Aaron Dembski-Bowden

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

On Being 30

Since I’ve been 30 for two weeks now, I consider myself an expert on the topic. Here’s what it’s like to be a 30-year-old white male in 2010:

  • Your Facebook status updates are a miserable screed of people complaining about their children; complaining about divorce; complaining about weddings; complaining about cars breaking down;  complaining about being older than you; and complaining about being bored.
  • On average, your car breaks down once per week. You ease the pain by telling Facebook about it, and become part of the flawed cycle.
  • You have the same money issues as when you’re in your 20s, primarily because your car is somehow allergic to functioning.
  • The roads in Ireland are just as bad as when you were in your 20s, and you need to stop taking corners like that, because it’s not good for the wheels. Your smartest friend tells you this, and he knows about these things.
  • You start to see high school reunions mentioned, and you realise that you know literally 2% of the people you graduated with, and have no desire to speak to most of them. You feel smug about this and congratulate yourself on a smooth transition to adulthood away from all that, until the 98% have no idea who you are, either. Then you think “Wait, aren’t I over this by now?” and you realise you are, but wonder why – for thirty seconds there – you thought you weren’t.
  • You miss your high school reunion because you have to do a book signing, but take the moral high ground and don’t tell any of them that, because you’re safe in that none of them read your blog.
  • For your last birthday, you receive: the new edition of Space Hulk (which you are too scared to paint in case you screw it up); a Pantera mug (you collect mugs and you like Pantera – a safe gift); a coaster with the logo of your WarCraft arena team name on it; some killer character art of a former WarCraft character (before you decided to play an undead instead); a new and much-needed black hoodie; many, many, many books; and of course – the staple entry on adult’s gift list – Chaos Marines.
  • At your birthday party, for every deep and involved conversation you spend discussing racism (Emma), politics (Nathan and Lousie), careers (Ben) and rebuilding friendships (Ellen), you spend an equal amount of time discussing why Chaos Marines are totally awesome (Everyone else).

In other news, Blood Reaver is approaching halfway, and will hit it in 2-3 weeks. That’s late, but only barely. It’s, like, actually close to being almost on time. Getting a novel to the halfway point only a few weeks late is literally the most professional I’ve been with a deadline since I finished Soul Hunter two and a half years ago.

The trailer for The First Heretic will also be released into the wild in the relatively near future (not that near, don’t hold your breath), with the novel itself let loose mere weeks after. And that’s kinda what I wanted to discuss here, because this is massive and terrifying, even for someone as ball-achingly up their own arse as I usually am.

Let’s review the last releases in the Horus Heresy series.

  1. A Thousand Sons, by Graham McNeil. This book was a New York Times Bestseller by a huge-selling author, who – let’s recall – was also the man who won the David Gemmell award this year. (He also had a baby boy, so let’s all give Graham a hand for the best year ever).
  2. Nemesis, by James Swallow. The book was a New York Times Bestseller, by – let’s recall – a huge selling veteran of a squillion licenses, who also won the Scribe award not far back.
  3. The First Heretic, by me. The book isn’t even out yet, but let’s be completely rational, here: I’m The New Guy. I’m doing skull-burstingly well, with zero complaints from my end, but still. You see where I’m going with this.
  4. Prospero Burns, by Dan Abnett. Let’s not even crack wise about this: It’s Dan Abnett writing about literally the most popular faction in the license (my insider sources – as if the forums weren’t obvious – tell me only Blood Angels come close to Space Wolves’ popularity). This has NYT Bestseller written all over it, and it still would even if the covers contained nothing more than screenshots of Dan’s FarmVille.

And then there’s an anthology which, by the way, I’m doing a story about the Dark Angels against the Night Lords. But I digress and tease.

Now, I don’t mention this to blub about insecurity, or plead for sales, or whatever else. I mention it because it’s my blog, and it’s what’s going around my skull. The sane thing would be to relax, accept that what will be will be, and try not to worry about it. After all, do I expect to be a New York Times Bestseller at age 30? No, not really. I’ll be stunned if it happens, and will make a 6-hour round trip to Belfast for celebratory pizza, but I’m not exactly expecting it. If I was, I’d not promise myself something as stupid as a 6-hour drive for Domino’s, because it’ll be as cold as a tauntaun’s balls by the time I got back, anyway.

A tauntaun -- I can't actually see its balls, but I'm willing to bet they're cold.

My ex Jessica calls these “ice donkeys”, by the way. Her chilling lack of respect for Star Wars canon was the ultimate factor in the termination of our relationship.

What was I talking about? Oh, yeah. Fame and fortune.

So why do I mention this? Well, because I’m honest all the time, and because I’m really scared right now. When writers sit there and nod sagely and act too cool for school, by saying “I don’t really care about sales or awards”, they’re employing a clever trick of social dynamics called Telling A Lie. Even if it’s only a little bit, everyone still cares that little bit. And in this case, I care because the other guys I hang out with are all getting it done, and I shudder in terror of being the fat kid who goes to the ball without a date.

Pre-Posting Disclaimer: Okay, okay, so I’m exaggerating a little. As I said, I’m not weepingly insecure or freaking out that I’ll die before the world heralds my greatness. I don’t want to be placated, appeased, offered sympathy, or whatever else, just because I was honest enough to say I’ve thought about this.

Ha, actually, that just made me think of the trailer for Heat, way back when:


…and Val Kilmer.

Poor Val Kilmer.

Stop laughing at him. He’s better than you. Like you’ve ever done anything as rad as this:

August 17, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,


  1. I think the taste you’ve given everyone (excuse me for not reading it, but I’m very ‘don’t want a taste just in case before I read/watch it) has generated enough buzz. Your previous novels were a breath of fresh air into the 40K IP and you’ve amassed a HOOOOGE legion of very loyal fans in a very short space of time Mr D-B.

    I understand that you don’t want to get your hopes up just in case it doesn’t happen.

    I think The First Heretic will be another fine piece of work to accompany The Horus Heresy series (we’ll just skip over a novel or two or three in that list shall we?)

    I’m very much looking forward to picking it up at GDUK.

    Comment by Tim Kenyon | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  2. Aaron, your flaws and self doubt only do you justice. Many authors or people even are unwilling to share that component of themselves and the fact that you are so open about it, even if it is just on the random void that is the internet speaks volumes about your character. Life is a scary thing and taking the leap that might lead to success is one of the more scary aspects of life.

    Stop comparing yourself to Graham and Jim and Dan, you will reach that level of fame and notoriety some day. You are 4.35 books, an audio drama, and some short stories into your career with Black Library. All three of the others that you mentioned have 3 or 4 or more times as many books then that to their credit. It took them 10 or more books to hit their stride and find their niche and have series that people invest in.

    You have 4 books written, 3 released. One is a one off IG novel the introduced you as a GW Author and acclimated you to writing 40K. Your next book, Soul Hunter is critically acclaimed and by far one of the best books from a new BL Author I have ever read… and is the start of a series which will only make you more known as it continues. Your third book is a Space Marines battles novel, and instead of just writing a regular old bashem/smashem marine novel, as many of those that exist current are, you decided to tell a very interesting and dramatic character story around the disconnect between Marines and the rest of humanity. Fantastic work.

    You are pushing yourself to reach a level that most of the other BL authors did not reach until they were 8-10 books into writing for BL or later. Fame and acknowledgment of the skill of your craft will come. Confidence comes with age and experience, just keep going the way you have been going and you will be just fine.

    Just don’t lose the ability to question yourself and the willingness to share those questions with others. That is what keeps you humble.

    Comment by HuronBH | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  3. Well Aaron, I know what’s to be working alongside some collegues who are more experienced and very very good.

    But it’s a good thing to try to be like them. To better yourself. You can see that in EVERY space marine novel : they ( astartes ) also want to become better and better and better. A motivation to do the same things in your own life …

    It’s also very cool in those good collegues say the same about your work : that it’s good ! Working with such people gives much motivation and will ensure your work becomes even better.

    I’ve only read Cadian blood and Soul hunter so far, and listened to throne of lies, but all these are very nice I think !

    And really, the extract for First heretic ……. very very good ! Perhaps the best extract so far. Really makes me wanting to read First heretic even more ….

    And if first heretic doesn’t become new york times bestseller, then I’m sure another novel of yours in the future will !

    Cheers ! Bastiaan Vergoossen.

    Comment by Bastiaan Vergoossen | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  4. Your points about turning 30 are so true but I see much of those are jsut evolved stuff from when youre 20, like a pokemon theyve evolved. BTW what Chaos Marines will you be collect/painting?

    The First Heretic is hghly anticipated! The Dark Angels vs Night Lords, will that be set in “present” times and will it have some connection to Soul Hunter?

    Ice donkeys? The blasphemy.

    Comment by Forkmaster | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  5. You know, if someone came up to me and said “I’ve just read about tauntaun balls on a blog” I wouldn’t even have to ask “which blog?”

    You really have -no idea- how popular you already are, do you? Just wait and see dude…!

    Hah, you think turning 30 is weird, try heading towards 35 (oh my god, that’s nearly 40! Augh!). Why were you wasting so much time talking about ‘deep and involved’ stuff?! Although… you talking about Chaos Marines is the equivalent of an estate agent talking about house prices!!! Hehe.

    Comment by Ilmarinen | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  6. Dark Angels will own the Night Lords

    Comment by Rob Ash Cypher White | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  7. In an attempt to help push The First Heretic to the best-seller list I’ll be acquiring ten copies.

    One of them will be publicly dissed at the local youth centre because everyone knows troubled and confused kids will only read what you tell them not to. (Maybe this is why my parents loved porn.)

    One of them will be taken to Sunday mass and left behind discretely with Ex-Libris Benedict XVI cunningly engraved in the cover. (Obviously I don’t attend mass but that’s a mere technicality I will work my way around.)

    One of them will be burned publicly in an attempt to muster Jewish interest in the suburbs of Antwerp’s diamond district. (Allegedly, “A Thousand Sons” was freely translated in Hebrew to “Let My People Go.”)

    One of them will be surgically disbound and turned into paper air planes hoping small children will become intrigued by the myriad of applications for this very book. ( Obviously I will make a batch of slightly less efficient air planes out of copies of “Where is Wally” puzzlebooks in order to subliminally instruct these children on substantial pragmatics and the causal relationship between “having fun” and “having books written by Aaron Dembski-Bowden”)

    A fifth copy will be accompanying me while I go door, dressed in a long black dress and bombastic chains, to ask people if they have heard of the Heretic. (There’s bound to be sad, old people jumping at the opportunity to talk to someone other than their morbidly obese schnauzer.)

    Another copy will be brought to the local library and left under the educational subsection: “Elementary Mathematics.” The confusion caused by such a bluntly obvious filing error will motion at least one person to read it, on a quest for the inherent mathematical reference saving the library from becoming a wasteland of literary malpractice!

    The seventh copy will be offered on Amazon for the whooping price of forty-eight Bavarian fruitcakes. In order or this to work I’ll have to establish an independent nation first and constitute Bavarian fruitcake as the only legal national currency. The interest aroused by this is commonly referred to as the wtf-effect.

    Copy number eight will serendipitously be discovered among generic tomb contents carbon-dated 1408 , WHICH IS THE NUMBER OF THE ROOM WE ARE NOT RENTING OUT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. This may not make sense to you but I bet there’s an audience for the story non the less.

    Everyone knows that 9 is Tzeentch’s sacred number so this book is likely to turn into a small armchair or a mediocre Canadian comedian so I doubt you’ll benefit from this copy.

    The tenth copy I will keep for myself and read the way I usually read black library books: Curl up the pages so I can just make out the left margin in order to avoid crackling the spine. I hate books that look like they’ve been read.

    Comment by Sam Vanroy | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  8. If the rest of First Heretic is as good as the excerpts you’ve shown us (which I thought was on par with Soul Hunter), you’ll make bestseller in no time.

    Comment by Tranc | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  9. You know when you spend all day thinking “what should I be doing?” Watching Heat is what I should’ve been doing today!

    Also, check out Val Kilmer’s gammy elbow. He fluffed a stage dive shooting The Doors and smashed it to pieces so it occasionally looks like a knee. This is most prominent in Heat.

    Also, I bet Val Kilmer was pretty glad he wasn’t in Righteous Kill.

    Also, nothing else.

    Comment by G | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  10. It’s actually really refreshing to hear the thoughts of a published author that doesn’t sound like enjoy shoving their face into a jar of their own farts and breathing in deeply. I’m also very glad that I’m still nearly a decade away from being the dreaded 30.

    Although apparently 50 is the new 30, so 30 must be like being 10… I enjoyed being 10… when you’re 10 you can eat your own snot without people really caring. Oh, those were the days.

    Comment by Ian | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  11. The roads in Ireland are terrible generally, thats why you shouldn’t buy second hand unless it’s something that looks like a life-size tonka toy ;p

    Oh, and the real comparison would be how previous Hourus Heresy books by lesser known [in the big wide world sense. You’re like that up and coming band with the fanbase that turns out to all of its gigs they can and is creating a real buzz etc etc] authors fared.

    Also, you’re getting to write about the start of the whole business [kinda, i’m assuming here] so with all the factors I reckon you’re looking good for a bestseller position.

    Though, not to piss on your cornflakes, it’s due November right? When all those shitty books, people buy for people they hate, come out for xmas… so yeah, you could probably blame that if all else fails ;p

    Comment by Tom | August 17, 2010 | Reply

  12. That’s the great thing about being old! Now you can complain about all those things as well! It’s a great club. Just wait until your first tweet about how much diapers smell.

    Ice donkeys? But that’s clearly a tauntaun! I would have settled for at the very least fuzzy velociraptors!

    Comment by John the Great | August 18, 2010 | Reply

  13. “For your last birthday, you receive: the new edition of Space Hulk (which you are too scared to paint in case you screw it up); a Pantera mug (you collect mugs and you like Pantera – a safe gift); a coaster with the logo of your WarCraft arena team name on it; some killer character art of a former WarCraft character (before you decided to play an undead instead); a new and much-needed black hoodie; many, many, many books; and of course – the staple entry on adult’s gift list – Chaos Marines.”

    – This actually sounds a lot like my birthdays. I also collect mugs, although they are Haynes mugs (only the cool ones though. No VW beetles here.)

    -WHAT- is this about Dark Angels vs Night Lords. Awesome. Excited. But not as much as I am for First Heretic. I can’t wait to get back into the meat of the Heresy and see some brotherhoods collapse.

    Oh. By the way, those Tauntauns. I thought they smelt bad on the outside.


    Comment by Rachel | August 18, 2010 | Reply

  14. What is wrong with you lately? First you and the powers that be publicise an interview in which you mention the impracticalities of chainsaw swords which only serves to highlight the fact that you clearly aren’t a genetically modified 7ft tall super warrior or anything cool like that.

    Then it’s with the “I don’t want sympathy but I’m insecure” spiel. You know how you disliked the old BL forums and are somewhat wary of the bolthole due to the rabid undiscerning nature of the fandom that can be found there. The whole “All BL books rule, say anything bad about them and I’ll shank your mother” vibe that lingers. Well undiscerning fandom is your friend here. The Horus Heresy books have a head of steam behind them. All the good authors (and maybe some not so good, I say no names) have built up a reputation for the books being ace, it’s the Horus Heresy so everyone loves it and is eager and interested and it’s well publicised. The sales will come, you’re on a winning horse and you have a cool cover with a deamonic crab clawed thing hugging a shiny golden man. It’s all win so don’t worry about it.

    Feel free to worry about whether your book will live up to the high bar set by the latest books by those pros Jim, Graham and Dan. I believe some of my fellow commentators say nice things about that if you need the comfort of the comments of people who like you enough to read your blog. I myself would go for some sort of kick ass denial thing in which reasonably assured that the book will sell some if anyone expresses negative opinions I know I can point at the sales (and probably at them) and say “people are buying it, you purchased it, ha I fooled you and now I’ve won all your monies (on behalf of a publishing company that has already paid me a set amount)”.

    Perhaps you should not only plan for success with cold pizza being promised, but also contingencies to claim some sort of buzz from any failure you might encounter. Not saying that you will fail mind, it’s a BL book right, none of them are bad and if any one says they are I’ll shank their mothers.

    Comment by schafe | August 19, 2010 | Reply

  15. I just wanted to let you know that if the 16-ish page bit I read from TFH is indicative of the work as a whole, it will be the best HH book thus far. I just finished “Sons” and as good as it was I’m more excited for TFH. Though you messed up my reading list, I normaly have a stack of books to read and after reading TFH sample I went out and bought Soul Hunter, so thanks for screwing up my list man.

    And if you could send a Msg to the folks at BL:
    I want a limited edition Book of Lorgar bound in the flesh of interns and I want it soon, that is all

    Comment by Ben R | August 19, 2010 | Reply

  16. Did you say Dark Angels??? Oh sweet Lord, please say you are not joking… I will have to send out the Vindicare otherwise… Pray tell more!! Don’t just say “I’m doing Dark Angels versus Night Lords” and leave it hanging there like a tauntans…err…cold-stick!!

    By the way, I thought it was touching that James Swallow dedicated Nemesis to you and Katie at the beginning… Now that’s a sign of how BIG you are!!

    Enjoy your success, you deserve it!!

    Comment by Danny | August 20, 2010 | Reply

  17. Say what you will,but the only way you will not be a bestseller at 30 is if someone burns down the warehouse before they ship all the books.

    I wish I can send you my painted Space Hulk Pieces because I never play,but then it would be like any other boardgame I own,missing pieces and unplayable.

    Comment by BigWill | August 23, 2010 | Reply

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