Interview with John French

After much faffing around here is the awaited interview with Black Library writer John French, just as we leave March allergies and April foolery.

Courtesy of The Black Library

Can you tell us about your novel Ahriman: Exile? The story and characters, specifically Ahriman. Is it action-oriented or slow-paced?

Ahriman: Exile is about Ahriman (of Chaos Sorcerer infamy) in the time after his banishment from the Planet of the Sorcerers. It starts with Ahriman in a very different place to what most people would expect. He has watched his Legion be destroyed by the Rubric he cast to save it. For once he has seen the limits of his knowledge, and seen that there are things that are beyond his grasp. The novel then follows his rise from that state to… something else.

How did you go on with writing for a famous Codex character such as Ahriman? Did Black Library approach you with the idea or was it your idea all along? I know that Black Library writers have favourite characters they want to write about.

It was an off the cuff remark that started it. I was trying to pitch another novel, and my editor was lukewarm about my idea. I said something like ‘well, I will just do an Ahriman book instead,’ and my editor blinked, then said ‘Ok, what would you do?’. It was not the response I was expecting, at all. At the time I thought that the Thousand Sons and Ahriman were being worked on by someone else. I also was fairly sure that they would not let me roll straight into such a key character. But there I was, with a big open ‘what you’ll you do?’ waiting to be answered. Luckily an idea came along just in time for me to reply. It changed a bit as I flesh it out, but the essence of that first idea became Ahriman: Exile.

What was the writing process for the book? Can you describe how you go about working on a novel?

I tend to start with a single event, character or circumstance. I prod that first concept around in my head. Then I talk to people about it (editors, friends, other writers), and see if their eyes glaze over. If I get that response then I start again. I am lucky in that I have very inspiring friends and colleagues, who are not short on opinions. The best reactions are the negative ones, the times when they think that I have missed the point, or ignored something important. That’s the really good stuff, because it adds layers and hard edges to bounce off.
After that I write the idea down in as few words as possible. Can the idea be expressed simply and directly? Yes – good. No – start again. I plan. Bullet points and key story beats are hammered out.
I realise that I need an extra subplot because otherwise the whole thing is going to be like head butting through breeze block walls. I change the plan. I start writing, and try to hit key milestones by set times.
I realise, yet again, that the plan is just a map to save me if I get lost, and will have to be changed
Characters come and go, change names, change gender, change their role in the plot, and generally cause trouble on the page.
Eventually – after all the ups and downs of thinking its going well, knowing it’s not, believing it’s great, and being convinced it’s not – a rough draft turns up.
My long suffering alpha reader gets to batter through my mistakes. I redraft, moving big chunks of text around, scrapping scenes, burning word count down, adding stuff in and chopping it out.I put together a reading draft that looks close to the finished deal. The reading draft goes out to my beta readers (thanks, guys). I wait in a state of nervous tension for them to tell me it’s dull, or makes no sense, or that the bit that I really like is, in fact, pointless. The comments come back. I read them, alternating between joy and despair.I redraft again.
It goes to the editors, and the nervous tension starts again. Comments come back. More drafts appear. It goes to the copy editors and proof readers. More drafts.
Print galleys appear – ‘last chance to change that hideous typo you spotted on page 76…’ And then, at long last, like a dust covered traveller riding through a city’s gate, it’s printed, and becomes real. Simple, no?

Is Ahriman a favourite character of yours?

So much hubris, so much self delusion, and so much power… Yeah, he is a lot of fun to write.

Did you draw inspiration from any outside influences such as films, books and music?

Music more than anything. Books and stories often have a song that just ends up bonding to them, and I suppose influencing the feel of the story. The Last Remembrancer and a song called Sanvean by Lisa Gerrard are linked in my head. For Ahriman the track Surface of the Sun from the soundtrack to Sunshine got played a lot.

Can you mention your favourite parts and least favourite of the book? The ups and downs?

I am fairly convinced that the bits which writers like about their own work are not the bits that others like, and it’s same with the stuff that writers don’t like. What I like or don’t like is really bound up with the writing process. For example I was so tired when I was doing the last sections of Exile, that I always flip back to feeling less than good when I think about them. On the flip side of that coin, I really enjoyed doing the cross cutting between characters when they are on the dead Astropath station.

What do you prefer to write, action scenes or character driven stories?
I love writing dialogue. For me that’s really were you see characters emerge, but if I didn’t like writing action 40k would be a hard setting to work in.

Writers have different patterns when they’re involved in their writing. Is the writing process for you a lonely one or do you become more social?

It’s essentially solitary for me. I write on my own, with the internet shut down, listening to a long playlist of music on big headphones. So… yeah, I shut the rest of the world out as much as I can. Having said that, when I am not at the keyboard I develop ideas by talking them through with other people.

What made you write for Warhammer 40k? Was it by chance or was it intended all along? If so, are you a big 40k fan?
I am a lifelong fan. I think I wanted to write professionally for 40k ever since I first encountered the setting.

Do you have any plans writing for Warhammer Fantasy in the future?

It would be interesting, but no plans at present.

Will you continue writing Arkham Horror novels? Do you see any similarities writing Lovecraftian horror and 40k fiction? Are they part of the same for you?

The Lord of Nightmares trilogy was a complete blast to write. In particular because I got to collaborate with Alan Bligh. It was also a great change of gear to write in the (well maybe a version of) the real world.
I think they are both very distinct worlds. I suppose there are common threads of horror, and the supernatural, but 40k has such a strong style that it is difficult to put it in the same pool as anything.

As a big Lovecraft fan I have to ask : Short fiction or novels, which one do you prefer?

The short fiction, no doubt. But I have to confess that I prefer Chambers and Clark Ashton Smith.

Can you remember what it was like when you started writing, and do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Professionally, or in general? In general, hmmm, not really, I wrote stories when I was young enough that memory gets a bit blurred.
Professionally, oh yeah. I still have the commissioning paperwork. I was so excited, but I was also terrified that I now had to actually deliver.
Advice…
Get proper, harsh feedback, and listen to it. You don’t have to follow it, but you should always listen to it, and spend time considering it. Get to know yourself as a writer, good and bad. This thing we do is a craft first and an art second; learn your craft. Don’t do things by accident.
Keep going.

What are your biggest influence in your work? Any films , novels, music, people?

Everything and anything.
But seriously, it’s difficult to pin down because some of the strangest and tiniest things might be the seed of an idea. I got the some of inspiration for the details of the summoning scene in Ahriman: Exile, from watching a video of people releasing lantern kites. Sometimes I think it would be cool to take a chapter from a book, and get a writer to do a big exploded multi-media mood board, showing some of the things that nudged into their mind as they wrote it.

Can you tell us about your interests?

I have a fairly varied set of interests, including a poor taste in music, running, history, a bit of philosophy, gaming, eating, sleeping, talking, and generally being a bit of an intellectual butterfly.

It seems that many fans of Black Library started reading fantasy as young children. Can you name your favourite books from your childhood?

Tricky…
Depends how young, but if you take a large chunk of time running from when I started to read books that just had words (or mainly words) to about 13, and in no particular order:
The Hobbit, Watership Down, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was completely obsessed by Agatha Christie for two years somewhere around the 10 year old mark… Asterix and Obelix, everything by Terry Pratchett, all of the Sharpe books, The Witches, The Wooden Horse, The Lord of the Rings, I, Claudius (yes I was a bit young for it, but it’s a hell of a book), The Chronicles of Narnia (the demon god in The Last Battle left marks in my mind I am sure)… err, probably a quite few more that have slipped my mind.

Favourite music?

The choral Music of Thomas Tallis, most of DJ Shadows work (particularly Entroducing), any film score by Hans Zimmer, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Bruce Springsteen, Portishead, Faithless, The Portico Quartet, almost anything with Daniel Hope playing a violins in it…Yeah, you weren’t expecting that to make consistent sense were you?

Bestest food?

Pizza. Food of the gods.

Chaos or the Emperor? Describe why.

Chaos, because it is everything.

Best replies in my opinion, pizza and Chaos couldn’t be a better combination. Many thanks to John French for having patience with obsessive fan questions. Images courtesy of The Black Library.

Interview with William King

Today we interview one of the Black Library fandom’s favourite authors, the legendary William King. He’s responsible for creating the iconic Gotrek, Felix and Thanquol characters in Warhammer Fantasy, and for writing the Ragnar series in Warhammer 40,000 and more recently the Tyrion and Teclis and Macharius series. He’s also written a number of stories in his own settings. William King

Your latest novel Bane of Malekith, the third in the Tyrion and Teclis trilogy, is out now. What was the writing process for the book? Can you describe how you go about working on a novel?

The second question is tricky to answer since the process varies from book to book. The Tyrion and Teclis trilogy was probably a unique case among all the books I have written. They were done one after the other in the space of about nine months and then revised in about another 5 months.

The trilogy was in many ways the easiest thing to write I have ever attempted. I set myself the goal of writing a minimum of 1000 words EVERY day come rain or shine and I pretty much stuck with that until the books were done. I even spent an hour writing in a Costa coffee house in Qatar in the middle of the night to keep up my unbroken run.

I spent many years brooding on the story which probably helped make things flow. I wrote the original outline for it way back in the early 90s in the first High Elf army book so I was pretty clear what I wanted to write. The characters themselves have been pretty strongly defined and mostly I just wanted to show how they became who they are today. I wanted them to be believable as heroes and still sympathetic.

Bane of MalekithAs for my usual writing process, it’s pretty simple. I almost always work from an outline – which is handy since Black Library requires me to send them one before they will issue a contract. This outline provides a guide for the actual writing. I don’t try to stick to it religiously. Some things that look great in the outline don’t actually work when you come to write them and conversely there are always things that take on a life of their own as they escape from your brain onto the page.

As I go through the first draft, I tend to stop and go back occasionally and rewrite things the light of what has happened since I wrote them. I put in foreshadowing, bits of stuff that I now know will be important to let the reader know about and so on.

Once I have written the first draft, I go over the book a number of times, trying to make sure everything is consistent. Sometimes there are large changes needed at this stage as flaws become evident. Eventually the thing is done, sent to the editors. More changes are often required at this stage. There is a backwards and forwards process until the book is done.

Are there any parts of the book that were a particular struggle to write, and any you are now especially pleased with?

As I said above this trilogy was probably the easiest thing I have ever written, with the possible exception of Daemonslayer, which was written after a similarly long gestation period. It was an enormously pleasurable experience. There are lots of things in the books I like – in particular the depictions of Aenarion, Caledor, Malekith and Morathi. In Bane of Malekith I like the way Malekith comes across. I also like the final set of duels between Tyrion and Urian and Malekith and Teclis. I am pleased with the opening chess game between Caledor and Death as well, which is, as I am sure many people will have spotted, a reference to Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.Gotrek and Felix

Do you have any particular literary influences or sources you draw inspiration from in your writing?

Robert E Howard, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock and Tolkien all spring to mind. Less obviously Lawrence Block, George Orwell and, this is going to sound bizarre, Charles Dickens. He had a brilliant way with creating memorable characters.

Readers sometimes comment that you have a great ability to portray details of character or setting with just a few well-chosen words. Is this an element of your writing that you’ve consciously developed, or has it always come naturally?

See my comment about Dickens above. He has a knack for giving characters memorable mannerisms (Orwell comments on this in his essay on Dickens). It’s one of the things I try to do—like Gotrek running his thumb along the blade of his axe as he ponders violence. When creating a character I try and come up with three really memorable things—a look, a mannerism, an attitude and I build on it.

With settings, it’s the same. I try and find small details that will be convincing to the reader. I look for the sort of things that make me nod and think, yes, that’s how it would be.

How do you approach character development? Do you prefer to see how the characters evolve as the story progresses, or do you tend to plan out character arcs before starting to write?

I tend just to let the characters run from where they start. My basic philosophy of character creation is find characters you like and understand and then torture them. By this I mean cause them difficulties, take away their stuff, pick on their loved ones etc.

Again though, when I pause to think about things, I would need to add that this varies from book to book. Sometimes I have a definite aim in mind. With Tyrion and Teclis I wanted to show how they got to be heroes. With Gotrek and Felix and Grey Seer Thanquol, I just ran with what was happening in the stories and left the characters to their own devices. You can see what happened.

Writers seem to have different patterns when they’re involved in their writing. Is the writing process for you a lonely one or do you become more social?

I’ve never been the world’s most sociable man. I enjoy being on my own. I think it helps. On the other hand, it’s easy for me to say since I have a very supportive family.

You’ve been writing now for over twenty years. How have you found that the world of publishing has changed in that time?

It’s a different world now, completely and utterly. The single biggest change has come in the past five years with the rise of indie publishing and Amazon’s Kindle store. I have sold something like 40000 indie books in the past couple of years. The royalty rate on those books is something like 10 times as much as those on a conventionally published book so that’s a significant shift.

I think the whole industry is in turmoil. We’ve seen giant bookstore chains close shop and more and more people shift to e-readers. The process has only just started. That said, I do think Black Library is incredibly well-placed to weather the changes. It has its own loyal audience and control of at least part of its distribution chain

Fist of DemetriusCan you remember when you started writing, and do you have any advice for aspiring writers now?

I can remember it like it was yesterday but the world has changed so much that nothing I learned in terms of the business side of things would be useful today. On the other hand, some advice never goes out of fashion. Write what you love. Write the best stories you can. Read a lot. Write a lot. Don’t expect to be an overnight success. Learn to manage money. I know those all sound like clichés, but there’s a reason for that. They are all true and will most likely remain so for as long as people write books in the hope of selling them.

You did a lot of work on developing the Warhammer setting as a designer. Do you find that has made it easier or harder to write fiction set in the world, and has that changed over time?

It was easier when I started but it has gotten harder as the Warhammer world had been changed and expanded and so many more books have been written.

You’ve written in a variety of settings. Do you prefer working in an original setting of your own or with somebody else’s IP?

It depends! (You’ll notice a trend in my answers here as once again I sit on the fence.) In some ways writing in somebody else’s IP is easier because the world has already been created and you have very clear guidelines as to what is expected.

In some ways, writing your own stuff is easier because you don’t need to worry about what other writers may be doing. When I am writing my Kormak sword and sorcery novels or my Terrarch gunpowder fantasies, I am free to do pretty much as I please, up to and including blowing up the world if I want. I am pretty certain I could not get away with doing that (in Warhammer fantasy at least, in 40K there are a lot of worlds).

In Warhammer as more books are written by more writers, the number of things you can write about tends to narrow because somebody else may be doing something you would like to do.

Also, if I may introduce a note of crass commercialism into matters, if you are working in somebody else’s IP there is usually some certainty that there is a market for it and that you will be paid. If you are working on your own stuff, unless you are already a well-established writer, that is not a given.City of Strife

Who would you say is your favourite character among those you’ve written?

It’s really hard to make that choice, I like them all.  Gotrek and Felix come first but as a team!  If I absolutely had to pick just the one character, probably Grey Seer Thanquol. He was pure fun to write.

In your heart of hearts, do you prefer Dwarfs, or Elves?

Elves. Most of the time. Although I would probably rather go out drinking with dwarves.

After the conclusion of the Macharius trilogy, do you have plans for any more novels we should look out for?

There are some things being discussed but I am not allowed to talk about them at the present moment. Sorry about that!

Profound thanks to Mr King for taking the time to answer our questions! For more of his thoughts, see his blog at williamking.me

Interview with Steve Parker

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We interview Steve Parker about his latest novel Deathwatch. This is our longest interview so far, a fascinating, in-depth view into the writing process. Take notes, aspiring writers!

Can you tell us about your novel Deathwatch? The story and characters specifically. Is it action-oriented or slow-paced?

Deathwatch is the first Talon Squad novel and follows the origins, formation and first deployment of a Space Marine anti-xenos kill-team under the auspices of an Inquisition ‘handler’ known only as Sigma.
I guess the best way to describe it, or at least to describe what I was shooting for, is special-forces action in the 41st millennium – a kind of Tom Clancy or Duncan Falconer in space, if you will, but very solidly grounded in the 40k milieu.
The story is told via multiple viewpoints, but is mostly centred on Lyandro Karras, First Codicier of the Death Spectres Space Marine Chapter, who is sequestered to the Deathwatch alongside Siefer Zeed of the Raven Guard, Maximmion Voss of the Imperial Fists, Ignacio Solarion of the Ultramarines and Darrion Rauth of the Exorcists, all of whom eventually deploy with the dreadnought Chyron Amadeus Chyropheles of the Lamenters. Unfortunately, they don’t all get on very well.
I think it’s fair to say the book is definitely action-oriented, but action is nothing without slower-paced suspenseful elements that set it up. Hopefully I struck a good balance between action and suspense.

What was the writing process for the book? Can you describe how you go about working on a novel?

Deathwatch was announced rather a long time before it was completed, but that was nothing to do with any issues in the actual writing process. Truth be told, my life circumstances got shaken up a fair bit between signing the contract with Black Library and actually handing in the completed manuscript. I was never in any doubt about finishing the book, though. It was something I really wanted to write from the first moment my editor ran the notion up the flagpole.
Given the existence of the two short stories before the novel, I already had my characters, but I found myself facing a slight problem in that I didn’t want the novel (nor any future Deathwatch novels) to be bound by what transpired in those shorts. I mean, no one on the kill-team is immortal. If they make a big enough mistake, someone is going to pay the ultimate price. If one assumes the shorts take place quite a while after the origins story, it would seem that Talon Squad is going to be pretty safe for a long time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t go thinking that because the kill-team is at full complement in the shorts that anyone is bullet-proof. They are most definitely not. Not all these guys are going to make it through. That’s just a reality of the Deathwatch.
So, to that end, I decided to treat the novel as a reboot. The short stories are what they are – brief, explosive action adventures based around a single mission and meant to be read in a single sitting – but I’d like readers to think of them somewhat in the same way as a Marvel Alterniverse story. If you’re not familiar with those, it’s where an established character like Spidey, for example, has adventures that don’t really fall within the accepted main story arc. They’re fun, but they don’t reflect actual canon, more just a chance to play with ideas. For me, the Talon Squad shorts were as much about prototyping my kill-team and working out the dynamics of the group as anything else.
In terms of the process I use for any novel these days, I work almost exclusively in Scrivener, which I know some other Black Library authors – William King to name one – also espouse. Scrivener is heavily geared towards authors and makes Microsoft Word all but obsolete due to features like the excellent corkboard. I find it a genuine joy to work with, though I’m still learning its ins-and-outs to a degree.
I spend a lot of time in the planning phase of a book and make copious amounts of notes. I’m not a ‘pantser’ who just jumps into the writing and sees where it takes him. I tried that. The results were a bit messy and tended to call for pretty massive rewrites along the way. That’s not for me. I’m firmly in the ‘outliner’ camp now.
I tend to write three drafts. The first is scrappy and as fast as I can make it, just getting it down without too much thought to the language and focusing on discovering story problems I hadn’t anticipated in the planning phase. The second draft is about fixing all those problems and fine-tuning the pace and the story beats, the interactions, how the action plays out, stuff like that.
The third draft is the spit-and-polish phase where I focus on turn-of-phrase and other ‘cosmetic’ issues. After that, my editor gets it, reads it, makes comments of his own, gathers feedback from proofreaders, and then it comes back to me for a final tweak before it goes off for publication.
Writing a novel is extremely labour-intensive and long, and yet an author is always hoping that the book will be a smooth read that fans will get swept up in, devouring in just a day or two.

Was there any outside inspiration for the book, such as films, books, music?

I’m sure I was subconsciously inspired by a great many things. It all counts. Conscious inspiration, though, was mostly drawn from my own reading and a couple of video games I’m fond of.
In terms of books, I’d have to list Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy as one influence, but also the works of Frank Herbert, whose Dune books were the reason I ever wanted to write in the first place.
Games that influenced me included the Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six series, but also a broad list of other modern military ‘shooters’. The risk there is in telling yourself, ‘I’ll just play the game for a little research,’ but actually, you end up getting into the challenge of it and don’t stop where you should. Gaming is probably my greatest weakness.
Music? I listened to the Predator 2 and Alien 3 soundtracks over and over again while drafting. I also like the Space Marine and Gears of War soundtracks. The Alien 3 soundtrack in particular was a good fit for writing the novel, I think.

Can you mention your favourite parts and least favourite of the book? What was a struggle and what just kept pouring into the pages?

I have a lot of favourite parts, to be honest, because I initially planned the book to satisfy what I personally wanted from a Deathwatch novel (hoping along the way that readers would enjoy all the same things). To that end, I included lots of things that appeal to me directly, from the extreme and unusual training at Watch Fortress Damaroth to the shadowy activities of Inquisitors and agents who operate on a need-to-know basis. The chapters featuring the Puppeteer were a particular joy to write, but so were the scenes in which I had an opportunity to bring the Death Spectres Space Marine Chapter to the fore. I also reveled in writing the interactions between the kill-team members. Those are some pretty messed up team dynamics.
What was a struggle? I’m not sure there was a particular struggle that stands out. Writing isn’t ever truly easy, at least for me, but the Deathwatch novel was a fairly even experience as these things go. That might be because of the work I had already done on character establishment in the short stories. I’m hoping it’s indicative of future novel-writing experiences.

Writers have different patterns when they’re involved in their writing. Is the writing process for you a lonely one or do you become more social?

I’m not a very social being, even at the best of times. It’s my habit, and something of a preference, to lock myself away and live like a recluse whether I’m writing or not. I’m probably even more reclusive when I have a novel to write. Is that good or bad? They say no man is an island, but I dispute that. I’m North Sentinel Island, 400 miles southeast of Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, and the tribe that inhabits me kills intruders on sight.

You’re a fan favourite despite not having an extensive Black Library bibliography. Does that influence your writing in any way or does the story always come first, the readers second?

Which fan said that? Was it my mum?
I don’t think serving the story and serving the readers can be separated all that much. There’s a certain level of mutual dependence there. A writer is an entertainer. Readers know what they like, and a writer working in an established universe needs to take that into account. I like to think that the readers and I want the same things from a Warhammer 40,000 piece. I’m a reader, too – in fact, I’m the first reader – so if I manage to satisfy myself (which can be pretty difficult), we’re probably all good.
I hesitate to say there’s any direct or specific influence from fan input, because that’s not really how I work, but a while back, I did ask readers to suggest kill-team compositions on my blog, mostly just for fun, but also because nobody knows Warhammer 40,000 like the fans. They’re so invested in the milieu. No matter how much reading I do, I doubt I’ll ever match the breadth and depth of knowledge some of them display. So, it’s nice to throw something out there sometimes and see what kind of replies you get. The kill-team discussion brought to my attention a number of Chapters I knew little about or had never even heard of before, so it was definitely interesting.

What made you write for Warhammer 40k? Was it by chance or was it intended all along? If so, are you a big 40k fan?

I am a big WH40k fan, but I don’t come at it from the table-top, where my only real experience is Space Hulk. I was always attracted to the artwork, the models and the richly detailed background, but all my recreational gaming in my teens tended to be done on computer or console. So I largely lost touch with WH40k for some years. It never occurred to me that there might be opportunities to write stories in this particular milieu. As an author, I started out writing original fantasy and dark SF stories set in Japan. It was only after my first two story sales to US magazines that I discovered Black Library and the Inferno magazine. I think I had been prompted to check for Warhammer 40,000 fiction after finishing the awesome Dawn of War computer game. Sadly, Inferno had ceased publication by then. I was kicking myself for not discovering it sooner until I came across the call for submission to the Tales from the Dark Millennium anthology.
Six days of frantic catching up later, I had a story proposal featuring the Dark Angels and the Ordo Malleus. Happily, I got the go-ahead to write the story, and The Falls of Marakross was my first outing in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Can you remember what it was like when you started writing, and do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Hmm. Well, something I read recently really struck me, because I tend to be very hard on myself at the beginning of a book, and I typically trip myself up by incessantly editing as I write. Don’t do this. I think I do it because my expectations for the first draft are foolishly set way higher than they ought to be, which ends up causing me a great deal of self doubt and worry. This is something for aspiring writers to watch out for – don’t listen to the inner critic on the first pass. Just keep rolling.
The quote in question went something like this:
“Remember, everything great started out shit.”
Think about that. Think about your favourite book. Do you have any idea what it looked like after only one draft? You probably don’t, but chances are you wouldn’t have paid good money for it at that stage. You may not have liked it at all.
A first draft should, by its nature, be pretty scrappy, even deliberately so. Working from your plot outline (while still remaining open to anything new that suddenly occurs), try to write fast and free (and I’m painfully aware as I type this that I really need to follow my own advice). The faster you get the story down, the sooner you can start making it great, but that first draft has nothing whatsoever to do with quality. It’s all about getting the ideas on the page and discovering new ones along the way. The best ideas often come to you when you’re right in the middle of the work itself. From there, at the end of the first draft, you can really go to work on it and incorporate all the revelations you made while writing.
A lot of writers spend hours trying to make a perfect opening to a book right at the beginning of a project. I should know, since I was one. But you’ll do yourself a far bigger favour by just getting down a quick first chapter and jumping straight into the rest of the story feet first. You can refine that first chapter as much as you like when the time is right, but that time is not at the beginning of the first draft.
Once you have a completed first draft, print it out or copy it over to your e-reader (I prefer the latter myself), and read it start-to-finish, taking all the notes you’ll need to make it better in the second draft (I use a voice recorder for this). Again, don’t worry about literary cosmetics here, just focus on making it the best story it can be in terms of plot, scenes, characters, all the fundamentals. What would make each chapter or scene cooler and more exciting? What can you throw in to shake things up for the reader? Work up your second draft with all the changes you’ve decided to make, then sit down with that and, finally, start to think about the prose itself. Polish it up. Add your own narrative voice or style. Make it shine. Then finally submit it.
Other than that, be sure to study the craft of writing. The Writer’s Digest ‘Elements of Fiction’ series is great overall and does an excellent job of introducing all the aspects of story on which good fiction depends. There are some fantastic recent e-books on the craft of writing, too, which even experienced writers may get a lot out of. Amazon has literally oodles of them. Check the reviews before you buy, though.

Can you tell us about your interests besides writing?

A lot of the usual stuff like reading, movies, games, etc. No surprises there. I’ve no doubt that most of my favourites are also on the lists of the people reading this.
Since I was about sixteen years old, I’ve had a deep interest in martial arts and physical training. It hasn’t dissipated with time. I’d normally list body-building as one of my foremost interests, but I’m too far from my 2010 peak right now to say that and not feel a bit self-conscious, so I’ll just say weight-training instead and promise to do better next year.
Animal rights and wildlife conservation are really important to me, too, so I do what I can in the time I have available, whether that means signing petitions, copy-editing content for event organisers, designing posters or joining demos.
That’s about it, really. I like travel well enough, too, but I don’t get to do enough of it. I’d love to visit the Middle East sometime, or the ruins of the Aztec and Maya cultures. I’m also toying with the idea of becoming a slightly sympathetic super-villain and trying to obliterate (or at the very least sterilise) mankind. I think I’ve got the chops for it, but I lack the resources.

What are your biggest influences?


Literary influences? Definitely Frank Herbert, Clive Barker, JRR Tolkien and David Gemmell, all of whom still make me want to write despite the appalling money on offer to professional authors these days. Also, I don’t think there’s a 40k writer alive who hasn’t been influence at least a little by the great Dan Abnett. Aaron’s work, too, is so good that it’s surely having an influence on people in the same way now. I just read The First Heretic and enjoyed it immensely. I can imagine just how much insanely hard work went into it to make it read so well.
That said, no matter the influence, each writer needs to have his own voice. Influences ought to inspire, to bring ideas and techniques to your attention, but your voice has to be your own.

It seems that many fans of Black Library started reading fantasy as young children. Can you name your favourite books from your childhood?

I was really into the Fighting Fantasy and Sorcery! series in my primary school days. I still have the complete Sorcery! collection, including the spell book, and I love to look at all that awesome, quirky John Blanche art.
Then there was The Hobbit when I was about ten years old, though I didn’t tackle The Lord of the Rings until I was in my mid-teens. When I did, it completely blew me away.
After that, I started reading science fiction a little more than fantasy – Herbert, Gibson, Card, Bear, Clarke, etc.
Other than that, throughout my childhood, I was into just about anything featuring ghosts, monsters, aliens, demons, spaceships… I was a very easy sell to anything with a good cover painting back then.

Favourite music?

I mostly listen to two types of music depending on my mood or needs. First, when I’m training or out walking around town growling at worthless humans, anything that makes me snort and twitch like a bull rhinoceros in mating season will do, so Sabaton, Powerwolf, Battle Beast, stuff like that. Music that gets my blood up and makes me want to charge through a brick wall or flip over a car Hulk-style, meaning metal for the most part.
When I’m feeling a bit more low-key and, perhaps, quietly brooding over how to destroy the abhorrent human race, certain movie and game soundtracks hit the spot. My recent go-to soundtrack is from the movie Zero Dark Thirty. I could listen to that all day, every day. I’m not sure why, but it just suits me.
I also use something called Skyrim Atmospheres to help me get to sleep sometimes, since I have some sleeping issues.


Bestest food?

I’m firmly into the whole ‘plant-strong’ thing, so anything vegan that complements my training goals and is ethically sound is best. Daily staples for me include beans, nuts, wholewheat/wholegrain breads, brown rice, tofu, fresh fruits and veg. All very basic (I can’t cook worth a damn, after all). The recent hit movie ‘Forks Over Knives’ was a pretty big influence on me, but I’ve been fairly regimented in my eating since my mid-teens when I started physical training. If you love stories about Space Marines or Catachans or any type of fictional character who is pumped up and combat capable – Wolverine, Hulk, Batman, whatever – why would you not go to the gym and try to emulate that? You’d be surprised at what you can achieve and the positive changes it will make to your life in the long-term.

Chaos or the Emperor? Describe why.

There was a time when I would have immediately replied Ave Imperator to that and made an Aquila over my chest, but I’ve recently decided both sides can literally go to hell. They stink of corruption and self-interest. So I’m signing on with the Tau and dedicating myself to the Greater Good… until they do something I don’t like, at which point I’ll go rogue and start assassinating corrupt Ethereals.
My name is Steve Parker and I am a flight risk. Good night.

We like to give Steve Parker a big thanks for taking the time to reply to our fan questions.

Coming this Thursday is the review of Malodrax by Ben Counter.

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 Chris Wraight

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.

Not pictured: The pile of slain foes that are Chris Wraight's seat.

Not pictured: The pile of slain foes that are Chris Wraight’s seat. Or the happy, not-a-seat fan he just met.

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?

Scars (episode 1), by Chris Wraight.

Scars (episode 1), by Chris Wraight.

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.

Wrath of Iron, by Chris Wraight.

Wrath of Iron, by Chris Wraight.

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?

Sword of Vengeance, by Chris Wraight.

Sword of Vengeance, by Chris Wraight.

Chris: The best suggestion I ever had was for Sean Connery to play the Khan. To see the full majesty of this idea, just Google ‘Zardoz‘.

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.

Blood of Asaheim, by Chris Wraight.

Blood of Asaheim, by Chris Wraight.

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.

Sword of Justice, by Chris Wraight.

Sword of Justice, by Chris Wraight.

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.

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.

Interview with Nathan Long

Nathan Long takes a few minutes to tell us about what it’s like being a writer. A veteran screenwriter of 15 years before becoming an author, Nathan has a fair bit of thought to share with us today.

Character-craft Master Nathan Long.

Character-craft Master Nathan Long.

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

Nathan: Wait, is that two questions or one? Uh, my one word answer would be, “Structured.” By which I mean, I build a structure for each story before I write it. I almost never “wing it.”

He2etic: What kind of music do you listen to while you write?

Nathan: Mostly soundtracks, Conan, Lord of the Rings, etc. But I try to match the music to the subject matter I’m writing, so if it’s something science-fictiony I might write to trance or electronica.

“I tend to come up with plot ideas before I come up with the characters to put in them, so my character creation is strongly influenced by the role the character needs to fill.”

 

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

Nathan: Favorite characters by other people: Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Fritz Leiber, and Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser. Favorite characters by me: uh, it’s really hard to choose. I like them all because they all give me the opportunity to write in different voices and explore different aspects of my psychosis… er, I mean personality.

He2etic: What are your strongest influences when it comes to character creation?

Jane Carver of Waar, by Nathan Long

Jane Carver of Waar, by Nathan Long

Nathan: I tend to come up with plot ideas before I come up with the characters to put in them, so my character creation is strongly influenced by the role the character needs to fill.

For instance, with The Blackhearts, I didn’t come up with Reiner first, then build the story around him, I came up with the idea of “The Dirty Dozen in the world of Warhammer” and then sat around thinking about what kind of person would lead such a group.

He2etic: Are there any dream characters or settings you want to write about? Not just those in the Warhammer universes, but in other franchises or even of your own make?

Nathan: I have plenty of my own characters that I am dying to bring to the public’s attention, but, yes, there are a few established characters I would love to write. Top of the list would be Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and in fact I actually wrote an F+GM fan fic, which you can find on the ‘Free Stories’ page of my blog.

Others would include Solomon Kane, Catwoman, the Creeper, the Aliens franchise, the Bordertown series, Buckaroo Banzai, and I’ve always wanted to adapt a kids story called the Weathermonger into a movie, though I think the BBC might have beat me to it.

“I would say screenplays require tighter, simpler plots than novels, and a focus on a fewer number of characters.”

 

He2etic: What are your favorite drinks, both alcoholic and not? Do you occasionally partake while writing?

Nathan: I don’t drink alcohol, but I drink absolutely gallons of tea when I write. My favorite is oolong tea. It is the nectar of the gods.

Bloodborn, by Nathan Long

Bloodborn, by Nathan Long

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

Nathan: Hmmm. Good question, but I’m really bad at this. Lets see…

Ulrika – Tilda Swinton (Well, she’s a bit old for the part, but someone like Tilda Swinton, only 20.)
Reiner – Tom Hiddleston (The guy who played Loki.)
Jane Carver – Sadly, there are no actresses I know who look like I imagine Jane looking.

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?

Nathan: Yes. Jane Carver was planned as a four book series. I have no idea if the last two will ever be written, but I would like to. I also have a few other novel ideas that could easily become series, and right at the moment I’m getting set to announce an on-line comic that I’m writing, which I hope will go on for a very long time. I can’t tell you anything more about it yet, but there will be an announcement in the next few months.

He2etic: Are there any novels you would consider required reading?

Blackhearts the Omnibus, by Nathan Long

Blackhearts the Omnibus, by Nathan Long

Nathan: As follows…

The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series by Fritz Leiber
The Flashman Papers series by George MacDonald Frazer
The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood by Raphael Sabatini
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
House of Stairs by William Sleater
The Bordertown Series by Terri Windling and others
The Jeeves series by P.G. Wodehouse
Last Call and The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

…I could go on…

He2etic: What advice do you have for anyone trying to make the transition from novel and short story writing to screenplay writing?

Nathan: Hmmm. I can’t really answer that question, since I went entirely the other way. I started as a screenwriter and became a novelist. I would say screenplays require tighter, simpler plots than novels, and a focus on a fewer number of characters. A screenplay is usually about one or two heroes doing something in a fairly short period of time. A novel can be about generations of heroes and take place over centuries.

“I really enjoy telling the smaller, more self contained stories that fall between the cracks of the big momentous things…”

 

He2etic: What’s your favourite part of writing a story?

Nathan: Hmmm. I like all of it, for various reasons, but I guess my favorite parts are the initial plotting phase, where I work out the ending, and all the little twists along the way, and then the polishing part at the end, where I fine-tune everything and add the last details.

He2etic: What is it that draws you to the Warhammer universe? Is there anything it permits you to do that you can’t find anywhere else?

Gotrek and Felix: The Fourth Omnibus, by Nathan Long

Gotrek and Felix: The Fourth Omnibus, by Nathan Long

Nathan: I like that the world is already built, and that it is so clearly defined. World building is fun for me, but coming to a world which already has a well-documented history and established rules makes creating stories in it almost like creating stories set in the real world. You look at the history, see the stories that have already been told about it, then try to find some place or some event or some time that nobody’s touched yet.

I really enjoy telling the smaller, more self contained stories that fall between the cracks of the big momentous things that the history books (or the army books) tell us about, and the richness and depth of the Warhammer background allowed me to do that.

He2etic: And the least favourite part of writing?

Nathan: The first draft is often a slog. Some scenes I love writing, and I breeze right through them, giggling to myself along the way. Others, particularly descriptive passages and stuff where people are traveling, are a grind, and I try to get them over with as soon as possible. My writing tends to be a little light on that stuff, and now you know why.

He2etic: What does a typical writing day look like for you?

Gotrek and Felix: The Third Omnibus, by Nathan Long

Gotrek and Felix: The Third Omnibus, by Nathan Long

Nathan: Hmmm. Up at 8:30. Have breakfast and noodle around on the internet until 10. Write until 12:00. Have lunch. Write until 3. Have a half hour nap. (Yep, sorry, I’m old.) Write until 6 or 6:30. So basically six hours of writing time. But if I’m on a deadline I’ll often work until I reach a certain word count, no matter how long it takes. Sometimes 3000 words have taken me until 11:00 at night.

He2etic: Finally, do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to reading? Stuff you know is utter trash, but you love reading anyway?

Nathan: I don’t read as much as I used to, so I am more selective now when I do read, so less trash these days. But back in the day I burned through Pier’s Anthony’s Xanth books and the Saga of the Exiles books by Julian May.

Neither of those series were trash, exactly, but definitely popcorn books.

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.