He’s written about the Iron Hands, the Space Wolves and the White Scars. Is it because he’s a nice guy that he writes about the meanest bastards in Warhammer 40k so well? Who knows! But Chris Wraight has spared some time to speak to the Bolthole.
He2etic: What is the writing process like for you? If you were to describe the process in what word, what would it be?
Chris: One word: difficult. More words: It varies tremendously. I tried to make a commitment not to write weekends and evenings, which sometimes works but tends to fall over when a book is due in. On good days it’s a fantastic way to make a living: creative, exciting and challenging. On bad days it’s just very hard work.
The internet is both a blessing and a curse, of course. I’m always very touched when people get in touch to say they’ve enjoyed something; equally, it’s very easy to find people who hated it. My favourite part of the writer-thing is probably the live events, particularly the Weekenders. Real people is what it’s all about. To chat to someone who enjoyed a book is both a buzz and a privilege.
He2etic: What kind of music and musicians do you think best exemplify the Warhammer and Warhammer 40k universes?
Chris: When I’m writing I normally listen to film scores, partly because I’ve always liked them (ever since Danny Elfman’s music for Burton-era Batman), and partly because I think a good BL book ought to be fairly cinematic: the job of the books in some ways as giving Warhammer the big-screen treatment on the page, and a score gets me into the head-space for that. Hans Zimmer would definitely be the composer for a 40K movie, and that strikes me as no bad thing.
“Real people is what it’s all about. To chat to someone who enjoyed a book is both a buzz and a privilege.”
He2etic: How do you approach character development? Do you prefer to see how the character evolves as you go, or do you put more planning into it beforehand?
Chris: Most of the characters are fairly well planned out in advance, especially so when taking on established canon creatures like Bjorn or Schwarzhelm.
People have (rightly) high expectations that BL versions of the Codex characters will stay faithful, and while you can’t please everyone it’s important to at least try to produce something recognisable.
Secondary characters, in my experience, tend to change more during the writing process. The Blood Claws in Battle of the Fang weren’t even in the synopsis, so their stories evolved along with the fighting.
In my most recent book, Master of Dragons, there’s a minor character whose role changed several times as I was writing, ultimately in a way that I ended up liking very much. You’re constantly making decisions as things go along, which is one of the pleasures of story-telling.
He2etic: Were there any particular pieces of fiction that inspired you when writing of the Iron Hands?
Chris: Fiction? Not that I can think of. The imagery for the Hands came more from films, I think. Terminator was in my head quite a lot, and I had James Horner’s score for Aliens on loop when writing the hive-scenes.
He2etic: You’ve written books set in both Warhammer universes. Do you find yourself preferring one universe more than the other in anyway?
Chris: I find writing Fantasy comes a little easier, if I’m honest. I think that’s partly due to the fictional world being rooted in a historical real one, at least to some extent. In books like Iron Company, for example, it was fun to think about how real blackpowder weapons functioned, and then translate that to the fantasy environment.
The human characters in Fantasy are also recognisably placed in a pseudo-historical setting – early modern Germany (or Medieval France, etc.). They have similar, albeit altered, concerns to people in real-world settings, so there’s something to latch on to there.
40K is different. It’s such a vast and extreme backdrop that the leap of imagination needs to be bigger. I find Space Marines very difficult to characterise, as well as the general sense of colossal, mind-bending carnage that’s taking place all the time.
I don’t think I’ve ever got it quite right, though it’s always fun having a try. One day I’d love to try something non-Space Marine-centric in the 40K field, like an Inquisitor novel or an Imperial Navy saga, though the audience for such a thing might be… small.
“Stepping up to doing it professionally makes things a bit different – it’s no longer an indulgent business of doing it when you fancy it or when inspiration strikes – it’s a day job, and you need to get words on the page at a pretty consistent rate.”
He2etic: If you could cast anyone to play the roles of main characters in your work, who would you pick?
He2etic: Do you have any long term projects for writing? For example, do you intend to someday spin your own franchise or complete a long novel series?
Chris: Right now I’m concentrating wholly on BL stuff and have lots of ideas for stuff in that setting. Despite writing a handful of novels in both worlds, there’s so much to learn and it’s still very much work in progress. I’m lucky enough to have been given the chance to write some Heresy material recently, and that’s a whole new landscape to get immersed in and try to understand.
Both Warhammer franchises are such huge worlds that there’s still loads I’d love to have a crack at. My ultimate wishlist would be (for 40K) a trilogy on the fall of Iyanden, and (for Fantasy) the Great War against Chaos. I can dream, I guess
He2etic: Who are your favourite characters amongst both those you’ve written, and by other authors?
Chris: In terms of stuff I’ve done, I’m probably fondest of the Fantasy characters: Magnus Ironblood, Pieter Verstohlen, more recently Imladrik in the War of Vengeance series. In 40K/Heresy stuff, I loved writing for the White Scars and like Shiban very much, as well as Targutai Yesugei (who’s really Graham’s character, but he very nicely let me continue his story).
As regards other BL authors, the primarchs are the most compelling for me, Russ in Prospero Burns and Magnus in A Thousand Sons being particularly memorable and nicely drawn.
“You can’t write about the world, even in a fantasy sense, without having lived in it. Get out of the house, meet people, travel, experience new things – you can only tell stories if you have them.”
He2etic: Are there any books, movies, television series or even games that you think are mandatory viewing for struggling writers?
I liked Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip for that, and of course there’s The Shining (all work and no play, and all that). In terms of sheer story-telling perfection, you can’t go wrong with a good Pixar film. The Incredibles was wonderful – funny and clever, Up was heartbreaking. Jim Swallow told me once that every up and coming writer should watch and study the original Die Hard to see how to construct a tight, smart three-act action story. I did, and he’s right.
He2etic: Any advice for new authors?
Chris: I get asked this from time to time, and never really know what to say. That’s not because of being precious or protective, just because, like a lot of authors, I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled into this thing, have very little idea how I’m still here, and no clue at all how long it will last.
Neil Gaiman talks about the Imposter Syndrome, and he’s quite right. However, in the interests of saying something rather than nothing, I have two thoughts:
1. Read your favourite books again and find out how they do what they do. Good writing, to an extent, can be learned.
2. You can’t write about the world, even in a fantasy sense, without having lived in it. Get out of the house, meet people, travel, experience new things – you can only tell stories if you have them.
He2etic: Have you always written? Was it something that came with time?
Chris: I’ve always wanted to write, and have done so on and off since being at school. Stepping up to doing it professionally makes things a bit different – it’s no longer an indulgent business of doing it when you fancy it or when inspiration strikes – it’s a day job, and you need to get words on the page at a pretty consistent rate. Like all writers, I’ve been learning on the way – making mistakes, screwing up, occasionally getting the odd thing right.
Writing in a shared world brings its own challenges. You’d like to think that you can being original ideas into the setting, things that strike you as being cool or interesting, but you’ve always got to be careful not to step outside the mythos or mangle it into something else. We get a lot of help from the editors with this, of course, but in the final analysis it’s our name on the cover. All fun, though frequently terrifying.
He2etic: What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Chris: I try to keep something like normal working hours. That means starting the morning around 8 or 9, breaking for lunch, writing a bit more in the afternoon and then stopping around 6 or 7pm.
The rules are designed to prevent insanity setting in and total desocialisation, but they tend to get waived when a book’s due in or there’s too much on.
This year’s been very busy, as it turns out. That’s great for a freelancer, but I reckon I’ll need a break once the current book (Stormcaller) is delivered. There are only so many seven-day weeks you can pull before everything starts to look a little hazy…
He2etic: When it comes to reading, do you have any guilty pleasures? Stuff you know is trash but read anyway?
Chris: No, not really. My reading’s been pretty good over the last few months, and I’ve been enjoying the things I’ve picked out. Movies and TV, on the other hand, are a different matter. I have a strange liking for Columbo. And Bullseye. Go figure.
Thanks again to Chris Wraight for his time! Tune in next week for another interview on The Bolthole.