Monday, monday, monday. Another monday, another interview. Today it is Chris Wraight, long-time freelance writer for Black Library, who takes a stroll through these parts and talks about how he got started and his works: past, present and future.
As most of you know, and for those who don’t, Chris wrote the phenomenal Battle of The Fang novel for the Space Marine Battles series, and has also had great success in Warhammer Fantasy with his Warhammer Heroes novels and his Empire Army novels. Chris has also taken tentative steps into the Horus Heresy series with his short story Rebirth, featuring the Thousand Sons and by all accounts, 2012 looks like it is going to be a great year for him.
So here’s Chris himself!
Shadowhawk: How did you get started with writing for Black Library and what attracted you to the two Warhammer settings?
Chris: A long time ago, almost out of the blue, I submitted a short story for an open competition BL was running. I was invited to work it up for publication, with the result that it appeared in the Invasion! anthology. A couple of novels followed, about which it’s probably kindest to say that they, er, showed some potential. Thankfully the editors at Black Library persevered, and since Iron Company I’ve begun to feel quite a bit more at home in the Old World.
Shadowhawk: You are a veteran for Warhammer Fantasy with quite a few novels and short stories under your belt. Which format do you prefer over the other?
Chris: Novels are what it’s all about, really. Shorter fiction is less stressful to write and offers opportunities to do cool things, but in terms of author satisfaction there’s nothing quite like looking at the spine of a finished book sitting on your bookshelf. They’re tough to plot out and infuriatingly hard to finish, but absolutely worth it in the end.
Shadowhawk: Battle of the Fang, your Space Marine Battles novel featuring the Space Wolves and Thousand Sons is lauded as one of the best in the series. How did you approach the material and what inspired you to take on this particular event?
Chris: I was asked by Nick Kyme to draw up a proposal for Battle of the Fang. I believe the story was slated to be part of the Space Marine Battles series right from the start, but scheduling issues meant that it went without an author for quite a while. Since starting out with Black Library I’d always been keen to try writing 40K, and I’d previously been given a try-out with the short story Runes in one of the Space Marine anthologies, so when the chance came to work on the project I leapt at it.
In some ways, doing a Space Marine Battles book was an ideal first outing for a novel-length project, as the basic plot for it already existed. In most other respects, though, it was a hard story to write. The Space Wolves are about as popular a faction as any, and at the time of writing the book they hadn’t had a novel featuring them for a while. I knew that Prospero Burns would be out beforehand, which was bound to be a massive event. There were also elements of the story – such as the starting premise and Magnus turning up – that were very difficult to know how to handle. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to draw everything together (which made the book quite late), so it’s nice that many readers seem to have enjoyed the end result. You’re never going to satisfy everyone about every aspect of your take on something, particularly when some fans have a very clear idea about how certain events should pan out before even picking up the book, but the majority of the feedback has been encouraging.
Shadowhawk: How much inspiration did you draw from Dan’s Prospero Burns and Bill’s Ragnar novels? Did you communicate with either of them for this project?
Chris: I spoke to Dan a number of times while writing, and he was enormously helpful. Prospero Burns was finished off while I was about halfway through Battle of the Fang, and I made quite a few changes to the drafts to try to reflect his (incredible) reimagining of the Wolves. I also read, and re-read, the first four Space Wolf books, which were similarly useful in getting a feel for the Chapter. I’d like to think that while my Space Wolves incorporate concepts from both Bill’s and Dan’s treatment of them, they have a few features of their own too. One of the nice things about working in a shared universe, after all, is the chance you get to leave some ideas of your own out there.
Shadowhawk: Your next novel for Warhammer 40,000 is another Space Marine Battles novel, this time featuring the Iron Hands. You have previously written a short story for them in Hammer & Bolter. Why the Iron Hands?
Chris: No one else was doing them. J
Shadowhawk: Both the Iron Hands and the Space Wolves are non-traditional chapters who diverge quite a bit from the Codex Astartes and have some very strong ideologies of their own carried over from the days of the Great Crusade and the Horus Heresy. What has it been like to delve into their unique culture and their psyche?
Chris: The Space Wolves are a very popular and a very likeable Chapter: they’re dynamic, individual, and occupy a unique space in the 40K mythos. The Iron Hands are the opposite: they’re grim, agonised and gloomy. That makes the Wolves far easier to write about, since you have some of the material for creating characters to identify with. The Iron Hands are more difficult. In some ways, that’s a more satisfying challenge – making the unlikeable interesting. In Wrath of Iron, the Iron Hands don’t pull any punches – they’re not nice, they’re not nuanced and they’re not misunderstood. Just as some Traitor Legions embody a lot of admirable features, some Loyalists really are pretty screwed up, and the Iron Hands are about as badly damaged as they come. There are, however, stories to be told about how and why they came to be the way they are, and how they relate to the rest of the Imperium.
Shadowhawk: Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Kurt Helborg are getting their second outing in the upcoming novel Swords of the Emperor. These two are also among the first heroes of the Old World to be featured in the Warhammer Heroes novels. How did you get started with both of them?
Chris: Writing for Schwarzhelm and Helborg was great, as neither character had a huge amount of worked-out background already in print. I took the text in the Empire Army Book as the starting point, together with the fantastic artwork, and tried to give each of them proper personalities. They’re very different men: Schwarzhelm’s dour, reserved and only really good at a certain kind of fighting, whereas Helborg’s accomplished, brash and a more natural leader of men. Of all the projects I’ve written for Black Library, I probably enjoyed the two Swords books the most, mostly due to the freedom I felt I had with the story and characters.
Shadowhawk: What can you tell us about Swords of the Emperor itself?
Chris: Swords of the Emperor is an anthology containing the novels Sword of Justice and Sword of Vengeance. It will also contain the short stories ‘Feast of Horrors’ (featuring Schwarzhelm) and ‘Duty and Honour’ (starring Helborg). The second of those is new for the anthology, and sees Kurt in action in Bretonnia.
Shadowhawk: You have written extensively for the Empire before so how was the experience writing for the High Elves in your novella Dragonmage? Will there be any possible sequels to the story contained therein?
Chris: Writing Dragonmage was actually quite hard, as it turned out, and the novella ended up going through a couple of drafts. Nick Kyme, my editor for that one, had a lot of input into the finished result and improved it hugely. I guess the issue was largely down to switching between the Empire, which is a low fantasy setting, and the world of the High Elves, which is a bit more epic and mythical. It’s been good to read the feedback to the final product, though, which squeezed quite a lot of story into a relatively short package and seems to have gone down well. I don’t expect we’ll see a sequel, although I’ll be writing High Elves again as part of the War of Vengeance series. The first book in that sequence will be Nick’s The Great Betrayal. My follow-up has the provisional title Master of Dragons, and, as you’d expect, has a whole lot of fire-breathing, stuntie-crushing action planned for it.
Shadowhawk: Any plans to tackle the Horus Heresy? And what faction, event, character would you like to explore next?
Chris: Nothing that’s ready to talk about, I’m afraid. In terms of future projects in general, I’ve got High Elves, Space Wolves and White Scars all on the horizon.
Shadowhawk: With the Games Day 2011 Anthology, we got the first peak into Luthor Huss in your short story The March of Doom. The novel itself is coming out next month. Warrior Priests are not like the other soldiers of the Empire, so what was it like to get into the psyche of one?
Chris: I took the view that if Fantasy had Space Marines in it, then Huss would be one. Warrior Priests share the same asceticism, devotion and martial prowess – they even look a bit the same. Huss isn’t quite your average Warrior Priest, though; he’s a bit more extreme than most, and more interesting too. The tone set in The March of Doom is very much the same as that in Luthor Huss, so anyone who enjoyed the anthology story will hopefully like the novel too. Huss is a bit like Schwarzhelm, but with an added dose of religious fervour. He’s another one of those uncompromising, brutal characters that Warhammer seems to generate. As ever, the interest in such a character come from why someone would end up like that, and there’s a good deal too on the nature and limitations of faith.
Shadowhawk: Who and/or what has been the biggest influence on your writing?
Chris: Some of the influences you end up with aren’t that helpful. I think I’ve inherited a strong dose of Tolkienese from being obsessed with The Lord of the Rings as a child. I love Tolkien, but I don’t really want to write like him. I still do from time to time, unfortunately, but it’s something I’m working on. Otherwise, I admire a lot of different writers, most of whom have little in common with one another. Right now I’m reading a very good book by Margaret Atwood on science fiction, which is already giving me ideas.
Shadowhawk: Have any of your characters ever challenged you straight up or otherwise while writing them?
Chris: Lots do. I found writing Space Wolves very hard. Space Marines in general are hard. Elves are quite hard, too. Actually it’s all quite difficult, now I come to think about it.
Shadowhawk: What helps you get into the writing mindset?
Chris: Ah, that depends. Some days it all seems to work well, and I get up from the desk having typed several thousand words of stuff I’m quite pleased with; others, it’s a challenge getting anything on the page. I listen to a lot of film scores when I’m writing, partly to try to get into the right frame of mind. A good Black Library book should be a bit filmic, I think. For Wrath of Iron, that ended up being the OST from Christopher Nolan’s two Batman films. Suitably dour.
Shadowhawk: What are you looking forward to the most in terms of your own work for 2012?
Chris: Getting back to writing about dragons, and writing an encounter between two gentlemen, one of whom may or may not be Horus, the other of whom may or may not be the Khan.
Shadowhawk: Anything else happening this year you are absolutely stoked for?
Chris: Um. The Olympics?
Shadowhawk: If all your leading characters got into a cross-universe deathmatch, who would you root for and why?
Chris: A secondary character called Pieter Verstohlen, who first popped up in Sword of Justice. He wouldn’t last five minutes of course, but I’d hope he’d find a way to hang in there a bit longer than anyone expected. One day, if the stars align, he’ll get another novel. In fact, I’d love him to have a whole series (though don’t hold your breath for that).
I hope you all enjoyed that interview folks. Coming later this week is the January (Black Library) Artwork Round-up and a blogpost on ePublishing, so stay tuned through the week!