It is with great pleasure I am able to reveal the cover for the upcoming omnibus edition of The Crown of the Blood trilogy – Empire of the Blood. Here it is in all its bloody, sword-y, stone-y goodness.
It is with great pleasure I am able to reveal the cover for the upcoming omnibus edition of The Crown of the Blood trilogy – Empire of the Blood. Here it is in all its bloody, sword-y, stone-y goodness.
I’ve been pretty quiet lately on the social media front due to getting pitches, short stories and other stuff out of the way before an impending holiday. However, if my absence is causing bloggage blockage, you can get your fill of sage words in Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary.
As well as a modest entry from this humble hamster-wrangler this volume contains a broad range of top-class reviews, examinations of the writing craft, looks at genre industry and lots of other informative and entertaining writing. I’ve only had time to look at a few so far, but I hope to read more during the aforementioned holiday.
Not only is it a fascinating snapshot of the 2012 blogosphere, edited by the peeps at Pornokitsch this year, all proceeds are going to a Good Cause – Room to Read. As Jared himself said, “The end result is 100,000 words of the most fun, insightful and interesting writing in genre.”
I’d like to say again how happy and honoured I am to be included in the collection. If there are any topics you’d like me to get my teeth into as a contender for the 2013 volume, let me know in the comments. If you’re interested in these kinds of discussions, why not take part in person and come along to Edge.Lit 2 in Derby this summer?
Speculative Fiction 2012 is available now from Amazon, and a Kindle version will be available soon.
With just about a day left for people to place their orders for Corax: Soulforge, you’ll be happy to know that the promise of individually-signed copies has now been fulfilled…
Now, I’m fortunate that my scribble is, as those who have brought stuff to be signed in person will know, pretty quick. I feel for other authors with more complicated autographs. My first signing was at Games Day ’94 (or possibly Golden Demon, they had their own events back then). I used my standard signature, and by the end of the day signing Citadel Journals, White Dwarfs and assorted other things I could barely use my hand. At the next event I came up with the hasty ‘Gav’ motif seen above, and the day passed without terrible hand cramps. I’m not sure why the squiggly question mark thingy seemed like a good idea, but I felt that simply writing GAV in bad capitals didn’t quite fit the bill.
Each autograph only takes a couple of seconds, with four sheets per page and another few seconds to move it out of the way for the next one. Let’s say 15 seconds per page. Two thousand pages comes in at 30,000 seconds, which is about 500 minutes, or roughly eight hours twenty minutes. I broke the task into five sessions over four days. Unfortunately, it’s the sort of task you cannot simply turn off your brain (at points you do start to forget how to write your own name, most of it is by muscle memory) and so can’t really focus on anything else, so that’s eight hours of daytime TV I will try to repress for the rest of my life.
Let’s hope that it was worth it and a good number of them go out to good homes. Of course, if you get a copy, please bring it along to an event and I’d be happy to add a more personal dedication.
Apologies for the post title, but it was the best I could come up with…
Today (1800 GMT, in fact) my latest novella goes on sale. Corax: Soulforge is a Horus Heresy story in which I revisit the Raven Guard after recent time spent with the Dark Angels.
The situation is dire for the Imperium. The galaxy is torn in two by the Ruinstorm, the Space Wolves and White Scars are currently MIA while the Imperial Fists fortify Terra. Of the other legions, only scant information is available. Having chosen to bring the fight to Horus and his forces, Corax and his legion are waging planetary guerrilla warfare to slow the Warmaster’s advance.
This concept is central to the character of Corax. His legion is all but wiped out, but he will fight on to the last warrior if necessary. All of the Primarchs are driven by their past and their upbringing, and in Soulforge I’ve been able to look again at Corax’s motivations. Here’s my thoughts.
Coming to maturity amongst political prisoners has given Corax a strong ideology that drives everything he does. More than any of his brothers, Corax sees himself as a liberator. First, as the saviour of Deliverance. Second, as a commander of the Emperor freeing the galaxy from the darkness of the Long Night. He does not see himself as a conqueror, though he has conquered worlds. He does not desire dominion over the people and territories he has brought to compliance and, perhaps foremost amongst the Primarchs, was ready and willing to relinquish power to Mankind. Corax planned to compose a political treatise that would do for governance what Guilliiman’s Codex would do for warfare.
With the treachery of Horus threatening to bring back the darkness once more, Corax has found new determination and a fresh purpose for war. He knows better than most the sacrifices required for victory, and although he values life highly he is far from a pacifist. Innocents will die, but Corax believes in his cause and hardens himself to their deaths. A greater aim drives him, allowing him to put aside the tragedies he must unleash in order to achieve that higher goal. As he says himself in Soulforge, “War is simply a series of intentional catastrophes”.
Yet for all this, Corax holds back from a total ‘ends justify the means’ approach. It is this that separates him from the likes of Konrad Curze, the Night Haunter who has plagued his thoughts since their confrontation on Isstvan V. It is a hard path to tread, and perhaps is one that brings Corax and his legion more grief than necessary. Corax often chooses the harder road to tread, preserving the lives of those he has sworn to protect in favour of his own warriors, holding back from bombardment and annihilation for fear of causing too much collateral damage.
One might think that he is perhaps testing his own resolve at every opportunity, seeking to assure himself that the vainglory, selfishness and arrogance that has seen the fall of the greatest Primarchs does not exist within him. This leads to self-doubts, and ultimately a questioning of everything he has done in the name of the Emperor.
On the other hand, Corax is well aware that he stands apart from humanity. He is not a mortal, something made very apparent by his own unnatural abilities and the status of saviour that was given him by the downtrodden of Lycaeus. He is a creature far removed from the humans that he protects, and while he may try to disguise his nature for the most part he cannot deny it. It is in believing himself different but not better that he attempts to reconcile this separation.
During Soulforge Corax will have to confront these issues if he is to succeed. We’re still a long way from that fateful ‘Nevermore’ moment, but in Soulforge we get to see a bit more of the journey that will take us there.
I’ve often said that one of the joys of being a writer is being able to work on different sorts of projects. While the basics of telling a story remain the same there are different challenges inherent in crafting a short story, novel, audio drama, script or some background text. If variety is the spice of life I have been fortunate lately to enjoy a curry-ful.
Moving from one project to another can be a difficult transition, particularly from long-form (novels) to shorter pieces and back again. Short stories are a great way to explore a narrow set of ideas and characters without all of the baggage of a long narrative, but it can be hard sometimes distilling that idea into a few thousand words if one has got into a frame of mind that has chapter after chapter to explore characters, sub-plots and setting.
Conversely, remembering that one can go off on little tangents and let loose a bit of narrative freedom comes slowly when one has been penning tightly-written text without room for wavering or indulgence.
Similarly, the needs of a script for an audio bring their own small obstacles; remembering to focus much more on snappy description and using dialogue for the most part. And when one gets back to writing prose it can feel awfully clunky remembering to put in all those identifiers and stretching the description at a more leisurely pace.
These challenges are worth it. Not only does a change of length and format freshen up the imagination and writing muscles they allow different creative itches to be scratched. Quite often I’ll talk to aspiring writers who have their mind fixed on a particular format and a particular story but the two are not matched up. They have an idea that would work well for a short story but feel that they should be writing a novel and don’t know how to stretch it out, or they have a grandiose narrative they want to fit into a short piece and can’t find the room.
Big to Small
There are things that can be done if one is determined to push an idea in one direction or another. If your idea is too big for a short story you need to focus laser-like on the essential elements. Try to render the story down to one all-conquering dramatic scene. Get the essence of the story and the characters in a few hundred words.
This is probably going to be the ending; if it’s the beginning you probably have trouble ahead. From this scene, work backwards, filling out the bare minimum needed to for that scene to have context and meaning. Use subtext and allow the reader to join the dots rather than spell out every tiny step needed to reach the conclusion of the story and start the action as close to the dramatic finale as you can.
Every scene preceding that last one must earn its way into your manuscript. Focus on the reader’s experience and crush it all into a tight, emotional blast. Break it down into the classic beginning-middle-end and make it as abrupt as possible. When you have this stripped down narrative you can then flex a little bit, adding in more character development or scene setting, a little more back-story or interaction.
Small to Big
On the other hand if your plan is to write a novel but you’re not sure how to spin out your core concept into tens of thousands of words, you need to approach the idea from as many angles as possible. Don’t just have one obstacle that your character has to overcome, have ten. Mix up internal and external conflicts. Add characters, even if not viewpoint ones, to assist and obstruct your protagonist’s progress, giving you a chance to explore more relationships and other parts of the setting.
For that matter, how many viewpoint characters do you need? Is it just the one protagonist, or could your theme be explored by more than one character? Could you chart their concurrent but disparate journeys to a common end?
Place different sorts of obstacles in the path of your characters. Some need to be emotional, others physical. Some might even be geographic or temporal. Strain the characters in each way you can, so that not only their skill and dedication is tested, but they must ride their luck, trust others, turn on a friend, face betrayal. Think of your worst week ever, the one that had nothing going right for you, and then turn it up a notch and throw it at your characters. It’s tough love, but the readers will appreciate the conclusion all the more for it.
Pacing is incredibly important in novels. Short stories can be a headlong rush from beginning to end while longer fiction requires peaks and troughs, escalating the conflict and tension towards the finale with increasingly sparse periods of peace to ease the reader on. There’s a term in professional wrestling: false finish. This is where one wrestler is obviously going to win the match. He or she has pulled out their awesome finisher that has won them dozens of matches before. The crowd chant one-two- as the referee’s hand hits the mat. And then the other wrestler kicks out against all expectation. Everyone goes nuts and the match continues. Some of the best matches in wrestling history draw heavily on false finishes and even a cultured, experienced smark like me can get caught out by the best ones.
(Aside – the one thing that I don’t like about modern wrasslin’ is the over reliance on signature finishers, because in 90% of all matches there is no tension. It’s either signature move -> victory or signature move -> false finish. Now and again when someone wins with a simple roll-up I am delighted. If someone actually won a match now and then with a superplex or DDT I would be a lot more attentive. I think the bookers, as well as authors, would do well to bear in mind that unpredictability equals involvement and excitement and gets attention just as well as storyline.)
You can do this with your plot too.
False finishes can be overused in writing as well as in wrestling. For a start, readers are aware of how many pages there are until the end (give or take an extract at the back of the book or some appendices). They know that the story isn’t over when they get to page 54 no matter how good or bad it looks for the character.
In wrestling there are only a few ways for the match to end, but with a novel you can change the parameters of ‘victory’ at a whim. If your character has to kill Enemy A to avenge his girlfriend’s death readers are expecting that to happen in the final few pages. If, on page 18, your hero confronts Enemy A and kills him, only to learn that he was manipulated by Enemy B all along, the story shifts and continues. Wowzo, this is gripping!
Move the goalposts as often as you like as long as the central quest –revenge, redemption, peace to all mankind – is still a factor at the true ending; or feel free just to do a switcheroo and reveal that ultimately revenge is futile and the character ‘wins’ by giving up the hunt for the killers and finds a new love because it’s a better memorial to his former girlfriend to get his life straight.
Awesome is as Awesome does.
Take the scene I talked about earlier, the last rising crescendo of awesomeness that will end the novel, and then ask yourself if there’s something even moar awesomer that is required of your character afterwards. And after that. And again. Every victory comes with a new challenge and setback and a higher mountain to climb until the end of the book has the reader wondering whether really this is going to be the Big One or not.
Just be careful that your highest peak of conflict doesn’t come before the end. If the greatest challenge is followed by a lesser challenge the narrative is ending with a whimper not a bang. Done right, the reader will be wondering what the hell your heroine is going to run into next, what torment and conflicts are going to assail her next. Done wrong and your reader will think everything in the back end of the story is an afterthought.
All of which doesn’t really relate to what I wanted to talk about. Oops.
I better make this brief now.
A nice little side project I have been working on is some background for Dawn of the Apocalypse by Dark World Creations. I have been working with DWC to craft some background to link together their fantastic large scale miniatures.
There’s no plan for a huge tome to cover all of this, so it’s basically been an exercise in writing flash fiction – 300 words per character, no more. To make this vaguely relevant to what I’ve just been banging on about, each piece has to be a pure distillation of that character, a single splurge that conveys everything one needs to know about them.
It’s been very liberating rather than frustrating. The overall concept is of a world under the pall of a zombie plague. So far, so humdrum. With DotA, the switch is that the survivors we’re focussing on aren’t quivering, terrified wrecks and the zombies are not just mindless brain-eating shuffletons. These are survivors looking for payback and flesh-eaters with an agenda. The miniatures are detailed and characterful and their backgrounds had to be the same.
My approach, other than the very brief introduction, is to unveil the universe through the voices of the characters rather than some omniscient narrator. It’s been great fun coming up with the last moments of the Code Ones and the back stories of the survivors, tying them together with a narrative subtext that, if this were a movie, we know is going to bring them all together at some point in the future. It’s world-building through the medium of brief glimpses rather than sprawling vistas, and gives us great scope to move the story forward a little with later releases and add characters as and when the urge arises.
Some of the backgrounds are up on the website now; others will be introduced through the newsletter. Go and have a look and hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.
730 years ago Edward I of England completed his conquest of Wales. I arrived with more peaceful intentions this past weekend.
As well as a lovely week-long holiday in North Wales with my equally lovely girlfriend, this not-really-recreation of Edward Longshanks’ exploits was for the glory of the Scifi Weekender, held just outside Pwllheli. This was a different venue to last year and, though I was sleeping offsite on both occasions, Hafan-y-Môr wins hands-down on the pleasantness and hospitality stakes.
After checking in with the mechanical overlords on the Angry Robot stand, I wasted no time getting down to some serious signing and chatting. I really wasn’t sure how busy this was going to be, especially with the Black Library Live event going on in Nottingham at the same time providing a big lure for Warhammer and 40K fans. There were plenty of BL readers around to keep me and Graham O’Neill* busy.
After signing plenty of copies of The Sundering, Deliverance Lost, Ravenwing and a few print-on-demand samples of Angels of Darkness it was time for Gave Thorpe* to attend the Shared Worlds panel with Graham, moderated by the very capable Jonathan Green. We chewed the fat on topics such as whether shared worlds were harder or easier to write within, the difficulties and advantages of multi-author narratives and discussed the nuances between tie-in fiction and fan fiction. We opened up to the audience for questions for a bit and as far as I can tell everything went very well. If you want me to expand on any of these topics, shout up in the comments.
After a bit more signing back at the stand, we slipped off for a bite to eat and came back for the partying. There were great, creative and and not-so-great-but-thanks-for-almost-making-the-effort costumes, a good deal of badinage and some mild bopping, but there are probably other attendees that can cover these in more detail than me.
What did I get out of the event? Invigoration, inspiration and context. Meeting fans and hanging out with other geeks is very affirming, both of my choices of career but also in terms of energising my overall geekness. So much so, in fact, that upon returning home I signed up for this: Nine Worlds Geekfest. I was lucky to slip in during the last hour of the Kickstarter, and as yet I’m not attending in any official capacity, but simply as a fan of games and genre entertainment of all types. It may end up as a a little bit of a working gig, it may not. Either way it’s gonna be fun.
*Communication of names and attendees with the organisers was less than perfect…
To finish, here’s some lovely pictures from Wales. These will appear in scenes at some time in the future.
Hopefully you were not out off by my appalling Russian in the trailer, and now here is the full interview in which I discuss life, writing, Eldar and Dark Angels.
And remember, if you want to chat in person I will be at the ScifiWeekender, along with fellow BL authors Graham McNeill, Guy Haley and lots of other interesting people: https://www.scifiweekender.com/
Oh, and I also witter on about names in this guest blog post over at Angels of Retribution: https://sonsofcorax.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/nanp-the-geography-of-names/
So, here’s a teaser for a video interview I recently did with Shawn, who is spreading the word and being a general hobby hero in Moscow.
Don’t worry, the only Russian I mangle is in the teaser; for the rest of the interview I mangle the English language instead.
I love writing. I really do.
When I left Games Workshop a few years ago, I had a few sessions with an employment consultant. During one meeting early on she asked the question that so often pops up in interviews and appraisals – “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” It had always bamboozled me a little bit in the past because I was, frankly, doing what I wanted to be doing. On this particular occasion it struck me not to think of it as an abstract question but to actually visualise what I wanted to be doing.
And what I wanted to be doing, what I saw myself doing, was sitting in front of a keyboard. It was that moment, that clarity an oft-overused question brought, which settled me into the life of the freelancer.
I don’t have many memories from my childhood, so I can’t say that I was making up stories from the age of five or anything, but I do remember my first fantasy book. It was called Anazar’s Crystal. It was an epic, probably almost a thousand words long, all handwritten for English class, with Illustrations by the Author too.
Finally, the Dark Angels are big news. Okay, they’ve been pretty popular for many years, but with their inclusion in the most recent Warhammer 40,000 boxed Dark Vengeance set they’ve become the focus of a lot of attention. Also, Codex: Dark Angels has just hit the shelves, including lots of lovely background material both old and new.
More importantly, this week sees the release in e-format of my first Dark Angels novel, Angels of Darkness. This tale of Interogator-Chaplain Boreas and former Chapter Master Astelan is also available from Black Library as a print-on-demand product if you feel the need to have something to hold and put on the shelf.
To celebrate this, I have also written a new Dark Angels story, Battle Brothers, that ties in with Ravenwing, charting an episode in the life of Sergeant Cassiel that happens ‘off-screen’ in that novel.
With this in mind it seems like an ideal time to talk a little about how I see the Dark Angels, their character and their motivations. That’s a lot to cover in one go, so instead I’m going to break it down into a series of posts. This one was prompted by an email I received a while ago (apologies to the fan identified as ‘AVLMP’ for the delay!)
There’s been a question festering in my head, giving me its share of fanboy grief and forum trolling bilious discharges: Are the Dark Angels heartless scumbags who divert precious scant Imperial resources to play huntsman across the galaxy? [...] Lately they’ve been portrayed in a rather… alien way to what I imagined them to be though. Or maybe I’ve been nursing unreal expectations, I don’t know at this point. So, to rephrase the original question: do the Dark Angels (in their current iteration) ever engage in conflicts for the sake of the Imperium, or is the Imperium just a tool to utilize in the Hunt?
There is no short answer to this question, but the simplest answer is that for 99% of the time (and for 80%+ of the Chapter’s members) the Dark Angels are as much an Emperor-serving, xenos-slaying, mutant-loathing, witch-burning Chapter as the next one (or the Ultramarines). If you want an example of this, amongst many fine stories, you might like to try The Purging of Kadillus. However, for 1% of the time (and for 20% of their members) they have their own agenda: the hunt for the Fallen.
The Fallen is the flaw of the Dark Angels, every bit as debilitating and shameful as the Red Thirst is for the Blood Angels. The different with the Dark Angels versus their brothers from Baal is that their taint is self-inflicted and spiritual rather than physical. A long, long time ago their leaders faced a choice and, for reasons that hopefully will be explored at some point when we’re done with the Horus Heresy they decided to keep a secret. A really big secret. And they lied.
The problem with lies and secrets is that the longer you keep them, the worse it becomes if they get out. Thus, on occasion those of the Dark Angels who understand the truth about the Chapter’s past have gone to extreme lengths to protect the sanctity of that secret. It is important to remember that the Inner Circle keep the truth of what happened at the end of the Heresy from the battle-brothers, and even the whole truth from the Ravenwing and Deathwing. It’s my view that no one individual knows entirely what happened after 10,000 years of mystery and ritual. The various roles within the Inner Circle exist to keep the secret, even from each other sometimes. Your regular Tactical Space Marine has no more clue about past events than anybody outside the Chapter and is a faithful, zealous servant of the Emperor.
Some people ask what is the big deal and point out that nearly all, if not all, of the legions had some members turn from the Emperor. The big deal is that the Dark Angels chose to hide that fact and from this decision has stemmed 10,000 years of paranoia, lies and manipulation. For the most part the leadership of the Chapter, and their successors, are concerned with the day-to-day violence and mayhem that is all part of the fun of being a Space Marine, but now and then an opportunity arises to catch one of the Fallen, and that’s when priorities get skewed.
It is part and parcel of the Chapter’s leaders that they exist within this dichotomy, not fully understanding the true nature of their own treachery; they are unable to step outside the story they have created and see themselves for what they really are. To even question whether it is right to keep the Chapter’s secret is to invite heresy, and a Dark Angel is no more capable of that than an Ultramarine is of tossing away the Codex Astartes and saying ‘I think those Space wolves are on to a good idea’. It is literally unthinkable that the First Legion could be disloyal, because by their very nature they are the guardians of the truth and thus the arbiters of what constitutes loyalty.
That’s my approach, what do you think?
Next topic, coming soon: The Lion, what’s up with him?