Merry Christmas!

They never check the chimney

So, last post of the year. It’s been another busy one, and I feel in need of the break. The Iron Hands are proving hard to finish off (which is appropriate, I guess), so I’m burning the midnight oil again on the final sections of Wrath of Iron right now. This needs to be finished off soon for lots of reasons, not least to make room for a number of exciting new projects in 2012. One of these is the War of Vengeance sequence in collaboration with the super-busy Nick Kyme. It looks like I’ll be doing more power-armoured types before I get to my installment in the series, though I’m not saying who, when or where yet. Except that they like bikes.

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.

More cover goodness

He’s not happy. He’s really not happy.

On the other hand, I really am. I don’t think anyone’s captured the Iron Hands better in artwork. You wouldn’t mess, would you?

BL have put the blurb for the book up on the website, so there’s no harm repeating it here:

After decades spent in the service of the Chaos god Slaanesh, the ruling classes of the Contqual sub-sector have finally brought true damnation upon their people – innumerable hordes of foul and lascivious daemons swarm from a tear in the fabric of reality to embrace their mortal pawns and drive them on to ever more depraved acts of worship. It falls to the merciless Space Marines of the Iron Hands Chapter to cleanse these worlds of the warp’s unholy taint, and it is upon the surface of Shardenus that the fate of a billion lost souls will be decided.

Out July 2011

So that’s the deal: bionic super-soldiers duking it out with crazed daemonic hordes on the hell-world of Shardenus. It won’t be pretty, but it will (hopefully) be a lot of fun. For those interested, I’m still not quite at the finish line with this one, but am trying to get it done before the Christmas break. It’s a hard slog, as always, as things near completion, but images like the above certainly help restore energy levels.

As many of you will know, the Space Marine Battles cover series are created by Jon Sullivan, whose website is here. Take a look for more luscious images of the far future, including the fantastic images he created for Battle of the Fang – who could forget the sight of Bjorn in action?

Here’s Luthor…

Somehow he looks even more intimidating in the flesh (so to speak).

Afficionados of the Warhammer Heroes range will notice that the cover designs have changed from the early days. Gone are the double covers, and the name of the book now runs vertically along the spine-edge. While I liked the old designs, there’s no denying the new format makes the title more striking (and the book easier to hold). I’m very impressed, once again, with Cheoljoo Lee’s cover design, which captures Huss perfectly.

Luthor Huss is due out in February 2012, but look out for pre-orders earlier from the BL site.

It’s oh so quiet…

It’s quiet. Too quiet

Well, yes. There’s not been a lot of content around here for some time. While that might give the impression that nothing much is happening, pretty much the opposite is actually the case. The lack of posts here is a symptom of being very busy with my current projects, some of which are complete, some running behind schedule, and some barely out of the blocks. This is all very exciting for me, of course, but it does leave very little time for anything else.

So, what’s been happening? Well, I’m now over half-way through Wrath of Iron, my Iron Hands book. This is part of the Space Marine Battles series, so expect lots of things being blown-up, thrown around and generally getting broken. In between all that planet-sized carnage I’ve tried to delve a little deeper into the Iron Hands psyche too, and I’ll post at greater length about that once the novel’s written. Space Marines are tricky things to write about, and the Iron Hands are about as tricky as they come. I hope long-time fans will like my take on them, although you’ll have to wait until July next year to find out what’s in the book. A couple of little factoids in the meantime: the protagonists are from Clan Raukaan, and the story features two characters who first emerged in my short story ‘Flesh’ (which can be found here).

Life on Medusa was rubbish

Otherwise, it’s been nice to see my novella Dragonmage get some positive press. Graham’s Fantasy Book Review covered it a while back, and you can read the review here. More surprisingly perhaps, the august British Fantasy Society seems to be reviewing Black Library books at the moment, and they’ve posted a write-up for Sword of Justice on their website. Always good to see mainstream Fantasy sites taking a look at some licensed fiction.

Anyway, right now I’m trying to get Wrath of Iron in the bag before the Christmas break, which would be very nice, sanity-wise. After that, who knows? I have a suspicion I’ll be writing some High Elves in 2012, as well as some Space Marines, both from a Chapter I’ve written about before and possibly from one I haven’t. All very vague, but I’ll post more here once stuff is confirmed.

In the meantime, I should mention that I’ll be at the marvellous SFX Weekender on the 2-4 February along with some other BL authors, so come along to that if you fancy getting your hands on Luthor Huss before anyone else.

Zealots, flagellants and other eccentrics

For Sigmar!

If you go digging in the BL blog, you’ll see a few sentences of my short story March of Doom, the first thing I wrote involving Luthor Huss. It’s a merry tale of violence, folly and obsession in the Old World featuring a band of zealots and a whole gaggle of beastmen. I was a lot of fun to write, and gave me quite a few ideas for its bigger brother, Luthor Huss. To credit things properly, the idea for the story came from author/editor extraordinaire Nick Kyme, who also has a short story in the anthology involving those humie-loving Salamanders, and I thought his outline was so good I went away and wrote it up in a few frantic days of activity. Look out for the anthology at this year’s UK Games Day, where I’ll be only to happy to chat about it.

For those interested, the title refers to the zealots who accompany Huss everywhere he goes (more usually called flagellants in the game). They’re the crazies of the Warhammer World, the ones who’ve finally gone off the rails and succumbed to a bizarre kind of violent fundamentalism in order to make sense of the horror around them. They run blindly into battle waving only a wooden spoon and a few hat-pins, frothing at the mouth and muttering half-remembered bits of Sigmarite dogma before getting their heads bashed in by something big and tusked.

In both the short story and novel, I gave a lot of thought to how these guys ought to be portrayed. The obvious route would have been, as in this post, to point out their absurdities. They’re hardly impressive warriors, those zealots, and their, er, unique way of fighting gets them killed in terrifying quantities. Set beside Huss, who’s a massive figure of authority in anyone’s book, they teeter on the brink of looking just a little buffoonish.

They’re mad as hell

I didn’t take that approach. Huss is a dark book – perhaps the darkest I’ve written for BL – and there wasn’t much room for buffoons in it. Instead, I thought long and hard about why anyone would give up a ‘normal’ life to become one of Huss’s disciples. What would have to happen for a man or a woman to traipse across the Empire seeking out combat with enemies far bigger, stronger and more terrifying than them? The answer is not: they’re just crazy. Instead, it must be something involving the strange sense of reassurance in the fundamental. There’s something peculiarly terrifying about the mania of the ultra-Sigmarites, but something rather heroic and interesting, too. Indeed, of all the Empire’s many kinds of soldier, perhaps the humble zealots are actually the most heroic of all – the ones who’ve seen the essential hopelessness of what they’re up against and decide to end it all in the most defiant, ruinous way possible.

In the end, I wrote about two zealots: Mathilde, in the short story, and Rickard, in the novel. I liked both of them a lot, even though their stories were rather sad ones (no surprise there). Neither of them were fools, just ordinary Empire denizens driven to do extraordinary things by a world that turned out to be much more like their nightmares than their dreams. And that strikes me as pretty much the essence of Warhammer, just there.

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…

Huss unveiled

It’s always nice to reveal the cover art of the next novel. BL recently posted this imposing piece of artwork up on the main site, which I thought I’d share:

So there he is: Luthor Huss in all his slightly-crazed glory. I’m a huge fan of Cheoljoo Lee’s work on the Warhammer Heroes covers, and he’s excelled himself again here. And what’s that on his forehead? It’s a phylactery – a miniature reliquary full of holy scripture. Thanks are due to Darius Hinks, author of the splendid Warrior Priest, for confirming that piece of lore. Which I obviously knew before I started writing. Ahem.

Anyhow, work continues apace on the manuscript for Luthor Huss, but there has been a bit of time over the last few weeks to do a couple of interviews as well. One of them has just gone up over at the Civilian Reader site (see here), where there are also detailed reviews for Sword of Justice and the ubiquitous Battle of the Fang.

In addition, there’s a whole feature on BL in this month’s SFX magazine. I did an interview for them as part of this, and there’s a review of Fang in there too. I haven’t had a chance to see this yet, but fingers crossed it came out well. For a run down of what’s in the print issue, including a mean ‘n moody shot of BL supremo George Mann, head over here.

All things dragon

They come in bigger sizes

Anyone with an interest in Warhammer will have noticed this by now. Yup, the Storm of Magic has hit the Warhammer World, bringing all sorts of monsters and weirdos out from the shadows. Naturally enough, BL decided to release a brace of books to accompany the launch of the game expansion, all of which are available to preorder now.

Razumov’s Tomb is by Gemmell-award winning supremo Darius Hinks, The Hour of Shadows is by the master of Fantasy darkness C. L. Werner, and Dragonmage is by me.

It’s the first time I’ve written about dragons, and it was a lot of fun to do. Storms of Magic are when the biggest, nastiest creatures in the Warhammer world start to crawl out of the woodwork, and they don’t come much bigger and nastier than the firedrakes of Ulthuan.

At the time of writing this there are no excerpts from the novellas up on the main site, so I’ll put a very brief snippet from Dragonmage up here. Hope you like it.

There was a mind, older than the bones of the mountain in which it slumbered. It glowed in the dark like an ember, almost cold, red-brown against infinite dark.

No thoughts stirred in that mind. No movement registered against the cloak of dull, dormant shadow. It was on the hinterland between life and death, the grey shade-realm between energy and inertia.

It had lingered there for centuries. It was deep in the great sleep, buried faster than pearls in the lightless trenches of the ocean.

There was no self. No presence. No heartbeat, no breath.

Just a faint glow, ash-warm in the heart of the darkness.

It didn’t sleep as a mortal slept. A mortal mind dreamed. A mortal mind expected awakening. Mortal flesh twitched and moved, stirring in advance of the dawn.

This sleep was a finger’s breadth from oblivion. It was the sleep of an intelligence that didn’t expect the dawn. It had seen so many dawns that the rotation of night and day, year on year, had ceased to be more meaningful than the void in which it lingered.

It was the sleep of vastness, the sleep of a being whose age had passed in flame and for which the residual world was a fragile ghost-image.

Rathien reached out, gingerly extending the flicker of light that was his own mind. For a moment, there was something; a stirring, a sigh, a wisp of air.

Then nothing.

The mind was cold.

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.

On the road again

It actually was this sunny

Quick shout-out to GW Reading, where I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours on Saturday signing copies of Battle of the Fang. We got through a fair few books by the end, and it was a lot of fun chatting to the fans that came into pick up a sig. Thanks to Quinn and Matt for the (life-saving) cups of tea and general welcome. For anyone who couldn’t be there on the day, I left a few signed copies behind at the store, which you should be able to pick up if you get there soon.

It was a busy week last week, which included a trip up to GWHQ in Nottingham for a meeting with a bunch of other BL authors. All highly classified stuff, unfortunately, but very interesting. There are some intriguing things in the pipeline. So intriguing, in fact, that I managed to almost miss my train home again, which would have been Very Annoying.

Now I’m back at my desk, working hard to finish off the midpoint for the Luthor Huss novel, as well as a 40K short story, both of which have been disrupted a bit by all that travelling around. Ah, the whirlwind life of an author…