Gods, what a monster

Blood of AsaheimIt’s finally landed, and it’s a big beast indeed. Forgive the repeat posting about Blood of Asaheim – it’s my first hardback release, and I’m still quite excited about it. There is something special about hardbacks, after all – the size, the weight, the solidity. It feels like you’ve created something that might last for a while, and that’s a nice thought to have. I’m biased of course, but I think it looks fantastic, especially Raymond Swanland‘s gorgeous cover art. Fancy picking up a copy? There’ll be plenty for sale at BL Live, which is now less than a month away. Last time I looked there were only 30 tickets left, so might be worth hurrying if you want to come along.

Incidentally, there’s also a teaser right at the back of the book advertising a short story called ‘Wulfen’. Wonder what that’s about?

Other than that, I’ve done a little housekeeping around here, adding links to some recent stuff that’s come out recently or will do soon. Apart from the mighty Blood of Asaheim, the 40K page now has an entry for the Advent short Failure’s Reward. I’ve also added The Sigillite to the Heresy page.

Sadly, as many of you will know, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review stopped publishing new pieces a while back. I’ll miss the site: I enjoyed Graeme’s reviews and thought he always had interesting stuff to say. I’ll leave the link up, as there’s loads of material still up. I don’t read nearly as many reviews as I used to, but I did notice that the British Fantasy Society is publishing reviews of a lot of BL books recently, so I’ve added a link to their site.

Not before time, I’ve also added three new BL authors’ websites: David Annandale, who penned the recent Chains of Golgotha and Lord of Death, real-life Boba Fett Josh Reynolds, author of the new Gotrek and Felix novel Road of Skulls, and fellow south-wester Guy Haley, whose Baneblade and Skarsnik are out soon. Nice to see such new blood writing for BL (though it does remind me, rather depressingly, of when I could claim to be a newbie too).

On Vikings and adjectives

Sleepwalking into war

I picked up a copy of Frans Bengtsson’s The Longships without necessarily expecting very much of it. I’d had it recommended to me by an impeccable source, and I needed to immerse myself in all things Viking as part of preparation for a new book on Fenris’s finest, but first impressions weren’t good. The edition I own has one of the worst covers of any book I’ve ever seen (pictured in all its soporific glory). Someone’s even blogged on how ugly the English-language editions of this book are. I noted its length (over 400 pages, very dense print), that cover again, and wondered if my time wouldn’t be better spent elsewhere.

Swedish readers of this blog will be rolling their eyes about now, smug in the knowledge of how fantastic The Longships is. To be fair, it has the much cooler title of ‘Red Orm’ (Röde Orm) in the original, and I daresay the covers have a bit more energy about them too, but even in translation the book turns out to be utterly wonderful.

First published in the 1940s, it was (and still is?) a huge hit in Sweden. The prose takes a while to work its magic – it’s consciously written in the manner of an epic saga, and for the first few pages comes across as strangely stilted. Soon, though, the chapters start to flow by and the genius of the storytelling emerges. It’s very, very funny (in a remorselessly dry Scandinavian way) and, despite the characters being prone to regular bouts of drunken violence and motivated almost entirely by the pursuit of money, women and alcohol, surprisingly touching too.

Bengtsson’s style has made me think a lot about the craft of writing. The Longships has two characteristics that would make it, I think, almost unpublishable today: a pared-down, virtually adjective-free prose style, and a complete absence of an inner psychological narrative for the characters. Everything is on the surface: either told straightforwardly by the narrator, or given in actions and speech.

Writing successfully in this way, despite its naive aura of simplicity, is very hard: nothing is wasted, nothing is superfluous, there are no short-cuts. It’s traditional story-telling shorn of narrative tricks and literary flourishes – and it’s marvellous. Reading it is like greeting an old friend after many years apart and finding that they’re just as wonderful as you remembered them being and wishing you’d found a way to stay in better touch.

I enormously admire craft like Bengtsson’s, perhaps partly because it’s such an unfashionable way to write in a post-Joyce world of tricksy, story-free literary hocus-pocus. In a recent interview, the author Will Self said that ‘I don’t really write for readers. I think that’s the defining characteristic of being serious as a writer.’ By contrast, Bengtsson reportedly said that ‘I just wanted to write a story that people could enjoy reading, like The Three Musketeers or the Odyssey.’ To my mind that’s a far tougher and more impressive ambition. In The Longships he succeeds magnificently – if you’re as ignorant of the book as I was, I recommend trying it out.

What’s going on?

Not quite. But almost.

You may have noticed that there hasn’t been much in the way of posting here lately. That’s partly due to my typically-late discovery of Twitter, and also due to a new regular commitment to posting on the BL Blog every month. Oh, and writing books and things.

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.

All change

That’s two Ds in Abaddon, Miss Jones

Writing isn’t the business it used to be. Time was that an author had a relationship with his or her editor and agent, and that was it. In the internet age, that’s all been swept away: reviews pop up almost instantly, and discussions of books that were once private are now conducted in chatrooms and forums. With the advent of the ebook, material can be published in multiple formats at the same time, allowing readers to download individual stories that would once have only been available in limited print-run anthologies.

The changing landscape has both pros and cons. It certainly makes for a much more immediate relationship between writer and reader, which can often be a good thing. On the other hand, the ubiquitous presence of commentary is occasionally claustrophobic – from an author’s point of view, being aware of every bad or indifferent review floating around in cyberspace can be demoralising experience. Part of me certainly hankers after elegant weapons for a more civilised age, where writers could work in isolation for most of the time, their ascetic concentration broken only by biannual royalty cheques landing on the doormat.

But there’s no turning the clock back: technology is there to be engaged with. So, in a belated attempt to catch up with last year’s news, I’ve made some changes around here.

The first is a slight reorganisation of the blog pages. With the plethora of digital releases, it can be quite hard keeping up with what stories are available in which formats. To try to make some sense of this, I’ve trawled through my back catalogue and listed every book or short story I’ve written either in the Warhammer Fantasy or Warhammer 40K pages (see the tabs in the bar above for links to these pages). I’ve added links to each different version of each title, allowing you to find (say) the Audio recording of ‘Rebirth’ or the ebook anthology containing ‘Flesh’. I’ll try to keep this updated as new things come out, with the usual proviso that I’m rubbish at updating the blog, etc.

Second, I’ve finally bowed to the inevitable and joined Twitter. I’ll try to remember to use this more than once every year or so, and to say things that people might conceivably find interesting. There’s a widget on the sidebar of the blog that list my latest pearls of wisdom; if you think you’d like to read more of them, then please do follow me.

Finally, a quick reminder about Adepticon later this month. I’ll be in Chicago with my illustrious colleague Aaron Dembski-Bowden and new BL author Andy Smillie. I’ll look nowhere near as cool and assured as them, so do come over if you’d like to say nice things about Battle of the Fang, or similar. I may even have new books to sign (though no promises).

Wrath edits, Huss reviews

Warrior Priest

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.

End of the road… again

Must. Reach. Deadline.

Well, that’s a long time without a blog post. The main culprit is exhaustion – I’ve just (finally) handed in the first draft of Luthor Huss to my editor, and the world is looking a bit more normal again.

Finishing a book can often be tricky, and this one certainly was. I’m now waiting for the first round of feedback, after which the process of rewriting, honing, deleting, switching-round, renaming, reverting, expanding, contracting and generally fettling will begin in earnest. I literally have no idea how much of this there will be to do on the manuscript; after several months living with the taciturn Huss and his band of zealots, I’ve lost any sense of objectivity about the story (as usually happens). It’s at this phase of the process when, as a writer, you’re most dependent on your editor to point out what works and what doesn’t. My fingers, now they’re no longer typing, are firmly crossed.

In the meantime, some other stuff has happened. Dragonmage has been released, and has a very nice review over at Civilian Reader. I remember this one also being a bit difficult to write, so it’s nice to see people enjoying it. I’ve also signed off on a Space Wolf ebook-only story called Kraken, which should be appearing around March 2012, subject to the vicissitudes of The Schedule. Finally, there’s a nice review of Battle of the Fang over here, as well as a very detailed discussion by the Independent Characters at the end of episode 32 of their regular podcast (about 02.33.00 in). Thanks to all!

My next project is, of course, the Iron Hands. Wrath of Iron is another book in the Space Marine Battles series, this time featuring the Sons of Manus on the nightmare world of Shardenus. Unlike Fang, the established story behind this episode in the lore is fairly sparse, so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how the battle will play out. It’s a real opportunity to do the Iron Hands justice, so I’ll have plenty to ponder over the next few months…

The critics speak

Here, Judy – let’s try the Space Wolves

It’s all been about the Space Wolves recently. I’m currently finishing off a short story featuring them, as well as reading all the reviews for Battle of the Fang strewn across the internet.

Like most authors (I guess), I have a slightly tunnel-visioned attitude to reviews – though I should know better, I seek them out with frightening determination once a book has hit the shelves. It’s a bad habit to have, but one that’s hard to shake. Most BL readers, I’m sure, aren’t nearly so interested in the minutiae of every internet critic’s view of a given book, but after spending so long writing a novel there’s an almost irresistible urge to find out what’s being said about it. And most of that, I suspect, is down to insecurity – the bane of an author’s (otherwise very nice) existence.

Anyway, here are some of the more recent write-ups, in case anyone other than me is interested. Graeme Flory has written a detailed review over at his Fantasy Book Review. The Space Wolves Grey blog, which I read regularly (loving Wolf and Sister, by the way) has a nice account here, and there are short and sweet reviews here, here, and here too. Thanks to everyone who took the time to post their thoughts.

Over on the BL site, a PDF extract from the book itself has been posted up too, so anyone interested in picking it up can get a taster first. Head over to the book’s page to take a look (where, here too, the reviews are mounting up…).

Right, that’s quite enough about Fang – time to get back to new writing. The short story currently has the title Kraken, by the way. Which might well give some clues as to what it’s all about. Or it might not.

Return to the Old World

So, a new year and a new book. I’m writing again after a short break, which is a good state to be in. It’s back to Warhammer Fantasy for me, and the Old World once more. After my detour to Fenris, it feels a bit like coming home again. I’ll keep the subject of the new story to myself for now, but as soon as something’s announced by BL I’ll no doubt put the news up here.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to Sword of Vengeance coming out next month, and hoping it proves a fitting sequel to its predecessor. As I posted last year, I’ll be attending BL Live at Games Workshop HQ in March, which will be a great opportunity to get a copy signed, or just chat about the story and the thinking behind it.

And, speaking of events, I’m also slated to turn up at the SFX Weekender in February in the esteemed (and slightly intimidating) company of Dan Abnett and Nick Kyme. If you’re headed that way, do come over and say hi. I’ll be the one gazing around, looking a bit lost.

As for the rest of the year, well there are some very interesting things coming up. Nothing I can talk about yet, or the Inquisition will be knocking at the door, but I’ve got high hopes for another year of Warhammer/40K goodness. As ever, you’ll read it here first…

Goodbye 2010

It’s been a busy year, BL-wise, so I’m slightly sorry to see it go. Still, there are some exciting things coming up in 2011. I’ll be at BL Live in March, and possibly some other events/signings too, so keep an eye out for announcements here when dates are firmed up.

In the meantime, a couple of quick things: Sword of Justice has ended up as Team Preston’s Fantasy book of the year, which is great to read – see the blog entry here for more.

Also, I couldn’t let a recent post on Dan Abnett’s blog go by without mention. Normally, blog posts are fairly mundane things, but every so often you come across a gem. Nik Vincent, Dan’s partner, has penned a wonderful piece on the pressures of deadline day. It’s beautifully written, and a real insight into the pressures of writing for a living. Dan’s blog is pretty unhelpful when trying to link to specific articles, so you’ll have to go to the main page and scroll down to the post titled ‘A matter of life and deadlines’. Definitely worth a read.

Right, off now to start the final proofing for the typeset copy of Fang. This will be the last post of the year before all is lost in a whirl of turkey and mulled wine, so I’ll take the opportunity to thank Nick, Lindsey, Alex and Christian, my editors at BL, for all the work they’ve done this year on my stuff, plus all the rest of the BL team for their sterling efforts in putting the books together and getting them out there. But, most of all, thanks to everyone who’s read the blog over the last twelve months or posted a comment or two. I’ve enjoyed reading them all – here’s to more in 2011.

Until then, have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

A rare lull

It feels like I’ve been writing more or less constantly for about eighteen months. That period has produced Sword of Justice, Sword of Vengeance, Feast of Horrors (a short story released at BL Live 2010), Runes (a short story for Victories of the Space Marines), and Battle of the Fang. I make that almost 400,000 words, if you include my short story for the Heresy Anthology, Age of Darkness. The first draft of that went in today, and I’ll wait to hear what Christian makes of it when he’s had a chance to read it.

So, for the first time in a long while, I’ve not got a big project to launch straight into. I’m sure that will change once the edits come back for Fang, but until then I can work on some other things, such as the maps that will accompany that book. I’ve had drafts of these on my desk for many months, and have used them extensively when planning the battle scenes, but they now need updating before being sent off to some proper artists who can turn my scribbles into something you’d actually want to find in the middle of a book.

The relative calm has given me the time to enjoy reading of Aaron Dembski-Bowden‘s ascent into daemonhood the New York Times bestseller list. It’s great to see his fearsome talent being rewarded, and I’m sure this accolade will be the first of many. Aaron joins Graham McNeill and James Swallow in the hallowed ranks of BL’s NYT mafia, and with Prospero Burns heading our way soon, any bets on a certain Mr Abnett joining that brotherhood in the New Year?

In other news, there’s a cracking review of Sword of Justice over here. Ta very much!