The last few weeks, it’s fair to say, have gone by in something of a mad rush. Following the wonderful BL Expo at the start of October we had the equally wonderful BL Weekender at the start of November. Both were superb events and a privilege to be part of. The Weekender was particularly good on Saturday when there seemed to be plenty of time to chat to people about all things 40K, Heresy and Warhammer. As ever, good to catch up with old friends and excellent to meet new ones. Roll on BL Live.
All of that took a bit of a toll on the writing schedule, so it’s nice to be back at the keyboard again. It’s been especially pleasing to get such lovely feedback for Brotherhood of the Storm, which was on sale for the slender window of a single week back in October and has now (I hope) reached everyone who ordered a copy. The nice messages on Twitter were much appreciated – if I didn’t reply to all of them, apologies (I blame the Weekender, and being rubbish).
Brotherhood was an interesting project. It’s something of a challenge writing a limited-edition story within an ongoing series. Since some people won’t have a chance to read it (at least until it’s reissued in a couple of years or so), I was keen not to have any revelations in it that would impinge on the main novel line. Equally, I didn’t want to write something that had no interest other than a few combat scenes. The approach I went for in the end was to show three different characters on a quest to ‘find’ the Khan, who is as elusive in the fictional world as he has been in the real one. It’s as much about introducing the White Scars as a distinctive Legion as anything else. As a result it’s perhaps more introverted than most of the stories I’ve written, and purposefully leaves a good deal hanging at the end to be taken up in other stories, but it’s been great to see so many readers appreciate what I was trying to do with the mysterious Sons of Chogoris. Rest assured, there will be more of the Khan to come.
Otherwise, October also saw the release of Swords of the Emperor, the hefty omnibus containing my books on Schwarzhelm and Helborg. I have to say, I love the way this one looks. Fantasy books ought to be massive on the shelf, and this one is a proper bloater (although not as obese, I discovered, as the Sundering and Sigmar omnibuses, which are monstrous!). As it happens, Swords got a really nice review in SciFiNow recently, which you can read here. And if that’s not enough, there’s another one here. And one here, too. Thanks to all.So what’s next? Well, I’m currently writing the second book in the War of Vengeance (or Beard, if you’re after my way of thinking) series. Nick Kyme’s epic The Great Betrayal concentrated mostly on the malodorous, short-sighted and unreasonable dwarfs, whereas my instalment, Master of Dragons, focusses on the fragrant, level-headed and magnanimous elves. The title, as will be obvious to anyone who’s read the first part, refers to Imladrik, whom Nick portrayed marvellously in his story and who goes on to form the centrepiece of mine. It’s early days at the moment, but I’m enjoying this one enormously (High Elves, dragonriders, laying waste to large chunks of the Old World — what’s not to like?).
Away from Fantasy, I do have a few other things in the pipeline, one of which is the Space Wolves. Expect to see some more bits and pieces from them in 2013, alongside the full-length novel Blood of Asaheim in March. Incidentally, I was asked a lot whether Aj Kvara, the character from my e-short Kraken, will be making a return appearance at some point. For a long time my answer to that was ‘no’, but after getting so many enquiries it’s gradually turning into ‘why not?’. I don’t yet know whether we’ll see more of the sullen Lone Wolf, but it’s certainly something I’m thinking about. Moral of the story: it is worth collaring authors at conventions with requests (as long as you’re nice to them).
Given all of that, I’m giving a bit of thought to what to post here. Unlike some authors, I’ve never really used this blog to post about non-work things, and I’ve also not written much about writing in general. I might reconsider both of those things a bit from now on. There’s also some in-the-pipeline stuff I’m dying to talk about, but can’t just yet. As soon as that changes, you’ll read about it here first.
In the meantime, though, here’s something I penned for BL, on the challenging business of writing Space Marine Battles…
I’ve now written two books in the Space Marine Battles series: Battle of the Fang, which featured the Space Wolves going up against the Thousand Sons, and Wrath of Iron, which had the Iron Hands taking on a Chaos insurgency on a hive world. For the time being at least, that makes me unique in Black Library authordom. Everyone else has written one of them then retired, exhausted, before doing something else.
This is sensible. It turns out that writing Space Marine Battles novels is very hard work – of all the books I’ve written for Black Library they’ve been by far the toughest to finish. They’re all about the action: the explosions, the void battles, the duels, the hordes of horrors surging up to the gates. A wiser writer than me once described them as ‘summer blockbusters’, which hits the nail pretty much on the head. They’re fast-paced, brutally violent, and full of Space Marines doing awesome things against impossible odds.
Sounds fun? Well, hopefully it is, at least to read. In writing terms it’s a big challenge. Penning action scenes that aren’t repetitive or formulaic is tricky. The goal is to orchestrate the action so that everything makes sense and the reader can get a clear picture of what’s going on while trying to keep everything moving at a clip and also building in some kind of character work so the whole thing isn’t just a mindless whirl of bolter rounds and shouting. Which is easier said than done. Space Marine Battles novels are stories, after all, not just expanded battle reports.
I think the key, as another wiser writer told me once, is to remember that it’s all about the characters. That’s why plenty of the Space Marine Battles novels, despite being ostensibly about superhuman killing machines, feature lots of unimproved humans too. In Battle of the Fang we saw a lot of the action through the eyes of two mortal warriors, a father and daughter duo who had very different views of the masters they served. In Wrath of Iron there’s even more focus on the non-Space Marine actors: several Imperial Guardsmen, a civilian, a Titan crew, a member of the Adeptus Mechanicus, and so on.
In fact, in Wrath of Iron, the relationship between the Iron Hands and the mortal soldiers on Shardenus is really the point of the book. The battle is important, sure, but I was really concerned with getting across just how alien and interesting the Iron Hands are, and what implications that has for the Imperium and its future. That’s ultimately what makes the Space Marine Battles books, for all their difficulty, so satisfying to write and such a privilege to take on: the chance to explore the variety of Chapters out there and to delve into their psyche while all the grenades are flying. There will always be plenty of action in these books (just as there should be), but it’s not just about the fighting.
So, despite what you may have been told, it turns out that in the grim dark future there is quite a lot more than only war: there’s hope, despair, perfidy, heroism, elation, depression, and plenty more besides. Squeezing all that into a story while making sure the body count keeps ticking over – therein lies the magic.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I managed to get a fair bit of writing done after getting back from Adepticon, but last week saw me heading up to Nottingham for a top-secret meeting of Heresy-types, followed by a series of meetings and other stuff in the murky bowels of HQ. I’d love to blog about what was discussed, but that would sadly bring my short career with BL to an untimely end. It was exciting, though. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, etc. etc.
Aside from that it was nice to spend a couple of hours at the Warhammer Doubles tournament on Saturday, where we had copies of Wrath of Iron on sale for the first time in the UK – thanks to all who came up to buy a copy, get a signature, or just say hi. The book is only just up for preorder, but that hasn’t stopped the reviewers from getting hold of copies. Take a look here to see what the Independent Characters made of it, and here for the review on the Founding Fields. There’s also a great review from the Lost on Fenris blog, a site which is new to me. I’ve updated the 40K page with some of these reviews.All reviewers mentioned how dark this one is. I guess that’s likely to be one of the key responses, both from those that like the book and those that don’t. The bleak tone was deliberate, made in order to be true to the Iron Hands’ background (as I see it). Hopefully those that enjoy their grimdark will appreciate the story, and, as ever, I’ll be very interested to hear what Iron Hands players/readers make of their favourite faction’s depiction. There’s a short blog entry over on the BL site with some more thoughts on this. And of course there’s also Flesh available, which gives a pretty clear flavour of how the Sons of Manus get depicted.
What else is new? I’m keeping busy with a few concurrent projects right now. One of them is an audio drama for the Horus Heresy line, another is a brand new 40K novel, and the third is a limited edition novella. Once Nick Kyme has recovered from his recent jaw implosion (get well soon, Nick!) I’m sure I’ll also be turning my thoughts to the War of Vengeance series too. So, plenty to keep me occupied. In the meantime, it’s been nice to see my short story Kraken get some attention: the super-busy Independent Characters have posted their review here.
This story is, like my earlier Runes, set in the 41st Millennium (unlike Battle of the Fang, which took place a thousand years or so after the Heresy). As the blurb on the website makes clear, there are Tyranids in it. There’s quite a bit more going on as well, of course – the title refers to all sorts of unusual things.
As I recall, I enjoyed writing this one enormously, mostly due to the opportunity to explore a particular kind of Fenrisian character, one who’s unlikely to feature as the subject of a full novel. That’s the beauty of e-shorts – they give an opportunity to delve into areas of the 40K universe that would otherwise remain unwritten about.
I’m aware that some readers would prefer to see these stories in print as well. I guess I’m pretty sympathetic to that – I still like paperbacks more than the various alternatives. However, now that there are free e-readers available for a whole range of devices, including PCs and phones, hopefully anyone who wants to take a look will have a way to do so. It’s the wave of the future, after all.
My short story ‘Flesh’ is also available from the website as a standalone download. Previously this was released in Hammer and Bolter 7, as well as the 25 For 25 anthology. The story follows a squad of Iron Hands fighting in the depths of a corrupted hive spire, and takes place a few years after the events covered in the upcoming Wrath of Iron.
Other than that, I’m busy with a whole range of things, including (but not limited to) working with Nick Kyme on the marvellous War of Vengeance series, and the first stages of even more Space Wolves. They just won’t leave me alone, which is all part of their charm.
Finally, a quick plug for the BL Weekender event in November. This is shaping up to be a huge event, with a whole swathe of authors and artists already confirmed. I’ll be there, and will look forward to chatting about all things Iron Hands, Space Wolves, Warrior Priests, and perhaps other stuff too.
Hmm. It’s been so long since I blogged that WordPress has changed its editor while I’ve been away. This is slightly disconcerting. There’s now a live preview, which shows a post as it’s being composed – typos, malapropisms and all. It’s very clever, but it does expose how haphazardly my mind works.
Anyway. Despite being snowed under with edits to Wrath of Iron, it’s been nice to see Luthor Huss get some attention in various corners of the internet. Kodanshi has made a wonderful recording of one of the opening sections – you can listen to it here. This was interesting for me, since I haven’t (yet) done an audio drama for BL. I wouldn’t have the first idea of how to create one either, so I’m very impressed with Kodanshi’s effort, and it was very nice to hear my words being performed.
A few reviews of the book have popped up, too. Graeme Flory over at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Reviews has given it a write-up, which you can read for yourself here. He always has interesting things to say about the BL books he covers, so it was good to see that he liked it. I was also very pleasantly surprised to see that he’d included Sword of Vengeance and Dragonmage in his favourite books of 2011.
Prolific reviewer for The Founding Fields, Bane of Kings, has also penned a review, which is here. All very much appreciated. In other news, there’s an interview with the Bloghole here – thanks to Shadowhawk for setting it up.
What else is new? Well, expect to see a new Space Wolf story from BL soon. It’ll be called Kraken, and will be available from the website only. I’ll be blogging about that in more detail soon. I’m currently very busy on a novella, which I’m really enjoying – more on that soon.
In between all that, I’m finding time to read extracts of Nick Kyme’s marvellous upcoming tale, The Great Betrayal. Let me tell you, Dwarf (and Fantasy) fans: you’re not going to want to miss this one. I’ve been working with Nick for a while on some of the ideas for this series – I’m only halfway through the current draft, but already the book is bursting with cool revelations and epic battles. All good stuff!
Sadly, I wasn’t able to make the SFX Weekender this year as I’d hoped to. However, I am hoping to be at Adepticon in the Spring and the BL Weekender in November, so it’ll be good to catch up with folks then.
Finally, a quick shout-out to exceptional writer and expert editor Nicola Vincent-Abnett, who has been chronicling her remorseless rise to literary fame and fortune in her new(ish) blog over here. Proof, if it were ever needed, that success and general all-round niceness need not be strangers.
In the meantime, thanks to everyone who posted here in 2011. It’s been fun, not least because this was the year I finally got to write a 40K novel – the first, I hope, of many – as well as my first novella and a bunch of other cool stuff.
Now, some people have somehow managed to get hold of advance copies of Luthor Huss – there’s even a review over here (cheers for that!). In case you haven’t, here’s something to whet your appetite – a sample from one of the early chapters. There’s a slightly longer version up on the BL site here. Until then, have a very Merry Christmas, and here’s to more mayhem and madness in the New Year…
Mila hadn’t stopped screaming inside, but her parched throat could utter nothing but broken gasps.
She’d stayed on her feet, hammering away with Pieter’s sword, holding back ranks of living dead. She’d broken their bones and prised their fingers from her limbs, but still they’d kept coming. She’d crushed their fragile skulls and disembowelled them with heavy, twisting lunges of the blade, but still, endlessly and with neither fear nor weariness, they’d kept coming.
She’d made it back to the site of the bonfire, right in the centre of the village, just in time to see Margrit dragged down to the earth by a gang of claw-handed assailants. The girl had fought on for a while, throwing a few of them off her, lashing out and screaming the whole time. Margrit was like all daughters of Helgag – tough as tanned hide and strong from the grind of endless labour – and hadn’t gone down easily.
But they’d got her in the end. Once she’d lost her footing, they could go for her throat. Mila had watched, still a dozen yards away, as they’d got their gaping jaws in place and had bit down.
Then they’d come for her.
No one else was left. Ever since she’d hacked and shoved her way back to the bonfire, Mila had known she was alone.
There she stood, her back to the fire, watching the space before her fill with more of the undead. They jabbered at her, and their eyes glowed.
I don’t want to die. Not yet, not like this.
The undead hung back, chattering in near-silent, deathly voices. Mila stood before them, panting heavily, holding the sword as straight as she could manage, waiting for the first one to move.
‘Come for me, then,’ she growled, speaking out to stop her mind locking in panic. ‘Who’s first?’
They didn’t respond. The chattering whispers grew a little louder.
‘Come on!’ roared Mila, swinging the sword back and forth. ‘Come and–’
She never finished. The horde of undead warriors suddenly broke, folding in on itself as if something huge had impacted on it. Their whispers became thin howls of rage. The skeletons and corpses turned away from her, consumed by something far more pressing within their ranks.
For a moment, Mila couldn’t make anything out. The dull red of the fire was dying fast, staining the walls of the hovels in shadow. She stayed where she was, looking around her in a kind of stupor, unsure what to do.
Could she make use of this? Could she get out of Helgag? Or should she stay close to the light? She felt her own breathing, hot and deep, and the sweat on the palms of her hands making the sword-grip sticky.
Then, finally, she saw him.
For the first time, alone in Helgag, half-deranged with fear and fatigue, she saw him. Days later, when the last of the fires had finished burning and the ashes had cooled, she would remember many things about that moment. She would recall the way the flames glinted from the curved plates of his armour like cascades of rubies. She would remember his eerie silence in battle, more complete and more unnerving than the undead themselves. She would remember how his mournful face reared up out of the dark, fixed in an expression of frigid disdain, his bare forehead bound with rolls of scripture and shining with sweat.
At the time, though, still locked in a vice of her exhaustion, she was only struck by one thing.
The way he moved.
He carried a huge warhammer, golden-headed, spiked and heavy. It swung in perfect arcs, cleaving chests, bursting open skulls, crunching through skittering thickets of stick-thin limbs. Mighty arms, each the girth of a lesser man’s thigh, propelled the weapon with efficient, murderous grace. A long red cloak swirled in his wake, wrapping him in a skirling halo of crimson.
Everything was in motion. He was like a whirlwind of steel and gold, spinning and striking his way through the heart of the horde. It was all so perfectly, so flawlessly balanced. Every blow found its mark, driving apart the knots of screaming horrors and fracturing their eerie unity. He was like a reaper in high summer, raging and circling, and they broke against him in futile fury.
Mila, her own struggles forgotten for an instant, watched it all unfold, her jaw slack and her hands loose.
They no longer looked invincible. In the face of that man’s onslaught, the walking dead looked suddenly fragile. The armoured figure waded through their midst, smiting down any that got close enough to feel the bite of the warhammer. His expression remained downcast. His thin mouth remained fixed in an unbending snarl of disapproval. He uttered no war-cry, though it looked like he was constantly whispering something to himself.
His dark eyes snapped up, just for a moment, from the slaughter, and he saw her. He fought over to her position, throwing corpses in either direction as he hacked a path through the horde.
‘Daughter, are you alone?’ he asked, knocking aside the grasping arms of dogged pursuers before coming alongside her and whirling around to face the rest.
Mila knew that, in the respect that he intended, she was entirely alone – all the others in Helgag must surely have died or long since fled.
But, for all that, she couldn’t answer his question in the way he’d expected. Her fear seemed to have shrunk away from her, to be replaced by a strange, burning sensation in her breast. Her sword felt light in her hands and she brandished it eagerly, looking for more targets. Her face rose, no longer disfigured by screaming, but calm and purposeful.
Hope, that most dangerous of emotions, had returned.
‘Not any more,’ she said, and took up the fight again.