Interview with Gav Thorpe

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.

Literary Lord, Gav Thorpe.

Literary Lord, Gav Thorpe.

He2etic: What is the writing process like for you? If you were to describe the process in what word, what would it be?

Gav: Inconsistent.

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.

Empire of the Blood, by Gav Thorpe.

Empire of the Blood, by Gav Thorpe.

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?).

The Last Chancers, by Gav Thrope.

The Last Chancers, by Gav Thrope.

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?

Deliverance Lost, by Gav Thorpe.

Deliverance Lost, by Gav Thorpe.

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.

The Sundering, by Gav Thorpe.

The Sundering, by Gav Thorpe.

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 Curse of Shaa-Dom, by Gav Thorpe.

The Curse of Shaa-Dom, by Gav Thorpe.

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.

Interview with Joe Parrino

Joe Parrino, one of the Black Library’s newest authors, lets us pick his brain non-Hannibal style. We spoke to him about the writing process and he had a fair bit to say.

Lord and Commander of the Chickens, Joe Parrino.

Lord and Commander of the Chickens, Joe Parrino.

He2etic: What is the writing process like for you? If you were to describe the process in one word, what would it be?

Joe: Systematic.

I struggled a long time with answering this question, and then, like a bolt from the heavens above, it hit me. Systematic. I write in a linear fashion. I start at the beginning and chip away at something until it is written.

Then I comb through it, making changes both minor and major until it resembles something I am happy with. Very rarely do I jump about and write later sections before I’ve laid the groundwork.

That said, I do get flashes of words, often bits of dialogue or character descriptions that fly in at random moments. A prime example of this would be the prophecy scenes in Nightspear, but those are the exception and not the rule.

He2etic:  Who are your favourite characters amongst both those you’ve written, and by other authors?

Joe: My favourite characters tend to be ones who wind up being rather minor in the story. Amonther Numeriel is one. I spent a long time thinking about his backstory. In my characters, I’m attracted a lot to tragedy. How much more tragic a backstory can you get with a survivor of Iyanden’s doom who thinks he’s failed his family?

“Places like Antietam and Gettysburg, Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg, held a mystique and influence over me. It instilled a love for history in me that I have never shaken.”

 

Prestoff is a favourite character of mine for an entirely different reason. I realised, on the train down to Nottingham for the Horus Heresy Weekender, just how much of me was in that character. His journey mirrored my own. I had just moved to the United Kingdom when I began writing that story and a lot of that uncertainty made its way into his character. Obviously our journeys diverge a bit.

He2etic: Speaking of characters… Going from writing about the Tau to the Grey Knights is a pretty drastic change in the philosophy of your characters. Aside from the codexes, what other sources did you draw inspiration from for your tales?

Witness, by Joe Parrino.

Witness, by Joe Parrino.

Joe: I grew up in Maryland and, about once a month, my dad would take me to the local battlefields of the American Civil War. Places like Antietam and Gettysburg, Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg, held a mystique and influence over me. It instilled a love for history in me that I have never shaken.

This is what first brought me to 40k, that sense of future history that is very much inspired by the past of our own world.

In writing Witness I actually drew a lot of inspiration from that childhood experience and what I was going through at the time. The American Civil War has always fascinated me and the Brindleweld are modeled very much after the armies of the period.

There’s even an explicit reference to this. There is just something about the long marching lines, the drums and fifes and the streaming flags has always resonated with me and this was distilled into the Brindleweld Ninth Division.

“I also watch HBO miniseries, period dramas, etc. I can’t really put my finger on specific works that inspire my writing… Generally, it is more a means of me absorbing the information and my subconscious synthesising it into useable material without my explicit attention.”

 

I spent a long time thinking about the Brindleweld regimental culture and what it would mean for the humble Guardsmen to encounter a Space Marine, let alone a Grey Knight. I wanted to bring across the religious rapture that would surely occur when encountering the very proof that the God-Emperor exists.

The Patient Hunter, by Joe Parrino.

The Patient Hunter, by Joe Parrino.

The influence for the tau came from a bit more esoteric place. At the time I was studying a lot of political theory and I spent a long time considering what tau political structures would work like. I found myself asking questions like ‘Do the tau believe in private property?’ and ‘What would the appeal of the tau be to the unwashed masses of the Imperium?’

Due to the constraints of such a short story the questions weren’t fully able to be explored, but they linger beneath the surface. As someone who has always had a keen interest in languages, I sat for a long time with the Lexicanum article on the tau lexicon and tried to immerse myself in their language. This led to the heavy use of tau words and concepts when we get into Vre’valel’s perspective.

For Nightspear, I tried to tackle the story in another direction and explore a different style. I wanted to delve into the eldar method of storytelling and veer the writing to mirror the non-human perspective and thought process. I looked at oral storytelling and how that functioned. Because I lived in Scotland, I also took inspiration from Scottish myths and legends. This is especially prevalent in the naming conventions for the eldar.

He2etic: Thus far, you’ve written 40k exclusively. Have you given much thought to Warhammer fantasy tales at all? If you could, what would you like to write about in the Fantasy universe?

No Worse Sin, by Joe Parrino.

No Worse Sin, by Joe Parrino.

Joe: Warhammer fantasy was actually my introduction to the GW IP.

Way back when, in the misted hazes of my youth, it was Trollslayer by William King that first caught my eye and started me down the path. Once upon a time I even started collecting and painting Fantasy armies (Dwarfs, Tomb Kings and Wood Elves). Very shoddily, I might add, but they still sit enshrined on a shelf in my house.

Since then, my tastes have been inclined towards 40K, but I haven’t forgotten my roots. I still pick up the odd book or three from the Fantasy side of things, especially if it has dwarfs in it. I was a huge fan of Stephen Savile’s Von Carstein trilogy.

The Vampire Counts have snagged upon something in my psyche (despite being a complete pansy about zombies) and I would love to write something involving them.

He2etic: Are there any dream characters or settings you want to write about? Such as in other franchises?

I would sacrifice my left eye to be given a chance to write about the Alpha Legion. I find them absolutely fascinating and would love to get a chance to delve into the XX Legion. The Inquisition is another area I would like to explore.

In terms of other franchises, there aren’t too many that I actually follow. I tend to read universes spawned by specific authors (typically fantasy ones) rather than other franchises. Growing up, I used to be a huge Forgotten Realms nerd, but that was replaced by Warhammer Fantasy and 40,000.

Maybe, given half a chance, I’d love to do something in Joe Abercrombie’s fictional setting, but I’m much too enamoured with his own take on it to slice off a bit for myself.

“I have recently started plotting, planning and writing a novel of my own devising in the aforementioned world loosely inspired by the Jacobite Rebellions of the 18th Century.”

 

I’m in the midst of planning, plotting and writing a fantasy novel loosely inspired by the Jacobite Rebellions of the Eighteenth Century. So obviously I would like to write something set there.

He2etic: We’ve asked other authors before what kind of music they listen to while writing and the answer is frequently “lyric-less soundtrack” type answers, so we’re spicing it up. What composers do you think best capture the tone of the Warhammer 40k universe? And of course, what do you prefer to listen to while writing?

Joe: When writing or planning I tend to listen to a lot of Hans Zimmer. His work conjures a sense of movement and excitement for me. Building from very slow parts to fast sweeping pieces, his work conjures a narrative of his own. Its much too light hearted in my mind, though, to perfectly encapsulate the grim darkness of Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000. It does make for great pieces of music to write to.

For composers that capture the Imperium I would fall back to Strauss II. His waltzes are what an Imperial citizen (provided they had the wealth and status) would relax to.

The Brindleweld would listen to a variation on the music their real world counterparts once enjoyed. They’d kick back around a campfire and in their parlours and listen to fiddles, banjos, pianos and reminisce of the glory of war and the melancholic hope to return home.

Eldar music, in my mind, exists on several different planes at once. I think it’d be something that conveys emotion in a much better way than modern human music does, conveys images psychically and is heartbreakingly beautiful to listen to.

Nightspear, by Joe Parrino.

Nightspear, by Joe Parrino.

I’ve got a strange habit when it comes to music. I’ll often find and fixate on one track or one album and that will usually last a week or more. Then I jump off to something else that catches my ear. I do return to albums, but usually after a few months, when I happily rediscover them lurking in my library. The cycle then repeats.

He2etic: If you could cast anyone to play the roles of main characters in your work, who would you pick?

Joe: I don’t really visualise actors in the roles of my characters as I write. This question threw me for a bit of a loop.

Russell Crowe and Mark Strong immediately spring to mind. Mr. Crowe looks perfect for some upcoming Space Marines of mine while Mark Strong’s voice is perfect for any Son of the Imperium.

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?

Joe: I have recently started plotting, planning and writing a novel of my own devising in the aforementioned world loosely inspired by the Jacobite Rebellions of the 18th Century. Not content to just use one aspect of history, I’m also lifting inspiration from the American Civil War and the American War for Independence. Basically, the novel and the series that may some day follow, are my love letter to the parts of history I have always been obsessed with. Hopefully, between projects for the Black Library, this series will take more shape and emerge onto bookshelves at some point in the distant future.

He2etic: Are there any novels you would consider required reading? Are there any movies or television series that inspire your work?

Joe: There are several authors that I always recommend to friends when they say they want to get into Fantasy or Science Fiction. Joe Abercrombie and George RR Martin always top the list.

In terms of TV, I watch a lot of historical documentaries and tend to derive a lot of inspiration from them. I also watch HBO miniseries, period dramas, etc. I can’t really put my finger on specific works that inspire my writing (outside of a few documentaries like the Civil War). Generally, it is more a means of me absorbing the information and my subconscious synthesising it into useable material without my explicit attention. Sometimes I will get inspired by a particular phrase of snippet of sound that I hear on TV or in a movie, but those are rare moments.

Big shout out to Joe Parrino for his time today! You can follow him @jtparrino

Follow the @BLBolthole on Twitter for updates, articles and more. This blog’s art was crafted by Manuel Mesones, and you can check out his portfolio.

Author Interview – Gav Thorpe

Monday is here and that means we have another interview! The guest of honour on the blog today is Gav Thorpe, game designer and author extraordinaire. As he himself says in this in-depth interview, he has been with Games Workshop’s two settings for a long, long time and he has racked up a credits list like few others in that time.

He is most famous for his Last Chancers novels which star a remarkable Penal Legion regiment of the Imperial Guard, his Path of the Eldar novels which give some of the most in-depth look into this ancient elder race of the galaxy, his Slaves to Darkness trilogy which was written in the early days of the Old World and many, many others. He has also written rulesets and lore for a variety of factions in both settings, particularly the mid-generation rules.

He has enjoyed great success with his work over the years and the future looks bright for him. Let’s see what the man himself has to say.

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November Artwork Roundup

November has come and gone, and with it we have been treated to a host of wonderful artwork from Black Library, whether it is for the novels or the audio dramas. All of Black Library’s artists, everyone from Neil Roberts and Jon Sullivan to Cheoljoo Lee and Winona and many others have done some great work this year and they seem set to deliver even better for next year.

So withour further ado, here is some of the Black Library artwork for the month of November for some of 2012’s most anticipated releases.

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