I had the honour of meeting Mr. Thorpe at the first Black Library Weekender in November of 2012. To this day, Thorpe’s Last Chancers omnibus is actually still one of my favourite books. Not just of the fiction from the Black Library, but of every book I’ve ever read. Today, Mr. Thorpe shares some insights in the field of writing with us.
He2etic: What is the writing process like for you? If you were to describe the process in what word, what would it be?
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?
Gav: Main characters have their fate set from the beginning most of the time – it’s their story I’m telling and a story is about how they change and don’t change.
Secondary characters are more interesting for this reason, as they are much more likely to surprise you. It’s one of the dangers to avoid – secondary characters being more interesting than the main characters because as a writer you end up having more fun with them.
He2etic: You have a long list of Eldar and Elven works to your name. From what do you draw your inspiration for writing about these races?
Gav: There are two main sources for both of these, though interpreted slightly different and to altering degrees. Whether fantasy or future, the pointy ears combine myth with classical history. The Eldar verge more towards the mythical, while the Elves are at the classical civilisation end of the spectrum.
“40K is the huge sandbox… [stories] can be ephemeral; grandiose but never gaining traction in the wider galaxy because the setting is so big. It’s hard to make an impact, I guess.”
I try to think of it as writing a novel about the ancient Greeks as if their beliefs about the gods and heroes were real – that’s the substance of the Eldar and elves. Obviously the pantheons and the societies draw from many different cultures on top of this basic premise. There is a lot of Celtic influence as well as nods to myth and worship from Babylon, Sumeria, Carthage and the Phoenicians.
All of this is blended with an ultratech anime style – immensely powerful weapons and beings that are emotionally fragile.
He2etic: You’ve written books set in both Warhammer universes. Do you find yourself preferring one universe more than the other in anyway?
Gav: No, I like them both for different reasons.
40K is the huge sandbox, in which you can create and destroy whole star systems. The good thing is that you can create massive stories against a never-ending backdrop.
The downside is that the universe if so big often stories don’t touch the sides. They can be ephemeral; grandiose but never gaining traction in the wider galaxy because the setting is so big. It’s hard to make an impact, I guess.
This is where Warhammer wins out. It has a much more defined geography and chronology, so it is easier to use ‘real’ events and characters as a backdrop and make it seem that characters and stories of your own devising are just as important as what is published in the army books. The more contained scale makes the stories bigger by comparison.
“In terms of fiction I don’t think there’s anything you can read, watch or play that’s going to help you come up with anything other than a clone of whatever you are reading, watching or playing.”
He2etic: If you could cast anyone to play the roles of main characters in your work, who would you pick?
Gav: I’m really bad at this sort of thing because firstly I don’t really think about characters in that way when I’m writing them, and secondly I am awful at remembering the names of actors. The closest I’ve come really is that when I first started writing Lieutenant Kage I pictured a young Bruce Willis, or perhaps even Vin Diesel (amazing some of the similarities to Riddick, eh?).
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?
Gav: I already have a trilogy out with Angry Robot. The Empire of the Blood omnibus has just been released. As well as that I’m just taking some time in my schedule to start just that sort of project – an opening novel of what i hope will be an open-ended series of books. When I started writing full-time everybody in fantasy was talking about world building and its importance. I had just come out of fourteen years at GW where I had basically been world building for a living. I wanted to concentrate on narrative instead, which is where The Crown of the Blood came from.
Now that I’m a bit more settled, I like the idea of creating more setting-based fiction. This is more of a Discworld sort of approach than A Game of Thrones. In other words, the setting might subtly change over the course of the books as things happen, but there isn’t an all-conquering meta-narrative driving the setting. I can dip in and out with characters and stories whenever and however I like (and perhaps other authors too…).
He2etic: Who are your favourite characters amongst both those you’ve written, and by other authors?
Gav: Kage is still one of my favourites and I had a lot of fun writing Alith Anar – though Malekith and Morathi were great fodder for drama too. In terms of other writers I don’t particularly get hung up on specific characters like some people – I enjoy the whole roundness of stories when they are told well. I grew up with Dredd and Johnny Alpha and always have a soft spot for them but in terms of books there isn’t anybody I am clamouring to read “The Further Adventures of…” I’m not sure if that makes me broken in some way.
He2etic: Are there any books, movies, television series or even games that you think are mandatory viewing for struggling writers?
Gav: Depends on what they are struggling with…
Struggling to get published? Read The Career Novelist by Donald Maas. He runs the Maas agency and the book is available for free from the website (or was, I haven’t checked in a while).
Struggling to write? I suggest Chuck Wendig for some incredible and succinct writing advice. Even us old pros need kickstarting now and then or just reminding, and he’s the one I’ve turned to of late. Lots of swearing though, so be warned if you’re offended by that sort of thing.
In terms of fiction I don’t think there’s anything you can read, watch or play that’s going to help you come up with anything other than a clone of whatever you are reading, watching or playing.
A broad spread of storytelling experience helps, but my greatest inspirations come from the source – history. The problem with focusing too much on other people’s fiction is that you end up just trying to recreate what someone has already done.
We’re all going to be influenced by what we like and we’re exposed to, so going out-of-genre – reading biographies, diaries, history – ensures that the influences are broad.
Once you’ve absorbed loads of stuff, that’s when you can really get writing. Put it away, work from the memory and the sense that’s left behind rather than the specifics.
I say the same of research too most of the time – you need the gist not every detail. You have to look at the things you like – and don’t like – with a writer’s eye as well as the reader’s. How narrative is moved along, how your favourite authors write action, the sorts of dialogue and description you find appealing or off-putting. read your favourite novels again and work out why you find them gripping, tense, exciting or whatever.
The same applies to trying to write for Warhammer and 40K. Read the style of stories that get published but don’t focus on any one series or author over the others. There’s plenty of authors already writing in the worlds of GW so finding something that adds to the mix, a particular take that sets a new writer apart will be difficult. The ‘feel’ of a Black Library novel can be elusive, so concentrate on that more that the specifics of the background.
A giant thanks goes to Gav for his time today! He can be followed @DennisHamster on Twitter.
For more updates, news, interviews and announcements, follow the Bolthole @BLBolthole.
Editor’s Note: During the crafting of this interview, a mistake was made. The article incorrectly asserted that The Treasures of Biel-Tanigh was written by Gav Thorpe. This was an error, Andy Chambers was the author of that story. Thorpe wrote The Curse of Shaa-Dom, which is a tie in story to Chamber’s tale.