Wednesday, November 4, 2020

GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ Meet Joël Mallet, he's been translating the classic Fabled Lands gamebook series by Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson into French, and he tells us about some popular French gamebooks today

NOTE: This is part of a series that explains how to create your own simple gamebooks. More articles here

Tell us about yourself, and your gamebook translation work.
Hello, I’m Joël, born in 1987 between the Vosges and the Black Forest, a land of many legends. I have been a professional translator for 7-8 years now and have done various things, as this trade often offers uncanny opportunities.

So, apart from my main line of work, I have the honor to take part in the life of a small publishing house named Alkonost that aims at promoting RPGs and gamebooks. It is quite a small team, but thanks to the work and trust of writers, we manage to reach more and more people slowly.

As far as I am concerned, I always loved fantasy, sci-fi, horror stories and such, so for me it seemed totally natural to start working with Alkonost. I must admit that I always thought it was a shame gamebooks were not so popular, and also that many good ones probably get lost in the flow of languages. So, translating such stories is a good way to show readers that you can still find professional gamebooks with new concepts, stories and ideas. Making these available to people who can’t speak English is a real pleasure, even if I don’t have time to translate everything that I would like to.

So, it’s really cool to see that even 30-40 years later, these books are still there, and that legendary authors are still brandishing their pen alongside the new generation, providing adventure to all.

What gamebook titles for children have you translated? Have you written any gamebooks for kids? 
For now, I've only translated five volumes out of six of the Fabled Lands series, by Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson. For those who don’t know them, they are amongst the best gamebooks writers from the 80’s and 90’s with titles such as Heart of Ice for Dave, and Dark Lord for Jamie. I only quote these because the list would be too long.

Fabled Lands, first published in English in the mid 90s, is quite unique in the sense that it takes readers through an open world, where they can travel freely from one book to another, starting a quest in volume 1 to finish it in volume 3 then claiming the reward in yet a different place. All the references to folklore, mythology, and just the entire lore make it really cool to explore. They bring a sense of poetry and humour and offer balanced difficulty.

I do write, but I never wrote any gamebooks. My main line of translation and the fact that I write very slowly do not help with this process, which is quite different with all the plans and paths you have to weave to make your story coherent and fun. But maybe someday, if the right idea comes up and especially if I manage to finish the things I already started writing.

How did you first encounter gamebooks?
Thanks to flea markets. In Alsace, just like in many other parts of the world, we have flea markets all around almost every Sunday, as soon as the weather gets warmer again. They’re the best chance to find cheap books and comics. Real treasure cove when you’re a kid who likes to read. So, I think I must have been 7 or 8 when I got my first gamebook. It was already getting hard to find them in stores.

Anyway, it was Ian Livingstone’s The Island Of The Lizard King. I think I ended up giving my copy to a friend, but I’ve read it over and over. AND OVER. Really. You should have seen the book, a third of the pages at the end were loose. I had a good dozen of gamebooks, but the other series I played a lot was The Way Of The Tiger, by Marc Smith and Jamie Thomson. 

So, these got me into fantasy and showed me a different approach in storytelling. As a kid, you don’t always pay attention to the authors’ names, sadly, but still I had this feeling that these guys were doing something fantastic. I guess my will to work in literature stemmed from this a bit.

Then, yeah, all these years later, it made me smile in awe when I realized I had to translate into French something partly written by Jamie Thomson. Like a way to say thanks or pay some respect, I don’t know… probably just sheer coincidence.

What is the gamebook scene in France like? Do recommend some French children’s gamebooks.
In the past few years, we have seen a lot happening, from the creation of new publishing houses to the publishing of more and more gamebooks. Lots of stories originally written as amateur work have been corrected, enhanced and professionally published. So, there are lots of publishing houses specialized in games now: Scriptarium, Posidonia, Makaka, Black Book, 404, Alkonost, etc. (Note from Editor — Joël has provided all their links below, at the end of this interview. Thanks, Joël!)

Escape books are very popular these days, and 404 is very good at it, but there’s also Fleurus, Mango on that scene, for example. They target all generations of readers, but some are just using popular brands like Fortnite or Minecraft.

Even big publishing houses such as Gallimard tried releasing new stuff. And interactive comics seem to be really trendy. I admit they’re super fun to read. I hope you have these abroad.

There’s even a publishing house, Epopia, that started these kinds of subscriptions for children. They send you adventures regularly by mail, so you have this thrill of waiting for the next episode. I remember always waiting for my favorite weekly magazine when I was a child.

Also, a famous French Youtuber, Bob Lennon, managed to get 1.8 million € thanks to a fundraising campaign for his future gamebook, which is incredible.

For now, even though we still can’t say gamebooks are all bestsellers, I guess they are not doing bad. The community is growing and talk a lot on forums, and there are lots of festivals dedicated to imaginary worlds all across France. So, all the ingredients seem to be there for gamebooks to thrive.

If I had to recommend books, I would tell you to check Posidonia’s collection Histoires à jouer (Stories to play). It is really great for young readers starting to read (in French though :p Maybe some titles have been translated). It offers various atmospheres, settings and stories; you sometimes get to become a legendary hero like Sinbad or a knight of the round table.

Also, you have Éditions Makaka with interactive comic books. I’d go for Les Larmes de Nuwa (Nuwa’s tears literally), by Jurvic and Manuro. As a bounty hunter, you have to hunt thieves who stole divine relics, putting the city in great peril. Makaka offer lots of other adventures related to Sherlock Holmes or zombies, for example, and many others.

What is your gamebook translation process?

Drink tea.

Complete first draft.

Check glossary.



Slay dragon.

Review 1,000 times.

Have it tested.

Have it reviewed.


Start next volume.

What other gamebook-related activities do you have coming up?
For now on, I just finished translating Fabled Lands 5: The Court Of Hidden Faces, so I will have to review it with the publishing team. Then I’ll take a short break and start Fabled Lands 6: The Lords of The Rising Sun, hoping I can carry on bringing the rest of the series to French readers.

There have been talks of translating John Green’s take on Dracula, but this is just a plan. We’ll see. Meanwhile, I’ll keep advertising Alkonost’s books and some of our friends’ during festivals as soon as they start again.

Recommended links

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Don Bosco's Gamebook Academy
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