A Writing Year in Review

It’s that quiet, cosy time between Christmas Day and New Year, and on this WordPress that means one thing – it’s time for another twelve month writing review!

2021 was marginally less busy than 2020, but not by much. First and foremost were two novels, The Gates of Thelgrim and Zachareth, written between spring and autumn. Both are set in the fantasy world of Descent, though they aren’t a direct sequel to my first Descent novel, The Doom of Fallowhearth. The Gates of Thelgrim follows a trio of unlikely adventurers as they try to discover why the ancient dwarf city of titular fame has sealed itself off from the world. Zachareth, meanwhile, is the first in a series of “villain novels” looking at the origins and motivations of the setting’s bad guys. Zachareth – a brooding baron from the realm of Terrinoth who treads a fine line between necessary evil and the abuse of power – was a particular pleasure to flex the writing muscles on. The artwork (above), by Joshua Cairós, is also especially stunning.

In May I was lucky enough to attend GenCon with Aconyte. The chance to flog books and signatures in a busy conference hall was a rare delight after over a year of lockdowns.

My first X-Men novel, First Team, came out in March, and I got to reprise two of the main characters, Graymalkin and Anole, for the short story anthology School of X. Entitled Call of the Dark, the tale follows Graymalkin into the depths of the Institute, where ‘a doppelgänger with evil intent and a Weapons X device of a foul nature’ await him. It was great to get reacquainted with the dynamic mutant duo, and hopefully it isn’t the last we see of them.

At the start of the year I was involved in putting the finishing touches on Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground. Developed by Gasket Games, it’s the first digital game for the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar setting. It was a real privilege to get to work on the project, and script and narrative writing provided a welcome change of pace from the usual prose work.

Speaking of switching it up, there were two other projects which I sadly can’t share more on just yet, besides the fact that one is a comic set in World War One, and the other involves colour text for something set in World War Two. Both allowed me to try different styles of writing, and likewise gave me a shot at historical fiction, which was hugely enjoyable.

In terms of the future, 2022 looks to be shaping up. Novels for Aconyte and non-fiction for Osprey Publishing and Helion Books are all in the offing. I’d like to take this moment to say a massive thank-you to everyone who’s supported me over the past year and beyond, whether by buying books, leaving reviews or just generally interacting with me or my work. It quite literally wouldn’t be possible without you!

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Review: The Gates of Thelgrim A Descent: Legends of the Dark Novel By Robbie MacNiven

A Reader Lives a Thousand Lives

I will start by saying this is a fantastic addition to the Descent novels line by Aconyte. Being based in the world of the Descent games you can expect an epic adventure and setting. Robbie MacNiven definitely understands the world setting but he’s taken it and made it truly come to life!

As usual I will try to avoid many spoilers past maybe a few names. We start out when three separate adventurers, who have little trust or like for each other, are hired to investigate the recent sealing of Thelgrim, the great Dunwarr dwarf city. Our three adventures, all have their own reasons to doubt this task but find something tempting enough to get them to agree. One of our adventurers is a wanted Dunwarr criminal, the other two have no wish to trust each other or work together – but the money is good not to mention other…

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Today is the UK release day for my first X-men novel, First Team (it came out in the US and elsewhere in March). Those aren’t words I ever particularly imagined saying, but they’re certainly a delight. Writing for one of your favourite franchises is the goal of many IP authors, and I count myself very fortunate to have been allowed to play in so many amazing settings.

First Team follows the adventures of a number of lesser-known young mutant heroes – Anole, Cipher and Graymalkin – as they clash with the fanatical threat of the Purifiers, and the even darker forces controlling them. In some ways it’s a coming of age novel, seeing the protagonists learning about themselves and about the often-hostile world that awaits them beyond the doors of the Xavier Institute. All three characters were a joy to write for their own reasons, and I hope I’ve done them justice in the eyes of their long-term fans.

As is always the case, writing a novel is no solo event, and I’d like to pay brief tribute to the teams at both Aconyte and Marvel for making this book possible. Special mention has to be made of my editor, Lottie, whose refinements and improvements bear the story up.

A last word goes to the person whom the book is dedicated to. Grace Gaskell was a young lady who lost her battle with cancer last year. I can only hope that she would enjoy having her name included at the start of an X-Men adventure, and that such a small tribute goes some to inspiring her family, and others, in their struggle.

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Publication Day

Yesterday marked the release of my second work of non-fiction, in the form of Battle Tactics of the American Revolution, a short-ish treatise on, well, the battle tactics commonly employed by the British, French, German and colonial forces during the American Revolutionary War. It follows on quite neatly from my first work of non-fiction, British Light Infantry in the American Revolution, which came out in March.

Both books are part of Osprey Publishing’s “Elite” series (numbers 237 and 238). Consequently, they’re something of a dream come true for me. As an avowed history buff, I grew up reading Osprey’s line of titles, a spread that covers every conceivable conflict and military force, from before the coming of the Pharaohs to the present day. The Osprey brand is probably the most famous military history publisher in the world, thanks to the combination of easy-to-digest information and the liberal use of maps and artwork (vital aids too often left out of more academically-focused publications).

I approached Osprey last year with my pitches, and was delighted when they took me on board. The process of writing history, rather than fiction, was certainly a learning curve – it’s safe to say that a great deal of work goes into not just the research and actual writing of the body of text, but also into the sourcing of relevant artwork, the procuring of the rights to use said artwork, the writing of captions and popup text and the briefing of the artist tasked with producing the pieces specifically commissioned for the book. Regarding the latter I was fortunate to work alongside two supremely talented individuals, Stephen Walsh and Adam Hook, both Osprey veterans. As a kid, the publisher’s depictions of soldiers, equipment and battles was engrossing, so getting to essentially commission, for free, my own high-end art depicting what I considered to be important or relevant historical scenes was exciting. I was also assisted by a number of re-enactment groups – all rigorous practitioners of historical accuracy – who provided photographic additions covering uniforms and kit.

The process was extremely gratifying, even more so now that I get to see the books taking their place on the famous Osprey bookstore turning racks. I certainly have plans for future non-fiction pieces, both with Osprey and with publishers further afield. Time will tell if they play out.

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A Writing Year Review

This year needs no general introduction. It won’t be soon forgotten, but the purpose of this post isn’t to belabour everyone with yet more tales of struggle. There’s perhaps something to be said for separating work from the plethora of difficulties that have otherwise beset the world in 2020, and that’s what I intend to do here.

At the close of last year I talked about the hope that I would be able to continue to diversify my writing output. I’m glad to say that over the past 12 months I’ve more or less managed that.

Novels remain my primary focus, and January 2020 saw me rounding off final edits on my first book for 18 months, written for tie-in fiction publishers Aconyte Books. Entitled The Doom of Fallowhearth, it went on sale in the US in October and in the UK a few weeks ago (and if you fancy a copy, a plethora of links to different shops and sites can be found here). Set in the high fantasy world of the Descent: Journeys in the Dark game, it represents my first non-Black Library novel, and one that I’m quite proud of.

The second half of the year was dedicated to a very different novel project, albeit still for Aconyte Books. I’m delighted to say that I have written a novel for Marvel’s iconic X-Men series, First Team, that’s due out in February or early March 2021. To say that this is a privilege is, of course, an understatement, and I’m hugely excited for the release dates, not to mention an up-and-coming cover reveal.

Besides prose fiction, 2020 saw me delve into my first graphic novels with not one, but two scripts for Osprey Publishing. The first, The Battle of Kursk: Hitler’s last gamble in the East, is a retelling of the desperate World War 2 clash between Nazi Germany and the USSR. Featuring both fictional characters and historical personages, it retells what went on to become one of the most brutal and infamous battles of, arguably, the world’s most brutal and infamous war.

The second graphic novel was a particular honour to be involved in. Andrew Wiest, a Professor of History at the University of Southern Mississippi, wrote a compelling nonfiction account of a single US Army company – Charlie Company of the 47th Battalion, 9th Infantry Brigade – during their service in the Vietnam War. The book, published in 2021, provides a startlingly intimate and often heart-wrenching look at the experiences of the young soldiers caught up in the deltas and jungles of southern Vietnam in the year 1967.

Osprey Publishing decided to commission a graphic novelisation of the original book, and I was lucky enough to be asked to write the script for it. For someone who’d never written in the comic book format before this year it felt like a mammoth undertaking (the final book promises to be just shy of 500 pages), but it was great to work with Professor Wiest and the Osprey team throughout. Hopefully I have done the excellent source material justice.

Speaking of Osprey and military writing, the non-fiction front has been busy this year as well. Over the course of 2020 I finished my first short military history work, British Light Infantry in the American Revolution, and then went and followed it up with a second on a closely related (albeit more general) topic, Battle Tactics of the American Revolution. Both are set for release in the first half of 2021.

I grew up reading Osprey books, and getting to write for Osprey’s Elite military history series has been a life goal. Even better, the books are accompanied by gorgeous artwork. The artist who worked with me on the light infantry volume, Stephen Walsh, was even kind enough to slip me into a depiction of the night action at Paoli in 1777.

Lastly, digital gaming. Fairly early in 2020 I was contacted by a friend at Gasket Games, who are currently in the process of developing the first ever Warhammer: Age of Sigmar digital game, Storm Ground. I was asked to help out on the writing front. Work continues apace, with much of it under wraps, so I’ll say only that it’s been great fun to be involved in, and that the Gasket team really are exemplary. Storm Ground is expected to be released before the midpoint of 2021.

In summary then, 2020 has included;
1 novel
2 graphic novel scripts
2 short non-fiction books
1 digital game script

In all I’m happy with the year’s work output, and glad to be heading into 2021 with more projects lined up.
I’ll sign off for 2020 by thanking everyone who has supported me yet again this year, whether in a professional capacity, by buying books or just being awesome online. I quite literally couldn’t keep doing it without you.

May 2021 be everything you hope it to be.


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