Apologies for the late posting but things have been quite hectic in Shadowhawk-land. Suffice to say that I redeem myself by bringing a long-time fan-favourite author to the blog. If you all thought that all the previous interviews have been amazing then you are about to get a one-up on them. C L Werner, or rather Carandini as he is known on the Bolthole, has provided some rather meaty answers and his enthusiasm definitely shows through.
His name is synonymous with that of Grey Seer Thanquol, one of the most treacherous and fun-to-read skaven character ever, as well as his early Chaos Wastes novels which helped to define this realm in even more detail than before. Other may remember the Brunner and the Matthias Thulmann novels as well. He is also a regular in the Warhammer Heroes brand for Warhammer Fantasy and has also appeared a few times in the monthly Black Library e-zine, Hammer & Bolter.
Shadowhawk: Your body of work for Black Library is immense – you have written everything from comics to short stories to novels. What got you started with Games Workshop and Black Library?
Clint: Unfortunately, I fear I was never able to get a comic script in with the Black Library before the still-lamented demise of Inferno! and Warhammer Monthly. At the time of their cancellation, I had been working on a pair of scripts for ‘Tales from the Ten-Tailed Cat’ which I was hopeful might meet with (editor-in-chief) Christian’s approval.
My start with Games Workshop was in the pages of Dragon magazine back in the late 1980’s. I was pretty big into Dungeons & Dragons at the time and would voraciously read anything that expanded upon the game. Dragon often appealed to me by having articles that introduced more ‘realistic’ or narrative-driven expansions – things like skill sets for characters to acquire or articles about inventive uses for guard dogs, that kind of thing. Anyway, this particular issue had a lengthy advertisement for a new fantasy role-play game called Warhammer. The advert was really rather unique in that it mostly consisted of a three or four page text story revolving around an imprisoned witch hunter and his musings on the state of the Old World. The world he described was so dark and gritty that I was immediately hooked. It also helped that at the end his jailor is revealed as a Chaos cultist who turns the screaming witch hunter over to the skaven.
Now I had previously been a casual consumer of Games Workshop board games: the original Talisman, the monster-themed Dracula’s Curse (sadly, I never did pick up the similar mummy game) and even a brief dabble into Dark Future. The introduction to Warhammer stuck though, and especially those sinister little ratmen. After WFRP petered out, I was transitioned over to Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer 40,000 by my close friend Matthew Box.
In the late 1990’s, I stumbled upon Inferno! and was very much impressed by what I was reading in those august pages. Previously my only exposure to Warhammer fiction had been Jack Yeovil’s Drachenfels and a brief loan of Wolfriders from another friend. To see new material being produced was beyond exciting. Previously my only publication credits had been a few articles for Pagan Publishing’s Unspeakable Oath magazine to support the Call of Cthulhu role-play game and a handful of Cthulhu Mythos short stories in small press magazines like Midnight Shambler, Cthulhu Codex and Elder Signs. So it was with a deal of anxiety that I sent a proposal out to Nottingham in hopes of getting something published in Inferno! Christian liked my proposal and within a few months the first Mathias Thulmann story, A Choice of Hatreds, was appearing in the magazine. After my second short story, Marc Gascoigne approached me about doing a full-on novel for the Black Library. Ever since then, I’ve had pretty steady work in the grim Old World.
Shadowhawk: Brunner and Mathias Thulmann, two characters you have created that are so different from each other and yet in some ways similar as well. What were the challenges facing you when you sat down to working on these two?
Clint: Brunner is a character who really does write himself – so one of the biggest challenges when writing him has always been having Brunner dismantle a plot and twist it around to suit his rather amoral, ruthlessly pragmatic style. The best instance I can think of is his second encounter with the vampire Sir Corbus in Blood of the Dragon. Originally, that was going to play out in a much more diplomatic manner. Brunner, however, disagreed and we get a far more violent confrontation as a result. I have always found the trick with Brunner to be to never water him down. There is a tendency among writers to take this sort of rough protagonist and de-fang them in an attempt to make them more sympathetic to the audience. I’ve always preferred the method employed by the writers of Spaghetti Westerns – you don’t make the hero any less of a heavy, you just make sure the villains are even worse.
Mathias Thulmann is very much a different sort of character. Where Brunner is utterly pragmatic, remorseless and focused upon a purely worldly ambition, Thulmann is a devout Sigmarite fully committed to a spiritual calling. He does what he does in the name of his faith and what that faith tells him is necessary to protect mankind as a whole. He cannot entertain the weakness of mercy and compassion because he understands that the corruption of Chaos feeds upon a faltering resolve to perpetuate itself. He knows that a mutant can’t be allowed to survive because even if its own mind and soul remain its own, its very presence will spread the corruption to others who may not have the strength of will to prevent themselves from becoming murderous monsters. Unlike other witch hunters in the Old World, however, Thulmann is neither a sadist or a megalomaniac. He doesn’t abuse his position except when he feels it is justified and he doesn’t employ the more torturous methods to carry out an investigation except when absolutely necessary (and commonly defers such activities to his mercenary henchman Streng).
The two characters lend themselves to very different sorts of stories. Brunner works best, I feel, in short stories with a more dark fantasy feel – tales that concentrate upon action and heroics. Thulmann is at his best in more atmospheric pieces of a longer stripe and with a focus upon horror and the macabre. To use the cinematic stylings again, it is the contrast between a Spaghetti Western and Hammer Horrror.
Shadowhawk: Anything planned for the future for these two adventurers of the Old World?
Clint: I had a fourth Thulmann book all planned out, and then Nick Kyme suggested I make it even more epic – a second trilogy. However, I have so many projects going at the moment, I’m not sure when we’ll be able to get back to Mathias.
Brunner, on the other hand, could show up when you least expect him. There are some serious benefits to the short story format, not the least of which is being able to work on them between full novels.
Shadowhawk: Grey Seer Thanquol. Those three words say it all. Still, for the benefit of our readers, can you tell us how your paths crossed with the most devious Skaven character ever and the adventures the two of you have taken together?
Clint: I owe a great deal to the skaven and to William King, who made them so deucedly appealing in his text pieces for the Warhammer Army books. My very first army for the tabletop were the skaven and my general, after reading William King’s stories, could only be Grey Seer Thanquol. When the Gotrek and Felix novels were being released, I think I speak for many when I say the paranoid, murderous dialogs of Thanquol were the best parts. When the subject was broached to me about using Thanquol in a series all his own, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. It was my chance to play with my favorite character in the entire setting and also – if you will forgive a moment of arrogance – a way to ensure the character was written by someone who appreciates and understands him.
Like Brunner, Thanquol writes himself. Probably too much so! I’ll have a scene all worked out and then Thanquol starts with his scheming and paranoia, seeing plots within plots within plots… you get the idea. He’s absolutely amoral, utterly selfish (to the degree where the very concept of why this is wrong is unfathomable to him), power-mad, greedy, tyrannical, arrogant, cowardly, conceited – you name it and if it is a character flaw, Thanquol probably has it. Somehow, however, that just makes him even more endearing, especially the lengths of self-justification that go on within his own mind to cast even the most wretched treachery he is concocting in a positive light.
Much in the same way as Gotrek and Felix, Thanquol lends himself to exploring a wide variety of settings and adversaries. The skaven Under-Empire stretches to nearly every part of the Warhammer world, so Thanquol can find himself thrust into situations in almost any place. So far, I’ve had him in the urban sprawl of Altdorf, the green hell of Lustria and the ancient dark of the dwarf strongholds. Not to mention, of course, the decaying grandeur of Skavenblight itself, crown jewel of the ratmen’s civilization.
Shadowhawk: The latest novel featuring this scheming Skaven sorcerer is Thanquol’s Doom. What new schemes and plots has the Grey Seer gotten himself into this time?
Clint: Oh, he’s gotten himself involved in quite a lot of trouble. Upon his less than triumphant return from Lustria, Thanquol becomes embroiled in the schemes of a Clan Skryre warlock-engineer named Kaskitt who intends to plunder the warpstone treasury of a Clan Mors’ warren while the skaven are attacking the dwarf kingdom of Karak Angkull. However, things become more complicated when the expedition is hijacked by Chief Warlock Ikit Claw, who has a very different idea about the purpose of this excursion into the dwarf realms. Add to the mix a rival grey seer who is hunting a powerful artifact from the time of the Black Death and a brilliant dwarf engineer whose inventions test the limits of dwarfish tradition and Thanquol finds himself up to his whiskers in trouble.
Shadowhawk: Blood for the Blood God, Palace of the Plague Lord, Forged by Chaos. Some of the best novels featuring Chaos Warriors and their dark gods. What attracts you to Chaos?
Clint: For me, the appeal of Chaos has largely arisen from the contrast it offers. The Empire and Tilea are much more structured and civilized settings, with a very definite morality about them. The lands of the Chaos tribes and the Wastes themselves are far less structured. There is a greater freedom to explore the culture and mindsets of the characters who inhabit these realms because there is no overarching norm they have to adhere to. One Norscan tribe might keep a blood-beast as their divine totem while a cabal of Kurgan sorcerers might infest a floating city. It is the opportunity to create such new and unique settings that really called to me when doing my Chaos books. I also enjoy the chance to develop villains as protagonists and these kinds of stories really shine in that regard.
Shadowhawk: The Red Duke, the tale of an immortal vampire lord. Wulfrik, the tale of an immortal champion of Chaos. So different, yet so similar. What were the challenges facing you when you started writing these two characters?
Clint: I was invited by Nick Kyme to do a novel in the Warhammer Heroes line. He was eager to have a Chaos novel to contrast the two heroic outings of Kurt Helborg and Ludwig Schwarzhelm penned by Chris Wraight. I’m very proud to think I was his first choice to offer the contrast. We did a little back and forth over which character to explore. My first choice was Ergrimm van Horstmann, but after reading Wulfrik’s backstory I could see some great possibilities with him. Besides, Wulfrik would allow me to delve into Norscan culture once more, a subject I hadn’t really been able to attack since Palace of the Plague Lord. The big challenge with Wulfrik was translating some of his game rules into something that would support rather than undermine the narrative. Once I figured out a good way to exploit the Seafang, however, the entire novel fell together rather quickly. My idea was to do a Chaos version of Sinbad the sailor, and I think it succeeds. Wulfrik himself is a terrifying character, and he’s a hero in the old sense of the word – the sort of champion you could imagine Vikings discussing over their cook-fires. I did give Wulfrik a bit of tragedy in his background to provide some reader sympathy, but ultimately he’s not the kind of man a civilized culture can view as anything other than a vicious marauder.
The Red Duke was an old favorite from way back when Games Workshop released their Circle of Blood campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Battles. In approaching him, I wanted to explore as much of his backstory as allowable, even working in elements of the Crusade against Araby in there. Walled up inside his own tomb for nearly five hundred years, unable to die and unable to feed, the Red Duke’s bloodthirsty revenge is understandable – however there is no human compassion in him to temper that revenge with anything resembling justice. He’s a monster in every sense of the word, yet by unveiling how he became a vampire, I think I was able to invest him with a note of pathos and tragedy. Like King Louis the Righteous, you mourn the man who was reduced to this horrific state even as you hope for the destruction of the monster he has become. The biggest obstacle with the Red Duke was deciding exactly how to present his background, but I think in the end it worked out well and helps the reader understand the distorted and disjointed nature of the vampire’s mind.
Shadowhawk: What location in the Old World has attracted the most that you have written about and that you would like to write about?
Clint: I’d have to say Altdorf, followed closely by Skavenblight. Altdorf’s appeal has been to explore and further develop the same setting that was so expertly defined by writers like Jack Yeovil, Gordon Rennie, William King, Sandy Mitchell and James Wallis. They managed to breathe real life into the city, a life which I found as vibrant and intriguing as that of any fantasy realm you can name. To dive in there and walk the same streets, to stare up at the same sights, was enormous.
Skavenblight, on the other hand, I think had only previously been described by William King. I know it was his footsteps (or pawprints) I followed when expanding this nest of vermin. I’d like to think I’ve done the place justice and I’d certainly like to return there again.
I’d also be remiss not to mention Mordheim. I’ve only employed the City of the Damned once, in the prologue to Witch Hunter, but it is a place I’m just itching to explore again.
Shadowhawk: How much fun was it to write Hour of Shadows?
Clint: The Hour of Shadows was a thrill to write. I had previously worked on a novella for Warhammer Online, so I was familiar with the constraints of the shorter format. Even so, I think I was able to cram a lot of material into the story (most of which I can’t discuss here for spoiler reasons). The character of a skaven necromancer, a Black Seer, is one I’ve been trying to find an outlet for quite some time; there’s an aborted story outline for such a tale sitting on my hard drive that is at least ten years old. I think Huskk Gnawbone comes across as a chilling kind of villain, embodying the treachery of the skaven and the horrible mentality of the Black Arts. It was also nice to write about wood elves and the creatures of the Athel Loren, something I’ve never been able to do before. And, of course, for someone who likes his monsters, the cockatrice was just icing on the cake.
Shadowhawk: How much has H. P. Lovecraft influenced your writing? Any other writers or people you would credit for having done the same?
Clint: Lovecraft has been an immense influence on my writing – at least in terms of tone and atmosphere. He has an almost nihilistic approach to his worldview that really lends itself to telling dark, pessimistic stories. And, of course, his invention of ‘cosmic horror’ lends itself very well to a more complex understanding of the Ruinous Powers in Warhammer.
The other big influence on me has been Robert E. Howard, best remembered today as creator of Conan the Cimmerian. Howard has a deceptively easy style to his writing. He can vividly describe an entire city in a few dozen words – but his genius lies in knowing exactly which few dozen words to use! Where Lovecraft’s protagonists tend to be bookish and very much reactive to the events of the story, Howard would write about robust, physical heroes who would act first and seize the narrative by the throat. Shocking to somebody who grew up on Victorian literature – and having all the more impact because of it.
I would also be remiss not to mention Ray Bradbury. I met Mr. Bradbury at a high school seminar twenty years ago and he was kind enough to critique a story I gave to him. His words of support and his consideration to me have been an inspiration ever since. When hopes of getting published were darkest, I’d look at his kind words again and head back to the typewriter.
Shadowhawk: You have written quite a bit about the Skaven recently and there is even more to come, particularly your short story in the Age of Legends anthology and the Time of Legends novel Dead Winter. What can you tell us about them?
Clint: The skaven. Well, they don’t exist. They’re a myth, a fable told by illiterate peasants to frighten their inbred children! Ratmen lurking in the sewers and plotting the downfall of the Empire! That’s absurd!
Now, if we were to hypothetically accept the existence of the skaven, I would say they are a fascinating subject. They have the greatest nation in the entire Warhammer setting, stretching from the jungles of Lustria and the Southlands to the mysterious cities of fabled Cathay. Their numbers are almost beyond imagining, their magic and science unrivaled by any other race – even if it must be admitted that their magic and science is tempered by a high degree of unpredictability and instability. Their mentalities aren’t clouded with irrational attachments to their own kind – the useless are discarded and only the strong, the cunning and the merciless thrive.
The key to writing skaven, I think, is to never make them too human. I always endeavor to evoke the mentality of a rat when getting into a skaven mind. They are driven by a wide variety of fears and phobias which have been inherited from their rat ancestors. As much as skaven detest and despise one another, they have a terror of being alone, swarming in numbers for protection. Skaven loathe the open sky, feeling far safer with tons of earth and stone overhead, perhaps an instinctive memory of hiding from owls and hawks. Skaven hate wide spaces, never feeling comfortable unless their whiskers are brushing against something firm and solid. They experience the world primarily through scent, their sense of smell being far more advanced than their acute hearing and excellent vision. All in all, there’s a lot to keep in mind when writing about skaven. A good rule of thumb though, is to always remember the chief maxim of all ratmen: me first, nobody second!
Shadowhawk: What else can we look forward to in the coming year other than Dead Winter?
Clint: I am currently working on Siege of Castellax, and entry in the Space Marines Battles series. The book focuses, naturally, on the invasion of Castellax by the orks of Waaagh! Biglug. Unfortunately for the orks, Castellax happens to be a fortress world of the Iron Warriors Legion of Chaos Space Marines.
Shadowhawk: How do you feel when channelling the nasty creatures and characters in your stories? Is it easy or hard to write about them?
Clint: It is probably disturbing to say, but I find writing the skaven exceptionally easy. For some reason, I have an affinity for their ratty mentality. A lot of my monsters I will base around the habits of animals, for instance using the mannerisms of vultures when doing the cockatrice and those of geckos and crocodiles when writing my basilisk in ‘Beneath the Vaults’. The lizardmen in Temple of the Serpent were a similar example – though Lord Tlaco the Slann was a very rough character to write, perceiving existence in a manner alien even to the other lizardmen.
My Chaos characters, at least the barbarian ones, tend to be easy for me to write: I just delve into real history and explore warrior cultures like the Norse, the Mongols and the Huns. Coming at them with the viewpoint of that kind of culture rather than from the judgmental position of a civilized man really helps to present them in a more open-handed fashion.
The characters I find really nasty are the druchii. The dark elves have nothing redeeming about them. Unlike every other villainous culture in Warhammer, they appreciate that they are evil and they revel in the fact. They are like a culture of unrepentant war criminals, feeding on their own bitterness and spite as an excuse for degenerating ever further into depravity and sadism. With dark elves, it’s very hard to find a ‘worse nasty’ to put them into a positive light. Even an orc is doing what he does because he doesn’t have any basis for understanding why slaughtering an entire village is wrong. A dark elf is not only aware of the fact, but that awareness gives him still greater pleasure.
Shadowhawk: You have branched out into Warhammer 40,000 as well with short stories in the Fear the Alien and Victories of the Space Marines anthologies. What attracted you towards this setting and how did you approach these two short stories and the characters within?
The short stories I’ve done so far were chiefly experiments on my part: getting my feet wet in the setting. ‘Iron Inferno’ was an effort to root around inside the head of an ork, and I think it works as a cautionary tale about humanizing the inhuman. ‘Black Dawn’, on the other hand, was my chance to show why Space Marines would be able to conquer a world with only a few hundred men. I chose the obscure Emperor’s Warbringers chapter because the little information on them suggested they would lend themselves to a more tactical operation than the likes of, say, the Black Templars. I think the end result is a good exploration of tactics.
Shadowhawk: Has any progress been made on your Warhammer 40,000 novel? And if so, can you tell us which chapter/legion/warband has taken your interest?
Clint: At this moment, Nick is looking over my outline for the actual campaign on Castellax. Once that is approved, I will go back and begin fleshing out the story which unfolds around the military battle.
The novel will feature the Chaos Space Marines of the Iron Warriors Legion going up against the orks of Waaagh! Biglug.
Shadowhawk: What kind of research do you undertake for your novels and other work?
Clint: I read a lot of history, everything from books on folklore and the occult to Osprey manuals on uniforms and tactics. I also pour over every sourcebook for Warhammer I can get my mits on, from WFRP supplements to Armybooks and background books like Liber Chaotica and The Loathsome Ratmen. Also maintain an extensive movie library, which often helps inspire characters and scenarios. I tend towards older movies, as these will usually have more emphasis on storytelling than more current fare where the focus is on effects, explosions, and interchangeable actors.
Shadowhawk: Your body of work extends to comics and short stories outside of Black Library as well. Can you tell us more about these various projects?
Clint: My short stories have been featured in a few anthologies published by Rogue Blades Entertainment (whose website has sadly gone offline due to programming problems). These revolve around a wandering samurai named Shintaro Oba and his quest to free the soul of his dead lord from the clutches of a demon. The first story appeared in Rage of the Behemoth and a second was featured in Demons: A Clash of Steel. I have two others written and scheduled to appear in Roar of the Crowd and Assassins: A Clash of Steel. I have also been discussing a full-out Shintaro Oba anthology with my editor Jason Waltz.
Over at Darkson Designs, I have helped develop the AE-WII setting. This is an alternate reality WWII where the US is armed with lightning-cannon, rocket troops and combat robots, the Soviets employ psionics and human-ape hybrids, and the Germans field a variety of cybernetic abominations created by reverse-engineering alien technology. The first supplement for the game added occult and supernatural elements to the setting and we’ve been working on a Pacific expansion which will introduce Japanese and Australian forces.
I have been working with Red Leaf Comics on several comic scripts. The founder of Red Leaf, John Helmer, is a longtime friend and an enthusiast for many of the same things I enjoy. My first script for him were three stories published in The Leaf #1, set in WWII and featuring my heroic characters Victoria Cross and Johnny Dingo as well as the sinister Nazi super-villain Eisernteufel. I have other scripts with Red Leaf at the moment, one for the upcoming G.I.s vs Zombies and a Dracula story for another project. I’ve developed a large number of characters for The Imperials, a WWII team of superheroes from across the British Empire and Commonwealth, as well as their Axis and Soviet adversaries. We’ve also discussed a plot I have for a series titled ‘The Lost Blitzkrieg’ – dinosaurs against panzers!
Another old friend dropped me a line, and it’s just possible I may have an appearance in a horror anthology next year. More on that as it develops, however.
Shadowhawk: Your favourite soundtrack/music to listen to while writing?
Clint: It really depends on the book I’m writing. When doing my 40k stories, I’ve tended to listen to the soundtrack from the video game Chaos Gate. For fantasy, I can say that Brunner always had a Spaghetti Western soundtrack playing while Thulmann always had a Hammer Horror soundtrack. I’ll also listen to bands like Sabaton, Amon Amarth, Summoning, Nightwish. It would be especially remiss not to mention Nox Arcana, whose symphonic CDs have helped me get ‘in the zone’ when writing any number of stories.
Shadowhawk: What are you looking forward to the most in 2012?
Clint: Anxiously awaiting The Dark Knight Rises. Does that count? On a personal level, I’d say seeing how Siege of Castellax is received by the readers. I’m also looking forward to getting back to the Black Death trilogy. There’s some characters in the first novel I’m eager to return to.
Shadowhawk: Anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Clint: I’d just tell everybody to read as much as they can and never be without a new book waiting their attention. Oh, and of course, buy your C. L. Werner books new so this old desert rat can get a few royalties (which I promise to squander on DVDs, firearms and redheads).
Once again, I hope you folks enjoyed the interview as much as I did! Word to the impatient: Dead Winter goes on sale in May so don’t forget to set your reminders for it. For those who want more Black Plague goodness, but missed out on Plague Priest in the Games Day Anthology, well, there is hope for you yet! The short story Plague Doktor is now available as part of the Age of Legend anthology and is also available separately.
Siege of Castellax has yet to announced formally so we’ll keep you updated as and when the news comes in. In the meantime, enjoy the Orky short story Iron Inferno in the Fear the Alien anthology and the Emperor’s Warbringers short story Black Dawn in the Victories of the Space Marines anthology. The latter is quite a cold, chilling approach to Space Marines and is quite enjoyable!
Next week for your pleasure will be Andy Hoare, long-time games developer and now author for Black Library.