INTERVIEW: A Mug’s Gamebook Podcast

A Mug’s Gamebook is an immersive podcast, where listeners can enjoy the creator Tom Bartlett and his guests playing through classic gamebooks. With Bartlett’s professional background as a sound recordist, along with his nostalgic childhood adoration of vintage gamebooks, it’s a match made in audio heaven for interactive fiction fans and those new to the genre.

If you were trapped in an elevator with a total gamebook newbie, how would you describe A Mug’s Gamebook to them?

Muggins here reads through my old choose-your-own adventure books (with funny and interesting people) and adds all sorts of moody music and sound design.

What was your inspiration behind launching a gamebook related podcast?

Well, I have worked on a few podcasts for other people and have been listening to them pretty avidly for years, so the idea of doing one of my own had been brewing for a while. I have also tried to get into a few D&D podcasts, but they can be really daunting as most of them have hundreds of hours to catch up on, which gave me the lightbulb moment of creating ones using my old gamebooks. Each episode is nicely self-contained.

A Mug’s Gamebook podcast, featuring Bryony Dorman.

What’s your favourite gamebook? Have you featured it on the podcast yet and/or do you have plans to do so?

Tricky! When I was a boy, I really loved The Forest of Doom, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and Deathtrap Dungeon. But my absolute favourite was The Rings of Kether. I don’t know why, but something about the sci-fi setting really captured my imagination. A friend of my mum had given us an old ‘80s typewriter, so I used to sit and write my own stories about the smuggling gangs in it. I haven’t featured it yet, but watch this space! 

I’ve done a little bit of digging on you *waggles eyebrows* and discovered you are a sound recordist and podcast producer by trade – with a seriously impressive CV, I might add – has it been fun to use your professional skills in A Mug’s Gamebook?

Yes, it’s been great fun! Normally my day job is very technical and I don’t get to be all that creative, so it’s really nice to have a project like this. Having a creative outlet is really healthy; be it painting, writing, cooking, or making silly goblin noises! 

Where do you record the episodes?

Wherever is convenient for my guests. A couple have been in my flat and a few have been in their homes. I’m lucky in that, for my day job, I have all of the kit I need for a mobile recording session. 

With your background in sound, is it a walk in the park for you to create each new episode, or is it a labour of love?

Definitely a labour of love! Each one takes AGES. Getting the balance right in the edit between the sound design, the story, and banter is tricky. The sound effects in particular take a long time to get just right. 

How do you decide which gamebook to play through next? Do you match them specifically to your guests or pick them randomly?

I do think about it, but I don’t read them in advance before I play, as I want to be on the adventure with the guests when we are recording. 

I go by what I remember about them and from the blurbs, with what I think will be interesting for the guest. For example, I knew that PJ Liguori was into fantasy, so The Forest of Doom would be a great fit, whereas Josh Pieters was not, so House of Hell worked better for him as a more recognisable horror story.

One thing that I do consider is how simple the rules are. A lot of the books have extras like spells or spaceship combat, which might complicate things too much for guests who haven’t played these books before. 

Do all of the episodes specifically feature Fighting Fantasy books or will you be questing through any other series?

They are all currently Fighting Fantasy, just as they are the ones that I have from childhood. I do have a Lemmings one and a The Crystal Maze one somewhere, so I might bust those out in future! 

A mate also bought me the first four Lone Wolf books from a bookshop that he found, so I am thinking of doing those at some point as a longer series with one guest. 

Have you altered any of the gamebook rules to make the adventures more podcast-friendly?

Yes, I give all of my guests an extra life as standard, because it’s no fun if they die after ten minutes! And I’m by no means a massive stickler for the rules. If we get something wrong but are having fun, then I think that’s in the spirit of the books. 

You describe A Mug’s Gamebook as, “Choose-Your-Own-Adventures with excellent people.” How do you find your brilliant guests?

They are all people that I have worked with in my day job as a sound engineer. I do a fair amount of work with YouTubers and know a few of them pretty well, so I can rope them in as guests. 

Tell me more about your excellent guests. What do they do for a living and where do they come from?

Most of the ones out at the moment are YouTubers or actors/writers, all of them really nice and funny people. I am open to suggestions for guests though, so if your readers have any ideas of who might be a good fit, then let me know. 

I’m going to be mean and force you to pick a favourite now… Who’s been your all time fave guest so far and why?

Ah, that’s impossible! They have all been so different so far. Jack Howard has a special place in my heart being the first one. He was really helpful in listening to it and giving advice on making it funny and pacy in the edit. 

But I really love the dynamic of having two people playing – with PJ Liguori and Sophie Newton as well. And the fact that Reb Day finds the whole thing so stressful makes for a really fun episode. I realise that I have not picked one here! 

At the time of writing, I believe none of the guests so far have any experience in playing gamebooks. Was this a deliberate decision? In my opinion, it makes for a rip-roaringly hilarious listen, as your poor guests have no idea what they’ve let themselves in for.

It’s not a conscious decision no, but just the way that the guests have panned out so far. But I agree, that the fact that the guests have not played them makes the episodes fun and accessible. I would definitely like to have some guests who have some experience and see how it differs. 

How long is each episode roughly?

Each one is between one and two hours. I did think about breaking them up into smaller, half hour episodes, but I thought that maybe they work better as self-contained pieces. I may go to the shorter episodes in future, as it would allow me to release them more frequently. 

Have any of your guests ever “won” their gamebook play-through or have they all died gruesome deaths?

Ah, that would be telling! They have all done surprisingly well as it happens, but anyone who knows the series knows how fraught with danger they are. 

Have you ever had any comedic accidents while recording? I seem to recall someone walking into the room during an adventure and it was brilliant!

Yeah, we had Josh Pieters’ friend Archie walking in on his episode and being sort of baffled by the whole thing, as well as his washing machine start a spin cycle during a particularly tense section! I think we worked that one in pretty well though, it became a really nice moment. 

Would you ever consider creating episodes on independent authors’ gamebooks? If so, how may they get in touch with you?

Absolutely I would. I love hearing feedback and suggestions from people so if anyone has any ideas, they can get in touch on Twitter and Instagram (@bomtartlett) or via the A Mug’s Gamebook Facebook page. 

Where and when can people tune in to A Mug’s Gamebook?

It’s available on all podcasting apps, as well as Spotify. Perfect accompaniment to doing the washing up or walking the dog. 

How often are new episodes released?

I originally wanted it to be fortnightly, but it’s just too much work with the edit and also finding time in the guests’ schedules, so they are released monthly. 

In addition to an epic (and oftentimes, hilarious) audio adventure, what can listeners expect from A Mug’s Gamebook?

Me doing really bad accents for the characters with undeserved confidence and gusto, plus guests having a really nice time and finding out how fun and exciting these silly books can be.

Thanks to Tom Bartlett for giving GBN all of the juicy details on A Mug’s Gamebook. You can find A Mug’s Gamebook on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and the ACast website.

Interview by Phoebe Avison

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