Incoming in March

29 January, 2013 Leave a comment

That's a knife

That’s a knife

It’s been a bit quiet around here lately, mostly due to writing two (two!) books at the same time at the moment. That’s not quite as insane as it sounds, as the projects are spread out a bit in the schedule, but it’s still a tough balancing act at times. The first of these is Master of Dragons, the sequel to Nick Kyme’s The Great Betrayal. This is over halfway there now, and has been a lot of fun to write. Nick’s book focussed heavily on dwarfs; mine, as you’d expect, does the opposite and spends most of its time in the company of High Elves. Except to see plenty of detail on the Caledorian dragonriders and high politics in Ulthuan – two of my favourite things. The dwarfs do get a look in, of course: there are some very big armies out there in the Old World that must be written about. I have become a big fan of Hammerers.

The second projects is something of a departure for me in both subject matter and format. Can’t talk about that in detail yet, but I hope the clouds will lift a little soon…

In the meantime, March is a fairly big month for me, as I have two (two!) titles hitting the shelves. The first is Blood of Asaheim, my Very First hardback release for BL. Copies of this have, I’m informed, been spotted in the wild at a few events in Nottingham, but it’ll be a while before it becomes available elsewhere. I hope people like it once it reaches the shelves; I had a great time writing it. Fenris is beginning to feel (worryingly) a little like home.

Oh, I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational

Oh, I’m afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when Horus gets here

The other release is my Very First purpose-written audio drama, The Sigillite, which I’m yet to get hold of myself but am assured does exist. This is now my third Heresy title, following Rebirth in Age of Darkness and last year’s novella Brotherhood of the Storm. Grappling with the sprawling Heresy timeline has always been something of a challenge, but with each release I feel like I’m getting slightly more of a handle on it. The Sigillite has the advantage of being a standalone tale, set in the mainstream Heresy storyline but not dependant on any particular part of it. It was a chance to (partly) flesh out the character of one of the most enigmatic figures in the saga. I hope it makes him a bit more interesting, but there’s still plenty of mystery left – above all, Malcador needs to remain mysterious.

If you fancy getting your hands on either of these releases ahead of time, you have at least two chances: the first is BL Live on 2 March up in Warhammer World. This promises to be a really fun event – I’ll be sharing the author stage with Dan Abnett, Jim Swallow, Nik Vincent, John French and many others, including some exciting new BL names. If this year’s Live is anything like past events, it’ll be an unrivalled opportunity to chat to authors and editors in a relaxed and informal setting. It’s a bit less frantic than the massive Games Day and Weekender shindigs, but all the more charming for it, I think. I’m really looking forward to this – hope to see it as bustling as last year’s event. Tickets are available from the BL website here.

Second, if you’re based in the south-west of England, you could also come along to GW Cribb’s Causeway on 23 March, where I’ll be signing books and generally hanging around to chat about all things BL. The details should be going up on the store’s Facebook page shortly. I met the guys last year and was lucky enough to see their unbelievable model of Averheim, taken from Swords of the Emperor. I’m told it’s even bigger now, so that’ll be worth coming to see on its own.

Any other signings, etc., and I’ll post the details here. In the meantime, thanks for all the tweets and messages about recent books – it’s always nice when people get in touch to say they’ve enjoyed something.

Right, enough bloggage; I have two (two!) books to write.

Phew

14 November, 2012 13 comments

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.

You still looking at us?

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).

On Vikings and adjectives

31 August, 2012 4 comments

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?

2 July, 2012 3 comments

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.

From Medusa to Nottingham. And back.

20 May, 2012 10 comments

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.

Look – it has pretty maps!

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.

My kind of town

26 April, 2012 Leave a comment

Pretty city

So that was Adepticon 2012. My first experience of a major gaming convention, as well as first time in Chicago. Now back in rainy England and with several hours of sleep under my belt, I can start to make some sense of it all.

First off, Chicago is amazing. It’s got all the architectural interest of New York but with a bit less dirt. We were lucky with the weather, and everything sparkled. Millennium Park, the Field Museum, the Art Institute – they were all superb (and huge). I can’t really see myself ever upping sticks and living anywhere but the lovely West Country, but if I did then Chicago might be a contender. Some bits look like Gotham, others like Necromunda, and others like Coruscant. The whole place is very sci-fi, which makes it a splendid location for Adepticon.

Lombard, the suburb where we were based, is slightly less awe-inspiring (unless you like car parks), but the hotel was very swanky. We needed somewhere to recover after a hellish wait at O’Hare’s passport control and an amusingly suicidal taxi ride along the freeway. I’m sure it’s not entirely safe to drive while reading a hotel directory and talking on the phone, and I think it’s generally agreed that staying in lane at least some of the time is sensible. Still, we made it.

The Emperor of Mankind. And statue.

We were pretty busy the whole time. Thanks to all who came to the round table seminars and who visited the Black Library stand in the main hall. Good to chat, as ever. Adepticon was a little different to events I’d previously attended, in that it was primarily a tournament gaming event rather than a mix of hobby and book stuff. I don’t think that really changed the atmosphere much: perhaps people were a bit more earnest than I’m used to, with fewer casual fans hanging around, but there was plenty for the non-gamer to enjoy.

The armies, to my eye at least, were painted to a fantastic standard. I was particularly chuffed to see the winning entry in the Black Library competition, which was a Heresy-era Thousand Sons force. This included two named characters – Temekh and Aphael – who both appeared in Battle of the Fang. Great to see them immortalised in plastic, and congrats to the Capital Imperialis team from Springfield, Illinois for such a splendid job (they were very nice guys, too).

We were kept busy with signings on all three days, and it was especially pleasing to see copies of Wrath of Iron making their way into the hands of readers. After all those long nights hammering away at the keyboard, it was a good feeling to see the finished article released into the wild.

I was accompanied in the stand by fellow authors Clint (C.L.) Werner and Andy Smillie. The latter is a relative newcomer to the fellowship of BL scribes whose debut stories can be found in the Gotrek and Felix anthology and as part of the 15th Anniversary celebration collection – well worth checking out. I’ve long been familiar with Herr Werner’s fantasy books as a reader, but it was my first chance to meet the man himself, and it was an absolute pleasure. As well as being a fan-favourite author, Clint is a real gent, and I hope our paths cross again in the future. In the meantime, as well as the Skaven-tastic Dead Winter, you should definitely look out for his upcoming Siege of Castellax Space Marine Battles book at the end of the year – it’ll be stellar.

So long, Chicago. We barely knew ye.

Thanks must also go to Eddie and Mike from BL, who looked after us marvellously and worked furiously hard to keep up with demand on the stand. I hope they’ve both managed to catch up with some sleep and recover in time for planning the next one. Thanks to the guys from the GW Chicago Bunker who helped out and were cool to chat to. Honourable mentions also to the various podcast people and bloggers we met, all of whom were reassuringly enthusiastic and full of questions.

It was a memorable, surprising, friendly, exhausting trip away, which is, of course, just as it should be. Roll on Canada.

Categories: Events Tags: ,

Going continental

14 April, 2012 2 comments

L'homme armé

Something different today. In the interests of international peace and goodwill, this post will mostly be in French.

Aujourd’hui, ce blog sera en français, en l’honneur de la nouvelle édition de «Les Épées de l’Empereur: Schwarzhelm». Mes excuses à tous les lecteurs natifs français: mes compétences linguistiques sont terribles – je aurait dû me concentrer davantage à l’école (heureusement, Google est là pour aider).

«Schwarzhelm» a été initialement publié en anglais sous le titre Sword of Justice, et est le premier volume d’un dyptique racontant l’histoire de Ludwig Schwarzhelm et Kurt Helborg. Je suis très friands de ces livres, et ces personnages. J’avais déjà écrit un livre pour la série des «armées Empire» appelée «La Compagnie de Fer» (qui est également disponible en français), mais Sword of Justice a été le premier de mes livres où j’ai eu le sentiment de vraiment avoir compris l’Empire et de sa culture.

J’espère que les lecteurs français aimeront ce livre – je suis sûr que le traducteur, Sébastien Delmas, a fait un excellent travail. Voici un court extrait:

Raghram se montra enfin. Son suaire de ténèbres s’évanouit comme une nappe de brume dispersée par le vent. Il se redressa de toute sa hauteur au-dessus de la silhouette robuste de Schwarzhelm. Le monstre était vieux et gigantesque, et le dépassait de plusieurs têtes. Il puait la mort et la corruption. Ses mains burinées tenaient une hache aussi grande qu’un homme. Quatre cornes imposantes ornaient son front, et sa gueule balafrée était garnie de crocs énormes. Il portait une cuirasse et des épaulières dentelées en fer. Ces protections grossièrement forgées étaient décorées des runes des dieux sombres.

Ses yeux injectés de sang laissaient transparaître une ruse animale et toute la rancœur accumulée au fil des siècles par les créatures les plus malveillantes de la forêt. Toute l’aversion d’un monde primitif envers la civilisation des hommes se lisait dans ce regard. Cette créature ne ressentait rien en dehors d’une haine que seule la mort de ses ennemis pouvait apaiser.

Raghram se débarrassa des derniers lambeaux de ténèbres qui l’entouraient en rugissant, puis chargea. Ses gors le suivirent sans hésiter. La nuit était presque tombée. Les chevaliers tinrent leur position imperturbablement et se préparèrent au choc; Schwarzhelm rejeta sa cape en arrière. Il leva son épée, et tout ne fut plus qu’ombres et tumulte.