It is an age of darkness. And also, of huge-ass black books that are easily hefty enough to use as weapons.
People will be getting their First Editions of The Talon of Horus this week/end, and that rocks on toast. I warned you I’d be asking for selfie evidence that the copies have reached their new homes, but that’s too boring. In conjunction with the demand for photographic evidence, it’s time to announce that little contest I was talking about a while back. You know the one I mean. The one with the unbelievably bad prizes, based on my excellent MS Paint cover artwork in the past.
So send me your selfies with the book, and the best three photos (or the three I choose at random if I’m feeling lazy) will win one of the fabulous prizes described in the following tweets:
I’m going to run a contest soon. The first prize will be an MS Paint picture of you and me being friends.
— Aaron Dembski-Bowden (@adembskibowden) July 1, 2014
The second prize in the upcoming contest will be an MS Paint picture of you and me trying to be friends, but ultimately unable to bond. — Aaron Dembski-Bowden (@adembskibowden) July 2, 2014
Third prize in the upcoming contest will be an MS Paint picture of you and me failing to be friends because I don’t have time for your shit.
— Aaron Dembski-Bowden (@adembskibowden) July 2, 2014
Oh, wow, right? Who can resist that? But wait, there’s more! I solemnly promise to not just draw you in carefully rendered artfulness, but also make the following guarantees:
- I guarantee to probably spell your name correctly.
- I guarantee to use at least two colours, and perhaps even as many as four.
- I guarantee that I won’t sell your image to the government and/or use it as target practice for my crossbow.
If these incredible prizes interest you, then you can upload your selfies to my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, or email them to email@example.com. The winner will be announced at some point in the near future.
Not that I have much free time at the moment, but there’s a little side project on the go that serves as another creative outlet for me and David Sondered of Studio Colruphobia. You may remember their artwork of Curze and Talos from a while back.
Here’s a glance at some concept art from our upcoming personal project.
It’s over. It’s done. The First Edition of The Talon of Horus has sold out, all 1,500 copies going in about four hours. To say that’s mega would be an understatement, even if you bolted words like “rad” and “killer” onto it, as well.
I hope everyone enjoys it. Please note that even if you think the story sucks, the First Edition makes for a glorious doorstop (it’s a chunky tome) as well as an effective leatherbound missile to launch at, say, cats that won’t fuck off out of the room. God, do I ever hate cats.
When you get your copies, send me back some selfies so I know an entire year of my life has reached you safely. There might even be (pointless and terrible) prizes for the best photos.
Some peeps and creeps had trouble with the traffic flooding Black Library’s website. Sorry to all concerned on that score – I know it sucks when the internet’s various cogs slip their gears. I once missed out on a signed copy of The Last Gunslinger for the same reason, and I kid you not that if I ever find the guy that got it instead of me, I’ll shiv him in the kidneys. And then I’ll eat the kidneys. And then I’ll make a Vine of me eating the kidneys, and post it to his Facebook wall so all of his friends know that justice is juicy and tastes oh-so sweet.
EDIT: For those of you asking when the standard hardback is out, the answer is “the 19th of September, I think” and a link to go here for info.
Thanks to the Black Library folks that lurked in the office today, dealing with the chaos, but on the slightly smug note of somehow managing to bring my publisher’s website to grinding halt once more (see also: Aurelian), please forgive me this small moment of Ozymandias-style childishness.
So this little darling gets released into the wild today, which makes today one of the scariest days in my life. Just when you think you’re used to your job, something like this comes along and throws you right back to the uneasy, eye-twitching madness that lurks on the border between hope and horror.
I’ve had three very specific questions about the First Edition, and about the story in general, which I’ll take a crack at answering now.
1. “What’s it about?”
Good question. The Talon of Horus is the first of the Black Legion Series, and these are the characters that will – at Abaddon’s side – become the founders and ruling warlords of the Black Legion. It’s told from the point of view of Iskandar Khayon, the one Thousand Son in Ahriman’s cabal that tried to stop the Rubric. The first novel is set during the Legion Wars inside the Eye of Terror, when the Imperium has largely forgotten the Traitors, and as the Sons of Horus stand on the edge of extinction. Khayon and several warriors from various Legions come together to travel across the Eye of Terror for reasons I’m not telling you right now, and as you may well imagine, they cross paths with Abaddon in a place I’m also not telling you about yet.
Anything else would be spoilers, so… shush.
2. “If this is about Abaddon’s rise to power, why does he look like that on the cover?”
The narration is set in the Dark Millennium, at two minutes to midnight, so Abaddon does look like that when Khayon is telling his story. But seriously, it’s because he’s one of the major characters in a globally recognised IP and that’s just how marketing works. Plus, it makes for a breathtaking cover to start the series.
What, you wanted me to send that cover back? That’s funny. You’re a funny person.
3. “What’s in it?”
- The Author’s Note is only in the First Edition and it’s what you’d imagine: several pages of informal stuff about the process of writing this insane novel, and the chaos (little c) involved in this part of the lore. It was a crazy book to research, for really reals.
- The Talon of Horus is, um, the book. Because of course.
- There are four pieces of internal artwork - Paul Dainton’s interpretations of the main characters – all of which I actually have framed for my games room because I loved them so much. True story. You may recall me talking about artists’ interpretations of my characters before (in Point #3 of this post right here). These pieces pushed all the right buttons.
- Extinction, Chosen of Chaos, and The Wonderworker are all short stories added to the First Edition.
- Extinction was first published in a Games Day Anthology a few years ago, and was a slice of fiction showing how the Sons of Horus took their beatings in the Legion Wars – after the Horus Heresy but long before the First Black Crusade. It’s not part of the series, but it’s a related story and I thought it was a nice touch that they included that little curiosity.
- Chosen of Chaos was first published as an eShort in Black Library’s advent calendar last year. It’s a flash forward for the series, showing Khayon, Abaddon, and several of the other characters a few centuries later. You’re safe, though. No spoilers involved.
- The Wonderworker is where things get both more and less traditional. It’s set between The Talon of Horus and before the next novel, which will be called The Black Legion. It’s traditional in that sense: it’s a short story that bridges the gap between the first and second books. It’s a little less traditional in the fact it’s a special reward for the guys and girls that grab the First Edition – as far as I know, it won’t ever be printed again. With that in mind – much like when I wrote Aurelian – I wanted something interesting and worth the effort to get hold of, but nothing vital to the series’ narrative. If you miss it, you’re not going to be in the dark about anything. If you get hold of it, you’ll get a look at some of the fallout after the first book, an early glance at some new characters coming in the second novel, and see another step in the Black Legion’s ascension. It’s more of the story if you want more of it. No more, no less.
So, there you go.
If you want to pluck one of these lovely leatherbound beauties from the shelf, here’s the link. It goes live at 1pm GMT.
+ + + Thought for the Day: Imagine a movie trailer that begins with the words: “In a world of ninjas…” + + +
Well, that happened.
You probably know Kai Lim’s work. You probably love it, too. He’s done a storm of brutal and brilliant stuff lately, and although he does a lot of work for several IPs and licenses (as well as his own stuff), his 40K stuff is just flawless. It’s easily among the best art that GW has ever seen.
I gushed about Kai Lim in my recent Top Five Moments of My Career (So Far…) when I was mentioning the stunning cover to Armageddon. I caught sight of this yesterday, about three minutes after it was posted on his Facebook page, but sneakily sat on it in silence while hoping to think up something eloquent to say rather than reply immediately.
Unfortunately, no such wise and illustrious words of gratitude have occurred to me, so fuck it. I’m posting it anyway. Apparently our intrepid artist just read the Night Lords Trilogy. Here’s what the man himself had to say on the matter:
“A piece of fan art after finally getting round to reading Aaron Dembski Bowden’s Night Lords Trilogy. I wanted to write a note to him, but I figured painting one would be a nicer way to express my appreciation for his amazing story.”
Holy shit. I’m feeling some weird combination of honoured, flattered, and stunned. I mean, just look at that. What the freaky-deaky am I supposed to say? That it looks great? That it captures the mood of the characters perfectly? You can already see that. It’s bloody awesome.
Thank you so much, dude. It’s breathtaking.
We drove down to Dublin for our third wedding anniversary, which included a trip to Dublin Zoo with the increasingly loud heir. There were animals and stuff. It was pretty killer.
Behold the photos downloaded from my Dropbox, and the rich, compelling narrative that they tell.
As I’m sure you’re all aware, the new teaser trailer for The Lord Inquisitor went live the other day. Just in case you’ve not magically not seen it on Kotaku, or any 40K forum, or the LordI page, or my Twitter/Facebook feed, then here we go.
It’s almost at a quarter of a million views in only two days, which is somewhere between “How interesting” and “OH FUCK ME THE PRESSURE”.
Shakes calls it “Daddy’s Movie” (sorry, Erasmus…) and I’m ashamed to say that a whole 9 of the views on YouTube out of the 250,000 are him rewatching it. I hope you can forgive me for this grievous inflation of viewing figures.
Here he is, watching the trailer.
“IT’S A ROBOT,” he announces, which I guess is kinda close to the truth. And then, gasp! A twist! “Where’s the robot going?”
Please note that at 0:50 seconds into the teaser trailer, he manages to guess the plot of the final movie.
EDIT: Someone posted this on my Facebook page, confirming Shakes’s suspicions:
It’s real. It’s actually real. And it’s looking bloody lovely too, though you’ll have to excuse the weird light glare as this was under my painting lamp.
For a zoomed-in look, you can press your face against the screen so the pixels squoosh over your eyeballs – that way the raw data bypasses your tongue, kidney stones, and bile ducts, to filter directly into the brain. Or maybe you could print the picture out and liquefy the paper as a key ingredient in some new and exciting energy drink.
You can do what you like, okay? I don’t care. That’s the point, here. I’m not your boss. I won’t judge you.
“Book I of the Black Legion Series.”
And so it begins. Series. Not “trilogy”. Series.
OH GOD THE PRESSURE.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I couldn’t be happier. It’s flawless, and I’m immensely grateful to everyone at BL who worked at the finish line to make it come out looking like this. I think the artwork just went on sale, by the way.
I’ll just head off one particular question now: “Why is it The Talon of Horus? Didn’t it used to be Abaddon: Talon of Horus“?
Nope. It was always The Talon of Horus. Look back at the 800 times I’ve mentioned it on Facebook, Twitter, any forum ever, and indeed this blog, and you’ll see that it’s always been The Talon of Horus. There’s a conflicting image on Amazon that has a mock-up of a cover, but that was an error. Amazon just took an age to update it (it still shows as A:TToH in a few places, but is mostly corrected on the various national Amazon sites). I’ve said on a few forums and on my blog that the Amazon piccy was a flub, but it’s worth reiterating because I’m sure a few people won’t have caught any of those mentions. In most places it is – and always was – The Talon of Horus.
This thrilling update was brought to you by the letters A, D, and B.
For the record, as gratifying as it will be for various folks to run to Amazon and pre-order it from everyone’s favourite tax-avoiding mega-company, I’ll just note that the more zealous and hardcore among you might want to wait until August, when there’ll be a fairly lush announcement regarding the novel. An announcement that, sadly, I’m not allowed to say a word about just yet. I asked! I swear! But the messianic overlords that stand astride BL Towers poured boiling oil down upon my hopes, using words like “marketing” and “when the time is right” and “in accordance with the prophecy”.
For now, enjoy its terrible and lovely beauty. Or don’t. That’s fine, too. Like I said, I’m not your boss. And if I was your boss, you can bet I’d tell you to stop screwing around with plastic spacemen and focus on business things, like money and dollars and perhaps even Canadian dollars too, which are apparently a real thing.
Also, if you’re interested, check out this podcast interview I did with Fifty Shades of Geek only last night, which might just be worth your time. If it’s not up right away, check back in a few hours. There’s a fair bit about current/upcoming projects, many spoilers about past novels, and incredibly features only 2* swear words.
* — I think it’s only 2. I can’t actually remember.
Sit ye down, weary traveller, and I shall tell ye a tale.
Back in the hallowed histories of the era we now call 2007, I used to play the original Dawn of War on my shitty little laptop. This was a laptop that strained manfully to run the opening cinematic, and turned the in-game graphics into something resembling blobs of angry Play-Doh marching into noble battle with slightly different coloured blobs of Play-Doh. To give you a better idea of its technological might, I once tried to play World of WarCraft on it, and its reaction to that otherwise undemanding game was to turn blue, shit itself, and die screaming in my trembling hands.
But that was later. Let’s go back to 2007, and the event forever cemented in my mind as United in Hatred.
I like co-op games, which is no big secret, nor is it particularly interesting. In the case of Dawn of War, it was usually me and my friend Barney against various AI enemies in carefully arranged scenarios that essentially ended up as “How long can we hold out against X number of orks?” in some pointlessly awesome last stand. I usually played White Scars. He usually played Ultramarines.
Barney had a certain coldness to him when he played Dawn of War. Once, when I was desperately in need of reinforcements, this conversation took place over the in-game chatbox.
[Aaron]: I need reinforcements, dude.
[Barney]: Stand your ground.
[Aaron]: No, for real, though. I’m going to lose my base.
[Barney]: Hold in the name of the Emperor.
He was like this, sometimes. He still is. The alarming focus. The merciless refusal to give ground. Incidentally, the more astute among you will realise that this is indeed the same Barney I mentioned in the dedication of Betrayer:
One day, Barney suggested something new. Something bold. He suggested we play Dawn of War with his friend Greg, who I barely knew. I had mixed feelings about this. Some of those feelings were very childish and territorial. All of them, in fact. What a wondrously petty creature I am.
But we did it. The White Scars and the Ultramarines went to war alongside Craftworld Biel-Tan, standing against an unending tide of orks from various clans.
Here’s a screenshot of the White Scars and the Ultramarines on that sacred, wonderful day.
The battle played out with a strange, almost haunting sense of slowness. Very few orks attacked us. Those that did were slaughtered with laughable ease, popping open under massed bolter fire like teased, squeezed boils between a teenager’s fingertips. Where a boil might rupture with a spillage of thick, warm pus, the orks burst open with alien blood and broken dreams. It was a super deep narrative.
Barney and I did what we always did, which is to say we stuffed as many squads as possible into drop pods while defending every bridge into our territory with dug-in artillery. We built up our bases into unassailable fortresses, ready to repel any assault.
This approach, variously called “turtling” and “cowardice”, seemed to bore Greg. He gathered the forces of Craftworld Biel-Tan and proceeded to march north through the ruined city, ready to annihilate any orks that he found. Those of you with a grasp of eldar lore will no doubt be shivering in delight, thinking “Greg’s awesome. Not like those pussy Space Marines. Greg unleashed the motherfucking Swordwind.”
Greg did just that. Unfortunately, the game was bugged and the reason we’d endured almost no assaults on our pristine, perfect fortress-monasteries was because the enemy AI wasn’t spawning any units apart from gretchin, who were largely standing around and building shitty little gun towers between long bouts of sticking their green fingers up their noses.
The first ork base fell. Undefended, it burned and exploded beneath the eldar attack. Greg said:
[Greg]: that’s one
…which, again, was true. I can’t overstate the military force he’d taken north to achieve this curbstomping triumph over the defenceless orks. I don’t just mean Fire Prism tanks, either. He had an Avatar of Kaela Mensha Khaine striding around up there – a literal incarnation of the eldar God of War made out of lava and murder and really sharp knives – waving a magic sword made out of fire. As I watched him sweep through the defenceless ork settlements, I couldn’t help but wonder at how many innocent orklings and grot-babies he was culling to feed the the soulfires of this bloodthirsty war god.
At this point, my pettiness began to bubble up again. I scrolled with all the tender care of a sneering, snivelling armchair general, mousing over Greg’s empty, undefended eldar base. I remember, very clearly, running my thumb across my lips, and I remember a moment later that I said “Hmmmmm” in a way that lasted almost ten full seconds.
I clicked back to my base.
I checked what squads I had in orbit, ready to land via drop pod.
I narrowed my eyes and said “Hmmmmm” again.
Fantasies of the purest dickery swirled hot and cold through the squidgy grey slush behind my eyes. Would I do this? Could I do this? Is this who I was? Had I been alive for a quarter of a century only to evolve into this?
My cursor was over the QUIT TEAM icon when, completely out of the blue, the following message pinged into existence:
Barney has left the team.
And I knew. We’d had no communication at all, but I knew.
Aaron has left the team.
Barney wishes to join your team. Accept?
I’ll never forget the absolutely unparalleled skullfucking slaughterfest that followed. No war movie has ever quite matched it. No battle scene in any book. Sometimes people will come up to me at signings and say how they loved the battle scenes in Helsreach or whatever, and I’ll look them right in the eye as I reply. “Thanks,” I’ll say. But really I’m thinking “You don’t even know what battle is. You weren’t there that day. You didn’t see what we did to Greg.”
Drop pods rained from the sky like the fire-iron tears of weeping metal gods. The White Scars and the Ultramarines committed to planetary assault in the same moment, in the same location. I remember every thunderclap of the pods striking the earth. I remember the animation as Space Marine squads spawned from the opened pods, right in the heart of the eldar base. I remember – with a clarity no hangover can ever steal – the way all those squads shouted “SPACE MARINES ATTACK!” one after the other, over and over. It was like a prayer. A shouty, angry prayer.
Eldar buildings cracked, crumbled, detonated. Land Raiders and Predators began to rumble in from the east and west as our battle tanks pulled up a few seconds after the first wave of orbital deep strikers. Lascannons flashed across the screen in their blue-white retina-aching resonance. The poor Bonesingers responsible for eldar base construction ran for cover, only to be cut down by merciless torrents of bolter fire. The orks had escaped Imperial rage on account of an AI bug. The eldar would not be so fortunate.
And then… this.
[Greg]: hang on guys
Not even a full-stop. Not even, as our American friends would say, a period. Just that one request, delivered as the eldar army was in the north, doubtless seeing the horizon light up with their burning homes in the south. And that’s when I felt myself infected with the tendrils of true dickery. As if this humiliating betrayal wasn’t enough, I actually answered in-character. Barney’s cold-hearted immersion ran through me. I became more than a traitor. I became a fuckhead.
[Aaron]: The alien speaks our language, Brother-Captain.
[Barney]: Then we shall deliver unto him the Emperor’s message.
I’m ashamed to admit that by this point I was laughing so hard I was having trouble seeing clearly, let alone breathing. The possibility of actual asphyxiation through wheezing, painful, gut-clenching laughter was a very real threat. It was all I could do to focus through the tears of mad laughter to click on new eldar buildings to destroy.
Craftworld Biel-Tan brought its army back south, but by then it was far too late. The eldar Avatar led its warriors into the craters where its base had been, only to be confronted by two fully-deployed and dug-in Space Marine armies. We took minor casualties… and wiped the eldar from the face of the planet, like excrement from a power-armoured boot.
I remember two specific things before it hurt too much to continue. The first was the Avatar itself, down on its hands and knees and turning to ash, one hand reaching up in futility to an uncaring sky. The Space Marines surrounding it had already turned their bolters away, firing elsewhere, bored with the death animation of an alien god.
And the second, as you might imagine, was this:
Greg has left the game.
I won’t lie to you, dear readers. Greg and I haven’t talked much since then.
United in hatred, brothers and sisters.
Remember this tale, for in such moments are the truest friendships forged… and the darkest enemies made.
My first novel was published five years ago. Like all of my books, I can’t stand to think about it for too long, let alone actually read it, because all any writer ever sees in their own work are the holes, the missed opportunities, and the things you’d do differently if you just had one… more… chance… to edit the motherfucker.
But five years is a good benchmark. It’s not entirely accurate, as Cadian Blood came out in October 2009, so it’s only 4 and 1/2 years really, but these days I take any inspiration to blog as regularly as I can without the temptation to keep putting it off.
It’s a list that starts in 2009 CE, which is when my first novel hit the shelves. Obviously I’ve existed as a semi-coherent entity before that date. This is just, y’know, my novel career. Not the video game and RPG stuff that came before it. Five years is a decent enough landmark in the timeline to warrant making a list, and by the gods do I ever like making lists.
Here’s one for you now: In five years, I’ve made 404 posts on WarSeer, 423 on Heresy-Online, and 2,070 on Bolter & Chainsword. I started tweeting regularly in 2011 (only about 10 tweets before that, for all of 2009 and 2010), and I’ve got 1,882 tweets, with 3,649 followers. I started my active Facebook page on October 11th 2011, and have 6,763 Likes as of a few minutes ago. I’m listing all of this so I can have something to look back on in five years, when those numbers either seem perfectly sane… or the stuff of star-lit dreams from my new home in the gutter.
Also, this is my 200th blog post. Woo and yay.
That’s not a smart list, though. What that is, dear friends, is a lot of time I probably should’ve spent writing instead of on forums and social media, lamenting the fact I can’t paint black.
But anyway, here are the Top Five Moments in My Career (So Far…). There’ll be a follow-up post, no doubt cunningly called “Part 2″ or “Honourable Mentions” or something equally unexciting, as there was way too much to say in one post, and several things weren’t exactly moments in the strictest sense. They were more like… perks, or just generally awesome things, like getting to hang out in Forge World’s office behind the scenes and make a break to flee with their storm bolter.
Or perhaps when I high-lariously didn’t shave my head for ages and fucked around with the camera before shaving it again:
But no. Those were foolish trifles, and not of the calibre I’m talking about. I’ll save the Honourable Mentions for next time, in Part 2.
For the record, these aren’t in any real order. I’m just not that organised, no matter how awesome I think lists are.
Let’s do this.
- #5 – Sabbat Worlds.
Getting invited onto Sabbat Worlds was for me, in a weird way, more about me and Dan than anything related to my career. It’s so trite to say “it was an incredible honour”, because of course it was. That should go without saying.
Dan and I need to Skype this week, as it happens, to discuss various projects and stuff. That’s normal. That’s work. But that’s now. That’s after five years. Back when I was invited onto Sabbat Worlds I’d only met Dan a handful of times, and the mild shame of me losing control of my voice and practically shouting “HI DAN ABNETT” when we first met was still pretty fresh. I was still more of a super-fan than his colleague, but he asked me onto the book anyway.
There’s the mundane angle that BL may have politely asked Dan to put me in the anthology as a means of boosting my name, as I didn’t have much out by that point and even The First Heretic was still in the misty reaches of the release schedule, driving its way towards publication. (As it happens, Dan was the first human being to read the synopsis and the first three chapters of TFH. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.)
But I didn’t care, and still don’t. Getting invited onto Dan’s flagship series and getting to play around in his own personal crusade was an awesome honour, and a sign that he thought I could write well enough not to spoon up his personal project. In my short story ‘Regicide’, I showed the death of Warmaster Slaydo, the death of Archon Nadzybar, and I also got to show the first ever appearance of Warmaster Macaroth. Anyone who knows the Gaunt’s Ghosts storyline will know that this isn’t exactly small-fry stuff in the lore – Dan trusted me with some insanely major stuff, with no real requests beyond not fucking it up. He could’ve said “I want to see this, and this, and this…” and “This character is like X, and this character is like Y…” but instead he just let me run loose, with a single line of how he imagined Macaroth to be in-person.
I like to think he was happy with the results.
Since I joined Black Library, Dan’s been a consistent mentor as well as a friend, with plenty of phone calls advising me on the ins and outs of a career I still barely understand. When I’ve been pissed off, he’s calmed me down. When I’ve been confused, he’s enlightened me with insufferably patient and wise counsel. When I’ve banged on and on about how Carl Thonius is the best character in Black Library history, he’s kept his bored sighs to a minimum.
- #4 – Games Day UK 2010.
I went to Games Day 2009 for no reason beyond the fact that Black Library asked me to. Cadian Blood wasn’t even out and no one had any idea who I was, so I was sat between my editor Nick Kyme and my girlfriend Katie (before the Marriage Times) for several hours,caged by these two enforcers and signing random flyers every once in a while, or the rare pre-release copy of CeeBee a month before it went on general release.
Here we are, way back in the mists of time.
So I was basically sat there for half the day, doing nothing. I also lost a hat, and Katie lost one of her really expensive cameras. But the Bugman’s after-party was absolutely righteous, so the good and bad comes out as a wash, there. That was Games Day 2009.
And then came Games Day 2010.
Cadian Blood had been out for a year. Soul Hunter had been out for almost a year. The Sabbat Worlds Anthology and The First Heretic were both on pre-release right then and there – the former being an absolute honour to be part of, and the latter being my first Horus Heresy novel.
From the opening of the doors to the moment they sealed shut, I was sat there signing, and signing, and signing, and signing. It was freaking insane. It was actually the day I realised I didn’t think I could survive another full day of signing and shaking hands and yelling about Warhammer 40,000, so every time since then a succession of pleasantly understanding Black Library staff have been cool about breaking up my signing hours to something more Aaron-friendly. I did nothing but sit there that day, but I’d never been more tired in my life. If you think I look like a sleepy sack of shit at a Weekender event (and you’re right, because I do) that one day at GDUK2010 eclipsed anything else.
It was the first time one of my own friends stood in my queue to come and get something signed. That was as creepy as balls, and never gets any less creepy-as-ballsy. My brother’s done it to me since then, at a signing in Dublin. My good friend (and Deathwatch GM) Mark did it to me a few days ago at the Horus Heresy Weekender. It never ceases to be weird, with a vague undercurrent of guilt.
I even got hooked into a brief interview with SFX Magazine. Imagine how surreal that felt.
This was also the first time my family came to see me “at work”, and was a huge boost to my mum and stepdad getting an eyeball on this being a career, rather than me dicking around with toy soldiers. My mum even sat with me at my table for about an hour, which I’m sure looked terminally lame to outsiders, but I thought it was ace. We were coming out of a long ten-ish years of not getting on all that well, so her showing up and seeing what I did for a living was a big deal for both of us.
Katie, Nik Vincent-Abnett, and a bunch of readers/fans (several of whom would later become my pals) dressed up as a Titan crew, which was pretty rad.
By this point, I still didn’t know many of the other Black Library authors very well, mostly hanging out with Jim Swallow and Dan Abnett. Graham McNeill still terrified me. Chris Wraight wasn’t even there; he was still an English teacher. Clearly, this was a grimmer and darker age than the glorious golden era in which we live now.
I met Matt Farrer that day, who was (and indeed, most likely still is) one of the most charming and eloquent creatures that abides upon this Earth. Sadly I’ve not seen him since, though he sometimes shows up on Twitter to be terribly mysterious and say adorable things.
You may have noticed – keen-eyed souls that you are – that I tend to stand up at signings these days rather than sit at the desk. I’ve been doing that for a couple of years. People shuffling up to me and abasing themselves while I’m enthroned is something King Conan of Aquilonia would expect of his subjects, whereas standing and chatting feels less… creepylicious.
Games Day 2010 was also notable for the first time I met this smarmy-looking gentleman:
While I was hanging out with Jim Swallow in Bugman’s Bar post-Games Day, this random guy standing near us turned and said “Do you mind if I talk to you?” As opening conversational gambits go, this was intriguingly direct. He was clearly bored and/or waiting for someone else, and it was as if his impatient isolationism snapped in a moment of savage, social English pressure.
“Sure,” said Jim.
“Mnnnnuh,” I said, which represents the very apex of my ability to be friendly to strangers. I glared at this newcomer, suddenly fearful. What if he tried to tell me about his RPG characters? Even worse, what if he wanted to touch me? And not in an excitingly gay way, either. What if he wanted to touch me in bad ways? Would anyone ever find my body?
That person turned out to be John French, who is now one of my closest friends, a fantastic author, and among the finest human beings I know. He didn’t tell me about his RPG characters, nor has he (to my knowledge) touched me in any ways that seemed particularly exciting or overtly murderous in the four years since.
- #3 – This Cover, Right Here.
Choosing a cover to rank as The Very Totally Best is no easy feat, because I’ve been extremely lucky with my covers to date. Some people have suspected me of kidnapping various artists in order to get the covers I’ve got, while others simply ascribe it to a particularly bloodsheddy combination of shadow-voodoo and black magic.
I have a weird relationship with cover art, one I think many authors share with their own front-facing, word-selling artwork. When people ask me “What does [Insert Character Name] look like?”, the bare naked truth of the matter is that I don’t really care. I don’t care what Sevatar looks like. I don’t care what Talos looks like, or Argel Tal, or Khayon in the forthcoming Black Legion Series. When I write anything, I’m not writing to explain exactly what’s in my head – whether it’s a location or a character or a mood. I’m writing to give the reader enough information to paint their own picture. I don’t want a reader seeing exactly what I imagine; I want them seeing what my words inspire them to imagine.
To that end, it comes down to key features. I don’t care what Grimaldus’s face looks like – I care that you know he’s one of the most zealous warrior-priests in existence, yet he has strangely kind eyes. The first part implies something fairly clear, and the second part clarifies a strange contrast that’s easy enough to imagine – or at least interesting enough to think about. Similarly, I don’t care what Argel Tal’s exact expressions look like – I care that you’ve got enough context to imagine someone that looks Persian or Babylonian, who cares for an injured prostitute-priestess, and who watches and thinks about things much more often than he speaks about them. You can imagine his expressions from that context, because you’re human and humans are (by and large) intelligent creatures. You can imagine what a man like that would look like. You don’t need me harping on about his angular cheekbones or his rad(?) sideburns(??) every six pages.
I’ll use Talos as a more detailed example. With his rune-scarred armour, as he carves his prophecies onto the ceramite when he’s suffering his fits; the fact he would’ve been handsome before he was changed by the VIII Legion gene-seed; the Nostraman sigil on his skull-painted faceplate; the hammer-broken Aquila on his breastplate; the scavenged and stolen weapons… That’s Talos. You know he’s a not a pristine-looking guy fresh off the parade ground. You know what he looks like, and just as importantly, you know how other characters in the novels will see him. What I imagine Talos’s exact armour pieces to look like is irrelevant, because beyond the characteristic and unique details, I don’t care. The unique aspects tell the story and show the character. They’re what matter, and what inspire the image in other people’s heads.
I’ve always thought good writing refuses to tell you what to think – instead it gives you enough information for your imagination fill in the blanks.
I’m the same with art. The cover for Soul Hunter is a great example, because Talos looks nothing like that in my head, and I couldn’t care less. That’s what emerged from the imagination of John Sullivan, one hugely talented fellow, based on the key points of description of Talos’s appearance and personality. I couldn’t be happier with it.
A lot of my covers are like that. Neil Roberts, John Sullivan, Raymond Swanland… An indescribable amount of my work sold because of their artwork representing it. Authors live and die wishing for cover artists as great as the ones I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
Some of those covers deal with characters that are deeply entrenched in the Warhammer 40,000 license (at least visually), so what they look like is largely determined by their past rather than anything else. That’s all good, too. Two of my very best covers – The Talon of Horus and Betrayer went down that road, and they’re two of my absolute favourites. They’re also two that I did lead-up teasers for ages ago, with my incredible skills in MS Paint.
You may remember them. These… these avataric slices of excellence.
It doesn’t matter that Abaddon doesn’t have his daemon sword in the first Black Legion book, or that The Talon of Horus is largely about finding Abaddon rather than his actions as the main character – it’s the first book of the Black Legion Series, and it had to have him on the cover. All good. That’s sane, reasonable, business sense. No complaints there.
The very rare times I’ve been less than thrilled with my artwork is because key details went ignored, usually despite me directly mentioning them as pertaining to the character, or the final pieces just weren’t my cup of tea. Win some, lose some. Or rather, win most, lose a couple. Just the way the world works.
I got in a brief argument once over a piece that someone elsewhere in the publication process claimed I didn’t like purely because it didn’t match the image in my head. That’s the exact opposite of how my brain works with these things. I didn’t like it because I knew later representations of the character were going to look completely different to avoid repeating that image, and because I just plainly thought it wasn’t all that great a piece of art. But frankly, with Armageddon, BL can do stick-men covers for the rest of my life and I’ll go to my grave thanking them for how amazing Kai Lim has made Grimaldus and Dubaku look right there, back to back, ready to die fighting.
Holy shit, do I ever love that piece. Everything about it is divine.
Maybe I’m biased, though. Taken together, I think the Night Lords Trilogy is the series with most evocative and killer covers that BL has ever done (I profusely thanked John in the Omnibus foreword for his blood, sweat, and tears) and as for Neil’s work on the Heresy? Well, I think one of my covers ended up being the best in the HH series, as well.
- #2 – New York City.
Something that can be easy to forget in the daily haze of deadlines and emails is that Black Library have treated me pretty damn well. In the space of five years I’ve had the chance to go to Amsterdam, Chicago (twice), New York, and Banff in the Rocky Mountains – not counting the trips to Dublin, Belfast, London, etc.
Those were the ones I said Yes to, and there have been several trips I couldn’t make for various reasons as well. Each of those was awesome in their own way, but going to New York for Book Expo America was something truly special.
Travelling as an adult has never exactly thrilled me. I was born in London, but by the time I was 11 I’d been to about 25 different countries. I’d seen Tutankhamun’s mask, the pyramids, and the Taj Mahal. I’d ridden an elephant up a mountain in India, crossed from Europe to Asia on the Bosphorous Bridge in Istanbul, and secretly fed the holy monkeys in the Swayambuhnath Temple in Nepal. All of that was amazing as kid but it’s given me a certain blase’ deal when it comes to travelling now. New York totally annihilated all of that in one fell swoop.
Part of it was that I was travelling with Katie which added a certain newness to it all, but it mostly came down to how overwhelming New York really is. I remember getting out of the cab for the first time on Fifth Avenue, and just… looking up. And up. And up. I’ll never forget that. Weirdly, I liked looking up in New York more than I enjoyed going to the Top of the Rock and looking down.
We did all the utterly obvious tourist stuff… and loved every second of it. Sushi for lunch; dinner in Chinatown; a cannoli in Little Italy; a walk in Central Park; shopping on Fifth Avenue; staying in the New Yorker hotel; eating at the Tick-Tock Diner; going to a rooftop party… Name a tacky tourist destination and we almost definitely saw it, did it, and loved it. The weather was beautiful. The company (being my good pal and fellow author Andy Smillie, as well as BL’s ex-American Sales guy Vince Rospond) was the very bestest.
I also got to see (and sign books in) one of the American battle bunkers, which are absolutely, totally, ruthlessly awesome. Such a great atmosphere for gaming. I left feeling really jealous that we don’t have anything much like that in the UK, even though I’m not exactly hurting for tabletop opponents. It was the vibe that I loved.
Bizarrely, one of the most powerful memories I have of New York City is that it’s where I bought the most comfortable trainers I’ve ever owned in my life.
Another weird one that sticks out is in a street-corner pizza parlour where the girl behind the counter asked why we were in the city, and I admitted my publisher brought me over to sign some books at the Expo and in a few stores. She gave us free pizza slices. I realise it all sounds tediously touristy when relayed like this, but imagine yourself standing there with your future wife in New York City, with your wedding in a few months time, surrounded by photos of all the celebrities that had eaten there over the years, and getting free slices of huge American-style pizza while the girl behind the counter congratulates you on “making it”.
It didn’t matter that it was just one of the first steps in my career and I may never end up as Stephen King or Robin Hobb. I’ll never forget that trip.
- #1 – When This Happened Last Night.
I’m a big fan of the Axis of Awesome. Everyone and their dog knows them for the Four Chord Song, with its eighty-one bajillion-squillion views on YouTube.
Way back when Katie and I were trying to decide on the song for the first dance at our wedding, we considered the Four Chord Song for the fact it’s 1) awesome, and 2) loads and loads of songs in one, saving us the choice. I got it into my head that I’d actually email the Axis’ website and ask (read: beg) their manager/agent to see if they would ever play at our wedding. It was the longest of long shots for obvious reasons – bands that size would never play a wedding and they’d cost infinity Australian dollars for every three seconds of their time, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. It would’ve been the best thing ever. That’s what counts.
One of the first posts on my Facebook page back in 2011 references this failed stab at ultimate glory. You may remember it:
Last night, as I was catching up with The Independent Characters (which is a great podcast you should totally listen to on your wireless headphones while dealing with your toddlers at 5am every morning…) I came across a recent post on their Facebook page where Jordan from the Axis of Awesome brought his fucking Death Guard army to play with Carl, one of TIC’s hosts.
How killer is that? (Spoilers: The answer is “very killer”. I’d also accept “seriously cool” and “the raddest”.)
I realise that I should be cool about this. I should be calm, collected, and super-suave. But I can’t, because if you want to know what the for-really-reals best thing in this whole list is, it’s this:
Y’know, I’ve still not stopped grinning.