Author Interview – Dan Abnett

Hi folks. My apologies for the long interlude since our last author interview, with Word Bearers expert Anthony Reynolds no less. The time has been good though because we have a great line-up ready for you guys. Starting off with a bang and some great enthusiasm is one of Black Library’s most prolific and senior authors, Dan Abnett.

Dan Abnett has written a lot on a lot of different things over the years, whether it is for Black Library alone or elsewhere. He has dabbled in a multitude of formats, whether it be comics or novels, short stories or background texts. Some of his most popular and endearing credits include the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, several Horus Heresy titles, the Malus Darkblade novels and comics or some stand-alone stuff like Brothers of the Snake or, until only a few months ago, Gilead’s Blood.

There are a lot of interesting revelations and juicy bits of information in the interview so let’s see what we have!

Shadowhawk: You are one of the most prolific writers for both Games Workshop and Black Library. How did you get started with them? And, going back a bit, how did you start with your writing career in general?

Dan: I was invited to work for them when they were setting up fifteen years ago. I was already a freelance comic book writer – some work on Marvel’s “Conan” had brought me to their attention. They hired me to write comics, which led to short stories, which led to novels.

I’d always wanted to write. As a kid I’d written and drawn my own comics. Straight out of uni I got a job with Marvel UK in London, an editorial position, because of my interest in comics, and started to freelance, writing Ghostbusters, Thundercats, Care Bears… Eventually I decided I was a better writer than an editor, and went freelance.

Shadowhawk: The Tanith have featured in nearly a dozen novels and more are on their way, with the latest being Salvation’s Reach. What has this twelve-year journey been like for you? And what is the future for the Tanith?

Dan: I think it’s thirteen novels :)  …plus Double Eagle, Titanicus, the Sabbat Worlds Anthology and the (ultra rare) Sabbat Worlds Crusade book, which are all related. I love writing the Ghosts, and I’ve written about them so much – just in terms of word count – that they’re woven into me. They’re like old friends. I am immensely involved with and engaged in their story.  The story will continue for a while yet. There are two more novels to come in the current (fourth) arc, and I have a story in mind for at least one significant arc after that. So there are a few more years to go. The next book’s working title is “Warmaster”, and will follow directly from Salvation’s Reach. This fourth arc is the tightest and probably the most epic.

Shadowhawk: Eisenhorn and Ravenor are together the two most well-known Inquisitors in the Imperium. What was the impetus and the inspiration behind the two of them?

Dan: Eisenhorn existed in name when I came to the Inquisitor stuff. I’d been sent rough cuts of the Inquisitor game rules because BL thought it might be juicy inspiration for Gaunt. I asked if I could write an Inquisitor novel, and Eisenhorn (“Xenos”) came right out of that. Ravenor, who was a character in the Eisenhorn trilogy, got promoted to series lead because I felt (at the time) the Eisenhorn story was finite and needed to be open-ended. Now, after a decade, I’m coming back to him. I’m very proud of those books.

Shadowhawk: Your next Inquisition novel, Pariah, was recently announced. What can we expect from a trilogy that has the theme of Eisenhorn versus Ravenor running through it?

Dan: I thought it was time to finish – or at least continue – Eisenhorn’s story. Enough time had passed. Like Ravenor, this lifts a character out of the earlier books and makes them the lead, but it is also a return for the casts of Ravenor and Eisenhorn. Pariah will be the first of the “Bequin” trilogy.  I think the book is shaping up very nicely. It’s a return to that murky world of intrigue behind the front line of war. It’s also a proper mystery: Long term fans will have fun spotting old characters and wondering why they’re doing what they’re doing and how one thing’s connected to another. There are also some incredibly engaging new characters.

Shadowhawk: Any plans concerning the return of the Iron Snakes, especially after the recent eShort Kill Hill?

Dan: I’d love to. An Iron Snake showed up in Salvation’s Reach, and there is a passing reference to them in Know No Fear too. I just need to get ahead far enough to build time into the schedule to write an ass-kicking Snakes novel. It will happen.

Shadowhawk: You have also spent a lot of time in the Old World, writing about everything from noble Empire knights to cursed dark elves and more. What attraction does the Warhammer Fantasy setting hold for you?

Dan: I feel I don’t spend enough time there, and I’d love to do more. I think there’s a whole tone and atmosphere thing I haven’t even begun to tap yet, though I got pretty close in Riders of the Dead. Gilead and Malus are old favourites and friends, and it’s great to be working with Nik on new Gilead. Gilead was the first character I wrote for BL. I have a dream of writing a huge, epic-length mass-war Warhammer novel, a kind of “Titanicus” for Warhammer.

Shadowhawk: You are an extremely prolific comics-writer and have worked with DC, Marvel, 2000 AD and other publishers. What is the attraction of the format compared to short stories and novels?

Dan: I love comics and I love the contrast in form and style. I work better when I’ve got lots to do and lots of variety. The things I’m doing for 2000AD right now – Sinister Dexter, Kingdom and Grey Area – are all series I’m very excited about. I also urge you to check out my Vertigo series The New Deadwardians, and the forthcoming DnA cosmic superhero series The Hypernaturals, from Boom! That’ll be Boom!’s Free Comic Book Day comic in May, so you can try it out for free.

Shadowhawk: What are the challenges of writing Space Marines when compared to Titan Princeps or Imperial Guardsmen or Inquisitors?

Dan: They’re tougher to write because they’re less human. There’s less to get hold of, initially. They’re very cool and powerful, but they’re bred to be the same – cloned, uniformed, controlled – so they’re harder to get a handle on as characters. I think they’re tough to write well…  It is (and should be) on a par with trying to write from an alien POV.

Shadowhawk: What’s next for you in the Horus Heresy after the Battle of Calth?

Dan: Next for me is The Unremembered Empire, which is a direct sequel to Know No Fear and takes the Ultramarines (the survivors) back to Macragge. Then again, Aaron’s (Dembski-Bowden) Betrayer is also a direct sequel to KNF, so KNF is a bit of a branching book. The interweaving is getting more complex and the pace is picking up.

Shadowhawk: Malus Darkblade is another of your more famous characters, whom you worked on with Mike Lee. What was the experience like for co-writing an entire novel series?

Dan: I’ve co-written a lot in my career. It is a great relief from the solitary nature of writing work, and can be very rewarding in terms of ideas and brainstorming. It helps that Mike is a lovely bloke I get on very well with.

Shadowhawk: Ten years on, Gilead has gotten a new life and is currently being featured in a serialized novel for the Hammer & Bolter eZine. What prompted a revisit to such an old character?

Dan: “Because you demanded it”… Seriously, because Nik and I get asked about Gilead a LOT at cons and Games Days, proportionally far more than one character from one ten-year old book ought to get asked about.  My three most FAQs are “Will there be more Gilead?”, “When will you ever write the sequel to Double Eagle?” and “Why did you kill Bragg?” :)

Shadowhawk: Once Gilead’s Curse is done, any plans for more Warhammer stories?

Dan: Yes indeed.

Shadowhawk: You have had some of your original work published recently, Triumff and Embedded. What can you tell us about them?

Dan: Both are for Angry Robot Books. It’s great to be able to explore and develop ideas that won’t fit my regular outlets like BL. Triumff is a raucous swashbuckling fantasy set in a pseudo-Elizabethan Era with magic. It’s a serious story, but it’s got a lot of very rude and silly humour in it. Writing it was like going on holiday. There will be more. Embedded is gritty combat SF, so technically more like my BL work, but it’s a very low-key, realistic SF future war, and the themes are darker. It’s a story about the media in wartime (a reporter literally gets ‘embedded’ in the head of a frontline soldier to see the war first-hand), and I couldn’t do that in, say a Gaunt novel.

Shadowhawk: Being such a prolific writer, does it ever get overwhelming for you with so many different universes and settings to consider?

Dan: I keep careful notes and leave a trail of breadcrumbs :)

Shadowhawk: How do you approach your writing and what helps you get in the mood?

Dan: I get up and do it. It’s a job. It’s a job I love, but if you treat it like a hobby, you’re never going to get anywhere. Sometimes it’s incredibly hard work. I read a lot and sometimes listen to music to help adjust my mood and breed inspiration, but basically there is no alternative to productivity. I get on and write. If I’m not in the mood, or don’t feel inspired, I write for fifteen minutes or half an hour to get through the dull patch. If you do that, you usually get your mojo back pretty quickly before you’ve even realised it.

Shadowhawk: What has been your most challenging project to date?

Dan: Probably re-writing Necropolis from scratch in a month after my computer crashed and fried the first draft.

Shadowhawk: What do you consider to be your most successful project, in terms of planned goals and the final execution?

Dan: The re-draft of Necropolis, which was better than the first, despite the atrocious circumstances of its creation.

Shadowhawk: In terms of both your written work and otherwise, what is going to be the highlight of 2012?

Dan: Pariah…. though the response to Know No Fear in January was SO huge, I wonder if I haven’t already had my highlight.

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

Dan: I wouldn’t presume to tell anybody anything, but I will say hello. Hi, guys!

Shadowhawk: Finally, a request from our readers: “Some of us are quite eager to lay down our lives for the Imperium in your next novel, so, where do we enlist?”

Dan: email your name to me at my website www.danabnett.com  I’ll see what I can do.

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Well, that’s all we have for now folks. Stay tuned for this Thursday when we bring you another author interview (first time we are doing two in a week). This time, it will be Nik Vincent, Dan’s wife, and an author in her own right. She also has some exciting things of her to tell so be sure to check back on Thursday!

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