CROSS BONES 1 – Out Now!

WOOF!

This update is all in the headline. My new series launches in Australia TODAY, so if you’re interested in buying 219 pages of fully-illustrated junior fiction, featuring pirates and ships and icebergs and piranhas and a creepy wolverine and a secret spy and SO MANY JOKES, then you can go and do that RIGHT NOW!

Cross Bones has been a joy to work on from start to finish, and I’m so proud of the book that Chris and I are sending out into the world. And, if you want to hear some crazy stories about how we created this crazy book, a crazy man named Ken Williams asked us a bunch of questions about it for his podcast, Reading With a Chance of Tacos! You can search for it wherever you listen to podcasts, or just click that link to go straight there.

And that’s the post! Go grab yourself a copy of this beautiful, funny book, then come back and tell me what you think. (Hurry! I’ll be waiting.)

YARRRR!

Coming Soon: CROSS BONES!

Arrrrr!

I wrote a new book! Heck, I wrote a new series! It’s coming out soon! You can pre-order it now! There aren’t enough exclamation marks in the world to sum up how exciting this is!

Phew. Okay. Let’s take a breath and tackle this as logically as we can. Let’s answer five questions together, one at a time, so that everyone is up to speed:

1. What’s your new book called?

Great question! My new series is called Cross Bones, and the first book in the series is called A Dog’s Breakfast. Hooray!

2. What’s your new series about?

Great question! Cross Bones is a series about five dodgy, doggy pirates, who also happen to be very best friends: Magnus Thunderump (the captain), Daisy Dangerlick (the first mate), Eduardo Muttonchop (the cook), Spot (the cabin boy), and the mysterious Rover Goodpup (the Spymaster). The sea dogs are setting sail on a new adventure in the hope of un-burying some buried treasure — but first they’ll have to survive all the terrible dangers the ocean can throw at them, like a pirate octopus, and a pirate beaver, and an entire sea filled with nasty, gnashing teeth. (Also, just between you and me, that Rover Goodpup seems a bit suspicious. I wonder if we’ll find out why?)

Don’t be too scared, though — for the most part, Cross Bones is a silly pirate caper, filled with jokes and misadventures. It was heaps of fun to write, and I hope it’ll be heaps of fun to read as well.

3. Who drew the pictures?

Great question! Incredibly, the pictures in this book are drawn by Chris Kennett (@crikeyboy), who is one of the most brilliant kid-lit illustrators working in Australia today. Chris has illustrated every single page of this new series, and through his talent and hard work, every character and scene looks even better than I imagined it. Actually, if I’m completely honest, Chris is almost too good to work with, because now I feel bad about making him draw “100 sea monsters” or “1,000 pirate ships” or whatever crazy thing I think of for the sea dogs to do next. (I’m a bit worried I might make him sprain his wrist.)

But really, look at that cover. How lucky am I to work with an artist who can draw a cover like that? (Oops, that’s an extra question — just ignore that one!)

4. Who is your favourite pirate?

Great question! From real life, I always loved the story of Edward Teach (Blackbeard) swinging into battle with fire and smoke pouring out from under his hat. From movies, I loved the swagger of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. But my favourite, favourite pirates are the heroic trio from the Griffin Pirate Stories, a series of school readers written by Sheila K. McCullagh in the 1970s. Roderick the Red, Gregory the Green, and Ben the Blue are the pirates who made me love pirates, and I have the fondest memories of the adventures they shared together: meeting griffins, finding magic candles, and always hunting for even more rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. It is such a delight to me that now, more than 20 years after I read those books, I get to write my very own pirate story too.

5. This all sounds too good to be true! When can I buy your new book?

Great question! The very first Cross Bones book (A Dog’s Breakfast) launches on July 20, 2022 — but you can pre-order that book right now! Click on this link to head to the Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing website, which has a great big list of retailers who’ll help get you the book as soon as possible. Alternatively, swing past your local bookshop and ask them to order the book for you instead!

Pre-ordering this book is an especially good idea because the first print run will feature the special edition die-cut porthole cover! I have absolutely no idea how many of these covers are going to be printed, but pre-ordering the book is the best way to guarantee you end up with one in your mangy paws. Have you ever tried to look at something while reading the first page of a book but had your line of sight blocked by a pesky solid cover? That won’t be a problem with this bad boy, believe me!

That’s it! That’s all the news! But it turns out there are still some exclamation marks left! Thanks for reading, friend — take some of these remaining marks with you, and have a great day!!!!!

The Giant Key – Out Now!

The end is nigh.

And just like that, it was over.

The Witching Hours is a funny old series. The first five books are mostly episodic — which is to say, their stories are self-contained. You can start reading about Anna and Max at book three or book four and you’ll mostly understand what’s going on. But after five huge adventures, it didn’t feel like The Giant Key could be just another episode. It had to tie back to all those previous stories, and address every mystery I’d ever left unsolved. It had to be gigantic.

It could perhaps be said that I took that last part a bit too literally.

The Giant Key is a big, wild, bombastic book. It has several weird, hallucinatory chapters, as well as the most wicked magics that have ever been seen in the series. I’m also pretty sure it has more characters in it than the other five books combined. To research the dastardly enchantments I read Algernon Blackwood’s story The Wendigo, as well as the wonderfully witchy Malleus Maleficarum. Come to think of it, I might have even re-read Roald Dahl’s The Witches while I was writing book six, but I’m sure you won’t notice any scenes inspired by a novel as famous as that.

Looking back, I’m grateful that I got to spend one last book with Anna and Max, in a fairy tale world that existed long before I was born. The folkloric monsters that I used in The Witching Hours feel like toys that have been handed down across generations, and I’m so thrilled that I got the chance to play with the vampire, and the troll, and the genies, and the mermaids, and the dragon, and the giant. I hope I took good care of them.

Anna and Max are fairly archetypal too, but there are little bits of me in both of them, which is why I’m sad to leave them behind. I’ll always kind of know what they did next, and what other monsters they met, but none of those thoughts will ever be published in book form. Maybe if I get nostalgic enough I’ll write a new short story and post it here on an anniversary date, just for myself and whoever else is reading this blog. Who knows!

Luckily for me, those folkloric monsters aren’t the only things I want to play with in the grand toy box of fiction. Now that Anna and Max have reached their happy (?) ending, there are brand new worlds for me to explore, filled with more of the things I loved reading about when I was a kid — and, if I’m completely honest, the things I still love reading about today. I think it’s going to be quite fun.

But you don’t have to worry about that yet. Unless you devoured the whole thing literally today, there is one last book of The Witching Hours to read. Beware the graveyard on page 18. Remember that on page 41, the library wall might not be as secure as you think. And really, the less said about page 92, the better!

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading, and stay safe. Happy witching!

The Witching Hours in the USA

Helpful tips for far away readers.

Howdy, United States readers! This is a message for you and you only. If you’re not from the US, look away now!

As you may know, my first book (The Vampire Knife) was released in the US in September 2018. Unfortunately for any readers who enjoyed book one, the rest of the Witching Hours series has had a much trickier time reaching the States. I don’t have any control over how my books are sold overseas, but here is the best info I have for tracking the rest of the series down!

Firstly: as of Fall 2020, a publishing house called Trafalgar Square has signed on to distribute book two (The Troll Heart) in the US. Hooray! Their email address is <orders@ipgbook.com> and the phone number for their customer service team is (800) 888-4741. If you pass that information on to your local bookshop or library, then hopefully they’ll be able to source you a fresh new copy of my terrifying second tale.

Secondly: if you Google with tenacity, and if you don’t mind paying for shipping, there are a number of Australian bookshops that will happily send you some of my books in the post. Book three (The Genie Rings) is quite hard to find anywhere, but Abbey’s currently has books 1-4 in stock, and Boomerang Books always seems to have a good range. I can’t maintain a live list of which stores have my books and which stores don’t, but for now, all of my books are still in circulation if you search hard enough!

[EDIT: Thirdly: a very kind reader has emailed me to let me know that eBooks can also be accessed in the States! Books 1-3 are all available on Google Play. Thanks a bunch, MacKenzie!]

I hope this information helps you track down some more of my scary stories. Good luck, and happy witching!

An Update on Book Six

Gigantic news?

Hello! How are you? Quite a year we’re having, isn’t it?

I often forget that I have a website, and as a result of this, I also forget to share helpful information. But I remembered my website tonight, and so here is some information you might be looking for: the sixth (and final!) Anna and Max book, titled The Giant Key, is scheduled for release in Australia on February 1, 2021. It would have been released earlier, but things got a bit weird this year, and we really don’t need any monstrous fairies making things even weirder.

But next year… well, in 2021, Anna and Max’s lives are going to get very weird indeed. I wish I could tell you about the hidden study, or the bone doll, or the thing that happens when Anna steps into the lake. But I can’t. It’s top secret. You’ll just have to be patient.

The Giant Key is coming. I hope it will be worth the wait.

Happy witching!

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Witch No. 16: Smelly Chantelly

“I smell a whiff of what I need to make my broomstick fly at speed…”

Smelly Chantelly isn’t the most famous of witchy books. My dad bought it for me at my kindergarten book fair, way back in 1996; even then, I was intrigued (and frightened) by the witch on the cover. However, more than twenty years later, Smelly Chantelly remains one of the weirdest picture books I have ever read. The illustrations are hideous. The main character is a slob.

And, to avoid burying the lead any longer: the book literally stinks. Smelly Chantelly is a scratch-and-sniff adventure, and Smelly’s foraged ingredients are pungently apparent on every page.

Smelly cover

The plot of the story goes thus. On the night before the witches’ fancy-dress ball, Smelly’s broomstick runs out of power, sending her tumbling through the roof of an old barn. As she makes her way home on foot, Smelly must find all of the ingredients required to brew a broomstick-restoring spell. (She’d also quite like to win the prize for Best-Dressed Witch, but that’s a secondary concern to getting her broom back in the air.) The child reader is implicitly invited to quest along with her, trying to identify which ingredient Smelly will add to her belt next.

It’s quite fun, really. All of the ingredients Smelly needs can be scratched and sniffed, and if you don’t spot the ingredient straight away, you can try scratching anywhere on the page. My copy from kindergarten has optimistic scratch marks on just about everything.

The only problem is that some of the ingredients smell truly, genuinely awful.

Smelly potion

On the fourth page of the book, the reader is told that Smelly’s breath reeks of mildew; the reader is invited to scratch and sniff. Later, Smelly trades her cat for a clove of garlic; the reader is again invited to scratch and sniff. At the end of the book, Smelly realises that the final ingredient she needs is her own smelly sock; the reader is again invited to scratch and sniff. All of these invitations should absolutely be turned down.

My biggest regret about Smelly Chantelly is that my favourite smell in the book (the bubblegum) was immediately preceded by my least favourite smell (the garlic). The bubblegum smelled great, but the order of scratching meant that the bubblegum very quickly became contaminated with the awful stink that came before. I don’t know who edited that aspect of the book, but my five-year-old self would like to give them a very stern talking to.

Smelly garlic

And yet I still have really fond memories of Smelly Chantelly. Unpleasant as it could be, the concept of a stench-filled picture book remains delightfully transgressive, and the nightmarish proportions of the character designs further elevate that weirdness. (Smelly’s nose really has to be seen to be believed.) Furthermore, it’s a book from Melbourne, so chalk up another Australian witch in the records!

For the sake of completion, I’m going to finish this report by scratching the garlic again, which I haven’t done in approximately twenty years. I don’t want to do it. I’m really, really hoping the scent has faded.

Nope. Still there. Still terrible. Huge regrets.

Smelly nose

Final Musings

— What? You’re saying it’s been two and a half years since my last witch post? Stop yanking my chain. I’m quite certain that this website is regularly maintained and updated.

— A begrudging thanks to author Joan Van Loon and illustrator Chantal Stewart for the fun times spent reading this book, but no thanks to them at all for the times spent frantically scrubbing my garlic-stained fingertips before bed.

— This is a tenuous connection, but The Witching Hours 6 is Anna and Max’s smelliest adventure of all. I’m sorry that book six hasn’t been released yet, but the way this year is flying by, I’m sure it’ll be out before we know it!

Happy witching!

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The Dragon Crown – Out Now!

Into the dragon’s lair.

The Witching Hours series lurched to life in 2015, in a series of scribbles made at the back of my university notebook. Writing in bright purple ink, I detailed all the horrifying things that could happen to Anna and Max, “the Crypt Kids,” listing all the steps of their adventure in Transylvania. I didn’t know if anyone other than me would ever read the story — didn’t know if I’d even succeed in writing it. But halfway down the page, I made a very specific note. It was a reference to a moment in a future book: a fourth sequel to a novel I hadn’t even started writing. It was exciting. It was ridiculous.

Three years and four books later, over the summer of 2018, I finally wrote that scene.

There was something pleasantly inevitable about writing The Dragon Crown. Book four had been a challenge: a collection of great scenes that took immense effort to fashion into a cohesive whole. In contrast, writing book five was a pleasure. No book has zipped along for me as quickly as The Vampire Knife did, but The Dragon Crown came close, always leading me easily into the next scene. Each time Anna fell, I knew where she would land.

And, best of all, at the end of chapter 12, is that scene, the one I wrote down in bright purple ink. I was utterly delighted to get there, and I hope any other readers who’ve followed the series this far will be delighted (and terrified) as well.

Book five also marked a return to my usual research process, which may also help explain why it came so readily along. Before writing The Vampire Knife, I read all of The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales; the next year, before writing The Genie Rings, I read as many of The Arabian Nights as I could get my hands on. To prepare for book five I read Monkey, the English translation of the seminal Chinese novel Journey to the West — and gosh was it fun. The opening sections were a bit slow, dealing as they do with the creation of the titular Monkey; but by the time the grand quest to obtain the sacred scriptures gets underway, this book becomes a blast. I loved reading five-hundred-year-old fairy tales that I’d never seen before, like the tale of the terrible goldfish king waiting beneath the frozen river, or the story of the farmhand Pigsy, whose appearance becomes more monstrous the longer he works. The book is jam-packed full of monsters and magic spells, and I stole a whole bunch of them to put in my own Chinese adventure: keep your eyes peeled for mentions of drowsy insects, magic winds, and some of the worst headaches imaginable.

The publication of The Dragon Crown also means that there’s only one book left in The Witching Hours. I feel sad that the series will soon be at an end, and I feel worried, too — because the events of book five have left Anna and Max more vulnerable than ever before. There are other scribbles in my old notebooks. I know some of the terrible things that are going to happen next.

This week, I will write the final chapter of book six. Will Anna and Max survive their last adventure? Will they make it out of those dark American woods, having avoided the colossal creature lurking within? I hope so. I’ve spent a lot of time with Anna and Max over the last five years, and it would be a shame to see them fall at the final hurdle.

But then again — some monsters have gigantic appetites.

Happy witching!

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The Mermaid Wreck – Out Now!

A horrific homecoming.

One night last year, in the very early hours of the morning, I took a short break from writing my fourth book. I got up from my desk and walked into the bathroom, and was immediately startled by a very large huntsman spider clinging to the wall.

Despite their fearsome size, huntsman spiders are not venomous, and so I decided to carry the spider outside using my hands. After taking a deep breath, I grabbed the spider off the wall and trapped it between my palms, wincing as it scuttled around against my skin. Its legs were as thick as toothpicks.

But there’s another fact about huntsman spiders that I didn’t know at the time. While it’s true that they’re not venomous, their fangs never stop growing, and so the largest huntsman spiders have very big fangs indeed. And so, when this particular spider sunk its gigantic fangs into my flesh, it really, really hurt. I tried not to cry out as I ran to the back door, turning the handle with my elbows, throwing the spider into the darkness as far as I possibly could.

When I looked down at my hand, there was blood dripping down my finger.

I thought I’d open this post with my awful spider story to help communicate what a tricky novel book four was to write. There were some chapters that whizzed along in an adrenaline-fuelled blur, with all the confidence of a brave man scooping a huntsman off a wall; and then there were other chapters that felt like colossal mistakes, like a very foolish man realising he’s just picked up a massive, hairy, long-fanged spider. I hit so many dead ends that I sometimes wondered how Anna and Max could possibly escape the book in one piece; some nights would fly past without a single word being added to the story, the children forced to keep facing the same deadly peril.

But I finished. The bad times ended in an instant, and suddenly I had a new book: a story so dark, so spooky, that it was almost certainly Anna and Max’s most terrifying adventure yet. I had vanquished the spider. The Mermaid Wreck was ready to enter the world.

The Mermaid Wreck is the first of my books to take place in my home country, Australia, and now that it’s been published, I honestly could not be prouder of it. Throughout the writing process, I was determined to prove that an Australia beach could be scary enough to match the fairy-tale otherness featured in the series thus far: that it could be as creepy as a Transylvanian wood, or as desolate as an Iranian desert. At the same time, setting the novel by the seaside gave me the opportunity to probe some fears I hadn’t been able to use in the series before. Despite being Australian, I’ve never much liked the beach; I therefore took great pleasure in writing scenes featuring sharks and shipwrecks, churning waters and hidden rip-tides, revelling in all the things people fear when they step into the sea.

And there’s also a mermaid. I don’t want to say too much about her, for fear of spoiling the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I can confidently say that Sylvie is my favourite fairy so far. Writing her scenes was always a pleasure, and I truly hope we’ll see her toothy smile again before the series is through.

And that’s all I have to say on the matter. The Mermaid Wreck is the fourth book in The Witching Hours series, and it’s available in Australian bookshops right now. If you’re a young reader who thinks they might be brave enough to read it, then I wish you the very best of luck – and in the scariest of moments, when it feels like a spider might be caught between your fingers, I hope you’ll have the courage to see it through.

Happy witching!

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(PS: If you’ve already read book four, then please be advised that book five isn’t too far away – it’s already been written, and should be arriving in Australian bookshops in October. Come back then to hear more about Anna and Max’s next adventure, high in the mountains of China!)

The Genie Rings – Out Now!

A hat-trick of terror.

Achoo! Oh, goodness, please excuse me: it seems the dust of ages has been allowed to settle on this blog once again. But relax, dear reader, and do not fear, for the arrival of a brand new book warrants some words of celebration. Look upon the glorious cover below, and rejoice!

The Genie Rings is the third book in The Witching Hours series, but it feels like a first in a number of ways. It’s the first book in the series to be set outside of Europe (the story takes place in Iran), and it’s also the first book not to be inspired by European folklore. Instead, book three takes its cues from a very different source: the wonderful collection of Middle Eastern fairy tales known as The One Thousand and One Nights.

Now, I didn’t read all one thousand and one stories – I’m not sure an authoritative edition of that many stories actually exists – but I can report that taking notes on this book was an absolute delight. Some of the stories are already very famous (Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp; Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) but as I scoured the text for mentions of genies, I found many hidden gems scattered throughout. The Fisherman and the Djinni tells the story of a poor fisherman who catches a copper jar in his net, and who unleashes from within a genie with a “mouth as wide as a cavern, with teeth ragged like broken rocks”; the genie from this story is so perfectly frightening that I quoted some of his dialogue in The Genie Rings as a sneaky homage. The Tale of the Second Dervish is even better, telling the story of a prince who makes an enemy of a wicked genie named Jerjees, and who ends up being transformed into an ape by the genie’s evil spell. The story is filled to the brim with magic, murder, and mayhem, and it even has a secret witch, which is definitely my favourite plot twist of all. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about this witch in a future blog post, but for now, I’ll just leave you with the hilariously chilling scene where the princess finally reveals her abilities to her father:

“How do you know he is bewitched?” asked the King, turning to his daughter.

“Father,” she replied, “when I was a child I had an old nurse, a skilled enchantress deeply versed in sorcery, who taught me witchcraft. I have committed all its rules to memory and know a hundred and seventy codes of magic, by the least of which I could raze your city to the ground and scatter its stones as far as the Mountain of Kaf, turn your kingdom into a bottomless sea, and change its people into wiggling fishes.”

Yeah. She’s pretty cool.

And so, with all of those tales swirling about in my head, I set about composing a new adventure for Anna and Max to embark upon. At first I thought the book might be set in a city, as so many of the Arabian Nights are; but it soon became clear that a desert would be scarier, with the endless, empty plains extending out around a lonely campsite. I based the whole story around a riddle, because I like riddles, and I made sure to include some old stone ruins, because I like those as well. The hardest thing of all was writing a horror story without any forests: a deliberate challenge to myself, as books one and two had featured numerous descriptions of sinister trees and creepy wooden fingers. Luckily, poems like “Ozymandias” showed me that the desert can be Gothic as well, and I truly believe that readers will find this new setting just as frightening as its European counterparts.

Anyway: I finished writing the story. I sent it to my publishers, and they worked their magic, and then Dave Shephard came on board and drew us some of the scariest genies I’ve ever seen. You can find this spooky book in Australian bookstores right now, lurking amongst the darkest shelves, terrifying all of its neighbours. If you’ve followed Anna and Max this far, I really hope you’ll enjoy book three as well.

And that’s all for now. Happy witching!

(Actually, one more note! If you’re keen to read some of The One Thousand and One Nights, you can follow the links embedded in this post – but be aware that those are the old translations by Sir Richard Burton, which are slightly archaic. I recommend picking up the Penguin edition translated by N. J. Dawood – it’s much zippier!)

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Witch No. 15: The Snow Witch

“I hope you have remembered to bring along your discs.”

There are many book genres that I love, but high fantasy has probably always been my favourite. The love affair started in primary school, when my gang of nerdy friends and I would devour all the fantasy content we could get our hands on: Dungeons & Dragons rule books, Warhammer magazines, and, yes, an ancient computer game set in medieval Germany. It was during this period that a friend first introduced me to a choose your own adventure book, titled The Citadel of Chaos. I thought it was marvellous. I started my own collection, gathering together a whole shelf of books with delightfully lurid titles. City of Thieves. Crypt of the Sorcerer. House of Hell.

And, inevitably, Caverns of the Snow Witch.

DSC01234

Depending on which edition you have, Caverns of the Snow Witch is either the ninth or tenth entry in the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, which was created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. Each book in the series is like a personal Dungeons & Dragons adventure, with the reader assigned a clichéd fantasy objective: most of the time it’s simply “kill the evil wizard.” Readers navigate the book by making a decision at the end of each reference, flipping through the book to find out what happens next – “If you wish to turn left, turn to 61” – and are regularly tasked with rolling dice to fight a monster. The books are definitely a bit nerdy, but they’re also good, honest fun.

But enough about that – let’s get to the witch! Caverns of the Snow Witch opens with the hero trekking up the snowy Icefinger Mountains, on a mission to slay a rampaging yeti. The yeti is swiftly defeated, but a dying fur trapper offers a new call to adventure: he has recently discovered an entrance to the legendary Crystal Caves, carved into a glacier by the followers of the evil Snow Witch. The witch is plotting to use her dark powers to bring on a new ice age, and so must be slain as soon as possible. So, what are you waiting for? Get questing!

DSC01237

Like most Fighting Fantasy books, Caverns of the Snow Witch takes place in the high fantasy world of Allansia, a world seemingly populated by every fantasy monster ever invented. As such, the denizens of the Crystal Caves are an eclectic bunch: you can fight snow wolves and Neanderthals and a frost giant, which are all pleasantly on-theme, but you’ll also need to defeat an illusionist, a “brain slayer,” and a rather flamboyant minstrel. When you do catch up with the titular Snow Witch, it turns out she’s secretly been a vampire all along, and can only be killed by a stake through the heart. What a twist!

DSC01238

Hilariously, there’s so little narrative logic in this fantasy world that the Snow Witch doesn’t even cast any cold-based spells; even when you fight one of the witch’s Crystal Warriors, the text is quick to point out that the warrior is made of quartz crystals, not ice. It’s all rather ridiculous, but things just go from bad to worse in the climactic exchange between hero and villain, when the player convinces the witch to take part in a battle of wits. Here’s a sample of the dramatic dialogue:

The Snow Witch looks surprised and displeased at the defeat of her Zombies. Suddenly she says, ‘The game we are going to play is called Discs. You will not win, of course. But in the unlikely event that you do, I will give you the chance to escape. I hope you have remembered to bring along your discs. Without them you lose!’ She laughs sadistically at the thought of making up the rules on the spur of the moment.”

“Discs,” it turns out, is just an off-brand version of “rock-paper-scissors.” The reader chooses a shape, and the witch calls out another shape. If the reader’s shape beats the witch’s shape, the witch is immediately vanquished.

It is quite possibly the worst climactic battle I’ve ever read.

DSC01235

Even so, Caverns of the Snow Witch is still a lot of fun, so long as you know what you’re getting into. When I read the book again this week I died almost immediately at the hands of the witch herself (I didn’t manage to find a wooden stake), but I did make it through to the end on my second attempt, with only a little bit of flip-ahead cheating. For a choose your own adventure book, the narrative path is surprisingly linear; mapping out the choices with pen and paper reveals a pretty simple route to the end.

My pro tip? Don’t pay the first ferry man you meet. You’ll thank me later.


Final Musings

— To be clear, Caverns of the Snow Witch is not my favourite Fighting Fantasy book. Ian Livingstone’s stories generally require the reader to find the “one true path” to make it even slightly close to the end, and I find it discouraging to have an adventure cut short just because I didn’t find a certain mystical doodad. You’ll get a much better role playing experience out of Creature of Havoc, House of Hell, and especially the Sorcery! quartet, all of which were written by Steve Jackson.

— I should also mention that Caverns of the Snow Witch doesn’t actually end with that thrilling game of Discs. Early in the book the hero tries to read some strange symbols on a piece of parchment; it later transpires that the symbols were a Death Spell, and so even though the witch has been defeated, the hero is still doomed to die. Finding the cure is a complicated affair involving a banshee and a pegasus, which is business as usual for Allansia.

— Honestly, the scariest thing about the Snow Witch is the terrifying set of skeleton-filled icicles on the front cover. Credit goes to Les Edwards for that inspired background detail, and also to Gary Ward and Edward Crosby, for their excellent woodcut-style illustrations throughout. The book is actually worth a read just for those amazing monster pictures alone.

— There’s also a witch named Alianna in The Shamutanti Hills, which is the first entry in that brilliant Sorcery! miniseries I mentioned. She doesn’t hang around for long, but she does turn a chair into a wood golem, which is pretty cool.

— Would I ever write a choose your own adventure book? Yes, I absolutely would. In fact, if you Google hard enough, you can still find a piece of writing I entered in a Fighting Fantasy short story competition, back when I was a teenager. Or you could just click here.

— Okay, okay – I only completed Caverns of the Snow Witch with a lot of flip-ahead cheating. But believe me, flipping ahead to sneak a look at an outcome is an essential part of the choose your own adventure experience. Just pretend your hero is a psychic, and you’re good to go!

Happy witching!

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