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Fan Spotlight: Jennifer Milward

Apr 23, 2024

Header image by Anastasia Ershova

Today, on World Book Day, we are delighted to showcase the fan-made works of Jennifer Milward, one of the Tomb Raider community veterans. Jenni is known for lending her voice as Lara Croft in many fan projects, as well as for writing short fanfiction stories and two unofficial fanfiction novels based on Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. Her contributions over the years have been extensive, ranging from assisting in Peter Connelly’s The Dark Angel Symphony, to being the web builder and one of the archivists for murtischofield.com (the official website of lead writer for Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Murti Schofield). Recently, Jenni also delivered a presentation at Wrexham University, discussing the challenges of adapting game narratives into books, titled ‘From Pixels to Prose’.  

Q: How did your Tomb Raider journey start? 

It was a joke. Literally. Up till 1999, I’d only known Tomb Raider via the over-sexualised marketing; definitely not my scene. Then my Mum saw a TV advert for The Last Revelation and said: “That looks like fun!” Cue us buying it for her as a joke Christmas present… and me quickly realising that the character of Lara Croft was far, far more than a busty girl with guns. By the end of the tutorial level, I’d fallen in love with both the puzzle- and platform-heavy gameplay and Lara’s character. Over the next few years, I devoured the first games, Chronicles, and The Angel of Darkness. It wasn’t long before I had signed up to Tomb Raider forums and started chatting with fellow fans, expanding my love of the franchise and the enormously creative, passionate, and whacky people who formed the fan community.  

Q: You are known as the unofficial Lara Croft voice actress within the community, having lent your voice to various projects such as Titak's TRLE: The Mists of Avalon, MD's TRLE: War of the Worlds, Nicobass' Tomb Raider: Dagger of Xian fan-made remake demo, and Simon Bucher's History & Geography in Tomb Raider YouTube series, to name a few. What sparked your interest in voice acting? 

Telling stories through the spoken word has always fascinated me; I can still quote most of the audiobooks I listened to in my childhood, and I remember the awe I felt at how whole characters, atmospheres, and action can be portrayed purely through tone, emphasis, and accents. In 2006, I was browsing the Tomb Raider Level Editor (TRLE) section of the forum and saw a request for someone to voice Lara in their WIP levelset. “Female and British” was the brief, and since that was me and I had nothing to lose, I messaged them with a sample of me reading some lines from TLR. They instantly came back and asked if I could record the entire script, so I guess I hit the mark! The TRLE community is very close knit and relies a lot on word-of-mouth, and before long I started getting more requests from different people to voice their projects. Within a year, I’d leapt the fence from TRLE into fan-made animations, trailers, mod showcases, and even long-form projects like documentaries. Eighteen years later, I’m still in awe of how rich and diverse these fan-made creations are and feel extremely lucky to be part of it. 

Q: Your primary passion lies in writing, as evidenced by the numerous short Tomb Raider fanfiction stories you have written over the years. Is there a particular short story that you are especially proud of? 

My favourite has to be An Angel in The Darkness. It’s a novella I originally published a chapter at a time on Tomb Raider Forums; shortly afterwards, several fan artists got together to publish original artworks to accompany each chapter and make it into a collaborative project, which was absolutely jaw dropping! It’s my interpretation of the events between the end of The Last Revelation and the start of The Angel of Darkness, and was written long before Murti Schofield published his story of The Myth of El Hawa, and before I’d read The Amulet of Power. All fans really had to go on about that period in Lara’s life were a few vague allusions in AoD to a shamanic character named Putai and Lara spending an unspecified time with “obscure African tribes” before returning to England as a recluse.  

I’d always enjoyed writing, but as I became a fan of Tomb Raider, this missing piece of Lara’s chronology became an itch I simply had to scratch. As the story grew, I realised it wasn’t going to feature big action set pieces or the world-ending drama of TLR; it was more introspective, more focused on how Lara takes stock of where her reckless adventuring has led her and how it has almost destroyed her. The first three Tomb Raider games were very standalone, but TLR onwards showed us a Lara who could grow and change internally, rather than simply catalysing changes around her. If TLR ended in Lara’s “death”, and AoD was about her rebirth, then this short story had to bridge those two states of mind, to show that Lara wanted and needed to come back from the brink. That’s one reason I created the character of Salieah – the young girl whom Lara befriends as she lives amongst the Tuareg. Salieah’s feistiness and innocence helped anchor Lara back in the real world, and Lara saving her at the end is a symbol that this little girl has become a reason for Lara to carry on living until she finds her new, reborn purpose in life. My favourite part of the story is when Putai (and Horus!) helps guide Lara to spiritually relive some of the traumas she’d experienced – and gains new insights about herself in the process. That’s a theme I carried forward into the novelisation of The Angel of Darkness

Jenni's AOD Novelisation Cover

Q: Your first major work was the unofficial novelization of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. Adapting a game script into a novel can be a challenging undertaking, as the mediums are completely different. Can you walk us through the creative process behind your Angel of Darkness adaptation? 

I had so much fun writing the novella An Angel in The Darkness that I wanted to leap straight into continuing the story and novelise the whole of AoD. However, it needed a lot of groundwork and research first. The point I emphasised in my presentation at Wrexham about adapting videogame narratives to novels is you’re writing an adaptation, not a transcription. Most people who’ve only ever played the more recent games in the Tomb Raider franchise will only think of AoD in terms of second-hand accounts of unfinished gameplay and bugs, when in reality AoD was far, far ahead of its time in terms of story and character development. Certainly, if it was being produced today, its worldbuilding alone would easily rival titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Last of Us. I was already very familiar with the game, but during my research I replayed it several times, taking extensive notes about the things you just can’t get from scripts or walkthroughs – all the immersive environmental and emotional details that we only notice on a subconscious level when we’re busy playing the game. The actual writing started in 2008, but then had a 2–3 year hiatus due to personal reasons. In 2012, I was able to pick it up again and finish the full novel.  

The hardest part was filling in all the little (and not so little) missing pieces of the plot. Murti Schofield and the other members of Core Design had been forced to scale back an ambitious three-game series to meet publisher deadlines, and this meant many plot beats had to be cut, relocated, or even deleted entirely at very short notice. The resulting game worked, but at times felt like it lacked clear explanations or connections. I was determined to fix that, both by smoothing over the rough bits and filling in any outright gaps; for example, Karel being able to shapeshift into other characters at key moments meant I had to work out a timeline for when he was in Paris or Prague, how he would keep track of Lara in order to guide her, and why he would choose to masquerade as particular people at particular times. It was a headache, but worth it (and gods bless timeline-tracking software!). On the plus side, it was a real joy to write chapters from Lara’s point of view. The internal journey she began in An Angel in The Darkness could be carried forward to its next stage, where she is forced to give up her quiet, comfortable reclusive state – and all her usual resources – and rediscover her true identity through the crucible of hunting Werner’s murderer. 

Q: Your Angel of Darkness novelization evolved into a fully-fledged fan-made audiobook. What inspired you to create the audiobook, and what were the biggest challenges and joys during the work process? 

Adapting and recording an audiobook was something I’d been thinking about ever since I started to get comfortable doing voiceovers for all those fan-made projects. I had the tools, I had the time, I didn’t have external pressures to worry about… so why not? A lot of audiobooks are basic unabridged readings, but I really wanted to stretch my skills with Cubase to make it more of a radio dramatisation (e.g. like Brian Sibley and the BBC’s Lord of the Rings) filled with ambient music and SFX. After trying out a test sample (i.e. the Prologue), I realised I could do it if I paced myself and didn’t impose unrealistic deadlines. It took well over a year to adapt, record, mix, and publish, but it was a joyous experience from start to finish. By far the best part of the process was receiving audio files from my co-actor, Adamm Khuevrr. He voiced every male character apart from Eckhardt’s acolyte (a wonderful cameo from Murti Schofield himself!), and his passion, range, and professionalism (not to mention his kindness in sharing his skills) elevated it from a simple audiobook to a dramatic piece of performance art. I would do more audiobook adaptations – especially alongside Adamm – in a heartbeat; the only thing preventing it is the sheer amount of work involved, which is much more than my illnesses will currently allow. Ah well. I can still dream. 

You can listen to Jenni’s unofficial Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness Audiobook on her YouTube channel. 

Murti Schofield & Jenni Milward

In the photo: Murti Schofield & Jenni Milward 

Q: Is there a message you want to convey to the Tomb Raider community? 

The community has changed a lot in the two decades I’ve been an active part of it. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the sheer, concentrated energy of fans who are also creators. We can chat about our love for the franchise till the cows come home, but the community absolutely shines when inspired fans come together to collaborate on creative projects. I wouldn’t have gotten to this stage of my writing journey without the dedicated group of my friends who are also fellow fans – encouraging, critiquing, and adding their own unique skills to make it into something far bigger than just a one-shot fanfiction I churned out in isolation. Despite all its ups and downs, I feel enormously grateful to be part of this fandom and to have been involved in so many projects, getting to know such incredibly kind and talented people along the way.  

To read Jenni’s novelization of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, visit her website

Header image by Anastasia Ershova 

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