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.

RiaR Marooned: “Stranger” by VictorK

Every month, the Bolthole’s “Read in a Rush” competition serves up flash fan fiction. 1,000 word tales usually set in either of the Warhammer universes, but sometimes in original settings. The winners will be posted on the blog. 

by VictorK

The fire warrior hid beneath the stinking carcass of some alien beast and so survived the barrage that wiped out what remained of his cadre. In subsequent reports and other tellings he would emphasize the creature’s panic and the weight of the corpse pinning him down, but in his dreams he relived the fear and awoke with shame. The greenskins moved on, claiming only a few trophies from among the fallen Tau. The last that Shas’la from Vior’la saw was a large ork taking the ta’lissera knife that had bound the cadre together. He wanted to cry out, but his throat seized.

As the fire warrior pulled himself free the Kroot who had scattered when the first enemy shells burst over their formation emerged from the jungle. A savage strain of the species, each wore a unique tattoo on the side of his face. They regarded Shas’la with vacant, dim eyes. The fire warrior could appreciate their low sort of cunning, but he dared not draw closer to his erstwhile allies. Their shapers, some of their limbs hacked off to be consumed by Orks later in a bizarre reversal of the Kroot ritual, lay dead among the Tau. Shas’la resolved to ignore the aliens. He slung his plasma rifle, searched the bodies for ammunition, and started the hike back to the command post.

The Kroot followed.

Shas’la crested the last hill in time to see the last transport leave. He didn’t reach the base itself; swarms of greenskinned brutes blocked the way. The fire warrior could feel the cold hand of panic reaching up to tickle his heart. He was being left behind. Worse, the Tau didn’t know he was alive. Shas’la allowed himself to retch in the bushes. One of the Kroot concealed behind him edged forward, as if inquiring about his distress. Shas’la said nothing; he didn’t know the language and there was no shaper to translate. He was the last Tau on the planet.

The fire warrior retreated into the foothills to escape the marauding Orks. The rains and the Kroot followed him, and he spent many nights huddled beneath an alien tree, the eyes of the Kroot surrounding him. They will eat me, Shas’la thought. He had long gone through his own rations and could keep down little of the local flora. They will eat me and try and steal my language, and my culture. They will make themselves Tau and eat us all…Shas’la’s hand sought for the hilt of the knife that wasn’t there, and finally succumbed to sleep.

When he awoke, he was being carried. Malnourishment and the cold had sapped his strength, and now he found himself bound to a litter carried between the Kroot. Shas’la thrashed and cried out until a scaly claw clamped down over his mouth. Quiet, the Kroot silently demanded. Shas’la heard the rumble of ramshackle vehicles nearby. He complied, and soon fell asleep again.

There were more Kroot when Shas’la awoke. Others who had been left behind. They laid the tough bits from their hunt before him and he devoured the meat until he felt like retching again. Shas’la’s body would not let him die. The Kroot formed a circle around him and sat together around the firelight. They chatted amongst themselves in their clicking, guttural tongue. But they all stole their glances at the Tau. Still hoping that he might fade away and join his ta’lissera, Shas’la finally studied the Kroots’ faces. They were young; the ones who broke and ran lived. Cowards all, he thought. How long had they lived among the Tau? Couldn’t they tell a shas’la from a shas’o? Shas’la sought the knife again. He could not die until he held it again.

At first, Shas’la tried to teach the Kroot the way of the fire warrior. In the absence of the Tau, the Orks soon fell into fighting each other. Shas’la struck. The results were not to his satisfaction. Each Kroot seemed to be a Greater Good unto himself and would not support the others as was required by Fire Caste doctrine. Shas’la returned to sketching in the mud to plan his raids, but to no avail.

Kroot started dying. Shas’la could not deliver the unity and victory that the Tau promised. Once again, he feared that he would be eaten. The rains came again and he retreated with his new cadre to wait for a better fighting season. Shas’la accompanied the Kroot on their hunts for the first time, sacrificing the aloof posture he believed command required to try and form a bond with the aliens. What he observed opened his eyes. The Kroot feasted on their kill and howled to each other through bloody maws. Shas’la saw them as one, and followed every hunt thereafter.

Kroot could not become Tau, but Shas’la could bend them to the Greater Good. His raids became hunts, and he led from the front and ate from his kills. Orks from miles around sought him out, hoping for battle. Shas’la disappointed them and then struck when their war-lust had dissipated. He recovered his knife and drove it through the skull of the warboss who had severed his ta’lissera. He sheathed the knife, but did not yet feel complete. Shas’la ate the greenskin’s heart.

That night the fire warrior awoke to a roaring blaze and blank stares from his Kroot. They seized him, bound his legs, and threw him down before the fire where the young Kroot held him down. Shas’la screamed and cursed them as traitors, fearing that now he had become mighty the Kroot would at long last make him their meal. The strongest among them took his knife, and Shas’la cursed even louder.

The knife cut him along his right temple, shallow. The blood was allowed to flow over that side of his face, and the Kroot studied its path. He cleared some rivulets away, and let others stand. When he was satisfied, he wiped the Tau’s face clean. A fire-heated quill was drawn to the fire warrior, who regarded its cooling point with a promise to kill all of the savages. The strongest got to work, pricking Shas’la along the same course as his blood. The fire warrior fell silent. Shas’la regarded the tattooed faces of his cadre and let himself weep.

Another fighting season passed before Shas’la, his armor long broken and his rifle replaced by a crude Ork construct, stood in the wash of a descending Tau dropship. Reinforcements at long last. The Shas’o, in pristine armor with a drone over his shoulder, stepped down to the planet so many of his people had bled for. He regarded the lone Tau and his Kroot, The Shas’o’s gaze lingered on Shas’la’s tattoo.


The Tau word for ‘stranger.’ Shas’la Vior’la Berras felt something turn in his stomach. He returned the greeting with a crisp salutation and reported his hunter cadre for duty.

Author Interview – Andy Hoare

Its a Monday today and that means that we have a brand-new interview for your reading pleasure. This week it is Andy Hoare taking a stroll through these parts and talking about his old and new work alike.

Andy has worked on several codexes and armybooks for the Games Workshop Design Studio, particularly Witchhunters, Tau, Imperial Guard, Dark Angels, Orcs and Goblins, Lustria, Lizardmen and also the latest main rulebook editions of both Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 as well. Andy’s credit also includes work on several expansion liness with Apocalypse, Storm of Chaos, Eye of Terror and the Thirteenth Black Crusade among others.

With Black Library, his credits include the three Rogue Trader novels and The Hunt for Voldorius as well as a few short stories. He has also worked extensively with Fantasy Flight Games, working for their various role-playing game franchises licensed through Games Workshop, Rogue Trader, Dark Heresy, Deathwatch and more. One of his latest books is Deathwatch: First Founding which details the direct successors of the loyalist legions at the end of the Horus Heresy.

So let’s see what revelations Andy has for us about his career.

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