January Artwork Roundup

January was another great month for Black Library’s Art department. Given that it was also the first month of the year, that can only be a good thing right? I certainly think so. As I have mentioned previously, Black Library hires some excellent freelancers and the covers that these artists turn out are almost always of the highest quality. This is especially, especially true for February, but that roundup is still a couple weeks away at the least.

Let’s see what we got from the silver towers in Nottingham for January.

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Warrior Priest by Darius Hinks (A Review)

 Another review for you all today as Vivia talks about Darius Hinks’s Empire Army novel, Warrior Priest. Just as with our last, this review is an interesting one too and we hope you like this one as well. Enjoy!

My first book by Darius Hinks was Sigvald, a wonderfully mad, dark fantasy novel about a Slaaneshi champion and his adventures in the Chaos Wastes. It was with excitement and great expectations I went on to read his first novel, Warrior Priest.

We are introduced to the main characters as they save a woman from being burned at the stake for witchcraft. She is saved by them, but not in the way we expect. The saviours and heroes of Warhammer are dark and brutal and in Warrior Priest we get a fine example of that sort of hero in the Sigmarite priest Jakob Wolff.

Almost from the start there is tension between Anna, the Shallya priestess, and the warrior priest. Their ideologies are opposites; one is a healer and the other a warrior, and gives an interesting view into the different religions of the Warhammer world that is rarely seen. Not as much as I would have liked to see but glimpses from time to time. They dislike each other and it doesn’t change much as the story goes on.

The atmosphere in the first half of the book is reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic world. War has left Ostland in ruins and people cling to faith in desperation and it’s hard not to feel they’re in a hopeless situation. Hinks conveys this feeling of despair with grey, rainy days, filth, mud and desolation. It’s a very dark world depicted in Warrior Priest and that’s exactly as it should be. The degree of violence is high and horrible in its brutality; I like it as this gives more depth to the battle scenes. There is one very atmospheric fight with man against beast, which gave me the chills.

About two thirds into the story, it changes pace and the reader is forced into the point of view of another character that is suddenly introduced. Important for the story as he is, his inclusion feels disjointed from the rest of the story and comes out of nowhere.  I can’t help think these chapters could have been improved by extensive editing and it makes the story lack structure. It’s puzzling why we get such an in-depth view into this character and yet Jacob, the star of the story, is left mostly undeveloped. The story doesn’t really recover from it and the ending is by the rulebook, a mocking villain with dastardly plans of Evil, though the villain’s master was exciting but it’s nothing remarkable. It was hard to keep on reading until the end as I thought the main plot was turning weaker and weaker.

The last chapters display Hinks’s penchant for gore and revolting details including bodily fluids and entrails all over the place. There is a particularly disgusting and graphic scene that almost made me wretch, concerning corpses and the semi-dead, quite realistic considering the circumstances. This is what the author excels at and what I love to read. His descriptions are very vivid and intense. Be aware of this and also don’t eat while reading. I totally lost my appetite several times throughout the story.

The last fight between good and evil was unconvincing, it was over rather quickly and left me wondering if this was the author’s manner of saying that evil can be small and petty. The problem is that I didn’t think it was handled very well; the plot just fell apart, no matter the efforts of giving us a background story in earlier chapters. The actual ending feels more of an afterthought from the writer and was fascinating but rather unnecessary to the main story. The story and characters deserved a better closure.

The characters aren’t always consistent either: Ratboy, Jacob’s acolyte, has an inexplicable attraction towards Anna, the priestess. Perhaps this is Hinks’s way of pointing out that everyone in this mad world is corrupted and weak, but it isn’t really dwelled upon, interesting as it would have been. Another minor character is left completely out of a big portion of the story despite having a good start in the beginning.

Which leads me to my other complaint: the main female character in the story Anna is used as the ‘romantic’ interest of a few of the male characters throughout the book. I could argue this works with the story and the setting but is leaves me disappointed once again with the female characters (nothing new when I read a Black Library novel). In his defence Hinks writes the women better than most but Sigvald is a better example of this and he isn’t afraid of showing their more disturbing sides.

It doesn’t stop me from sighing every time this happens with the poor underused women characters. It’s also how they’re described; the men tend to be put in better light than the women, in unbridled male-worship. You can’t escape the fact that the Black Library stories favour the men, and considering that the writers are mostly men it puts an interesting angle into this. Think what you want but hey, it’s there. Take a look from all sides.

Despite the books many flaws I’m quite pleased to say that Hinks avoid many of the usual, and annoying, Black Library clichés. His characters are flawed, they come across as real people and we understand them. They suffer, they get hurt and their faith is strong. His dialogue is realistic and he doesn’t fall in to the trap of stilted speech to convey a sense of archaism or an epic feel – something most Black Library stories are guilty of and not in a good way. When this happens, it throws me right out of the story and makes my teeth hurt.

At times it feels as if the world of Warhammer and its many horrors is the main focus of the story, not the characters. I’m not complaining, it’s a place that has a wonderful dark atmosphere, sometimes bordering on horror, with many layers of secrets and that is what we want to read about. It’s as much part of the stories as the characters.

Read and enjoy it but don’t expect the same thrill and brilliance of Sigvald, Hinks second novel.  Most importantly keep reading Darius Hinks because he is an interesting author and I expect many dark and violent tales from him in the future.

Many thanks to my betas, Merci and Liliedhe. Their help was much appreciated.

Author Interview – Anthony Reynolds

Hello folks, and welcome to what will be the last author interview for February. Today, we have Anthony Reynolds himself in the spotlight as he talks about the Word Bearers, Bretonnians, Villains and his future works.

Anthony Reynolds brought the Word Bearers Chaos Legion to the forefront with his excellent novels featuring the Dark Apostle Marduk and his battle-brothers of the 34th Host. He has also written about the Knights of Bretonnia, telling the tale of one in particular, Calard, and Chlod. And of course, he has also worked extensively with the Games Workshop Design Studio in the past so he has seen both sides of the lore and has helped shape it.

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The Age of Digital Publishing

It is no secret that in the last four-five years, digital publishing has literally exploded and has quickly become a dominant factor in the book publishing industry. Whether it is indie authors self-publishing their work or the various traditional publishers, both big and small, transferring their dead-tree versions to the digital medium. There has even been the entry of publishers who only put out digital products. Undeniably, Amazon has led this revolution with its Kindle Books, its Kindle eReader and its strong, often ruthless, practices where digital book formats are concerned. Amazon is currently the goliath of the publishing industry and it doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon. However, Barnes & Noble is on the rise as well with its Nook eReader and Apple is also taking tentative steps towards it thanks to their iPad tablets and their recent iBooks Author publishing app.

So where does all of this leave an aspiring writer? Well, the answer is pretty complicated and unfortunately too extensive and contentious a topic to be discussed in depth on this blog. All, the same, I would like to offer some tips and strategies to all aspiring writers who, like me, wish to break into the industry as bona fide authors and want to do so successfully.

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Author Interview – Chris Wraight

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).

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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!

Self-publishing Thoughts

Today’s guest post is somewhat different from the others. Indie author John C. Scott, a good friend of mine, is here today to talk to you about where he went wrong with his self-publishing venture. We both hope that his short and sweet reflections on his first published novel The Legend of Adam Caine serve you all in successfully navigating the murky waters of self-publishing.

Enjoy!

I’m an idiot

I’m a complete idiot.

I’ve been asked (by my good friend Abhinav) to write about my experiences in the world of self-publishing.  I’ve been looking back over the last couple of years, and my conclusion is that I’m an idiot, completely and totally.

Okay, I should explain first.

Self-publishing (for those few out there who don’t know) is almost how it sounds.  Essentially, you send your manuscript to a specialised publisher who then prints your book through the print on demand system.  They’re all mostly online these days so it’s just a case of emailing the manuscript or uploading it to the website itself.

My book, The Legend of Adam Caine, was published with Authorhouse, a trans-Atlantic company.

The problem is that self-publishing is for those with money.  A lot of the paperback publishers have services beyond simply arranging the words on the page and printing it out.  They offer editing of varying degrees, marketing, reviews, the works.  But unfortunately, it costs… a lot, usually.  Or at least that’s been my experience.

The alternative in self-publishing is the upload direct option, where they print off exactly what you copy and paste or upload to their website.  Createspace is one I’m attempting myself, more for the experience and the special offer for Nanowrimo winners than anything else.

Another reason why I’m an idiot.

I’ve got no patience whatsoever when it comes to my writing.  When I started publishing Adam Caine, I was so desperate for it to be done and out and in my hands I was literally on the edge of my seat and watching for the postman to deliver the proof.  The only problem was that I was too impatient to get my free fifteen copies that I stupidly approved it before checking it.

Idiot.

The only problem was that the publisher only allowed a few changes to the proof before charging quite a bit for more.  Joy.  Insert tearing out of fur and enraged Wookiee growls.  Not only that, but the actual editing would have cost me something close to six thousand pounds.  Ouch.  Cue more enragement and annoyed stomping.

Of course, no matter what I’ve done, what I may think of the process, I still get goosebumps whenever I pick up a copy of my book, so it’s not all bad, hey?

So to sum up, I’m an idiot, and self-publishing isn’t a bad thing despite the obvious stigma, but you need lots of money, time, and patience.  Of those three options I have none.  Probably shouldn’t mention that to any potential future agent or publisher, should I?  Oops.

Anyways, I’m entering a submission to Black Library in May, hopefully it’ll be accepted.  Who knows, maybe I’ll have my name on a Black Library novel this year?  Probably not.

Oh yeah, that’s something else every author should have and don’t always have: confidence.

About the Author

John is an avid reader of Black Library fiction and just about anything else he can get his hands. His first novel The Legend of Adam Caine is currently available through Authorhouseand Amazon as well. Describing himself as an “insane hairly mumbler who likes to write stuff…” John has also participated in the National Novel Writing Month and his successful effort from 2011 is currently in the early stages of being publishing. You can find John rambling on his new blog Shaven Wookiee and also on twitter – @shaven_wookiee.

Next week’s Thursday post will be the January Artwork Round-up and the week following, I will be continuing the theme of today’s post and talk about some of the ways that you can all break into the e-publishing industry.