How To Create Your Very Own Living Breathing Fantasy World

Today I’m thrilled to introduce the immensely creative John Tarrow, a talented author and next-level, real-life builder of fantasy worlds. John has kindly put together the guide below to show you how to create your own fantasy world, just like John did himself.

Worldbuilding is perhaps the toughest part of writing fantasy. Authors discuss it all of the time and it’s featured heavily on this blog in the past. Funnily enough, it’s also our favourite episode on the podcast I co-host (The Fantasy Writer’ Toolshed).

But none of these issues dissuaded John, who takes worldbuilding to the next level. What greater way to understand your setting than to create and live it? I can’t wait until Lockdown is over and we can take a trip down to John’s amazing house. And you can too! At the very end of this guide, John’s included some links on how to book some of his amazing rooms, plus enchanted experiences.

Over to John…

Fantasy world building

How To Create Your Own Fantasy World

When somebody calls my home, the telephone rings in Italy, New York and Japan.

It is a journalist, some magazine I have never heard of, asking to interview me about my fantasy house.

“What fantasy house?” I ask

“Tallliston House & Gardens.”

“Oh, that’s no fantasy,” I say. “I live there every day.”

And it’s true.

Once I began looking for the house of my dreams, I soon realised that the house I wanted to live in and the house I could afford were at near opposite ends of the property ladder. Still, I had an idea of how to bring those two together. Being an author with no interior design or building experience, I approached the creation of what would become “Britain’s Most Extraordinary Home” (The Times) in exactly the same way as I plot a novel.

Each room or garden was a chapter, set in a different time and place; as particular as locations in a travelogue. Employing the full machinery of my imagination, I included scenes, characters and wild descriptions. I scoured my previous short stories, poetry and writings. Ultimately, I posed myself fanciful questions. The perfect place for Gospel brunch? 1954 New Orleans. The perfect place to sleep? A starry July night at The Alhambra palace in Spain. A hunting lodge for rich weirdoes? A late Victorian tower in Snowdonia.

And those telephones? Everything works at Talliston; so the three phones exist in a palazzo hallway, a 1920s occult investigators office in Manhattan and a Japanese tea house.

worldbuilding castle

Houses Both Real & Imagined

I have always been fascinated with fantasy houses from the pages of my favourite novels. The earliest I can trace encountering one such property was rambling through Hearst Castle in California. Citizen Kane’s Xanadu is located on the ‘deserts of the Gulf Coast’ in Florida and built on an immense ‘private mountain’. Described as being the world’s largest private estate, it is a thinly-disguised version of Randolph Hearst’s mansion, just as Kane is a thinly-disguised Hearst. It was a film set made real to visit, as much a fantasy as my first visit to Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom the previous week.

The two greatest influences on Talliston were Peter Straub’s Shadowland and Mark Z. Danielski’s House of Leaves. Not as well known or loved as Ghost Story, the web of Shadowland is centred by stage magician Coleman Collins. His nephew and friend arrive one summer to be taught magic – but the tricks and trappings of their schooling soon take a darker turn. In the house, previously locked rooms open to reveal ever more incredible locations. One doorway leads to war-torn trenches, the next a grandiose theatre. I fell in love with such delusional designs.

Another incredible influence was Mark Z. Danielewski’s labyrinthine debut. Using multiple narrators, endless footnotes and a central house that metamorphoses into a terrifying underworld, House of Leaves centres upon the sections concerning an entirely fictitious documentary film called The Navidson Record. This plots the Navidson family who move to a new home in Virginia and begin to discover bizarre changes in its layout and dimensions.

fantasy worldbuilding guide

Living Inside a Fantasy

It took twenty-five years to build Talliston and once I was done, I decided to chronicle the project not as a coffee-table picture book, but as a classic fantasy novel. The Stranger’s Guide To Talliston is the result. Equal parts Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, His Dark Materials and The Lion, Witch And The Wardrobe, each chapter is based inside one of the many rooms and gardens of Talliston.

how to create your own fantasy world

It tells the story of how thirteen-year-old Joe’s world is shattered when he enters a deserted council house and becomes trapped within a labyrinth protecting the last magical places on earth. Hunted by sinister forces, the boy is forced ever deeper into both the maze and the mystery of his missing parents. What lies at the labyrinth’s centre and will it reunite him with the family he so desperately needs? I already know. I’ve built the answer to those enigmatic questions already.

I invite you all to explore the rabbit holes that are the websites for the house and book, and maybe come up and see us sometime. As The Times so deftly put it: “Talliston is hard to imagine and impossible to forget”. Just like our favourite storybooks.

Discover More

VISIT THE HOUSE | Talliston House & Gardens | Britain’s Most Extraordinary

BUY THE BOOK | The Stranger’s Guide To Talliston | The Fantasy Novel set Inside the Labyrinth of Talliston

JOIN THE FELLOWSHIP | The Talliston Fellowship

Unlock exclusive content, video, rewards and support the building of the new project


About John Tarrow

John Tarrow was born in London and spent his childhood with a Smith-Corona Calypso typewriter and a wild imagination, both of which he still owns. Now a novelist, poet, storyteller and award-winning writer, his extensive studies in Lakota Sioux and Druidic traditions offer readers stories resonant with magic, folklore and the wonders of the natural to create your own fantasy world

As creative lead at Talliston, John’s transformation of the house and gardens showcases his ability to design extraordinary locations in the most ordinary of places. Using objects sourced worldwide, these spaces tell incredibly powerful and timeless stories. His novel The Stranger’s Guide to Talliston weaves together its 13 rooms into a rich narrative and introduces us to an ordinary boy who discovers the secret to achieving the extraordinary.


More Worldbuilding Tips

Below, I’ve included links to some other guides and tools on how to create a fantasy world.


Thank you so much for reading this guide on how to create your own fantasy world. If you’d like more help with worldbuilding or designing worlds, then my writing group could be the place for you. It’s brimming with helpful writers from across the globe, all willing to help and support you with your own scribblings. To join, just click below!

fantasy writing group

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