This thing that I do: Interview with author Tom Church


["This Thing That I Do" is a feature on Destructoid where I interview people who work in the gaming industry or people who have achieved something noteworthy to give us some insight into how it all works.]

It is not unusual for video games to impact our own imaginations in such a way that despite finishing a game, our minds are still racing at 100 mph. For many, that is enough, but a select few have the ability to allow their creativity to follow and anything from fan art to fanfiction is created. 

Sadly, fanfiction isn't normally the most respected of creative outlets, with many seeing it synonymous to poorly written fantasies of highschoolers who have an abnormal obsession with cloud and Sephiroth. However, this isn't strictly true. In amongst the poorly written fantasies of highschool girls can lie some literacy gems and Tom Church is the perfect example. Tom Church is a long-time gamer whose imagination was sparked while playing the MMORPG RuneScape. His fanfiction was quickly picked up by Jagex, and Tom now has the title of published author under his belt with not one but two RuneScape books. 

I interviewed Tom to find out how he took those steps from being a gamer to being an author, how the Jagex community responded and of course, advice for those wishing to follow in his footsteps. On top of this, Titan Books have given Destructoid an exclusive excerpt from the latest RuneScape book, Return to Canifis.

Firstly Tom, tell me a little bit about yourself; how you got into gaming and of course your time with RuneScape.

I am in my early thirties now, which means I grew up in an age where gaming was migrating from being based around a player's imagination, with books and dice, to computers and online. I hadn't played any of these games since my school years and my curiosity was piqued by RuneScape. After I signed up, I played it for a few months and thought, "If books based on pen and paper games can do well, like those of DragonLance or the Forgotten Realms, then a set of novels based on an online community such as RuneScape could do well also. Furthermore, they could provide an interaction with the player that books based on the older, pen and paper model could never attain." It was, and still is, an exciting prospect. 

Titan Publishing informed me that originally the book was written as a fanfiction. Tell me, where did your ideas for your story come from?

The idea for the very beginning of the book actually came from an in-game event when my character was still at quite a low level. I was defeated by one of the Kinshra (also known as the Black Knights), and I had forgotten that I was wearing a Ring of Life, which teleported me to Falador when I was only a moment away from death. It was a totally unexpected surprise, and gave me, in that very instant, the intriguing idea for the start of the novel. After that, it was a process of partly joining the dots that existed in the game. 

How did your fanfiction get picked up by Jagex? Did you contact them or did they find you?

I contacted them. My brother and I run our own company and we printed a few copies off at a local publishing firm. We made our pitch to Jagex about what the books could do for their company and image and then it was handed over to the content teams, where the story was enhanced and edited to be compatible with RuneScape lore. 

What was the process like taking a fanfiction to actually be published? What was expected of you?

It was a very interesting project, and I ended up becoming a publisher as well as an author which meant that there was a great deal more hands-on control in the day-to-day running of the project than if there was a third-party publisher. From a personal point of view, it was a great opportunity and responsibility in sourcing editors and proofreaders and printers to put the entire package together. 

Now it seems to feel like pretty common knowledge throughout the Internet that fanfictions are often a bit of a joke, full of bad writing and a hell of a lot of yaoi. As someone who has taken that step up to being a published author, how do you feel about fanfiction writing and the way it is viewed? 

Well the Internet is the great leveler of our time, and as a medium for ideas to be transmitted and published then fanfiction is here to stay. Part of the greatness of the Internet (which can very easily become a weakness) is its anonymity, and this can give people the shield they need to expose their ideas to the world at large. In my view, fanfiction might be a good place for people to develop their interest in writing, but the truth is that they would learn a lot more developing their own worlds and characters from scratch. Having said that, anything that inspires people, or gives them the interest to exercise their imaginations in such a way is something I believe to be a good thing. 

What has the reaction been like from the RuneScape community? Have they been supportive of the book? They are a pretty hardcore community...

There was a small negative element who were hostile to the project when it was first announced, before the book was even available. That is always annoying, when someone judges something without even reading it, but it is the world we live in. If you do anything that goes out to a wide audience, you should expect this. However, when the book began to bring in real reviews that minority was swiftly marginalised. On the whole, the reviews have been very good, which I am obviously very grateful for. 

Tom, what are your plans as a writer? Will you continue to explore gaming worlds like many others are doing or was this for first step to writing original stories and universes? 

I will endevour to complete what I started three years ago with Jagex and now Titan. I want to be able to provide a set of books that essentially offer a contemporary history of RuneScape with interesting characters on ever-more dangerous adventures. After that there are plans for original works but they are far in the future. 

Finally, many others have tried their hands at writing fanfiction and websites like fanfiction.net show us that, but what is your advice to those who are writing fancitions that really want to see themselves as published authors in the future? 

I would repeat what I stated above, and that that is the best way to get published is with your own work. Many franchises will not even read work based on their universes. So the first step would be to identify a literary agent who has dealt in similar work to which you are writing, and then follow their guidelines exactly in regard to submissions. Having said that, fanfiction is a great place to get general feedback for your work, and in writing shorter stories which will help build up your appetite for longer fiction. If you like it, then do it. 

Find out more at www.tschurch.com

Excerpt from RuneScape: Return to Canifis:

"It was afternoon, and a grey light shone through the high windows of the palace’s great hall. The sweat on Theodore’s clothes was cold against his skin after the exertion of overseeing the training of twenty recruits for the knights.

The squire shook his head bitterly as he approached the grand staircase. Although the knights had triumphed in the siege of Falador, the cost had been tremendously high. He hadn’t been present when his order had been betrayed and surrounded by Sulla’s forces, where nine out of every ten men had died. Even now, it was something he found impossible to even imagine.

Afterwards, as a hero of the siege and a squire of the knights, Theodore had been sent to Varrock to recruit promising young men and replenish the ranks. Many responded to the call, and he had found a handful of promising candidates. By putting them through the paces they would encounter as peons, he weeded out those who would not pass muster.

“Squire Theodore!” a familiar voice called. He turned to see a young man only a few months his senior descending the stairs with great care. He was dressed as a nobleman of Varrock, yet his slight frame gave him a scholarly air—that of someone unused to physical exertion. His short black beard and moustache were neatly trimmed, for those who maintained a presence in the Varrock court were expected to be well-presented. Accordingly, his black cloak, trimmed in otter fur, was pinned by a silver brooch in the shape of a fox, the symbol of his house.

“Lord William.” Theodore greeted the friend who had acted as his guide in Varrock. William was honest and unpretentious, despite his noble background. He was intelligent, too, devouring history and keeping abreast of the latest news.

“You have a matter of great import to deal with,” William said. “One that requires all of your diplomatic talent, Theodore.” He paused and peered at his friend. “Just what are you going to tell Lady Anne?” he probed. “She wishes to dance with you at the Midsummer Festival, and everyone is waiting for news of Kara-Meir. You have told me repeatedly that she promised to be here by Midsummer for your reunion, yet still she is not here. The city can’t wait much longer.”

Theodore stared at the floor and shook his head.

“She hasn’t written to me for months, William. I know Ebenezer, Doric and Castimir are all coming, and should be here either today or tomorrow, but about Gar’rth and Kara I am still unsure.” He avoided William’s questioning stare. He knew his friend wished him to elabourate, yet he did not wish to do so. Kara’s long silence had both hurt and angered him, and he didn’t wish to admit such weakness—not to anybody.

“In that case, Lady Anne is seizing her chance,” William said after a moment. “She wishes to dance with the dashing knight who has refused the many fair maidens of Varrock. Your reluctance has made people think this Kara-Meir must be very special indeed.”

Theodore smiled at William’s jest. Yet he knew it was true. He had lived in the palace at Varrock for six months, an honoured guest feted as a hero. He had participated in hunts on the King’s own chase, and jousted with the greatest warriors of the realm.

But more than ever he missed Kara.

None of the noblewomen he had met could equal her. His aloofness had given him a reputation as a truly noble knight, and his chaste demeanour had marked him as an impossible challenge which none of the ladies at court seemed able to resist.

“She is special,” Theodore admitted, “as you shall see if she comes.”

At once he knew he had made a mistake.

“If she comes?” William’s face darkened. “I thought she had promised?”

“She did promise. But the last I heard of her she had ventured into The Wilderness.”

William exhaled in despair.

“Gods! Why would she go there? I’ve heard people say she promised never to fight again after claiming Sulla’s hands?”

“She gave up her quest for vengeance, but she never promised to stop fighting.” Theodore took two strides up the staircase. “I will let you know if I hear anything new,” he said, glad to end the conversation.

Only minutes later, he was finishing his wash when someone forced the door to his chamber open. It was William again.

“She is here, Theodore! Kara-Meir is here!”

At last!

Theodore’s heart raced. He felt such relief that she had arrived. Quickly he wiped the water from his face, hiding his smile with his towel.

“She is at the Flying Donkey Inn,” William continued. “If we hurry we can be there within half an hour.”

  “We shall ride,” Theodore said, his hand gripping William’s arm in eagerness. “Soon you will see why she is special, William.”

“I know she is touched by the gods, Theodore.”

The two friends ran to the stables. As they rode out through the courtyard Theodore noticed palace guards chatting with great animation. He was struck by how the mere mention of Kara’s name had lifted the spirits of the men.

Theodore and William left their horses with a member of the city guards, for the crowd outside the inn was too dense for them to pass on horseback. A dozen of the guards, clad in yellow tabards worn over their chain mail, kept a wary eye to ensure that things did not get out of control.

Suddenly, a voice shouted from the second floor window of the inn, and a man waved for attention.

Quickly, the crowd hushed.

“Kara-Meir is here,” he called. “But she has travelled far, and is exhausted. She will spend tonight at the Flying Donkey, and already has retired for the night. Tomorrow afternoon she will appear at this very window, to speak to you before heading to the palace to attend the Midsummer festivities. There will be nothing more to see today, however.” With that he closed the shutters.

The crowd gave a collective groan and broke up.

How strange that Kara would arrive, yet send no word, Theodore thought, a sense of disquiet clawing at the back of his neck. And even more so that she would allow such a fellow to speak for her.

The disappointed populace quickly returned to their homes, allowing Theodore and William to make their way inside.

“Why didn’t she come to the palace?” William asked as Theodore ascended the stairway.

“I don’t know,” Theodore replied. “But I intend to find out.”

  “Hold it!” a heavy-set man prevented Theodore from climbing any farther. “This whole floor has been given to Kara-Meir.”

“I am Squire Theodore, of the Knights of Falador,” he said. “I am Kara’s associate.”

The man looked back over his shoulder to the innkeeper, who stood on the landing above. Theodore recognised him as the man who had addressed the crowd.

“Your name is known to us Squire Theodore,” the innkeeper said, “but Kara-Meir has left very specific instructions...” He looked at once embarrassed and emboldened. “She doesn’t want to be disturbed... by anyone.”

Theodore opened his mouth to speak, but found he couldn’t form the words. His stomach felt as if it was being squeezed by an invisible hand.

“But this is Theodore!” William protested. “He is the man who saved Kara-Meir’s life, and fought with her at the siege of Falador!”

The innkeeper looked uncertain. After a moment he seemed to arrive at a decision.

“Wait here,” he said, disappearing from the landing.

Theodore listened for Kara’s voice, but the sounds rising from the main room of the tavern made it impossible to hear anything else. After a few moments the man returned, the expression on his face unreadable.

“I have told her you are here,” he said. “But she is very tired. She has asked you to return tomorrow.”

“What about her companions—Gar’rth? And Arisha?” Theodore said finally. “Are they also unavailable?”

The innkeeper shook his head.

“I know of no such persons. She is alone, aside from a street urchin she has employed as her servant.”

What could have caused them to separate?

  “Has she been injured?” Theodore asked anxiously. It didn’t make any sense for Kara to behave in such a way, and the more he thought about it, the more the fact that Gar’rth and Arisha were missing concerned him. Had only Kara survived their trip into The Wilderness?

“She seems in perfect health,” the innkeeper answered. “You may write her a message from downstairs if you wish. Ask Karl for paper and ink. I shall see she gets it.”

The squire stood there, frozen, wrestling with the urge to push past the heavy-set man who barred the way. This was so unlike the Kara he knew, yet given the tension that had existed between them, to force the issue might only make matters worse. As he wrestled with his thoughts, a hand appeared on his shoulder.

“Come, Theodore,” William said, disappointment thick in his voice. “Let us get a drink, and you can write your letter. We can return tomorrow.”

Theodore nodded, allowing himself to be led to a table. Yet no matter how he considered what had happened, it simply didn’t make sense.

“I shall get you a strong drink, Theodore. A dwarven stout I think, imported from Falador. That will help you regain your composure.” The squire watched absently as his friend approached the waitress who stood near the kegs, being careful not to come into contact with any of the other men who clustered nearby.

Not all of the townspeople had returned to their homes, and the news that Kara had taken a room here had brought in far more customers than usual.

A man approached, following William’s direction, and without saying a word deposited a pen, paper, and a bottle of ink on the table. Before the squire could acknowledge him, the man—Karl, no doubt—hastened away.

  “Dwarven stout, Theodore, as promised.” William looked warily at the pint in his hand, and he must have spotted Theodore’s questioning look. “I’ve never had one before either. Not sure if I will again, but, as the saying goes, everything once!”

He took a tentative sip, and screwed his face up.

“Yes, just the one I think,” he said finally, before retreating to walk amongst the patrons, giving Theodore privacy to write his message.

At first he didn’t know what to write. There was little enough paper, and he had to be conservative with his words.

If I wrote what I really wanted to say, I would need a book!

The more he considered it, the more absurd the idea became. So he wrote a simple greeting, voicing his hope that Kara was well, and promising to return the next day. He was tempted to add, “with a representative of the King,” but decided against it. Instead he just signed it.

He read back over his words. Everything he wanted to say was there, save perhaps for the most important thing, something he had lain awake imagining over the many nights since he had last seen her.

The squire took a drink of his stout and, like his friend, grimaced accordingly. He wasn’t taken with drinking, despite the temptations that were a constant result of his diplomatic status, and he knew this foul liquid would not soon convince him to change.

After a few moments, however, he discovered that it did give him confidence. So he took another gulp, and before long he had drained his tankard. Then he reached again for the pen and paper.

I’ll do it!

She knows anyhow. I know she does.

Theodore wrote a final line. When he read through it again, he knew he didn’t need a book to say what he had so clearly stated.

He gestured to William before darting back up the staircase to hand his sealed letter to the same man who had barred his advance previously.

Finally, when he returned, William was seated at their table, drinking much more freely now. Standing opposite him was the same young man who had delivered the ink a moment before.

“This is Karl,” William explained. “He works here. He saw Kara today. Thought you might want to hear what happened. Go on Karl.”

Theodore returned to his seat and sipped another stout which William had brought for him. There was no seat for Karl.

“Begging your pardon sir,” he stammered to Theodore. “She told everyone who she was. She stood on that table near the kegs and said she was Kara-Meir, the saviour of Falador and that she had come to Varrock at the King’s request for the Midsummer Festival. Some people laughed at her and called her a liar, and then... well sir, she proved herself so to speak.”

Theodore shuddered involuntarily.

“What do you mean?”

“She held her scabbard up, sir. There was a blue ribbon tied to the hilt of the sword which prevented it from being drawn, or so she said. It was her promise to a man called Bewler or something...”

“Bhuler.” Theodore corrected. “His name was Bhuler.”

Karl nodded and Theodore saw that he didn’t dare contest the statement.

“Go on,” the squire prompted.

“Anyhow sir, she said to prove herself we could either fetch you from the palace sir, which we weren’t inclined to do being as it were a fair way away, or let her prove it to us. We cheered her on, and men asked her to prove who she was, and... erm... she did.”

“How did she do so, Karl?” William asked him with a mischievous smile. “You’re going to like this Theodore!”

“She drew a knife and threw it at a boy, sir.”

“She did what?”

“Threw it at a boy. A small boy who was standing right next to me. Before anyone realised it, she hurled the knife and we all jumped back. But she’s Kara-Meir you see. She didn’t miss!”

Karl laughed in the manner of someone sharing some private joke.

Saradomin give me patience!

“What didn’t she miss?” Theodore demanded before taking a long drink to prevent himself from saying anything that would demean his order.

“The boy was holding an apple, sir, and the knife went straight through it! Never seen anything like that in all my life sir! Straight into it. Ah, the juice was fl owing on the lad’s fingers as he nearly fainted at the shock of it. Well, after that no one doubted her! We lifted her up on our shoulders and led her out into the street and then back into here—everybody was celebrating.” Suddenly Karl’s face darkened. “Varrock needs a hero, sir. I know you’re a visitor here, but there’s something going on...”

Theodore felt William stiffen at his side.

“Just get on with the story,” the nobleman instructed.

“Aye sir. Well after that, she said it was only right that those who had money to spend on drink could spare some for those that had nothing. She said that was how it was in Falador now, after the war, the rich giving money to help the poor. Like you hear in the ballads sometimes, sir. You know what I mean?”

Theodore nodded.

Incredible. Kara asking for money? Unbelievable.

He froze in his seat, a sudden realisation chilling him.

The message! Gods! Who have I passed that onto?

“Well, anyhow,” Karl continued, not appearing to notice Theodore’s sudden discomfort, “she passed a sack round and people put their money in, even me, what little I could afford. She said she would give it out to the needy tomorrow, before the Midsummer Festival. We was all proud at that.”

“And then?”

“And that’s it, sir. After that, after we had filled the sack, she went upstairs where she remains now, with the boy she took as a servant.”

“What did she look like Karl?”

“Oh, she was Kara-Meir sir, no doubt. Blonde hair to her waist, slim, pale skin.” Karl hesitated, scratching his head. “Well, sir, you should know what she looks like...”

William spat his stout out in sudden glee, laughing.

Theodore’s hand smacked down on the tabletop, silencing those nearby.

“Indeed I do know what she looks like, Karl,” he said more loudly than he had intended. Then in a more controlled voice, he continued. “I am trying to ensure that it’s the same person.”

“Who else could she be, knight?” a drunken man shouted. “No one else can be that skilled with a weapon. And do you know...” He staggered forward, launching himself toward their table. “We do need a hero. Karl is right. Varrock needs a hero who can help us. Not men like you, with your coats and your buttons and your... your titles.”

The man flicked his arm toward William, who was far enough away to be out of danger, and yet as he did so the young nobleman fell back from his chair, striking the wall behind. He looked terrified.

“William! You are safe. Calm yourself,” Theodore said, standing quickly to put himself between the two men. The drunk backed away, a look of surprise on his face.

“I didn’t mean anything by it, sirs,” he mumbled, aware that he committed a serious offence. “Please sir. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

The drunk began to weep as the yellow tabards of the city guard closed in.

“No,” William said in an even tone, and then again, louder. “No—it’s all right. No harm was done.” He scanned the room, then turned to his friend. “Come Theodore, let us return to the palace. Didn’t like the stout, anyway.”

  He followed William out into the street, leaving behind a room shocked into silence, to where their horses had been secured under the watchful eye of a city guard.

“What was all that about, William?” Theodore demanded. “You dragged me from the inn, leaving me with unfinished business, acting like a...” He wanted to say coward, but he held his tongue at the last second. But it was already too late.

“A coward, Theodore? Isn’t that what you wanted to say?”

Theodore turned his head to avoid William’s gaze.

“Isn’t it?” William pressed.

“Yes, William,” Theodore admitted. “I am sorry, but it is.” Even as he spoke, however, he knew that he was wrong. This is not the way a knight of Falador would behave.

“I have heard it all my life,” William said. “Since I was old enough to understand the word and the insult it carries. My father said it often enough. My mother attempted to hide me from it, to tell me that I was ‘different to others.’ Either way, I came to realise that both were unhappy with me—the one told me so, the other simply tried to hide the fact.”

William smirked, and Theodore shivered when he saw his friend’s face, for it was a mirthless visage, one filled with contempt and self-loathing.

“Still, they were both disappointed in me,” he continued. “Their only child. The heir to a proud family of Misthalin who have counted generals and chancellors amongst their ancestry. Now, I am all that remains of their line.” Theodore saw the tears spring into his eyes as his voice broke.

“I have no love for your god, Theodore. I think you know that. I attend the services of course, as does everyone in the court of Varrock, but I cannot bring myself to worship him.”

Theodore frowned.

“What’s Saradomin got to do with this, William?”

The young noble pulled a silk handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his tears away.

“Do you believe people are cursed, Theodore?” he asked suddenly. “Through no fault of their own?” He gave a deep breath and took the reins of his horse in hand as he mounted.

“You are being silly, William,” Theodore answered. “I know you. You are not cursed—you are a good person. And I was wrong to expect you to be someone you are not.”

William laughed bitterly.

“A good man? Theodore, I am not a good man.” He rode a short distance forward before reining his horse in as the squire mounted his own mare.

“I wished to be a good man, Theodore,” William said, a little louder now to cross the short distance. “I still wish to be one. Every day. If I had my choice I would wish to be born as you were—strong, healthy, able-minded and bodied.” He twisted his mouth in a bizarre grin. “But the gods rarely grant our wishes, Theodore. Always they find ways of corrupting that which we want most of all.”

William turned and with a sudden shout he flicked his reins, galloping north toward the palace at a dangerous pace".

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