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.

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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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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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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Catechism of Hate by Gav Thorpe (A Review)

As most of you know, Black Library’s latest Limited Edition novella, Catechism of Hate, was released less than a week ago and sold out in the first few minutes. To celebrate the launch of the novella and also the milestone for Gav Thorpe, for whom this is his second such novella, the Bloghole brings to you a review of Catechism of Hate, thanks to one of our members, MalkyDel.

Without further ado, here is the review. We hope you enjoy!

“What is it to be a Space Marine?”

This is the first line of the Catechism of Hate, not the novella but the battle-prayer written by its protagonist, Brother-Chaplain Cassius, after the First Tyrannic War. It is that conflict which looms over the entirety of Catechism of Hate as a story and it is also a pertinent question to put to its protagonists.

Catechism of Hate is the latest limited edition novella that I’ve had the luck to acquire and the first one I’ve decided to review. As ever the presentation is stunning; Jon Sullivan’s cover art conveys the relentless savage nature of war against the tyranids and brims with the fiery wrath which Cassius brings down upon them. It’s beautifully crafted (as all the other Space Marine Battle series art has been) and the included poster shows it off in even more detail. Unlike other limited edition novellas and unlike the other SMB novels, the tactical maps are located on the inside cover of the book, this at first threw me, but it became oddly appealing as I read on and it almost seemed as though the narrative itself were emerging from amidst the battle-plan.

The actual hardback is white and blue, not as iconic as the salamander hide of Promethean Sun or the heretical scrawlings of Aurelian but effective in its own simple way. Had it been blue and gold however I feel as though I’d have been put in mind of the Codex Astartes itself which would have been great.

The novella itself is told in flashback, with Cassius using it to galvanise his warriors in another campaign against the Tyranids. This conceit put me in mind of Dilios telling the story of Thermopylae to the Spartans at Platea, in Frank Miller’s 300. It is a very effective narrative tool and we get to feel, and understand the reasons for, Cassius’s hate. As the Ultramarines ready for war against the orks assaulting Vortengard, a distress signal is received from Styxia, an agri-world threatened by the relentless encroachment of Tyranid splinter fleets post-Ichar IV. While Marneus Calgar and the other Ultramarines wish to forge on, it is Cassius who makes the argument for intervention – introducing us to a stalwart and resilient character who could easily be accused of arrogance. Despite his assurances that he will not sell Ultramar lives in vain, his decisions inspire doubt amongst his fellow Astartes.

This forms much of the heart of the novella; what does it mean to be a Space Marine? Is it enough to simply smite the enemy because they are hated? The Ultramarines bear much antipathy for the Tyranid menace and this is effectively summarised by Cassius when he rages that the aliens humbled them, the greatest of the Space Marine chapters, and almost destroyed them. Cassius tempers his hate with an appreciation of his circumstances and the loyalty of his men; when the time comes to strike and the strategy for victory becomes clear, each becomes fanatical in their loyalty.

The pace of the novella is easy and fluid, with interesting support characters  in the form of a Cadian Commander, two Titan Princeps and the other members of Cassius’ command, all aided by Gav’s able command of the setting. The tyranids are well-described; sinuous alien horrors brought to life and given a relentless character of their own. It’s always hard to judge tyranids, since they have no real potential for “Enemy POV” scenarios, but the horrific biology of these aliens is well-represented here, with the interactions between different tyranid genus-types shown to its fully intermeshed glory. Battle scenes flow well, especially when the Space Marines are properly unleashed. Reading the climax, where the Catechism of Hate is finally enunciated, filled me with an almost martial pride, an unstoppable yearning to read more, to roar alongside them.

Through no fault of the authors, my only real disappointment is that the novella doesn’t really add to the canon, outside of a clearer view of the battle of Styxia. This is the purpose of the SMB series, of course, to bring clarity to famous battles in the history of 40k, and this it does admirably. It should not suffer simply because, unlike the previous novellas, it does not tie in to another series (Iron Warrior for Ultramarines, Daenyathos for the Soul Drinkers, The Bloody-Handed for The Sundering, Promethean Sun & Aurelian for the Horus Heresy), and instead only represents a single battle. The novella still stands as an exemplary piece of writing on Gav’s part. It reminds me why, no matter the chapter, Gav Thorpe remains one of my favourite authors at the helm of Space Marines.


As a sort of bonus, there might be some other reviews in the pipeline for the future so make sure to keep checking back here!

December Artwork Roundup

December was a spectacular month for Black Library artwork. We have had some truly amazing art being shown for future novels as well as the Advent Calendar “quiz” which saw speculation in the fandom ramping all the way to 11 and beyond.

So let’s take a peek into just what got released for December and what we can expect in the future.

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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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