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.