Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

Black Library Weekender 2017

Another BL Weekender done and dusted. I’ve already sent my thanks to the various staff that made it happen, but I wanted to add a thanks here to everyone who came – it was a good one, and I’d originally considered giving it a miss with how slow my release schedule is lately. Instead I bit the bullet and bounced along, and I’m glad I did.

And now I shall briefly surface from the word count mines. I BRING YOU PICS AND WHATEVER.

Here is me in C L Werner’s hat, just before the Writing About Antiheroes panel. My prediction was that I’d look like “a fucking toolbox” (this came true) and yet cowboy hats remain one of my absolute favourite items of clothing, and if I could wear one every day, I totally would. Even while on Skype to my editors. Even while sleeping. Even in the shower.

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“I feel like a little girl in a big man’s hat.” — NYT-bestselling author Aaron Dembski-Bowden, circa 2017.

I’m sorry, just one more of me in the hat.

God, I loved that hat.

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Here’s Lottie (who is lovely and babysat me, like, all weekend – promote that woman, please) taking the other photo.

I’m sorry I didn’t get any actual decent photos and that I have no thrilling release news, here.

Um…

What else…

Oh, look. Here’s a photo of me an hour after the Weekender finished. We went to our friends’ house for tea while we waited for our taxi (Hi Gayle, Hi Simon) and then I almost immediately fell asleep.

In a lifetime of unattractive photos, this one definitely earns a place high up in the pantheon.

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I also got loads of sweets. This part of the haul came from two chaps called Mark-Anthony and Marc, so maybe it’s just people with that name who want me to get Diabetes and die. Who knows? Certainly not me. I just work here, man.

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I had to leave this with John French because we couldn’t get anything else in our carry-on luggage. The fucker has strict orders to send it at once.

We’ll see how that goes.

There was also this, which was just so rad.

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Oh, and one last thing.

A girl called Louise gave me a blank piece of paper, with the instructions to write her a proposal for her boyfriend Gareth.

…no pressure.

This was by far one of the coolest things I’ve done in a long while. Of course, I handled this momentous endeavour with subtlety, professionalism, and – dare I say – a poetic flair for the silken art of romance.

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They filmed his reaction, the next day!

 

 

November 20, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

HELSREACH: Part 9 – “Hades Will Burn.”

Just in case you’ve not caught it on my social media or Richard Boylan’s twitter and YT feeds:

It’s hard for me to put into words how much this series moves me, and how grateful I am that Richard is sharing it.

Suffice to say, this is the best part yet.

November 16, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Day in the Life of Me: II – The Writing Exercise Continues

I need to talk to Alan, but I can’t because he’s fucking dead.

I sit at my desk with my latest cup of coffee as a not-enough-word-count morning bleeds into a not-enough-word-count afternoon, and I know exactly what this feeling is. The book has stalled.

This is bad. This is also familiar. It’s an old and embarrassing friend come to visit yet again; almost familiar enough to be funny, actually. But it’s still bad. It happens in every novel, and almost always more than once. Nothing I’m writing feels right. Nothing feels good enough. It feels true to the characters, but boring. Or the characters are in the wrong place for any sense of progress. Or I don’t know what to write at all, and I feel like I’m taking the story in the wrong direction. All of the above. None of the above. I don’t know. But I can’t afford another situation where it takes me over a year and a half to write a novel.

In this instance, it’s one of the times – one of the specific angles – where I need to go to Alan. He’d know what to do. Or, more appropriately, he’d know how to listen and then gently prod at certain patches.

I could talk to John, but John has been variously distant, muted, and miserable – ultimately as useless as me since Alan died. Something vital has gone out of mine and John’s friendship, and I think Alan accidentally took it with him. Plus, I still haven’t read the Word copy of his next HH novel, so I feel too shitty to go to him for help.

Spear of the Emperor isn’t in a good enough place to take to my beta readers, except maybe for Ead. So I’ll blow the storyline, spoiler it all, spill its guts, and tell Ead what’s going to happen. He can weigh it, find the parts that suck, then let the advice-hammer fall.

I do this, in a Facebook message. It’s a long one. Ead is already typing a reply by the time I’ve re-read it myself and scowled at a typo.

Everything’s going to be fine after all. Probably. Maybe. Probably.

While I’m waiting for the reply, I stupidly check Alan’s social media just in case someone’s posted a message to him. I even more stupidly click up a picture of him, and then indulge in the most tawdry melancholy by saying “Miss you, chief” out loud, like I’m in a mawkish one-man stage play of my own life. I can feel I’m one step away from putting on something theatrically sad from the Scrubs soundtrack before I catch myself and feel my lips curl into a nasty snigger.

Alan’s memorial thing that John arranged is in a few days. I was supposed to go, but we couldn’t get babysitters this close to the Black Library Weekender. I admitted to the other guys that I was relieved since I didn’t want to go, and the babysitting was a convenient excuse. The funeral was enough for me. Too much, honestly. I feel caught between wanting to be there because I’m missing out, and not wanting to be there because I’m just not feeling it. I wonder if I should be getting over it a bit more, a bit faster.

I don’t know what the right answer is, but Ead saves me from thinking about it.

He replies. We type-talk for about an hour. A weight is lifted. I make notes on the changes to come, and then start cutting, pasting, shifting, and re-planning.

I become aware, after a while, that I’m rocking back and forth in my chair. This is one of my bad habits when I’m alone and concentrating. I stop it, stretch a bit, and my spine goes clickle-crackle.

Within a few minutes, I’m rocking back and forth again. Just a bit.

Something theatrically sad from the Scrubs soundtrack randomly comes on my Spotify, and I tell it to fuck off before the second line of the first verse.

An undefined time later, I use my GW sculpting tool to scratch deep inside my ear. 20+ years of extremely loud headphones, and now this newest habit, have likely fucked up my eardrums pretty badly. I should stop. I’ll stop in a minute. Any minute now.

I’m making sex noises, it feels that good.

Katie and Annah join me for the 58-second drive to pick up Shakes from school late in the afternoon.

“Seeks!” Annah announces. “Car!”

We get the boy. As he clambers into the car shrieking like a banshee on a sugar rush, he tells us that he “doesn’t know” how his school day went because he “can’t remember” the last six hours of his life. I remember reading somewhere that you shouldn’t ask that question anyway, but I can’t recall why not.

We get home. Katie starts helping him with homework. I make coffee. It’s, like, my sixth or seventh of the day. I’m beginning to see stuff out of the corner of my eyes.

I go back to writing. Every now and then I look at the clock and feel the queasy plunge of time passing in massive spurts of not-enough-word-count. This is a physical sensation. If you remember the crystallised boredom of being in school and feeling the clock going slowly between the times you glanced at it, this is that sensation’s exact opposite.

I write more. I delete even more than I write. I write again. I delete more, again.

Shakes bangs on my office door, strolling in and asking if we can play Orcs Must Die. I tell him I’m working, sorry, I wish I could. He asks if we can play it on Shakes & Daddy Afternoon this week, and I say of course we can. He goes back inside. I close the door because he’s incapable of ever doing so, and as I’m watching him walk back into the house I feel a creeping, clenching sense of dread that this will be what he remembers about me; this will be what he and Annah talk about when they’re adults and I’m long dead of a heart attack. “Our dad was okay,” these fantasy-adults say, “but he worked a lot. We didn’t see him much.”

I do more words. I delete even more. This isn’t shaping up to be a great day on Ye Olde Worde Counte, but the conversation with Ead has salvaged it.

As I’m instinctively doing a CTRL-S (habit has me do it after every single sentence) I realise that, somehow, the sun is going down.

Discord is pinging as various friends arrive home from work. Some want to roleplay based on our World of WarCraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic storylines. Some want to play other games. Some are just checking in. I keep my replies brief. I know that if someone suggests playing Project Zomboid, I’m sunk and I’ll get no more work done tonight. I go inside the house before someone can suggest it.

We Skype with my mum, who wants to see the grandkids. Shakes – who hasn’t shut the fuck up all day – now sits there in sullen silence and barely says a word. Maybe it’s because my mum dared to show Annah some attention, maybe it’s because oh God I don’t know Jesus Christ. Annah climbs all over her brother and shouts babbling nonsense at the screen, disconnecting the call twice with a chubby hand slapping on the keyboard. She’s taken a huge leap in terms of vocabulary this week, but now for some reason she does nothing but yell gibberish. I know none of this should bother me, so I pretend it doesn’t.

Bedtime for the beans. Katie does Bananas, I handle Shakes. 90% of the time it’s easy going. Tonight, it’s one of the Twelve Tasks of Heracles. Through a fusion effort of pleading, prayer, bribery, and dramatic sighing, I convince him to put his PJs on. He says goodnight to Katie. He hugs Annah, and Scout hugs him back. As they do this awkward embrace, forming a single patently Irish entity of pale skin, golden curls, and ginger locks, I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. We go upstairs where I read to Shakes. His room is a warzone of toys and clothes that I tell him to tidy up tomorrow, which he assures me he will while knowing full well he won’t. We read one of his superhero books for what may be the eight-hundredth time. I yawn several times while reading, despite not being tired. Once, I Googled why that happens to me every night, and found loads of people saying they also yawn every time they read aloud. That was reassuring, but it still weirds me out. It puts me off ever reading aloud at a book signing.

The nightly ritual ends the way it always ends. I tell Shakes the same thing I’ve told him since the very first night I put him to bed.

“You’re my heart.”

Sometimes I withhold this from him, just to make him complain that I forgot to say it. (“You forgot to say something!” he grins.) Tonight, I say it and stroke his (so, so ginger) hair back from his face. His freckles are starting to come in, just lightly, on his nose and cheeks.

“And you’re my star,” he tells me, one night in every ten or so. Tonight is one of them. When he was learning shapes as a toddler, he had a set with hearts, stars, diamonds, circles, and squares. For some reason, his first reply to this nightly ritual was “…and you’re my star.” It’s stuck ever since.

I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. I stand on a Spider-Man action figure as I’m turning around, and the pain is revelatory. I can see into the fucking future. I wince so hard it genuinely hurts my face. Kids were such an unbelievable mistake. I may actually be crippled now.

Jesus fucking cunt fucker shit, I shriek silently within the walls of my mind. Fucking bollocks bastard.

“You’ve… got to tidy your room tomorrow,” I say aloud. “Okay, buddy?”

“Yes, Daddy. Daddy, will you leave the light on so I can read?”

I do, of course, because he started reading early, eagerly, and with great talent for it – and I agree to literally anything he asks if it involves reading.

I do the same thing I do every night, taking a last look in at him sitting up in bed, looking down at whatever book he’s chosen. He keeps a half-dozen in his bed at all times, for ease of reach.

I go downstairs. I make tea because if I make more coffee I’ll breed a headache made of pure fire. Katie and I finished The Expanse on Netflix and aren’t quite ready to start something else, so I head back out to my office.

I do more words.

Some nights I’ll pull an all-nighter, but I’m not feeling it right now. By the time 10 rolls around, I’ve buried the novel document beneath twelve other windows, all related to basketball, 40K, Vampire: the Masquerade, and a few Wikipedia pages related to the Middle Ages. I’m not getting anything done now. I’m just grinding gears.

One last check of the Aaronorium (the joke-name for my office) Facebook group shows several of the others have posted painting progress photos – and they all look great – so they are now my enemies and I hate them.

I go to bed, only to discover it’s one of the nights Shakes has sneaked his way into our bed, bringing Monkey and Dora (pictured) and cranked our electric blanket up to roughly the temperature of a lava elemental breakdancing on the surface of Mercury.

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I carry him back to his bed, thinking of all the times my mum and dad carried me to bed, and the bleary, dazed recollections I’d have of magically waking up in a different place to where I’d fallen asleep. I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. In bed – which is still Human Rights-breachingly hot – I lament Shakes breaking my iPad two freaking years ago, and read on my phone instead. I still buy physical books half the time, but I can read on my side in bed, in the dark, on my phone, so I do that a fair amount. I can’t fall asleep unless I read.

At some point, despite Shaman’s Crossing being amazing, I’m done. Katie comes to bed later. 50% of the time I wake up when she gets into bed. 10% of the time I wake up because one of her ankles cracks me a glancing blow to the balls when she’s rolling over.

I count my lucky stars that tonight isn’t one of those nights, and then I’m gone again. Gone, tonight, even before I can annoy her by pulling weird faces right next to her head or making my fingers creep around the edges of her book like an awesome spider.

(“Why is this my life?” she usually asks in such moments.)

November 4, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 11 Comments

DEATHWING: THE BEST OF THE BEST

Here, watch this important video.

Some equally important notes:

  • Valrak kept opening up with his storm bolter right next to my head. It was super-loud.
  • I didn’t manage to save that guy.
  • CHOWCE.
  • I was at the back 80% of the time: healing (read: hiding) and not carrying assault cannons / heavy flamers / psychic powers like the others, and that’s why my kill count was so low. (My assist rate is pretty swish, though. I AM HELPING YOU, FRIENDS, HONEST.)
  • Alfa’s accent is so adorable.
  • Gav wrote the dialogue and missions for this game. And it’s also very pretty.
  • I can’t wait to do this again.
  • Valrak kept nagging us to close doors. By the third mission, I was the ‘door-closing guy’.
  • WITNESS THE OPPOSITE OF TRIUMPH:

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November 3, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A Day in the Life of Me: The Morning

I read that doing a “Day in the Life” was a good writing exercise to start your word count rolling, so I thought I’d try it. I’ll break it up into two parts, though, for the sake of mercy.


 

I open my eyes. I check my phone which was under my pillow, which is where phones apparently explode these days. It’s 5:43am.

Some days, this is the time I wake up. Other days, it’s about 3-4 hours before I go to sleep. Today, it’s the time I wake up.

It’s the wastelands of the morning, which should be awful but is actually kind of nice because I crashed out early last night and I’ve managed to swipe about 6 hours’ sleep. I thumb my phone open and lie on my side, re-reading the notes I made yesterday for my upcoming Vampire: the Dark Ages game. After that, I start to read Robin Hobb’s Shaman’s Crossing for the fourth time.

I feel a stab of guilt that borders on a dull, gouging panic. Do I have time for this? Am I writing enough? Shouldn’t I be writing more? Better? Much more? Some of my friends and colleagues are, like, way more published than me. I’m fucking this up. I’m fucking this all up.

I thumb my phone closed and head downstairs.

“Daddy.”

Ridiculously, Shakes is already awake. ‘Alexander’ is actually Shakes, or Baby Bear. People outside the house call him Alex. This is weird to me, but I don’t mind it. My scruffy-haired 5-year-old ginger moppet sits on the sofa, watching kid-friendly Let’s Play videos on YouTube narrated by a cavalcade of shrieking boys and shouting men. Christ, they all sound so fucking excited. I wonder at the ferocity of my sudden weariness when I hear those sounds, and think Heh, I’m old now. It isn’t an unpleasant feeling.

“Hey, Shakes.”

Shakes launches into an explanation of what new games are great; what the narrators have said that was funny; what happens if you fall into an acid pit in Orcs Must Die; and then asks if I remember telling him it rains acid on Venus. I do indeed remember telling him this. Halfway through saying so, and adding that it’s sulphuric acid, he starts to tune out.

I forgive him when he tunes out like this. I remind myself that he’s the smartest kid in his class, the only one that gets extra work in school and for homework as well, and that he’s allowed to tune his father out from time to time.

I look at him and hope he’s going to say something clever that will make me proud.

Instead he says, “Will you make me some toast?”

“You can make your own toast,” I say, just like I say every day.

“Yes, but will you do it?” he says, fulfilling the other half of this age-old dance between father and son.

As I’m making him toast, I say, “No more tablet, buddy. It’s a little early, okay? Maybe later if you’re good.”

I wonder if this is shitty parenting. I can’t remember if any one of last week’s/month’s/year’s many conflicting articles said phrasing things as questions to your kids is bad because it invites argument, or whether it’s good because it invites debate and reminds them of their own autonomy. I care about these things, but I also sort of don’t. There’s so much to care about and too much to remember, and no one ever agrees on anything.

He puts the tablet down. He starts to read instead. It doesn’t always go this smoothly.

I go to make coffee. As the kettle boils, I read Shaman’s Crossing a bit more on my phone.

My teeth hurt, which I take as a personal insult. I’ve always had really good teeth as an adult, except for two issues. The first is that my wisdom teeth came in at angles that looked like an ogre had arsefucked Stonehenge. They had to come out, which was all fine and good. Out they came. The second issue is that a filling went wrong over a decade ago, and my old dentist left a bit of drill in my gum. That got infected and did Bad Things. I am still, all this time later, so offended by this twist of fate that my rage is near-supernatural in potency and entirely, stupidly helpless. I don’t have the money to really do anything to fix it, and as awesome as the NHS is, dentists are a weird exception where each trip costs about as much as a fully furnished space shuttle. This is made no better by the fact my dentist always says “You take great care of your teeth, it’s a shame about what happened.”

Yes, I think, as I stare dully into infinity with the side of my skull throbbing. A shame.

I hand Shakes his toast. “There you go, Your Princely Majesty.”

He grins. He loses that grin as I start listing out the things I want him to do before school, because school is a whole 2.5 hours away, which may as well be forever. He interrupts me halfway through to tell me how volcanoes work. I listen with rapture, willing him to become a scientist and save the planet.

I drink my coffee, avoiding all thought of the current novel because I hate it, the way I hate every novel when it’s the current one, and the way I’m sure this will be the first one to get unilaterally shit reviews and prove to the world that I was a fraud all along. The coffee is cheap, weak, instant, and absolute bliss. I despise the stereotype of a writer loving/needing coffee and vow to keep telling everyone that all I do is drink tea. I try not to lie, but some lies are for the good of us all.

Something thumps upstairs. Either the cat has fallen off of something, or–

A muffled voice says “Oh, no.” I hear it through the floorboards, the way the speaker draws out the second word, turning No into Nuuu.

“Annah’s awake,” Shakes tells me.

I get up from the sofa. I decide that if Annah greets me with “Hi there, Daddy” then it will be a good day.

She’s standing up in her cot. She is quite literally the concept of resilient happiness that has chosen to take the form of a 2-year-old girl. Her hair is an explosion of blonde curls. I tell everyone they’re “crazy ringlets” or “her weird afro”. The truth – and you’re always truthful with yourself at 6am – is that they’re a halo.

“Morning, Scout,” I say. Savannah is Annah, Scout, or Bananas.

The floor is a cataclysm of My Little Pony toys. I briefly wonder where all these gendered toys came from, since Katie and I are Careful(TM) and Aware(TM) of Such Things(TM). Then I remember that My Little Pony isn’t gendered any more, or maybe it is, or maybe it’s not, but Shakes wants to go see the movie at the cinema anyway, and fuck it I don’t know and don’t remember any more. I sigh inwardly at all the joyless worries that parenting sometimes becomes – things that are jokes to some people and deadly vital to others, and you piss off both sides by not understanding the issue and disagreeing with them, or agreeing in the wrong way. But seriously, the floor really is a fucking abattoir of My Little Ponies.

Annah points to one of them.

“Horse,” she informs me. “Neigh.”

I agree that it is indeed a horse. I even have context to offer.

“That’s Princess Twilight Sparkle.” I wonder why I know this, and I wish I didn’t. I don’t remember actively seeking this information out. It’s like a shit version of photosynthesis; instead of absorbing sunlight, you absorb bollocks. I can tell you that Everest joins the Paw Patrol in season 2, but I can’t remember my stepdad Jeff’s birthday. This is the kind of human I’ve become. I honestly didn’t see it turning out this way.

“Up,” Annah demands. She looks at me like everything in life is wonderful. She’s awake, and therefore everything in her world is great. As I look down at her, at this unstained creature the world will inevitably teach to hate, I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. We go downstairs.

“Hi, Seeks,” she greets her brother.

“Hi, Annah.”

They hug. More accurately, she hugs her big brother and he endures this while distractedly putting an arm around her. She says “Aww” the way she does when she hugs anything. As I watch this, I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. I make her a bowl of milkless Cheerios, peel her a banana, and get her a cup of water. All of this will end up on the floor within the space of three minutes, and I’ll have to repeat every step of the procedure.

“Juice,” she informs me, as she drinks the water, which is in no way juice at all. And then, “Bye, Daddy” she says with a smile. My little angel, talking away. As she says this, I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. She walks off, clutching her water, and shouts “Peppa!” at the silent TV in the other room. I turn on Peppa Pig, but I’m not fast enough and I don’t get to go back to reading Shaman’s Crossing on the sofa with Shakes. Instead, Annah refuses to let my hand go, and we sit together watching Peppa Pig, which is basically terrible. Annah climbs onto me and curls inward, still holding my thumb. This part is okay.

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Annah is captivated, but never too captivated to stop mimicking every single animal sound the characters make, or repeating their species as if I need to be told at deafening volume for the 800th time this month that Peppa Pig is a pig.

“Pig!” she says, quite unnecessarily stridently. “Oink!”

“Yes. Pig. Indeed. I’m… going to go.”

She absorbs this. “Oh, nuuu.”

“Yes, my love. Daddy’s going to read.” I can feel myself talking softer to her than I do with Shakes, and I wonder if he notices this. I also wonder if this is gendered parenting and if I’m terrible and if I should try harder with this stuff. Perhaps it’ll make for a complicated story they both share when they’re older, about how I was subconsciously softer with her than I was with him.

As I’m getting up, I try to think of anything I might resent my parents for.

Once, when I was 15, my mum made me come home early from my girlfriend Corinne’s house because I’d left without closing my bedroom window. But that was definitely just a moment of adolescent embarrassment, and not some grim grudge I’ll harbour into my 30s. Definitely.

I make another cup of coffee, musing over the evidence. Apart from that vile incident, nothing really springs to mind. I wonder if a terrible relationship with my parents might make me more interesting.

Something that sounds vaguely plasticky and toy-like crashes in the living room. I tense, every sense reaching out, listening for a sound that will tell me if the toddler is still alive and hasn’t killed itself.

“Oh, nuuu.”

She’s fine then.

I reflect that her first repeated words were “Oh, no” and that Shakes’s were “Oh, dear.” Maybe this reveals some bleak truth that our house is a disaster area of repetitive regret, but I find it touchingly reassuring. It’s so English. My children are half-Irish, varying hues of ginger, and as all my English friends inform me, Shakes (who once sounded like me) is reeeeaaaally coming up with a rural N. Irish accent. But it’s all good, because before they were corrupted by Katie, their first words were mild expressions of touchingly English alarm. “Oh, no” one of them responds to almost every situation. “Oh, dear” the other one used to insist at the slightest fuck-up.

“Shoes, Shakes. Time to go to school. Annah, come on. Let’s wake up Mummy.”

“MUMMY.”

“Yes. Come on.”

“MUMMY.”

We go to wake up Katie so she can take over and do all the actual parenting and housework while I spend the rest of the day writing about space war. I feel bad about this. I resolve to make more effort. I have made this promise before. Sometimes I follow through with it. Annah pounds into the bedroom.

“MUMMY.” She says this with force, but not urgency. It’s weird. It’s like she’s trying to talk me into something.

“I found this goblin,” I tell Katie. “Please enjoy.”

I close the door on them and take Shakes to school.

It’s only a 15-minute walk to Shakes’s school and I know, in my heart, I should do that walk every morning. But 7 of those 15 minutes are an off-road slog down countryside lanes turned to shit and slush by the ceaseless Irish rain. I can walk it, but it means carrying Shakes on my shoulders so he doesn’t turn show up at school covered in brown smears of liquid farmland.

This is a romantic image and I imagine him, maybe as old as I am now, telling his friends and kids what a great father I was by carrying him to school on my shoulders every day. What a heartwarming tale this would make. What a tremendous father I would be.

Yes? Yes. Yes. 

Then I look outside. It’s raining. Rain is cold and annoying.

I think, not untruthfully, I’d make a shitty Navy SEAL.

We take the car. It takes 58 seconds. I try not to think of various times I lectured American friends for driving everywhere. I try not to think of the fact one of the reasons I moved to the countryside was to “go for walks and be healthier and stuff”.

Shakes bolts for the school door. If he turns and waves before he goes through the doors, then it’ll be a good day.

He turns and waves.

I pull out of the car park. If it’s clear and I get out without needing to pull aside to let someone else come in, then it’ll be a good day.

Someone else comes in. I pull over.

Then I drive back. It takes several seconds longer (maybe… 65? 68?) because I linger at a turn, casting the radio a withering look for playing Despacito, which will now be in my head for the rest of the cunting day. As I’m pulling in outside the house, I remember reading a comment on a friend’s FB page where they complained that “cunt” was a gendered insult and we should all stop using it. The cultural divide enforced by the Atlantic Ocean is a cruel one. Imagine calling someone a cunt and actually thinking of a vagina at any point in the equation. Imagine not just meaning that someone’s being unreasonable. It’d be like saying “Fuck you” and actually thinking about, well, fucking them.

I remember “impact, not intent” and “words have power and meaning and blah blah blah”. I sigh and briefly mourn the death of context. The Left will eat itself, I think to myself. There is no Left, really. The Left doesn’t exist as a Thing, because all it ever does is turn on itself when one of its limbs inevitably isn’t ideologically pure enough for the others.

I suspect this would make a good blog post, but I’ll never write it because even imagining the replies from both sides makes me tired, and trying to include every point, counterpoint, and counter-counterpoint so no one misunderstands what I was trying to say sounds even more tiresome. I don’t talk about politics often, and this is but one reason why. One reason among many.

As I get out of the car, my boots squidge into the melange of mud, wet leaves, and pine needles that forms an unwholesome soup on our driveway for the 9 months of the year that are “basically Winter” in Ireland. The trees that ring our house should be beautiful, but they’re really just towering sentinels that threaten to fall down in big storms and spend their lives raining vegetation on their ungrateful masters.

“Go fuck yourselves,” I tell the trees. I say this without thinking about actually fucking them, or them fucking themselves, because of context. Their response is to swish in the breeze, hissing with sylvan laughter.

I head into the house. If Annah greets me with “Hi there, Daddy” it will be a good day. She’s standing in the kitchen, pouring Cheerios into a bowl on the floor. I’m drawing breath to tell her they’re going to spill everywhere when they spill everywhere.

“Oh, nuuu.”

I tidy this up and make tea in my D20 mug, which is great. Then I go to my office, which is a 3-room wooden structure with plasterboard walls that my friend Rob designed, and several of us built over the course of 2 months’ graft. We built it inside a long barn that once held cows and/or sheep and/or various rusting junk.

I sit down and check my emails. No, no, I’m not ready for that yet. I check the basketball forums. The Phoenix Suns are hot garbage yet again, but it’s early enough in the season that we’re all mistaking hope for progress. I check the 40K forums and my various social media feeds. Someone is insisting I said something I never actually said. Someone else is insisting they have all the evidence that I hate a faction I know full well that I actually love. Correcting them will make no difference and only come across as defensive. Many other people are being very nice about me or my work, which I gloss over because reading it makes me feel a bit like I’m wanking.

I focus on a few dozen photos of armies by people that paint much better than I do, then glance at the half-built Plague Marines on my desk. Despite having no real interest in playing Chaos, the Death Guard release has wooed and tempted me in ways both dark and dreamy. I feel a sliver of panic at still not getting anything painted but the endless production line of scenery.

Then I check my emails. No one is yelling at me about deadlines or saying they hate my work. This is good. There’s one on the Horus Heresy CC list raising a point that I disagree with. There was one the day before that I totally agreed with (unsurprisingly, from Chris Wraight, who is an astute motherfucker indeed). There’s one from my dad, which makes me smile because his emails sound like mine, just with way less swearing. There’s a life and tone to my dad’s emails that charms me, partly because it’s weird hearing your own voice come back at you (though I suppose I’m really his voice coming back at him) and partly because he never sounds down even when he’s so obviously a bit down. He also does that thing where he’s almost militantly more interested in the other person than in offering up any information about himself, and that’s something I’ve tried to cultivate myself over the last 30+ years. I know far more about most of my friends than they know about me. That should be mysterious, but it’s not. It’s probably insecurity masquerading as nobility. I suspect this is true not because I believe it, but because several intelligent women have said it to me over the course of my life. Two of them were naked at the time, though not at exactly the same time.

I solemnly promise I’ll change that about myself soon. Maybe after I finish this novel and have time to really deal with that kind of significant life change. Or maybe not. Maybe never. Admitting any weakness is nothing but a chance for various cunts to pounce on each other online, like smug jackals who think they know best because they fit into the status quo. The same souls that can’t abide the thought of the status quo changing after they tried so hard to fit into it.

This would make for another good blog post that I will never do.

I start work.

Work should consist of speedily writing as much as I can, as fast as I can, trusting that it can be cleaned up in the subsequent drafts. It doesn’t involve that. An hour has gone past and I’m still laboriously chewing through the same paragraph because something about it feels off.

I take a break from work.

I make more coffee.

November 1, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 23 Comments

[Vampire: the Dark Ages] In Wounded Avalon, Part I

I’ve not run an RPG for a long time. I’ve not blogged in a long time, either. It’s been years since I did either one with any regularity, and between haemorrhaging motivation for both of them, I’d more or less consigned them to the folder of “Things I used to do before deadlines and parenthood.”

And because it deserves mentioning for relevance even if I’d rather not make a big deal about it, I’ve not been in a particularly great way since Alan died. His absence is still a significant hole in my daily processes, and the wound still rubs raw, bleeding enthusiasm and motivation like two pretentious incarnations of the Hippocratic humours.

Over the course of this year, I’ve started noticing the tail-end of a long-running trend – the less I write for pleasure outside of deadline work, the slower I am when it comes to hitting deadlines. I doubt that’s in any way unique to me, but it was a weird revelation all the same.

So here we are. Inspired one sleepless night by all the recent “I miss RPGs…” temptations coming to a head with a nine-hour insomniac feast of The Gentleman’s Guide to Gaming, I messaged two of my friends that live locally with the simplest yet potentially time-suckiest of offers: “I want to run a Vampire: the Dark Ages game if you’d be up for it?”

They are indeed up for it.

Several of my slightly less local friends asked about me running it on Discord or Skype, and it crushed me to say no, but I really wanted to go face-to-face for this one. The simple physicality of getting up from my desk and having Something To Do that isn’t Write > Sleep > Dad > Paint 40K Scenery… ad infinitum.

I’m rationing the prep work, doing it in instalments (because parenthood, and because deadlines), but I thought it might make a nice intro to blogging again. If you don’t give a shit, all good. We’re still pals. I still love you. You smell nice and I like having you around in case I need to make a kayak out of your bones.

This’ll be a Vampire: the Dark Ages chronicle, which comes with the traditional fare of historical shifts: changes for the sake of narrative; languages that will make native speakers clutch their pearls and whisper they’re getting the vapours; changes because holy shit there are vampires; simple mistakes that no one really cares about so shut up you moon-faced assassins of joy; and no doubt characters espousing some truly shaky and shitty views that, for the record, aren’t my own.


 

In Wounded Avalon – Part I

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“It is the Year of Our Lord 1197, and the Kingdom of England bleeds.

Quod superius, sicut inferius, nei? ‘As above, so below.’ Those words have never been truer. Turmoil grips the mortal throne, and chaos infests the surrounding shadows.

We labour beneath two kings – one foolish, the other wayward. The regent John Lackland, stripped of his domains for his recent treason, is a bitter and useless creature at odds with his vassals and subjects alike. The true king, Richard the Lion-hearted, has endured not only rebellion from his own regent, but defeat in the Holy Land and capture after his losses in war. His precious Third Crusade died outside the walls of Holy Jerusalem.

And yet fresh talk of strife echoes through the halls of the mighty. With the ink still wet on the Treaty of Louviers, greedy hands on both sides of the sea seek to tear the parchment apart. Already the lords of our land brace to resume the eternal war with the mighty Kingdom of France.

Meanwhile, great castles overlook baronies strangled by punishing taxation and wracked by border battles. The peasantry rises up in unprecedented numbers, as the poor of London cache weapons across the great capital and ransack the homes of their betters. Jews are massacred in the streets of our cities, despised for their unchecked wealth and purported heathenry.

But let us look north now. Let us look to our home.

To the Anglii and Saxones tribes, this was once was the town of Eoforwic, a great trading port where their barbarian lords ruled for centuries. To the Danes that followed – be they settler, merchant, or Viking raider with fire and axe in hand – it was the city of Jorvik, the court of their warlord-kings.

And before all others? To those whose tools first worked the earth upon which we now stand? The Romans named this colony Eboracum. Here, the first Christian Emperor of that immortal empire was hailed as master of the known world.

Now, we know it as York.

York, where the influence of the God-Prince Mithras is weak, and a Cainite can carve out an existence far from the reach of the filthy Persian sitting upon the throne of London.

York, where the smell of spilled Jewish blood still stings the senses in shadowed alleyways, and the choral songs of the faithful echo out with the bells from St. Mary’s Abbey.

York, where the blood-heretics of House Tremere, those miserable thieves of immortality, have established a chantry away from the vengeful eyes of the kingly Ventrue and the bitter Tzimisce.

York, where fortunes are made and lost through treachery and usury; where travellers from distant lands are seen every night and day; where trade is life, forever flowing down the River Ouse from the lands of Europe and beyond.

York, where the Cainite descendants of countless invasions prowl the same moonlit paths. Where “English” can mean a Norman blood-drinker mere decades old, a Dane dead for centuries, a Saxon half a millennium out of their grave, a Roman that has called this place home for a thousand years and more, or a Celt that knew this land before humanity had even forged its first iron sword.

Welcome, childe, to York – the second city of poor, wounded Avalon.”

October 28, 2017 Posted by | Gaming | , , | 5 Comments

BLACK LEGION

BLACK LEGION is out at long last, with all the words I made for your precious eyeballs. Here’s the Limited Edition:

http://www.blacklibrary.com/Home/black-legion.html

And here’s the non-Ltd. Ed. for hardback, eBook, and mp3 folks. KAPOW:

http://www.blacklibrary.com/all-pro…/black-legion-ebook.html

Please enjoy all of these words. Some of them are about space war. Some of them are not. I hope you like them.

(I’m going back to my birthday party now. Bye!)

 

 

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August 5, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Alan Bligh

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My friend Alan died tonight.

Better posts than mine will come. They’ll be more detailed, more insightful, and with the benefit of time to take a finer form. I had to get this down, get it from skull to fingertips to screen, in the brief but merciful expanse of numbness between emotional poles. Right after I heard the news I went to speak with the others that had known about his illness for a while, only to find I had an hour of missed messages from them trying to contact me, to tell me he’d died.

I’d known for a while that he was sick, and then a few of us learned recently, privately, that he was much, much sicker than we’d all thought. The words “weeks to months left” were given out, and I clung to those words the way my five-year-old son Shakes clings to all of my “In five minutes, buddy…” delaying tactics. I held them to the same sacred standard of absolution, when really they’re expressions of timeless vagueness.

Ultimately, it leaned heavily on the side of Days and Weeks, not so much in the Months corner.

Alan was one of my closest friends. He was much smarter than me, without ever making me feel shitty about it. He drank more tea than any other human being I’ve ever met. He often read my work before it hit print, suggesting X, saying he liked Y. He smuggled me out WIPs of his own. I first read the text for two Space Marine Legions in Microsoft Word, f’rex, with Alan’s typos still baked into the text. He sent the kids book vouchers at Christmas. Our various channels of communication were filled with 40K lore talk more than anything else, which is practically a given if you’re a good friend of mine, though there was a significant amount of him telling me to stop putting it off every year and write some non-40K stuff, and there was a roughly equal amount of lamenting and laughing about life’s ups, downs, zigs, and zags. Nothing unexpected. Nothing unusual.

When I was at my most furious and least reasonable with the tick-tocking madness of Games Workshop behind the scenes (during the Dark Times a few years ago), it was almost always Alan that would calm me down. That was Alan in a nutshell. Insert vexation; receive wisdom.

He’d say things like “This too shall pass”. He said that one often enough that those who knew him would quote it in doing impressions of him. Alan always said it with the knowing smile of a man that knew. And he was always right. They always did.

As Alan was dying in England, I was here in N. Ireland, inking an Ophidian Archway. Given how often he teased me for not painting enough, I suspect that would’ve amused him immensely. As glad as I am at the cold comfort of coincidence, I would much rather have been at his side.

My flight to see him was tomorrow morning. We’d heard from the ward nurse that he wasn’t up to visitors this weekend, so earlier this afternoon I’d changed my flight to next weekend instead. All useless, all pointless. He died tonight.

I had so, so much left to say to him. There was no doubt a bajillion things he still had left to say to me over the course of X years, but even without that much time left, I was ready with a host of what I wanted to say to him. He was weak and drained, and frankly I was braced for him to just lie there in his bed and look despairingly at me, hoping I’d shut up, while I talked and talked and cried and talked.

Everything I wanted to say is meaningless now. I can tell him none of it. It will evaporate over time, occasionally forming chunks of conversations that I have with his other close friends, occasionally surfacing as regret wreckage in the oceans of 2am melancholy that seem intrinsic to the human condition.

Earlier this week, Shakes caught me crying. He looked awkward, worried I was upset because he’d done something wrong. When I told him the reason, he said “Your friend might not die if they find a way to make him better.”  

I hugged him hard, too hard, and sent him back outside into the sunshine. In my office, the pressure of emotion inside my skull was beyond crying. I had to shout into my cupped hands just to discharge it, just to get it out of my head.

I’ve done that more than once this week. My head space was a compass. North was an inability to think about it at all; it was too much, too impossible, too much, too much, so for those hours I was perfectly fine since it wasn’t happening. South was a practical and cold look at the truth: He was going to die, so what needed to be done, what times were flights, what needed to be said before there wasn’t a chance to say any more? What would the 40K fandom say? What would Horus Heresy meetings be like (and the email sessions afterwards) without Alan? East was mostly trying and failing to look at it critically, to imagine what other people in the know were thinking and feeling. I’ve wasted a lot of hours this week being unable to see anything from anyone else’s point of view. West was a place of pathetic but earnest, tear-streaked hope – it was Googling “Terminal cancer survival percentages” and screaming into my hands so the poison wasn’t behind my eyes any more.

Now my friend is dead. My life is poorer for it, but immeasurably richer for what he brought to it. From the confidence and wisdom he gave me, to the fucking way he’d say “The perfidious Elllldaaaaaarrrr” which has stuck in my head for years now, unable to be shaken.

I once brought my fear to him that I wasn’t a worthy successor to Andy Chambers and co.; that the Codex Imperialis of 2nd Edition 40K was never going to be surpassed, but that I wanted to at least equal it. I thought his Badab War books for Forge World were on the same level as the old greats. I meant that, wholeheartedly. He could see that I meant it.

He looked me dead in the eyes and said “You worry about the strangest things.” He then gave me a look, the look he always gave me when I was charging up some ill-advised path but there was time yet for a Blighian scowl to make me rethink things. I sipped my gross tea and realised why he – an avid tea-drinker, hadn’t got any here himself. He’d known it was gross.

I miss him dearly already, with the insane selfishness of being caged by my own feelings.

I’m in pieces. I am in pieces. I miss my friend.

May 27, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 58 Comments

INTERVIEW – The Imperial Truth

Me and my good pal John French were invited to do a double-interview on The Imperial Truth, which dealt with (among other things) what it’s like to write 40K, the brief controversies around PRAETORIAN OF DORN and THE MASTER OF MANKIND, and – of course! – Gav Thorpe.

Enjoy! Or don’t! I’m not your boss. You’re a free spirit, the architect of your own destiny. All that good stuff.

We start at about 20 mins in: CLICKY-CLICK. Please note this giant WARNING: Contains many spoilers for PoD and TMoM.

Amazingly, I didn’t swear once. Not even one time. Achievement fucking unlocked, right there.

May 16, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The HELSREACH Animation

Richard Boylan’s HELSREACH animation started going live in instalments about a month ago, with his artwork set to (laid over?) a heavily edited version of the audiobook. About 5% of every chapter, by my vague estimate.

Watching these a while back prompted me to get in touch with Richard to say how much I loved them, and there’s nothing I can say here that isn’t going to be obvious from watching them yourself. Suffice to say, they’re absolutely incredible. The look of them. The mood. The freaking feel. 

I avoided linking them for a while – in fact, I completely refused to respond to their existence – since I wanted to talk to both Richard and my publisher first, to get the lie of the land. And while I usually can’t abide listening to my own audiobooks or re-reading my own work, these were different enough to not trigger my “I need to get away from this desk” reflex. And, way more importantly and less self-indulgently, they’re also just bloody brilliant.

A personal fave moment, and one that really drives home how Richard’s animation and direction elevates the material way above the source material, is the arrival at Helsreach in Part III. The head tilts, the body language; the sense of weight and emotion from guys in freaking helmets with their faces masked. That moment when Grimaldus is silent in the gunship, with Bastilan answering on his behalf, conveyed everything I wanted to express about his despondent fury and the directionless, guilty discomfort at his exile – and in this it was all done without the main character speaking a word. Just great direction and editing.

Annoyingly humbling… But mostly just awesome.

Part IV is coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

Anyway, enough talk. Enjoy!

May 4, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 24 Comments