Interview with John French

After much faffing around here is the awaited interview with Black Library writer John French, just as we leave March allergies and April foolery.

Courtesy of The Black Library

Can you tell us about your novel Ahriman: Exile? The story and characters, specifically Ahriman. Is it action-oriented or slow-paced?

Ahriman: Exile is about Ahriman (of Chaos Sorcerer infamy) in the time after his banishment from the Planet of the Sorcerers. It starts with Ahriman in a very different place to what most people would expect. He has watched his Legion be destroyed by the Rubric he cast to save it. For once he has seen the limits of his knowledge, and seen that there are things that are beyond his grasp. The novel then follows his rise from that state to… something else.

How did you go on with writing for a famous Codex character such as Ahriman? Did Black Library approach you with the idea or was it your idea all along? I know that Black Library writers have favourite characters they want to write about.

It was an off the cuff remark that started it. I was trying to pitch another novel, and my editor was lukewarm about my idea. I said something like ‘well, I will just do an Ahriman book instead,’ and my editor blinked, then said ‘Ok, what would you do?’. It was not the response I was expecting, at all. At the time I thought that the Thousand Sons and Ahriman were being worked on by someone else. I also was fairly sure that they would not let me roll straight into such a key character. But there I was, with a big open ‘what you’ll you do?’ waiting to be answered. Luckily an idea came along just in time for me to reply. It changed a bit as I flesh it out, but the essence of that first idea became Ahriman: Exile.

What was the writing process for the book? Can you describe how you go about working on a novel?

I tend to start with a single event, character or circumstance. I prod that first concept around in my head. Then I talk to people about it (editors, friends, other writers), and see if their eyes glaze over. If I get that response then I start again. I am lucky in that I have very inspiring friends and colleagues, who are not short on opinions. The best reactions are the negative ones, the times when they think that I have missed the point, or ignored something important. That’s the really good stuff, because it adds layers and hard edges to bounce off.
After that I write the idea down in as few words as possible. Can the idea be expressed simply and directly? Yes – good. No – start again. I plan. Bullet points and key story beats are hammered out.
I realise that I need an extra subplot because otherwise the whole thing is going to be like head butting through breeze block walls. I change the plan. I start writing, and try to hit key milestones by set times.
I realise, yet again, that the plan is just a map to save me if I get lost, and will have to be changed
Characters come and go, change names, change gender, change their role in the plot, and generally cause trouble on the page.
Eventually – after all the ups and downs of thinking its going well, knowing it’s not, believing it’s great, and being convinced it’s not – a rough draft turns up.
My long suffering alpha reader gets to batter through my mistakes. I redraft, moving big chunks of text around, scrapping scenes, burning word count down, adding stuff in and chopping it out.I put together a reading draft that looks close to the finished deal. The reading draft goes out to my beta readers (thanks, guys). I wait in a state of nervous tension for them to tell me it’s dull, or makes no sense, or that the bit that I really like is, in fact, pointless. The comments come back. I read them, alternating between joy and despair.I redraft again.
It goes to the editors, and the nervous tension starts again. Comments come back. More drafts appear. It goes to the copy editors and proof readers. More drafts.
Print galleys appear – ‘last chance to change that hideous typo you spotted on page 76…’ And then, at long last, like a dust covered traveller riding through a city’s gate, it’s printed, and becomes real. Simple, no?

Is Ahriman a favourite character of yours?

So much hubris, so much self delusion, and so much power… Yeah, he is a lot of fun to write.

Did you draw inspiration from any outside influences such as films, books and music?

Music more than anything. Books and stories often have a song that just ends up bonding to them, and I suppose influencing the feel of the story. The Last Remembrancer and a song called Sanvean by Lisa Gerrard are linked in my head. For Ahriman the track Surface of the Sun from the soundtrack to Sunshine got played a lot.

Can you mention your favourite parts and least favourite of the book? The ups and downs?

I am fairly convinced that the bits which writers like about their own work are not the bits that others like, and it’s same with the stuff that writers don’t like. What I like or don’t like is really bound up with the writing process. For example I was so tired when I was doing the last sections of Exile, that I always flip back to feeling less than good when I think about them. On the flip side of that coin, I really enjoyed doing the cross cutting between characters when they are on the dead Astropath station.

What do you prefer to write, action scenes or character driven stories?
I love writing dialogue. For me that’s really were you see characters emerge, but if I didn’t like writing action 40k would be a hard setting to work in.

Writers have different patterns when they’re involved in their writing. Is the writing process for you a lonely one or do you become more social?

It’s essentially solitary for me. I write on my own, with the internet shut down, listening to a long playlist of music on big headphones. So… yeah, I shut the rest of the world out as much as I can. Having said that, when I am not at the keyboard I develop ideas by talking them through with other people.

What made you write for Warhammer 40k? Was it by chance or was it intended all along? If so, are you a big 40k fan?
I am a lifelong fan. I think I wanted to write professionally for 40k ever since I first encountered the setting.

Do you have any plans writing for Warhammer Fantasy in the future?

It would be interesting, but no plans at present.

Will you continue writing Arkham Horror novels? Do you see any similarities writing Lovecraftian horror and 40k fiction? Are they part of the same for you?

The Lord of Nightmares trilogy was a complete blast to write. In particular because I got to collaborate with Alan Bligh. It was also a great change of gear to write in the (well maybe a version of) the real world.
I think they are both very distinct worlds. I suppose there are common threads of horror, and the supernatural, but 40k has such a strong style that it is difficult to put it in the same pool as anything.

As a big Lovecraft fan I have to ask : Short fiction or novels, which one do you prefer?

The short fiction, no doubt. But I have to confess that I prefer Chambers and Clark Ashton Smith.

Can you remember what it was like when you started writing, and do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Professionally, or in general? In general, hmmm, not really, I wrote stories when I was young enough that memory gets a bit blurred.
Professionally, oh yeah. I still have the commissioning paperwork. I was so excited, but I was also terrified that I now had to actually deliver.
Get proper, harsh feedback, and listen to it. You don’t have to follow it, but you should always listen to it, and spend time considering it. Get to know yourself as a writer, good and bad. This thing we do is a craft first and an art second; learn your craft. Don’t do things by accident.
Keep going.

What are your biggest influence in your work? Any films , novels, music, people?

Everything and anything.
But seriously, it’s difficult to pin down because some of the strangest and tiniest things might be the seed of an idea. I got the some of inspiration for the details of the summoning scene in Ahriman: Exile, from watching a video of people releasing lantern kites. Sometimes I think it would be cool to take a chapter from a book, and get a writer to do a big exploded multi-media mood board, showing some of the things that nudged into their mind as they wrote it.

Can you tell us about your interests?

I have a fairly varied set of interests, including a poor taste in music, running, history, a bit of philosophy, gaming, eating, sleeping, talking, and generally being a bit of an intellectual butterfly.

It seems that many fans of Black Library started reading fantasy as young children. Can you name your favourite books from your childhood?

Depends how young, but if you take a large chunk of time running from when I started to read books that just had words (or mainly words) to about 13, and in no particular order:
The Hobbit, Watership Down, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was completely obsessed by Agatha Christie for two years somewhere around the 10 year old mark… Asterix and Obelix, everything by Terry Pratchett, all of the Sharpe books, The Witches, The Wooden Horse, The Lord of the Rings, I, Claudius (yes I was a bit young for it, but it’s a hell of a book), The Chronicles of Narnia (the demon god in The Last Battle left marks in my mind I am sure)… err, probably a quite few more that have slipped my mind.

Favourite music?

The choral Music of Thomas Tallis, most of DJ Shadows work (particularly Entroducing), any film score by Hans Zimmer, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Bruce Springsteen, Portishead, Faithless, The Portico Quartet, almost anything with Daniel Hope playing a violins in it…Yeah, you weren’t expecting that to make consistent sense were you?

Bestest food?

Pizza. Food of the gods.

Chaos or the Emperor? Describe why.

Chaos, because it is everything.

Best replies in my opinion, pizza and Chaos couldn’t be a better combination. Many thanks to John French for having patience with obsessive fan questions. Images courtesy of The Black Library.

Far Worlds: A Universe-Spanning Anthology.

Far Worlds

Across the unfathomably vast depths of space, the cylindrical nomad, known by some as ‘The Drift Engine’, travels the slow route between stars. Alone, it crosses the black gulf, where men freeze and stories die. But sometimes, it finds context amidst the void; intrigue, laughter, hate, madness and love, tales as diverse as life itself, in all its complex forms. The Far Worlds Anthology takes you on a journey to explore just some of these tales…

Good day my fellow Blogholers! It’s that time of a year again; the stars are right, and the latest Bolthole anthology, Far Worlds, is almost ready to escape its bonds and run amok across the universe (or the internet, whatever)!

This is the third of the anthologies produced and published by the Bolthole, and it has been my and He2etic’s[1] third time as co-editors, with ever-vigilant and grammatically merciless Hanna Gribble joining us as the final editor in our triad. This is also the third time the talented mister Mesones has lent his artistic skills to the beautiful cover art, pictured above.[2] But Manuel has gone above and beyond for this anthology, and has created illustrations for each of the main stories featured in the book.

Work started on our latest offering almost as soon as the last anthology, the engrossing Marching Time, was on the shelves. We have some returning authors, but also a slew of new faces, ready to impress you with their tales.

This year’s collection of short stories is linked together not by theme, as was the case in The Black Wind’s Whispers and Marching Time, but by setting. All the exotic far worlds depicted in the stories this year all takes place within the same universe, but otherwise could not be more different. We wanted to see our authors really go to town on creating whatever alien civilisation and story they wanted. No genres were off the table, from romance stories and comedies, to the more traditional speculative fiction and fantasy genres. Our only stipulations were that Earth could not be referenced, and that there were to be no shortcuts around the lightspeed barrier; if they wanted to leave their systems, it would be the long way round. Space is big, and we wanted it to feel big. Interstellar travel should feel like an almost insurmountable odyssey, not a long haul coach ride.

With such a vast canvas open to them, our authors have really delivered some great stories. Here are the main stories appearing in the anthology:

Anomaly, by Jonathan Ward
Rainer, by Heidi Ruby Miller
The Lost and Found, by Kerri Fitzgerald
Helzenthrax, by A. R. Aston
City Blue, by Edward Smith
Golden Planet, by Evan Purcell
A Pelnodan Bounty, by James Fadeley
Bequeathal, by K. Ceres Wright
Salvation Comes, by Simon Farrow
Endaris, by Michael J. Hollows
Alone, by Alex Helm
The War Room, by Michael Seese
Shard of Heaven, by Damir Salkovic
And finally, The Drift Engine.

In addition, a wealth of bonus flash fiction will be included to satiate your literary hunger. Overall, this will be the biggest, most jam-packed anthology yet, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

Thanks for reading!

[1] Real name James Fadeley to his friends, and the various bounty hunters on his trail…
[2] Lots of threes involved in this anthology it seems huh? Conspiracy theorists, feel free to go nuts!

Far Worlds will be released 25th March 2014, available at, in kindle and paperback format. For more information on the anthology and its authors, please visit our Facebook page, for author interviews, free goodies and art!

Writing Market News – February 7

Boothworld Industries Anthology

This is an interesting one. The Boothworld Industries Anthology is looking for stories with a shared premise of an evil corporation called Boothworld Industries participating in all manner of nefarious activities. Genre and setting are flexible, as it’s not a shared universe, just a shared premise. The one unifying idea is Boothworld Industries, but the implementation of that idea can change from story to story.

Deadline: July 1, 2014
Words: Any (1,500 – 7,500 recommended)
Pay: $20
Reprints: No

Boroughs of the Dead II

To be published by Myth Ink Books, Boroughs of the Dead follows on from the inaugural book in the series. Desired are horror and ghost stories set in New York City. Contemporary or historical are both acceptable for the setting, but the city must play a prominent part in shaping the story.

Deadline: February 28, 2014
Words: Under 3,500 (query up to 5,000)
Pay: $25
Reprints: Yes

Lock and Load: Both Barrels Vol. 3

Straying a little from the usual fare here, Both Barrels Vol. 3 will be an anthology of crime fiction published by One Eye Press. It’s nice to know up front that there are 25 openings for stories in this anthology. They are quite concise in what they are looking for:

“We’re looking for premium crime fiction from hard luck to whodoneits. We lean towards noir and the non-salvageable protagonist, but a good story is a good story.”

Deadline: May 11, 2014 (Do not submit before March 2)
Words: 1,500 – 4,500
Pay: $25
Reprints: Yes

Untitled Ares/Mars Anthology

Rounding out the lineup today as the non-paying market is a curious little collection being assembled by Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Intended to be a devotional anthology in honor of the gods Ares and Mars, the collection is looking for a wide range of material, including “prayers, rituals, hymns, essays, visual artwork, and short stories or plays.”

Deadline: August 1, 2014
Words: Unspecified
Pay: None
Reprints: Yes

Writing Market News – January 24

As some of you noticed, there was not a market news post last week. I apologize for that. Work has exploded for me, and I’m embarrassed to admit the slip went unnoticed by me until Wednesday of this week when someone mentioned it.

Since things are unlikely to calm down for a month or more, and I still have my own writing commitments also competing for my time, I’m making a change with these posts. From this point on, market news will be posted bi-weekly. This means the next post will be February 7, and then two weeks after that, etc. I don’t have confidence that this won’t slip again if I try sticking to a weekly schedule, so I think this adjustment is the best alternative with an eye toward consistency.

Inscription Magazine

Inscription Magazine is a young adult market looking for science fiction and fantasy stories. They have specific guidelines for what they are looking for in a young adult story, as well as some diversity themes they would enjoy seeing explored, so please read through the submission page carefully.

Deadline: Ongoing
Words: 500 – 9,000
Pay: $.05 per word
Reprints: Yes

Bastion Magazine

Bastion Magazine is a new science fiction market, with their first issue set to be released April 2014, and monthly thereafter. Many sub-genres of science fiction are accepted, including horror, but no romance or erotica. Given this is a brand new market, it’s likely to have lower submission volume than some existing markets, so this could be a good one to target if you can sling together a SF story.

Deadline: Ongoing
Words: 1,000 – 5,000
Pay: $.01 per word
Reprints: No

Phobos Two: Emergence

Issue two of Phobos Magazine is looking for weird fiction stories set to a theme of “emergence.” They describe what they are looking for as “transformation, skin-shedding, things coming together, bursting forth, surfacing from the depths, and emerging from the darkness for good or ill.”

Deadline: March 31, 2014
Words: Under 2,500 words
Pay: $.05 per word
Reprints: Unknown

Zombies in Japan

The non-paying market this time, Zombies in Japan is a new open call from Dreamscape Press. The name pretty much says it all with this one. You must have zombies, and they must be in Japan.

Note: Dreamscape also has another new open call looking for Lovecraftian horror stories.

Deadline: March 15, 2014
Words: 150 – 1,000
Pay: None
Reprints: Yes

Writing Market News – January 10

Today’s listings are almost all themed around superheroes and superpowers. The non-paying market is the one exception, instead being post-apocalyptic themed. I wanted to put that out there up front today to save people time who aren’t interested in superheroes.

Penumbra May Edition – Superheroes

Another call from Penumbra, the May edition is themed around Superheroes. It’s obvious, but no fan fiction or using existing superheroes or villains. Other than that, this call is wide open.

Deadline: March 1, 2014
Words: Under 3,500
Pay: $.05 per word
Reprints: Yes

The Good Fight

The Good Fight will be an anthology put together by Emby Press. Emby is all about monsters, and this anthology is no different. Put your hero to work fighting the evil that lurks in the shadows and preys on humanity. They are looking for grand and spectacular fights between these forces.

Note: Emby has another open call ending the same time, so check out the submission page for more info.

Deadline: March 31, 2014
Words: 2,000 to 10,000 words
Pay: $25
Reprints: No

Inaccurate Realities – Superpowers

Volume 4 of Inaccurate Realities is also themed around superpowers. This is a young adult market, so bear that in mind when considering your story. Other than that, your options are again pretty wide open.

Deadline: May 15, 2014
Words: 2,000 – 5,000
Pay: $15-$25
Reprints: Yes

StoneThread SpecFic Short Story Contest III

The non-paying market this week is a contest. StoneThread Publishing is looking for speculative fiction stories set in a post-apocalyptic setting. Stories that are selected will be published in an ebook anthology. As is often the case, this is more of a semi-paying market.

Deadline: March 31, 2014
Words: 1,000 – 10,000
Pay: None (Prizes for 1 – 5 place: $60, $50, $40, $30, $20)
Reprints: No

Writing Market News – January 3

We’re back with your weekly dose of market news now that the holidays are over. This post is going up later than I would like, but better late than never, right? I trust everyone had a relaxing and/or productive holiday season. I managed to get some writing done (and submitted!), and I hope you did as well.

Let’s get right into this week’s market listings.


Aghast is a new journal of horror and dark fantasy to be published twice a year by Kraken Press. They are looking for supernatural and other strange tales, and are not interested in “serial killers, werewolves, vampires or zombies.”

Deadline: Ongoing
Words: 250 – 1,000; 1,500 – 7,000; 10,000 – 30,000
Pay: $.01 per word
Reprints: Query

Crossed Genres Magazine – Music Theme

Crossed Genres seeks to blend genres and themes monthly with their regular staples of science fiction and fantasy. The theme for February submissions is “music” (if you’re feeling ambitious, the January theme is “food). Stories should incorporate this element, as well as fall under SF or fantasy. Crossed Genres also has a lengthy description of things they would like and things they don’t really care for, so check the guidelines carefully.

Deadline: February 28, 2014 (do not submit before February 1)
Words: 1,000 – 6,000
Pay: $.05 a word
Reprints: No


Twit Publishing is assembling stories for an anthology featuring everyone’s favorite characters (those that aren’t pirate lovers at least), NINJAS! I think they put it best when listing what they are after:

Future Ninjas, past Ninjas, present Ninjas, Ninjas fighting fascist states, Ninjas in the Old West, Ninjas fighting dinosaurs, Ninjas fighting Vikings, Ninjas fighting werewolves, etc. and so on, and so forth.


In short, Ninjas being bad#@*es.

Deadline: April 18, 2014
Words: Unrestricted
Pay: Royalties
Reprints: Unknown

Ninja Novellas

If you find yourself with a novella length ninja story, Buttontapper Press is also looking for submissions. They say they are looking for “creative and humorous” ninja stories, and list an example of a good story in their guidelines.

Deadline: Unknown (to be published in 2015)
Words: Under 50,000 words
Pay: Unknown
Reprints: Unknown

Writing Market News – December 13

Due to the upcoming holidays and vacation plans, this will be my last market news post of the year. The series will resume January 3. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. Do lots of reading, and writing of course.

Insert Title Here

A collection of speculative fiction stories being assembled by FableCroft Publications, Insert Title Here (yes, that’s really the name), will contain all manner of speculative fiction. The usual cautions against gore and erotica remain true for this anthology.

Deadline: February 28, 2014
Words: 2,000 – 12,000
Pay: AUD $75
Reprints: No

Penumbra eMag – Issac Asimov

The submission window has rolled over on Penumbra. Did anyone submit for the Egyptian mythology anthology? For this issue of Penumbra eMag, they are looking for stories told in the style of Issac Asimov, or that include him as a character in the story.

Deadline: February 1, 2014
Words: Under 3,500
Pay: $.05 a word
Reprints: Yes

“Astronomical Odds” Themed Anthology

Third Flatiron Publishing is collecting stories for their Spring 2014 anthology themed around “astronomical odds”. Stories should be science fiction or fantasy. Based on the theme, you’ll probably want to have a central event that is unlikely in the extreme. There’s no shortage of ideas on this one.

Deadline: January 15, 2014
Words: 1,500 – 3,000
Pay: $.03 a word ($.05 a word if chosen as the lead story)
Reprints: No


The beginning of a series of anthologies called “Short Sharp Shocks”, AMOK!, published by April Moon Publicationswill feature people, well, running amok. Any genre or time period for the setting is acceptable, but no slapstick humor (keep it dark). This is the non-paying market of the list today, but again, is not strictly non-paying.

Deadline: February 28, 2014
Words: 2,000 – 5,000
Pay: None (Five editors choice awards will be given out, worth $30 CAN)
Reprints: No