Author Interview – Ben Counter

Morning folks! Today we have our second author interview, this time with Ben Counter, author of various Black Library publications such as The Grey Knights series, the Soul Drinkers series, Daemon World, Horus Heresy: Galaxy In Flames and many others.

His latest includes the sixth Soul Drinkers novel, Phalanx, which is now available to pre-order for print, as well as his novella for the Architect of Fate anthology, Endeavour of Will.

So let us get into it!

Shadowhawk: 2011 has been a fairly good year for you, especially in the e-Book department: Phalanx, Endeavour of Will and Sacrifice, as well as releases of your previously published works in the e-format. What are your thoughts?

Ben Counter: Things have been speeding up, especially with Phalanx and Endeavour of Will being released electronically. I think it’s very exciting as the more formats Black Library books can reach the better. It’s also been very gratifying to be able to work on so many projects, mining out little corners of the 40K universe to call my own.

Shadowhawk: You broke some new ground I dare say with your Grey Knights and Soul Drinkers novels. What got you interested in both factions?

Ben Counter: The Soul Drinkers proposal was originally about a Chapter that fell to Chaos, following their original corruption through to the point they realised they were damned. It was working with the editors to finalise a plotline that they changed into somerthing else. Part of the impetus behind the Soul Drinkers was the geek in me wanting to create my own Space Marine Chapter, but that isn’t enough on its own – there are plenty of perfectly good Chapters out there in the background waiting to be used.

A new Chapter had to justify itself by being something completely new, and once we worked out what that should be they opened up all sorts of themes about loyalty, morality, freedom, power, all the really good big juicy themes. It’s those themes that helped the series reach six books.

As for the Grey Knights – at the time I suggested a Grey Knights book, the first Daemon Hunters codex had just come out. The Grey Knights had been around beforehand but no one really knew anything much about them. With a whole new load of background about them, they were begging for their own book, so I set my sights on being the one to write it.

They had always appealed to me because they’re like a secret society, a bunch of badasses who do their gruesome work in the dark and are terrifyingly effective at what they do even by Space Marine standards. They also tangle with the sorts of bad guys I like writing the most – daemons, sorcerers, the sort of villains who don’t follow any rules at all and can be and do whatever I can think up.

Shadowhawk: Sacrifice was one of the best short stories in the Victories of the Space Marines anthology. What inspired you with regards to the plot? Any plans to come back to Justicar Alaric?
Ben Counter: Sacrifice was about my favourite theme in 40K, which is the Imperium. It’s vastly complicated, not just because the Imperium is so huge and has so many world in it, but in terms of its morality. It’s a ghastly murderous regime, but it has to be because if it wasn’t mankind would become extinct – but the forces that threaten to destroy it are partly created by the fact that it’s so horrible, and so on and so on until no-one’s right or wrong at all. Sacrifice was about how even the most heroic aspects of it, like the Grey Knights, are only made possible by the most appalling acts of cruelty and even genocide. I wanted to raise the question of whether all the suffering of the Imperium is worth it, even if extinction is the only alternative. That’s a question that doesn’t have an answer, and it is just the sort of moral quandary that makes Warhammer and 40K so different from most other game backgrounds out there.

Alaric has been through the wringer a bit in his last outing and while he might come back, there aren’t any plans on the table right now.

Shadowhawk: Phalanx is the sixth and, ostensibly, last novel in the Soul Drinkers series. Been a good run for you and one that has been enjoyed by the fans. Do you think Sarpedon and his merry band are down and out for the count, or will they make a comeback?
Ben Counter: Sarpedon burned a few bridges last time so there aren’t any immediate plans for his return. You never know, but… well, it would take some real ingenuity to bring him back.
Shadowhawk: How does it feel to wrap up such a long running series that has spanned six novels and even a Limited Edition novella?

Ben Counter: It feels pretty good. I enjoyed writing the Soul Drinkers and exploring the themes involved a lot, but they were always going to have a finite run if only because there are only so many Soul Drinkers to go around and they were losing men faster than they could replace them. They couldn’t go on forever so it was satisfying to bring the series to a proper conclusion.

Shadowhawk: Endeavour of Will, to be released in print next year, is part of the Architect of Fate anthology which is a collection of four linked novellas. What inspired you for the subject material and how was it working on this project and being a part of it as well?

Ben Counter: There was a lot of freedom in the project because the threads that bind the stories together aren’t too prescriptive – there was relatively little that had to be included to make sure the novella worked with the others in the anthology. It was more a question of feel and tone – there had to be deceit and machinations going on, because Tzeentch was involved, and once the basics of what the Imperial Fists were up to were sorted out I had a lot of leeway to trash the place. The plot was inspired by Lysander himself. Once I worked out what made Lysander special – that he will make any sacrifice to win – I had my theme and everything grew out from there.

Shadowhawk: What draws you to the Imperial Fists and what were your goals for them in the two novels and novella you have written so far featuring them?

Ben Counter: Lysander is the driving force behind the Imperial Fists stories. He’s a major figure in the background (and he has an amazing miniature) and he also opens up all sorts of big themes because of his reputation for going further than anyone else to secure victory. They’re also a very core Chapter, in that they have a reputation for towing the Imperial line and doing whatever the High Lords of Terra tell them (even if that reputation isn’t always justified), so they interact with the Imperium a lot which gives me the chance to explore that side of 40K, too.

Shadowhawk: Are the Soul Drinkers of Dorn’s lineage or not?

Ben Counter: I actually don’t know. Spiritually they are, which is what counts.

Shadowhawk: You have also tackled the Space Wolves before, in your short story Twelve Wolves for the Legends of the Space Marines anthology. It was definitely the best of the bunch for me. What inspired you for this story?

Ben Counter: The Space Wolves have a powerful schtick – all the Scandiwegian viking stuff has a very characterful feel. One of the details in their background is that they like to chug huge barrels of mead and listen to stories about past battles, and I thought it would be cool to write an ‘in-universe’ story, something that would actually be told at a Space Wolf feast. It would give me a chance to play with the ‘voice’ of the story – in this particular case, it’s one of the Chapter thralls who is telling it, so he’s lower-ranking than any of the Space Wolves and he has to deal with a rowdy audience who just want to get drunk, and all of that affects how he tells his story.  Those sorts of stories are usually morality tales or parables, so that’s how Twelve Wolves worked out.

Shadowhawk: Arguleon Veq from Daemon World is one of the most loved villains, some would say hero, in the setting. How did his tale start?

Ben Counter: Veq is there to demonstrate that Chaos is a lie. Chaos is a wonderful adversarial force because it can be anything, and it only really has one rule – if you give in to it, you will be corrupted, and become something awful. Bowing to Chaos is never, ever worth it, no matter what you might get out of it. Veq is one of the few people who went too far, realised it, and managed to drag themselves out of it. That was the core of the character, someone who could illustrate something fundamental about what Chaos is and how it works.

Shadowhawk: What inspires you to write and how do you go about the entire process?

Ben Counter: Something I keep telling myself is that ideas in my head don’t count – unless I do something with them, I might as well not have had them in the first place. That means I have to write them down. The inspiration therefore has to come from inside, because no one’s over my shoulder telling me to write. Unfortunately, the only real trick to writing is to do exactly that – sit down and write. I try to write every day, and I separate writing time away from everything else. In my case, I take a laptop (which doesn’t have internet access) to the local library to work, so I can focus only on what I have to do that day. Everyone writes very differently so the only things I can say is that there’s no particular trick to it, you just have to plan out your stories well (so you’re never caught wondering what to write next) and write every day to make it into a habit.

Shadowhawk: Any upcoming projects for Black Library or outside of it we can look forward to?

Ben Counter: Yes, lots of stuff, but I probably can’t tell you what they are yet. Here’s a hint: Space Marines may be involved. Or maybe not.

Shadowhawk: In an anything goes duel, who is going to win: Sarpedon, Lysander or Alaric?

Ben Counter: Sarpedon, especially at his most badass at around the end of the second Soul Drinkers book, although it would be close. If the bracket was extended to the whole of Team Ben, I’d expect a Ss’ll Sh’Karr vs Castigator final.

Shadowhawk: Your favourite past-time other than writing?

Ben Counter: Painting miniatures. I have painted for a very long time and my most prized possession is my Golden Demon 3rd place trophy from Games Day Germany 2007. I also participate in local amateur dramatics, which gets me out of the house and lets me plug into a whole new bunch of creative experiences.

Shadowhawk: Anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Ben Counter: Don’t trust the Tau.

Well, that is all we have for you this time people! Hope you all had as much fun reading the interview as we did.

Phalanx and Endeavour of Will are officially available in print next year, but in the meantime you can download them exclusively as e-Books from the Black Library site here. For those of you who are just getting into the monthly e-Magazine, Hammer & Bolter, the first twelve issues also contain Phalanx in serialized form. So don’t miss out!

You can also reach Ben on twitter @BenCounter.

Next up we still have two more scheduled interviews, one with Nick Kyme and another with William King. We also have a surprise interview for you all which will be revealed to you once we get the details finalised.

Till then, have fun!

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