Patreon. Do you have any tips for using it?No tips as of yet but definitely a few observations. I think Patreon is a great idea and should help a lot of musicians, bloggers and Youtubers make a living whilst providing interesting content to their subscribers. It is however, a numbers game like everything else on the internet. If you come to Patreon with a well established web presence, especially on social media, you can’t help but do well. I think that many Patreon authors don’t succeed as well as they might hope because you need literally hundreds of thousands of people who are already aware of your work before you see any significant number of committed patrons.
This does not mean however, that Patreon is not a great way to engage with readers, distribute original and exclusive content and foster an ongoing interest in your work. With authors it is more a matter of developing a patronage over time rather than seeing immediate success. Any author who wants to do well on Patreon will need a measure of patience.

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