Online Chat Transcript

As a preview to the Other Worlds 2 event at Nottingham Central Library, I took part in a webchat along with Angry Robot editor Lee Harris, and Alt.Fiction organiser (and former Black Library dude) Alex Davies.

Below is a transcript of my chats from the morning. You can find all of the transcripts at the Nottingham Festival of Reading webpage.

Chat 1

Ed: What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen submitted to the Black Library/GW?

Gav Thorpe: When I was Warhammer Loremaster, somebody sent us Warhammer Armies: Horses. Yep, Horses. A whole army of just the horse models available. The Lord level horses were also as powerful as greater daemons…

Chat 2

F: What’s the most common mistake unsuccessful authors make when they submit (either in the story itself or the cover letter or both)?

Gav Thorpe: Hi there. I can’t say from the receiving end, but I do know some of the things starting authors have asked me about and thought about doing.  For instance, I get asked a lot about the synopsis of the novel; the format and content of it.  One of the most common questions I am asked is how long should the synposis be – a lot of writers are worried that either a) their synopsis will be too long, or b) a short synopsis will fail to convey the full genius of their characters and plot.

The synopsis and writing sample have a job to do – sell the idea and the author to the editor. The two things have to do this together. A synopsis doesn’t have to explain every little detail of every character and plot twist, it has to show that the wonderful prose from the writing sample is attached to a strong story full of conflict, character and narrative. I.e. that the novel actually goes somewhere other than just beign nicely written.

An equally good question to ask Lee would be “What things have authors done well in their cover letters and initial submissions?” It’s sometimes tricky not to get trapped in avoiding making mistakes rather than concentrating on making the submission shine out!

Lee Harris: Ok, this is quite an easy one from my perspective. The most common mistake an author can make during the pitch, and during the story…

Pitch, first:

The worst possible mistake is to ignore the publisher’s submission guidelines. (Or agent’s, if you’re submitting there). Publishers know exactly what they want to see, and in what format/s. Authors can spend *years* writing their first novel, then ruin their chances at the final hurdle by not spending an hour or two giving the publisher what they ask for. It suggests a degree of unprofessionalism, and publishers don’t want to work with unprofessional authors.

Included in this, is sending a submission (or a pitch) when the publisher’s submissions window is closed

Next, story:

This is going to be different whichever editor you speak with, but my own bugbear is dialogue:

Dialogue should be *believable*. Do people actually speak the way this character is speaking? (read it aloud – that should tell you if the sentence works as a piece of dialogue).

Do the characters have their own distinctive voice? This is the most common dialogue error – where all the characters sound the same.  You should be able to tell from a section of dialogue (not necessarily a single line) who is speaking, as everyone has their own speech pattern – and they shouldn’t all sound like the author.

However, other editors will look for different things. Structure is importsant, of course, foreshadowing, consistency of plot and world – all very important. It’s not easy to do it right, but when you do… it’s a wonderful thing to read!


I hoped some of that helped. 🙂

Chat 3

T: Hi.What changes do you see for the SF genre in the next ten years?

Gav Thorpe: Hi there.  I think in general terms sci-fi is going to have to learn a bit from some of the more successful fantasy titles.

That’s to say, more character-driven stories and series, rather than hi-concept.  It’s a lot trickier these days for authors to be cutting edge, when the pace of technological and scientific advancement makes any extrapolation into the near-future somewhat forlorn.

T: That could be interesting. Any examples of a sci-fi novel currently addressing that well?

Gav Thorpe: There might be, but I have to confess that most of my sci-fi reading over the last couple of years has been older titles rather than contemporary ones.  It seems to me that a lot of the fantasy market has been cornered by ongoing series like Wheel of Time, Song of Ice and Fire. There isn’t anything like that that leaps off the shelves.  But sci-fi is still enjoying dominance in the movie and TV fields and that explains why tie-in titles also seem to feature heavily in lists of top-selling sci-fi.

T: Thanks for answering my question. I look forward to reading Crown of the conqueror. Have fun.

Gav Thorpe: What sort of thing do you look for in a book or series?

T: I like fast-paced action. For instance my favourite two authors are Steven Brust and Matt Forbeck. Books that I find easy to read.

Gav Thorpe: Well, I hope Crown of the Conqueror delivers some of that for you 🙂

Chat 4

J: Have you preferred writing in a preset world like 40K or is it more rewarding to work in your own world? What are the pitfalls of working in a world of your creation?

Gav Thorpe: There are pros and cons to working in an established setting and creating your own world.  On the plus side of 40K, a lot of stuff has already been worked out – how things look, how people travel about, what weapons there are and so on.  On the downside, there are certain things that just don’t ‘fit’ with the 40K ethos and themes.  The other good thing about a shared world like 40K is that it has an established fan base!

On the other hand, getting to create your own world gives a writer tremendous freedom to invent places and things.  But it comes with the risks of people not liking or understanding the setting.  I find that with a 40K or Warhammer story, so much of the work needed to create the characters and setting is the same as with my Angry Robot books. Both of the GW universes are drawn with very broad strokes so there is always lots of detail and further world-building required to create the setting for a novel or story.

Chat 5

M: Gav, how did you become involved in working for Black Library?

Gav Thorpe:  When Black Library was created by Games Workshop, I was working in the games development dept of the design studio. The guy who started BL, Andy Jones, sat about five metres from me!  BL started with the Inferno! magazine, so I volunteered to write a short story, which appeared in issue 2. I later penned the first Lt. Kage story, and when BL moved into novels they wanted to take Inferno! characters that were already known and the Last Chancers series started.

M: So you’ve more or less been involved since the very start, that’s quite cool. I know the Horus Heresy series is invite-only, but how are other projects arranged? Does BL come up with something and then assign it to whoever they think most appropriate, or do the authors suggest projects and handle them personally if they’re accepted?

Gav Thorpe: BL has a number of series on the go – Time of Legends, HH, Warhammer Heroes and so on. In my experience they have asked me to pitch ideas for a certain series of novels (like they asked me for a Space Marines Battles book and I pitched Purging of Kadillus), but I know that for some authors there is a bit more of a nudge in a certain direction or towards a certain character or subject.

M: Okay, for something a little more directly related to the content of your novels: who has been your favourite character to write about, and why?

Gav Thorpe: It’s still Lieutenant Kage, I think.  Cos he is just so screwed up.  I really enjoyed writing Alith Anar in Shadow King too.  I hope to write more about him in a future series.  Not for a couple of years yet, at least.  That said, after re-reading Grudgebearer recently in the omnibus, I’ve a hankering for more dwarfs fiction…

M: You’re currently writing the Horus Heresy novel “Deliverance Lost” based on the Raven Guard legion. Is there anything you’d like to/are able to share about that novel for us, or is that all still quite tightly under wraps?

Gav Thorpe: I suppose it’s not too much to give away one little snippet about the plot (for those who have read Face of Treachery).  The ‘bad guys’ start with the letters A and L…

M: Aha, I’m glad to see they’re getting some more love, even if it’s in an antagonist role.  If you could choose any one writing project – BL-related or otherwise, existent or otherwise – to claim as your own and work on, what would that project be?

Gav Thorpe: It’s not a specific thing, but I would really like to do some kind of big script project, whether TV, game, comic or film. It’s a very different style of writing that I would love to get into.

M: Do you think you might take a break from other projects sometime in the next few years to give that a shot?

Gav Thorpe: As my catalogue of novels/omnibuses continues to increase I am hoping that it becomes possible to lower my output on that front so that I can dedicate some more time to other kinds of writing.  I don’t think I would be able to take an extended break to fully switch, but maybe if I can get down from four novels a year to two…

M: Four novels a year is a fairly hefty rate, that’s for sure.  What do you do to relax in between sessions of writing?

Gav Thorpe: Xbox, reading, cooking. Watching bad telly (and some good telly too). And obviously I am a huge fan of all sorts of gaming.

M: Do you play any Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer Fantasy tabletop games? Or is that something you can rarely find time for?

Gav Thorpe: Not so much in recent years, but I still have my Eldar and Dwarfs armies, as well as some Orcs and Easterlings for LOTR.  My gaming in general has been quite limited (miniatures games wise) but I have recently been moving stuff around in my house and my games room is operational again. 🙂

M: Ahh, progress. Always a plus! I’m afraid I’ve got to nick off and prepare dinner in a few minutes (it’s almost 11pm in my part of the world), but two final questions. Do you mind if I post this little Q/A session online for others to read? And do you have any final words you’d like to share?

Gav Thorpe: Thanks for chatting, I think you should be able to post up elsewhere. I also believe the organisers will be making all of the transcripts available so keep an eye peeled.  Thanks again, have fun.

M: Thanks Gav, take care.

Chat 6

E: How much would you expect to write series of graphic novels?

Gav Thorpe: What do you mean by ‘how much’? Financially? How likely?

E: Yes.  What is the typical rate you’d expect to get for something like Sandman or Watchmen.

Gav Thorpe: If you’re Neil Gaiman, a lot!

E: 🙂  If you’re Gav Thorpe?

Gav Thorpe: If you’re not Neil Gaiman, then not so much.

I’ve only done a little bit of comic work, a short Mordheim strip for Warhammer Monthly. I think that was £35 a page, about ten years ago… And it was only three pages.  So no yachts bought yet!  It varies on whether you are a creator or not too.  Creator-owned stories will pay better (but might never get published).

E: I guess creator owned stories will pay out more in royalties and advances.  Is there a sales % rate between publisher and author?

Gav Thorpe: I expect it will vary with publisher and title. I’m pretty sure there are royalty/ sales commission contracts in comics.

E: So if you were writing a story in 2000AD you’d get a straight payment plus a royalty if the story became a graphic novel?

Gav Thorpe: I couldn’t say for certain if that is the way it works, or whether graphic novels are included as part of the initial commissioning agreement, like anthologies.

E: OK.  I’m not getting the hang of the return button 🙂 I’ll drop you a line later. Good luck with the rest of the online chat 🙂

Gav Thorpe: Okay mate, thanks for dropping by. Have fun.

Chat 7

[This chap was, though he did not realise it at the time, the winner of a signed novel for being the next person to ask me a question!]

J: For Gav Thorpe. How did you approach writing the Path of the Warrior?

Gav Thorpe: Hello.

J: Hi.

Gav Thorpe: Path of the Warrior?

J: yes what a fantastic book.

Gav Thorpe: It started out with a desire to write a definitive Eldar series, after some people were less-than-satisfied with previous BL Eldar offerings.

J: and how has that progressed since the first book.

Gav Thorpe: The idea of the trilogy, each exploring a part of the Eldar Path, was early on in the process. It seemed natural to start with the Warrior Path.  Having decided that, it was a question of which Aspect Warriors to choose.  Dire Avengers were a little too generic for me, and Dark Reapers would not have made for exciting battle scenes!  So it was going to be a close combat Aspect. As appealing as the idea was to have a male character in the female aspect, and the chance to examine Eldar approaches to gender roles, that would have been a bit too much for most readers to get their head around, so it ended up being Striking Scorpions.

J: I have got to say since the Path of the Warrior I have followed your blog and loved the competition you ran for the Path of the Seer. Will there be more opportunities like this?

Gav Thorpe: The biggest development of the series has been the exploration of why the humans attack Alaitoc. In Path of the Seer we understand a little bit better what has irked the Imperials so much, but I still haven’t worked out every detail of how Aradryan pees them off so much!

I will certainly be running some more competitions on the blog in the future. I have to do something with those samples I’m sent 😉

[Oh, the irony!]

J: Can’t wait for the next book….  thank you.

Gav Thorpe: Hope you enjoy it. Thanks for chatting.

Chat 8

S: Of all the characters you have written, which one is your favourite and why?

Gav Thorpe: Wotcha. How you doing?

S: Not too bad at all, yourself ?

Gav Thorpe: I’m good.  So, my favourite character?  Just answered that for someone else.  I would say Kage is still my favourite, even after all of these years.  I guess writing first person gets him inside my head as much as I get inside his.  And he still has the most fun, in a bloody, violent sort of way.

S: Kage eh ? Hmm.. I would have sworn it was Malekith.

Gav Thorpe: I did like the arrogance and swagger of Malekith, to be sure.  But he is a bit too grandiose to be my favourite.  Morathi, on the other hand… Evil bitch queen from hell, always fun.  Alith Anar, the duality of him and the Shadow King, is immensely rewarding. More books about him at some point, I hope.

S: Fair enough, he’s odd because you do sympathise with him and then there’s a point where he goes a bit too far and… Hear me out here – he reminds me a bit of the guy from “Falling Down” in that regards.  Big yes please on the Alith Anar front from me!

Gav Thorpe: That’s what I was hoping for – I didn’t want there to be a single ‘I’m turning evil’ moment, or a single reason why he ends up going down that path.  It’s a number of factors and people, including his own frustration, that leads him to take the drastic measure he does.  Of course, he was still sane at that point. Not so much, post-flames!

S: Haha, yeah, post flaming he’s a whole new kettle of fish.  Do you/the powers that be ever consider alternate timelines or what if scenarios/stories?  The later books benefited from the longer page count BTW. Big thumbs up there. I likes my fantasy trilogies chunky.

Gav Thorpe: I don’t think anything like an alternative history Warhammer title would work – a fantasy version of a fictional world would just be too confusing.

S: Oh yes “Curse of Shaa-dom” sounds cool.

Gav Thorpe: Though in a way, pretty much any work or game set in the current period is a what-if? of sorts.  Curse of Shaa-dom was good fun to write, especially working with Andy C again. His DE novel and story is top (I guess you’ve read Midnight on the Street of Knives?).

S: Hmm… I guess. Read far, far too many “what if” comics I guess. And of course the actual tabletop game is the ultimate what if one supposes. I guess army lists for alternate realities would be a nightmare.  Have indeed read that short, very cool. Glad to hear the novel is ace. Does this connect via a certain scorpion character in Path of the warrior?

Gav Thorpe: It doesn’t, unfortunately, but I might mention it to Andy as something to explore in future DE books.

S: Hmm. He was a character with a great deal of potential, but I guess the DE would perhaps need a deal of fleshing out a bit more perhaps. was there much change between their background as it is now and as it was back in manyyearsago when they were first rolled out? They were in an odd limbo both rules and background wise for a LONG time.  IIRC your Torturer’s Tale was almost the entirety of their background.

Gav Thorpe: For a long, long time there was almost nothing about the DE. Shame really, as we had worked out quite a bit in our heads, there was just no venue to present the material in the mini-codexes.  It was good to do some more work on them before I left GW, chatting with Jes on the development. Phil picked up a lot of the ideas and has made them see the light.

S: Was that stuff much different to what we have now? I can, sort of, understand the near absence of any psyker use, especially compared to their craftworld kin, but it’s not an angle that had occurred to me prior to the current codex coming out. I guess that may have made them a bit too evil twin like?

Gav Thorpe: From a design perspective, it was something we were keen on from the start – that they did not just end up as evil craftworld eldar. The easiest thing to do would be to have all eldar psychically powerful on the tabletop, so we went completely the other way.

S: Ah, covers that. 🙂 How’s the “Crown..” series coming along then?

Gav Thorpe: The Crown series is doing fine, the second one is out next month. It’s been good fun, but at the moment I’ve got one eye on what I’ll be doing after. It might be something related to the series, so I’m not quite sure exactly how I am going to have the third book end at the moment!

[There was a bit of to and fro here, but ‘S’ is talking about Dark Eldar in his next response…]

S: Well… it worked. The thoughts and the actual process of the design work intrigues me greatly. I have, as have all veterans one supposes, knocked around a few homegrown army lists. It’s surprising how interconnected the whole process is — a change here affects this which in turn etc etc. Even these feeble efforts gave me more respect for what is actually involved in a professional environment. Plus this was only going to be my friends slagging me off, not enraged 11!!! strangers online.

Gav Thorpe: For every hater there’s usually at least two people who say they love your work, so you take the rough with the smooth.  It’s time to end this chat. Great talking to you.

S: Always a pleasure, hope to catch you at Games Day UK. Thanks!

Competition News

This week I’ll be sending out the first of a couple of signed books to Facebook competition winners. Marc Collins won a signed copy of Path of the Seer for his witty dedication, while Jonathan Beer (as noted earlier) also earned himself a copy by wandering into my online chat at the right moment. Lucky Jonathan had already won a copy of POTS from another blog, so he’ll be the proud owner of The Crown of the Conqueror instead.

Event News

Fans in North America, don’t forget I’ll be at US Games Day in Chicago this weekend. Come and say hello, get a book signed, and stop for a chat. Don’t be shy.


Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 10:13 am  Comments (1)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I thought all online chat transcripts had to start with “What are you wearing? … Be honest.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: