Taking on the big guns

This’ll be my last post until BL Live, as I’ll be away until then on a much-needed break. In the past few days I’ve been pressing on with the second book of my Sword duology, trying to flesh out the character of Kurt Helborg and bring things to a suitably climactic conclusion. This, and the Schwarzhelm characterisation, have been fantastic opportunities to flesh out major players in the Warhammer world.

It might be worth saying something about this. I’ve been acutely conscious that Warhammer players and readers will already have pretty clear views of what Schwarzhelm and Helborg are like. They have stats in the game, and brief bios in the Army Books. Schwarzhelm is a grim dispenser of justice; Helborg a flamboyant commander of the finest knightly order in the Imperial Army. The challenge for me has been to try and develop these outlines, adding depth without distorting the essential elements.

Obviously, doing so is fraught with danger. Getting it wrong risks making a character that many people cherish look out of place, wrong or foolish. On the other hand, doing nothing but produce a slightly more verbose version of what’s in the Army Books fails to make the most of the opportunities a novel-length treatment presents. So, what you try to do is to develop the character in a way that’s consistent with what we already know while taking him in new directions. When Sword of Justice comes out later this year, I’ll wait for the feedback on Ludwig with more than the usual interest. By the time the duology is finished, he and Helborg will have walked a long and dark path together…

Until then, apologies if I don’t answer any comments until after the 13th – but give me a shout if you’re at GWHQ on the day, and I’ll look forward to posting about it when I get back.

Bl Live Chapbook

From my editor Nick Kyme‘s blog, the cover of the BL Live chapbook has emerged, and it looks fantastic:

I had the genuine pleasure of reading Nick’s story when the proofs came in, and it’s another slice of Salamander awesomeness – anyone who’s been following Dak’ir’s development will be in for a treat.

Writing a 5,000 word short story (as they both are, I think) is a surprisingly difficult thing. Most BL short stories in the anthologies are about 8-10,000 words. That extra bit might not sound very much, but it gives a little more elbow room for plot and character development. The best short stories are built around some kind of twist or motif, and setting that up requires room. Squeezing everything into a shorter format was therefore a great exercise in keeping things concise – I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys writing in the Warhammer universe.

Anyway, it’s all short stories for me right now. Death and Dishonour has picked up its first review, and it’s hearteningly good – check it out here. As for Feast of Horrors, I’m really looking forward to discussing the genesis of that on 13 Feb with anyone who comes along for a chat.

BL Live

I see from the BL Facebook site that Death and Dishonour is out now (or imminently). Seems like a while since I wrote my contribution to that anthology, a tale of Katerina Lautermann, the Amethyst wizard who first emerged in Masters of Magic. Like many of the BL anthologies, this is a mix of stories from established authors like Nathan Long and C. L. Werner, as well as talent for the future. Haven’t had a chance to read it myself yet, but it’s sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for the next window of opportunity. In the meantime, nice cover:

Writing-wise, it’s been all short stories for a few days. I’m hoping the chapbook for BL Live goes down well, as it’s the first glimpse of Ludwig Schwarzhelm before his full-length outing in Sword of Justice. Otherwise, I’m trying my hand at something new right now, 10,000 words of it, before getting back to the final half of Sword of Vengeance. Not sure how much I’m allowed to say about that, but if you come along to BL Live and say hi, I might have been given the all-clear by then…

Hunting Souls

Damn, that’s a long time without a post. Not sure where the time went, other than I’ve been *very* busy. Belated New Year’s greetings to anyone out there still waiting for a sign of life. Not dead yet, though after getting through the mid-point of Sword of Vengeance last week, I almost am.

So, what’s going on? Well, a 5,000 short story for the BL Live chapbook is now done. This is sharing a billing with a fantastic Nick Kyme 40K short, and was a lot of fun to write. It was another chance to spend some time with the big, bearded unsmiling one before I sign off on the Schwarzhelm/Helborg duology sometime next month. Gonna miss him when he’s gone, the old curmudgeon.

Sword of Justice proofs are almost done, too. It’s a long one (125,000 words, almost on the nail), and it’s taken a while. Nice to see it heading to completion now. Anyone looking for more info this could do worse than download the sample PDF from the Black Library website.

Aside from all that, I’ve finally found some time to read, and BL recently sent me a copy of Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Soul Hunter. It’s astonishingly good. The Night Lords are many people’s favourite Chaos Legion for obvious reasons – their moral complexity, their antagonistic relationship with the powers of the warp, their enigmatic, brooding Primarch, the quixotic nature of their war against the Imperium. Soul Hunter captures all of this superbly, and the writing – cliché-free, beautifully descriptive – is consistently excellent. Highly recommended.

Reviews, eh?

Very busy writing at the moment. Sword of Justice has come back from the editors, and I’m pleased to say it’s going really well. There are always little things to change, but it’s nice to feel that it’s going in the right direction. I’m also getting stuck into the sequel, and there’s the small matter of a top-secret short story as well. So I’m basically spending most of my time at the keyboard.

All of which makes me think about reviews and reviewers. Iron Company has been out for a little while now, and the reviews are starting to make themselves known. It’s always nice to get feedback, even if it’s not always uniformly positive. In fact, reasoned negative criticism is probably more useful to an author – it’s good to know what you got wrong so you can fix it next time. No one  wants to have their work trashed after spending months trying to make it as good as possible, but constructive critical comments are always welcome.

There’s a good summary of how criticism works on Gav Thorpe’s blog. He’s been doing this thing for much longer than I have, and it’s all good advice. Of course, one of the problems with picking up (mostly) online reviews is that even some of the most high profile books don’t get that many. Most Black Library titles will pick up less than half a dozen reviews on (say) Amazon, with the exception of the flagship series. That’s all good feedback, but what if you get a few people who just hate everything? Or, almost as bad, a few who love everything? If you took too much notice of the scores there, you could end up with a very skewed impression of your book’s reception.

So, in general, I tend to place more weight on the comments on sci-fi and fantasy review sites like this one. Though the reviews can be quite short, they’re written by people who care about the genre. Most of all, of course, I take note of the opinions of proper Warhammer/40K fans, for whom the setting really matters. Which is why it’ll be good to see the old BL website back up in due course – godammit, I miss those forums!

All Greek to me

As odd as the online world is, sometimes the real world can be even stranger. Some time ago I wrote a book called Dark Storm Gathering. It was set in the Warhammer world, but with a slight twist – the setting was that used by the MMO Warhammer Online. It was a lot of fun to do, but as it’s been out for a while now, I wasn’t expecting to hear much more about it.

Which was why I was very surprised to get a note from Black Library a while ago with details of a Greek edition. I admit that I thought that this would be the English language version, just repackaged for the Greek market. That’s probably typical of an English-speaker – we just assume that everyone can get by in our uncivilised, guttural tongue. But no, it’s a full translation! I’m absolutely delighted – I’m an international author!

Greek Books

BL have put up some pics of the covers here. Needless to say, I’m very chuffed to be in the company of Nathan Long and Dan Abnett – fine master storytellers both. I hope they do very well. If there are any Greek readers of this blog – let me know what you think (in English, please – I’m afraid I wasn’t responsible for the translation).

The Internet is Full of Angry, Crazy People

Well, that’s the common perception. And it’s true sometimes. But not here, or here. It’s been a pleasure to read the various thoughts on Warhammer and moral/cultural differences. I don’t agree with everything that’s been said (of course), but without exception the posts have been courteous and intelligent. Honestly, for a bunch of people who enjoy reading about plague, mutilation and mass slaughter, I’m struck by how nice WH fans are. Is there a link? Hmm.

Anyway, there’s no rest for the wicked. Fresh from dispatching the mammoth manuscript for Sword of Justice, I’m now busy planning a short story before getting stuck into my next novel-length project. The short story is a bit of a departure for me, and I don’t think I can say much about it, other than it involves some [bleeps] engaging with a pack of [censored] on [*&(%!!].

There. Don’t say I never give any spoilers away.