It’d be incredibly predicable and dull for me to start this post with an apology for not having produced any new content for eight months, so I’ll save the grovelling for next time. Suffice to say life’s been busy (starting my postgraduate War Studies MLitt at Glasgow University, finishing my postgraduate War Studies MLitt at Glasgow University, getting a provisional offer for a History PhD back at Edinburgh Uni), but you don’t want to know about all that, you want to know how a 13-year-old’s dreams came true, right?
My first published short story hit the e-shelves five years ago, when I was 18. Despite that little landmark, my adventures as a writer-wanna truly began five years earlier when, aged 13, I decided to enter a Games Workshop short story competition.
Before I go any further I should probably offer up a quick primer to the uninitiated. If you haven’t heard of Games Workshop you’re no true geek. It’s the world’s most successful miniature wargaming company, and yet it’s so much more than that. Over the past four decades its twin franchises, Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, have been the subject of hundreds (it may be over a thousand) of novels, audio dramas, short stories and gaming rulebooks, including New York Times bestsellers. There are well over a dozen award-winning computer and console games, and one straight-to-DVD movie. In terms of fan base popularity the scifi setting, Warhammer 40,000, ranks only behind Star Wars and Star Trek, and when it comes to depth of background I would be so bold as to call it the most detailed and immersive setting ever created.
How’s that for some fanboying? I got hooked on Warhammer at a ridiculously young age, and I’ve been painting, gaming and digesting the lore ever since. Reading the stories put out by Games Workshop’s publishing wing, Black Library, had a huge influence on my own developing writing style, and they still do today.
Now, I didn’t win that competition I entered when I was 13.I didn’t win the one I entered when I was 14 either, or when I was 16. In the intervening decade between then and now there have been at least seven Black Library contests or open submission windows, and I’ve entered them all. I didn’t make the grade. That, however, is what happens to writers. My entries were just a few of the many thousands which bombarded Black Library during open season, and none of them were sufficiently eye-catching.
Regardless, every year I soldiered on, faithfully submitting something whenever Black Library opened the blast-doors. It became something of a hollow ritual, divested of real hope. I would fire and forget my submission, not really thinking my work would glow sufficiently to light up the darkness of that monumental slush-pile.
Two days after my 23rd birthday, just last month, Games Workshop again announced they were going to be adding fresh faces to their seasoned cadre of existing authors. I went through the motions and submitted my writing credentials. This time I got a response. Not a massive response. Not a “yeah you’re what we’re after” type email. Just the offer of moving onto the next round. I received two short writing tests, which I completed and sent back to them. I still wasn’t unduly excited. I knew other people who had also gotten as far as the tests, and I couldn’t see Games Workshop taking us all on.
I was on the commuting train from Edinburgh to Glasgow when I got an email say that, actually, they’d enjoyed my test responses and they’d be happy to include me in the Games Workshop author pool. Just like that. Too good to be true, I thought. Maybe they’ve added loads of people. I probably won’t get commissioned for any work for months, if ever.
But I was wrong. The very next week they sent me my first professionally-paid freelance short story commissioning form. The details of what I’ve had to write must of course remain ultra hush-hush for now (rest assured I’ll unleash exterminatus-level hype when the work actually comes out), but suffice to say I absolutely loved writing it. I’ve also no idea whether it’s truly good enough. I’ve never seen the first draft of a professional writer’s work. The quality of Black Library writing is right up there with the Big Publishers, so needless to say my biggest emotions after Excitement are Fear and Worry, but in a way that’s not important. What matters is that Games Workshop, the company that kick-started my writing dreams, have given me my first ever professional break. Even if I never get the opportunity to write for them again, I’ve completed a straight-up life goal. It’s proof positive of the fact that, if you set yourself a goal and keep working towards it, you can achieve anything.