Aaron Dembski-Bowden

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

The Shittiest Anniversary


It’s the 26th May, so it’s been a year today since Alan Bligh died. A year since I wrote my post about it, literally in the hour after we all heard the news. At Alan’s funeral, when Phil Kelly mentioned he’d read that post, I found myself apologising for it because it was unedited emotion and, I felt, not a great obituary for all Alan did and all he deserved. I said in the post itself that better remembrances would come, and indeed they did, most notably from John.

Alan’s funeral was absolutely one of the worst days I’ve ever been through. I got no measurable comfort from it at all, no closure, and if I’m being honest, it laid the wounds open instead of starting the healing process. That surprised me, and I withdrew a little after it. I didn’t even go to the memorial event that John and co. organised, because the entire thing just felt saturated in uncomfortable misery. I made transparent excuses that my friends all saw through at once, and stopped replying to them when they wouldn’t leave it alone. Fuck them, right?

Not going to the memorial was a mistake, and it was selfish, though I didn’t realise either of those things at the time. I’d not considered that other people might not have wanted to go either, but that they were going to support each other. I ran a cost/benefit analysis that started and stopped with me. Something John said later would put it in perspective: “Yes, but I wanted you there.”

In a way, this is typical of Alan. The fucker abandons this earthly realm ahead of the rest of us and still finds a way to teach me a lesson about perspective and living inside my own head. I guarantee you that would make him smirk, entirely pleased with himself.

I won’t bore you too deeply with all my feelings, not least because I feel exactly the same as I did a year ago. I tear up when I watch his old interviews or read his old emails. I message him with questions I know he’ll never answer. I occasionally update him on stuff, even if he’ll never read the email/text/message/whatever. Sometimes that feels self-indulgent and silly. Sometimes it’s sort of funny. Imagine if he did answer. Bloody hell. That’s pretty scary.

He was one of my closest friends (one of the 2-3 people I spoke to the most, overall), and instead of the numb scab I expected by this point, there’s more of an amputated stump, which stings when you put pressure on it. Occasionally you’ll try to turn on a light or go for a walk, and you’ll realise it’s not happening because, hey, shit, you don’t have an arm or a leg there any more. Alan not being around feels like that. Whenever I think about him, it still takes that treacherous half-second to process Oh, yeah, he’s actually dead. It’s surreal. And it sucks. But there it is.

Several of his friends are in a Facebook chat thread that originated in the week Alan died, and it’s still active. Although it’s become a general conversation thread now (and, let’s be honest, mostly talking about GW and various games), we also occasionally do recollections and impressions of things Alan used to say. The man was eminently quotable. Creative geniuses usually are.

On that note, his deadpan and sarcastic Alan-isms are endlessly useful as a parent. I’ve lost count of the times Shakes (now 6) has been banging on about something for the 80th time that day, and I’ve said “No, do go on, sir. Please.” in Alan’s exact tone, exactly the way Alan said it to me countless times when I was complaining about something.

I figure this is going to be an anniversary that his friends, and the people that loved his work, will mark for the rest of their lives. So here’s the first of them. Hoo-fucking-ray.

Y’know, Alan was always weird about his age. I asked him a few times how old he was, and every time he’d do his little chuckle (once he even nodded sagely like I’d asked a mountaintop guru The Right Question), and say “Older than you, my dear boy. Older than you.”

I’m going to cut this short. Sort of crying now.

I dedicated Spear of the Emperor to him. John wanted screenshots of all the novels and rulebooks dedicated to Alan over the last year, and here’s mine right from the Word.doc.


If you’re one of the many thousands of people whose lives were enriched by Alan’s work, and the passion he brought to the page, today’s a day to throw some dice in his honour.

Unsurprisingly, I have an Alan-ism about rolling dice, too. He tried not to jinx a dice roll by saying someone needed “anything but 1.” Instead, he’d say “You need anything but the smallest number.”

Weird, what sticks with you, when someone is gone.

May 25, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I cam empathise with you, but I don’t have any particularly good news, either. When I lost my brother in 2005 (and was the one to find him, too!) It was absolutely crushing. He was my brother, the biggest influence in my life (hello all of fantasy, sci-fi, gaming, etc) and by the time he passed the the ridiculously young age of 45, also my best friend and equal of sorts who I spoke with multiple times each week and gamed with. I’m *not* trying to make your loss about me – which I’m well aware is unfortunately a thing – just giving you some context for what I’m about to write – it took many years for me to get past the literal hole in my life and not get tremendously upset about it. I shelved the little Ork army I was working on at the time and it took me until last year before I was able to touch it again, and almost that long before I was able to look at it again. I’ve only just finished the last of those models last week, in tribute to him.

    So what I’m getting at is that the stump will be there for a hell of a long time if you guys were that close. Even when it scars over eventually it will still sting when you stop and think about it, and even trying to think of the good times may well open it up again, and you’ll still weep occasionally in a decade’s time. Shit, I still see games on Steam and have that occasional “hey, I should buy and gift that to…. oh yeah… ……” moment. You know, like a heart punch out of nowhere. That’s probably going to happen for years to come.

    Sending Alan texts or messages is really no different to going to a lost one’s grave and talking to them, and nobody thinks of that as odd. If that’s how you often communicated, then it’s exactly the same thing, just in the format of the current day.

    As for being “selfish” not going to the memorial.. all I have to say there is that we all mourn in different ways, and despite the guilt that you’ll pile on yourself for any and every reason, if you were best not there, then that’s what it took for you. If other people needed your support but you weren’t able to give it to them, then c’est la vie. You can’t always carry or help to carry others. It’s just how it is. Sometimes you have to do *you* first, even if other people want you there.

    I won’t do the while “chin up mate” thing here. Instead I’ll say take the time you need today or this weekend or this week, and then you’ll get back to everything else.

    Comment by Azazel | May 25, 2018 | Reply

  2. I still think that your original obituary was rather beautiful, for all that it matters, and so is this. Going through life and remembering a friend like that, at the oddest times and in the oddest ways, is probably the best kind of remembrance.

    Comment by krautscientist | May 25, 2018 | Reply

  3. Love to you Aaron. We don’t know each other and we probably never will. But love to you

    Comment by Nazaradine | May 25, 2018 | Reply

  4. My best Imaginary Friends have to do with vicariousnes…would not know better about truthfull authenticity.

    Comment by Juan Pascal | May 25, 2018 | Reply

  5. Alan’s absence will always leave a black hole that can never be filled. Bless him.

    Comment by Steve Turner | May 25, 2018 | Reply

  6. Hey man,
    I’m sorry this shit is hard, take care dude and I hope things stop hurting so much soon.

    Comment by Stu Clark | May 25, 2018 | Reply

  7. Here’s hoping that your memories of Alan never fade, but the grief does. I hope that this gets easier for you as time moves on.

    Comment by Michael | May 26, 2018 | Reply

  8. Thanks for reminding us Aaron. I remember well the moment I first fell deeply in love with Alan. I’m glad they still have the video up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6S0ZaG9xEIA

    Comment by daanofwar | May 26, 2018 | Reply

  9. Reblogged this on goochman70 and commented:
    I’m with you Aaron, a whole year has passed and Alan is missed a lot.
    I still can’t believe that he’s gone, it’s surreal and I know that The Horus Heresy universe took a big loss when he passed away.

    The Emperor Protects

    Comment by brothergoochman | May 26, 2018 | Reply

  10. 30k LIVES!

    Your work has become a cornerstone of the Horus Heresy, and your incredible books have taken your readers on incredible adventures across the galaxy. You catch a lot of flack from the community sometimes, but as a longtime fan, I must say you’ve done right by this particular remembrancer. Your personal writings have as much care in them as your works of fiction. Texts like the heartfelt one you’ve penned today make me glad to be a part of this hobby, and proud to be in this niche of the hobby called the Horus Heresy.

    Grief is a part of what makes us human, and humbly recognizing that our friends have strengths we do not allow us to form tighter bonds with them, letting their strengths fill in the gaps of our weaknesses and vice versa. Together with our fellows we become stronger as a whole community, the diverse traits each of us contribute binds us into a group that can overcome any challenge, as there will always be one anong us with the required skills or know-how to best our obstacles. I can see from your mention of the group chat, and the unanswered messages to Alan’s ghost, that you and your coworkers leaned on him often, and your phantom-limb metaphor shows that there is a gap in your ranks.

    The Horus Heresy community also feels as you feel. While we did not have the personal connection with Alan that you did, and can’t come close to the pain you feel at the loss of him a personal friend, we feel a loss, and feel it when we see the lovely dedication to him in the HH rulebook and in the sudden slowing of the development of the game since his untimely passing.

    Alan strikes me as a man who loved what he did. In writing this excellent game, he has brought joy and entertainment to multitudes of hobbyists around the world, just as you have with your books and other contributions to the 30k/40k universe. I’m sure this seems played out by now, but I think it goes without saying that he would want you and the rest of the team to carry on the work he invested so much into, and us fans are so enamored with.

    Much like the imperium somehow soldiering on after the heresy, it now falls to you and the rest of the goofy bastards on the GW payroll to keep on pushing the heresy, to keep on going until Horus lies dead at the Emperor’s feet aboard the Vengefull Spirit. We of the HH community have this week energized ourselves to invade the June 7th twitch stream like the dead skies of Tallarn to encourage Andy Hoare and the rest of those on the GW and Forgeworld staff just how popular HH is, and how much we admire Alan’s work as well as the work of the rest of you magnificent sickos who have worked so hard to breath life into this most important chapter of the Warhammer 40,000 story.

    I congratulate you. You all have done an excellent job on the heresy, but work remains to be done. In place of the support you got from leaning on Alan’s expertise, I humbly offer the support of we, the community. We are currently excising the blight of the “dead game” meme from our ranks, and are building anew. HH as a throwback-ruleset has set itself apart from the streamlined 8th edition 40k, and has become an oasis for those of us still attached to the playstyle that’s been chugging along from 3rd to 7th editon. This community, as I’m sure you know, is extremely dedicated, and will be more than willing to throw themselves into any task you would require. I know it’s not the same as the smile and wit of your lost companion, but we’re a confident and eager bunch. Truth is, we need your help to keep the heresy alive.

    We ask you to continue as you have, to pour your creative juices and seemingly boundless enthusiasm into this ambitious project. Our gratitude and thanks will be yours if you choose to support us by encouraging your paymasters to continue the Heresy with product support through more rules, forgeworld kits, and your fabulous novels (and perhaps if we’re very good boys and girls, another boxed set). We will be here supporting and rooting for you all the way.

    Again, our deepest condolences and sympathies. May your dear friend’s memory continue to warm your heart. Keep on trucking.

    On behalf of the 30k gaming community,
    Christoffer Jay Kimble
    Minneapolis, MN, USA.

    30K LIVES!

    Comment by Christoffer Kimble | May 26, 2018 | Reply

    • Come on man, There’s a time and place to push an agenda.

      Condolences to you ADB – you write beautifully about your friend, and your grief.

      Comment by World's Slowest Painter | May 26, 2018 | Reply

      • No so much meant as an agenda push, more of a reminder that the community loves, misses, and supports, with an open invitation tied in.

        Comment by Christoffer Kimble | May 26, 2018 | Reply

  11. We love you Aaron.

    I miss him. I didn’t even know him.

    Comment by Wargamer Eric | May 26, 2018 | Reply

  12. Sitting beside me right now is what I consider Alan’s best work. Not the towering accomplishments of the Horus Heresy series, but instead what came before. I speak of the glorious Imperial Armour Badab War volumes nine and ten. These two books have encouraged my writing, painting, army choices, reading choices, everything. They are works of literacy art, in my humble opinion.

    I hate that the man who wrote them, is no longer upon this earth. Rest in Peace Mr Bligh.

    Comment by stormdolf | May 26, 2018 | Reply

  13. I only knew Alan through his work. And I loved his work.
    For years my hobby friends would routinely had to sit through me endlessly citing Alan on how rules and background should be written. There were few as good, and none better.

    All my best ADB.

    Comment by Jun | May 27, 2018 | Reply

  14. I know I don’t know you Aaron but I’m a big fan of your work and I can relate to losing a dear friend. Over the last 20 years the small, tight group of friends I grew up with has slowly dwindled in number down to only a few of us remaining. Three years ago one of my best friends in life, my true brother despite not being blood, died of an overdose after some scumbag old hanger-on came to town visiting and brought with him a deadly habit. My friend indulged and it had been far too long and his battle-scarred body and his big old weary heart gave out on him. This scumbag woke from his nod, noticed my brother slumped in a chair and promptly fled the home. So my brother, this man who fed me when I was starving with no home and living on the mean streets and would leap headfirst into a mob of strangers howling for my blood right alongside me, died alone with nobody rushing to save him 20 feet away from his sleeping wife. I hadn’t spoken to him in several years when I got the news. His house lay along an old country road that led to the River, our old hangout spot growing up when we were too young to go to the bar and too wild to have been able to stay long if we had been. I had gotten into the habit of driving out there late at night to clear my head and think. I’d always pass his house and think maybe tonight’s the night I should stop and see him and talk out the terrible things we did to each other that brought our lifelong brotherhood to a halt. But I never did. The night he died was a Saturday night and I drove right by his house that night probably right around the time that Scumbag had arrived from out of town. The next day when I found out what had happened I wept like a lost child when I realized we’d never have that conversation and that if I’d had the courage to stop that night to have that long overdue talk, maybe he’d be alive today. I carry that weight around my neck like an anchor Aaron. What if I’d done this? What if I’d been there? I could and probably would have run off Scumnag just by being there. But I drove right on by and on into the night. I guess my point is that however you lose someone you love and respect, it’s always the hardest thing you’ve ever had to deal with. I’ve since made my peace with his ghost and started to forgive myself. I think of all the good times. And man did we have some. Battles fought side by side against impossible odds. The days long fiestas. The endless games of chess while listening to Waiting In Vain or Fade Into You on repeat. Hahaha. My brother lives on in my memories as long as I don’t forget him and the love and fellowship we shared. And I know I’ll see him again someday when I cross that river. You’ll see your friend too I believe man. I think that they’ll be waiting for us there to guide us across and show us the ropes when our time comes. I sure hope so anyway. Anyway, I don’t know why I just blabbed all that except that I know what you’re going through and I know it’s not easy and nothing really makes it hurt less besides time passing. But if you can visualize him standing there waiting for you with a drink in his hand and maybe a gaming table set up behind him with a seat for you, it can seem like he’s not really gone, just temporarily gone from where you are. That’s what brings me some comfort when I wish I could talk to him. Take care man. I wish you to find some kind of peace with this.

    Comment by bigkingcurd | June 15, 2018 | Reply

  15. Losing those closest friend hurts as much as losing a child. The friends you chose to have in your life as a conscious choice, and who in return chose to stay in yours, out of no other obligation than to enrich your existence… … … so… I don’t know if I should thank you or curse you, Aaron, for making me think of my Alan…
    Jeg savner dig, Thor.

    Now I’m tearing up too.

    And all I wanted was to check out my new favorite science fiction author’s website, since my old one chose to sublime too soon…

    Comment by Magnus Nygaard | October 13, 2018 | Reply

  16. I don’t really have any friends, close or otherwise. I am long term unemployed, autistic and often struggle with understanding social cues, the feelings of others, communication and maintaining relationships. The closest comparable figures are my brother and my parents who I share everything with. It might sound silly but reading stuff like this reminds me of how dependent I am on the people around me and leads me to wonder how I would personally cope if something were to happen.

    Comment by Phil J | September 26, 2019 | Reply

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