Post by dirkbowden on Mar 20, 2020 10:58:42 GMT -5
I recently interviewed Pete on behalf of the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club UK. The interview was on the general topic of creating an armchair treasure hunt, how to go about it, what kind of challenges it poses etc. I post below the questions and answers from the interview.
Hope you find it interesting!
You created the hunt in conjunction with two of your children, who were quite young at the time. Firstly, what a fantastic and novel idea! What do you remember from these early creative sessions?
I was divorced from their mother and had limited time with my children. I wanted to use it to do something constructive with them that they would remember for a long time. I don't recall exactly when we decided it would be a treasure hunt but we did. I remembered Masquerade by Kit Williams and decided to use this as inspiration and a blueprint. One of the first things we did was choose the content for the pictures and produced some very rough sketches.
Did you always have an idea about a treasure hunt structure – and did you have to explain this to your children – or did you create a hunt structure around the ideas your children were coming up with?
No, there was never a master plan. The children came up with some ideas for the pictures with my encouragement. We drew rough sketches and decided on 11 images. I've said previously the children got bored after a couple of months and the project was on the back burner. I think it was a couple of years later that I decided to resurrect the project and commissioned an artist to produce the images. When they were completed I had to create a story that would coherently connect all the random images.
Did you or the children have any other hobbies similar to treasure hunting or was creating The Oracle something a bit different from the norm for you guys?
Creating The Oracle was definitely 'a bit different from the norm'. I was motivated by doing something constructive, creative, interactive and inclusive with my children. I had limited time with them under the arrangements and just wanted to cram in as much as possible.
After the children’s input, I gather that you finalised The Oracle yourself and enlisted an illustrator, Ariel Gulluni, to create the images. One imagines that the images required a certain degree of precision. Did you explain to the artist what the purpose of the illustrations were? And did you find it hard giving part of the hunt creation over to someone else?
The images do contain some precision but they are mainly symbolic. I think I did explain to Ariel that the pictures were for a book but no more than that. I did send him a copy of the book when it was published so if he didn't know at the time he was working on them he certainly knew soon after. Yes, it was hard giving over part of the hunt to someone else and I did flirt with the idea of doing them myself. It was a short flirtation and practicalities won.
The book takes inspiration from Kit Williams’ Masquerade. Were there any other armchair treasure hunts that influenced you?
I wasn't really aware of other ATHs. I only ever had exposure to Masquerade and assumed it was a one off. It was about 20 years after its publication when we started the project and I thought it was about time for a similar hunt.
Two challenges in creating a hunt are (1) ensuring that the hunt is robust and elegant in its structure; and (2) gauging how difficult the hunt will be to solve. How did you navigate these two challenges when creating The Oracle?
Great question! The ultimate conundrum for an ATH writer. I think it's fair to say I erred on the safe side using a symbolic approach and not actually spelling out the solution in the same way Kit did. I also created some rules to allow written submissions. The option is always available to go and retrieve the token but if hunters want to submit a written solution that's fine but they must specify the location within one square meter. I was concerned that somebody might stumble across the location by chance so I made sure the token would have no intrinsic value and the prize would be cash.
Did you test your ideas out on anyone when you were putting The Oracle together?
I didn't really test my ideas out with anyone once I'd decided the location. It had to be a solo effort to maintain the integrity of the hunt.
Did you have an anticipated solve time in mind when you created The Oracle?
I didn't have an anticipated solve time in mind at the time. I was hoping the book would go viral and the prize fund would grow exponentially with loads of hunters on the case and someone would solve it within a few years. Obviously it didn't pan out like that but I always assumed it would be open ended. It was always going to be a function of how many copies were sold.
How much of a consideration was the financial aspect of creating The Oracle?
The financial aspect, hmmm. Well it started out as an innocent activity with my children, I must admit it became a commercial consideration after a while, I was hoping to emulate the success of Kit. Right now the venture is a net loss but I live in hope.
Once The Oracle was published the fun didn’t stop for you! Can you tell me a little bit about how important hunt management is?
Hunt management, well I'm an IT professional and figured it would help to set up a website. I found a simple templated solution and was really pleased with the result. I was receiving numerous emails with proposed solutions and great feedback, how much people were enjoying the hunt. It made sense to me to create a resource for hunters. Again, I had to create some rules, submissions had to be in public via the forum. I was trying to create an online community and build collateral for the project at the same time. In terms of responding to the community it's a balance between maintaining an air of mystique and respecting the hunters. I'm happy with the current weekly update cycle.
What was the easiest thing about creating The Oracle, and the hardest?
The easiest thing which I thought would be the hardest was the actual production of the hard back edition. A long time friend of mine, Roy Hackett, was production director at Stanley's Post, he took the manuscript and turned it into the finished product. The hardest thing was making the decision to go ahead and write the book after the images were produced. As I said earlier, I had to write a coherent story to link the random images and at the same time provide enough information to supplement the images to encourage a holistic approach. It was a daunting prospect, anyway I wrangled a sabbatical from my job and set myself a routine. I played golf every morning then went home and sat in front of the PC. The amazing thing was the words started to flow. The story came together in a coherent manner. Random thoughts and ideas I had had over the years were all used, every piece of text I had saved over the previous years was injected into the final product. I then decided to write a master riddle in honour of Kit. Again the inspiration just came to me, I wrote the master riddle, somehow was inspired to write a poem, Solar System, and then decided every picture should have a poem. I just followed the routine day after day and the words came out.
One of the great things about armchair treasure hunts is how creative and original the ‘final solution’ can be. One thinks of Masquerade for example; we know that Kit Williams had the final solution method first and worked backwards from there. How challenging was creating the final solution for The Oracle? Did you always know what your final solution method was or did this come later?
I had decided in advance where the location would be so it was a case of creating the images and the story to provide clues to the location. When I decided to write the poems there was another opportunity to embed some clues.
With the benefit of hindsight, if you could go back in time(!) and change anything about how you created and managed The Oracle, would you?
Even with the benefit of hindsight there's not much I would have done differently. One thing does stand out and that is the published retail price. It was in the era when Harry Potter was all the vogue and the prices of those books were not cheap. I had visited a local branch of Waterstones on the advice they are sympathetic towards local authors. They said they would stock it but be mindful of the price. I figured it was not unreasonable to pitch the price of my hardback first edition a couple of quid below that of a Harry Potter paperback with the intention of discounting at first launch. Waterstones disagreed and refused to stock the book. Maybe next time I won't print the price on the cover.
There is certainly so much to be proud of, but as the hunt setter, what has pleased you most about The Oracle?
What pleased me most was all the positive feedback. I can honestly say there have been no negative reviews and so many people have mentioned the same as you they found it very educational which was of course one of the main drivers. The only negativity has been on the forum. A couple of pranksters mimicking myself posting false comments and one frustrated team who had forensically dissected the book and proclaimed it was unsolvable.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about creating their own armchair treasure hunt?
The advice I would give. Enjoy yourself, have fun, don't expect to get rich quick, use a redeemable discreet token as your prize, take the opportunity to be artistic and express yourself. Also record all your thoughts and ideas however random as they occur to you. I often sent myself an email which meant I could copy and paste them into my manuscript.