Looking for a festive gift? Here’s an independent gamebook, that includes a fair amount of snow: it’s The Ticking World.

Film Stories’ Simon Brew isn’t the only one to have written a brand new, branching narrative gamebook. I have too, and mine has more snow in it. Less murders, though.

I’ll never admit it publicly but the idea started with just two words, almost a dad joke that just popped into my head from nowhere at all. Instead of advent calendar my brain skipped to adventure calendar. But what would that be?

The idea to create a kind of gamebook that offered readers a new choice every day came quickly afterwards. In its finished version, The Ticking World offers a bit more than this. On some days, you’ll make multiple choices, turn to and read multiple pages, while on others you might make just one tougher choice.

The trickiest part of putting a Fighting Fantasy or Choose Your Own-style adventure into an advent calendar is making sure every path will last for the full 25 days. A lot of gamebooks have routes of radically differing lengths – Simon’s Midsomer Murders book springs surprising sticky endings on its victims throughout. That’s no good for a calendar, of course – advent has a pretty well-established duration to say the least. This adventure has to last for a foxed amount of time no matter what choices are made.

The next thing I wanted to get right was incorporating art throughout. If something is hanging on your wall it should probably good. The illustrations, all created by the brilliant Maya Evans, make sure that The Ticking World is a handsome decoration as well as everything else. The ones chosen for this post are deliberately vague and unspoilery – there’s a story to keep secret! – and I only wish I could show you the others. There are some amazing things in Maya’s pictures for this project.

And having pictures opened up storytelling possibilities. Again, not to spoil anything, but there’s more to these illustrations than ornamentation…

The images evoke some of the inspirations for this story and its world. The flavours here carry a taste of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights, both the book and film of The City Of Ember, and what remains of The Hobbit if you draw away and remove many of the more Lord Of The Rings-y bit. If there’s one Fighting Fantasy book I wanted to tip my hat to it’s The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

Some of the choices offered in The Ticking World will seem rather more obviously consequential than others. As a gamebook reader, I have always enjoyed the sense that my decisions matter, so I was committed to creating that effect in this story. The cause and effect isn’t always obvious, however. You might find some surprising consequences spiral out of simple decisions. To get this right, I think the trick is to make sure cause and effect is always clear, especially in retrospect, but not entirely predictable.

I also wanted this calendar to be replayable. Advent calendars are perennial – there’s no week days listed in the dates so they work in any year – so it felt like this one should be something you can put away with the Christmas decorations then get out again, twelve months later. This meant I want to inspire the reader to come back and hunt for secrets they missed or experience paths not taken. I can’t give away too much of how I tried to achieve this without ruining the surprise, but I certainly put a lot of thought into it.

A lot of what I write is mystery fiction. I was very tempted to make this story a whodunnit at first, but it felt like this genre would inhibit replayability – once the solution is revealed, so much of the impetus is lost. I did use a lot of the same tricks, however, particularly at a fine structural level. It might be so much easier to discuss these things in January, once everybody has explored the calendar in full!

I’m proud of what we made here. It’s a true one-of-a-kind. It’s so different from Simon’s Midsomer book that I think they actually complement each other brilliantly.

If you’d like to buy a copy of The Ticking World, it’s on sale now.

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