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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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My Decade in Writing

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Originally this was a twitter thread that I thought I may as well post on here too. For context, in January 2010 I was 17 and halfway through my final year of high school. Becoming a professional writer was a dream away.

In my first year at Uni I published my first short story, “Heavenbloom,” a science fantasy ebook set on an atmos-world that definitely wasn’t inspired by the Storm Hawks TV series. It was with a tiny online publisher, Books to Go Now, and I think I got about $5. Needless to say, I immediately wrote a sequel, “Heavenfall.”

Cue several years of touring the tiny non or token-payment presses that constantly seem to spring up and wither away online. In my three remaining years of undergrad I had nine short stories and a novella published, mostly anthologies (the novella was online only). I earned about $550.

Then in March 2015 I wrote to Black Library. I’d been entering their open submission windows since I was 13, so a decade of trying. To my shock, they took me onboard. I wrote “Deathwatch 4: Redblade,” my first piece with a pro publisher.

My first novel, Legacy of Russ, came out in 2016. Six more followed, up to Scourge of Fate this year, plus two audio dramas, a novella and nine short stories.

This year has been about diversification – I’ve written the narrative and dialogue for a digital game, one non-fiction history book for Osprey Publishing (with another contracted for) and my first novel for a non-BL publisher, Aconyte Books. I’m hoping to keep exploring all those different avenues.

In short if the 2020s are anything like the 2010s then I’ll be very happy indeed. No sanctimonious “writing advice” beyond keep trying. That really is key. Read and write. There are no shortcuts, but if you do those two things constantly you’ll get to where you want to be.

Oh and Happy New Year!

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New Slaves to Old Darkness, or, What if King Arthur was Evil?

Other Thoughts on Writing Scourge of Fate

Back in December I wrote about the Chaos-tainted inspiration behind my latest novel, Scourge of Fate (out today here!). In brief, I have always been enthralled by the decades-old literary tradition that makes the forces of Chaos in Warhammer Fantasy so unique. I love the idea of “normalising” the mortal servants and warriors of Chaos, establishing just how their societies and cultures work, and how they philosophise about the all-powerful, nebulous beings they worship. It’s not enough to just be a spiky, black-armoured warrior after all, because unless you’re truly far gone down the Path to Glory, even the spikiest have to eat, drink, talk and sleep. What is it like to deal with the more mundane aspects of life in the Realm of Chaos? In short, does the Varanspire have a bakery?

That article can be found here. I’m following up with a sequel today though, not just because Scourge of Fate is getting its hardback release, but because there’s still more to be said about the inspiration behind it.

When I was a child my mother bought me Tales of King Arthur, illustrated by Rodney Matthews. It remains to this day a wonderful book, full of lavish artwork depicting a host of stories from Arthurian legend – the Sword in the Stone, the Lady in the Lake, the Knights of the Round Table, the Green Knight, and many more. I read it from cover to cover over and over, so much so that my mother maintains to this day that I am Arthur reborn. The tales it told had a strong impact on me growing up, and segued very effectively into my love of 5th edition Warhammer Fantasy, which hit not long after.

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There are many fascinating aspects to the tradition of Arthurian tales, unsurprising given many of them are eight centuries in the making. I was especially intrigued by the powerful, baleful presence of the ‘Black Knight’ trope in a lot of those legends, the dark-armoured warrior who arrived unannounced and with sinister intent. Such a character probably holds responsibility for my early infatuation with the Warriors of Chaos. When it came to writing my own first fantasy novel, I really wanted to not only emulate that in the Warhammer setting, but to get behind the great helm, if you will – find out who this brooding warrior was, where he came from, why he did what he did.

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The similarities between Rodney Matthews’ style and that of early Games Workshop artists like Wayne England made it easy to get into both.

The initial pitch for Scourge of Fate was therefore quite simple – what if King Arthur was a Chaos Knight? Luckily my editor loved the idea, and much of the rest of the plot rolled from there. I deliberate aped aspects of classic Arthurian legend, from a jousting tournament (in this case between the Nurgle knights of the Order of the Fly and the Silver Knights of Tzeentch, both classics from the setting of the World That Was), and the escalating quest style that sees the antihero, Vanik, setting out to prove himself and getting caught up in a lot more than he bargains for. On a less subtle note, there are also lots of name drops relating back to Arthurian stories. Caradoc, a Knight of the Round Table, for example, becomes Sir Caradoc, Varanguard of the Seventh Circle, the Bane Sons. Caelia, the Faerie Queen and mother of the Faerie Knight, becomes the leading daemonette to the Court of the Seven Virtues, etc. Oh, and there’s a talking sword, of course. And Merlin is a Gaunt Summoner.

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Fun Chaostifications of Arthurian tales aside, Scourge of Fate also owes inspiration to my more overarching passion for military history. Although I’m an Early Modern historian (roughly, 1500s to early 1800s) first and foremost, I’ve done a fair bit of work on medieval warfare throughout my University studies, and have always enjoyed medieval historical fiction like Bernard Cornwell’s Grail Quest series. Pitching into my first Fantasy novel provided a valuable pace-changed from the six previous Warhammer 40,000 books I’d writen – there were no more bolters or vox transmissions, no hololithics or battle barges in high orbit. I got write about something I’ve always wanted to cover, a straight-up medieval-style pitched battle. I had a chance to weigh in in with the axes and the swords and the maces, the blood and the mud and the rain, the rotting-egg stink of gunpowder and the thunder of a full, knightly cavalry charge. I loved every second of it.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little behind-the-curtains peek at the thought processes that went into writing Scourge of Fate and, if you buy the book itself, I hope you enjoy that as well. It was certainly the sort of story I’ve had on my mind for a while, and getting to realise it was a privilege.

Glory to Archaon, the Knights of Ruin and the Eightstar!

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Bestseller Status: Achieved

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I already mentioned it in passing in my personal review of 2016, but it turns out that plea to download my latest novel and help me on my way up the Amazon sales charts worked out. Thirty six hours after release Carcharodons: Red Tithe beat several hundred thousand other ebooks into the number 74 spot on Amazon UK’s kindle sci-fi chart, officially making it an Amazon bestseller. It also peaked at number 30 on the UK iBooks download chart.

I wasn’t actually expecting to run for bestseller status. Amazon is actually relatively “easy” for authors to break onto, there’s a whole cottage industry behind manufacturing Amazon bestsellers. The basics involve getting a load of people to buy it all at once, usually at some ungodly hour. I was initially going to try this myself before realising it’s now very tricky for Black Library to make bestseller status because the releases are spread out over multiple platforms. So Red Tithe has:

  • Amazon kindle releases (which are in turn spread over regions like UK, US ect).
  • iTunes releases.
  • Hardback releases (which are only via the Black Library site or in Games Workshop stores, so wouldn’t register on any bestseller lists. Likewise with the ebook if it’s downloaded direct from the Black Library website, it “doesn’t count” when it comes to calculating bestsellers).
  • Paperback releases (which are over Amazon and in bookstores like Waterstones, so do count towards bestseller lists, but by then most people have the ebook or the hardback…).

All of which is why I’m both impressed and delighted that so many people have supported me. If I’m right about how this all works, the kindle sales themselves are probably only about 1/3 of the overall sales. I want to thank everyone who pitched in, it was such a monumental effort but it worked. Oh, and a special shout-out to all you crazy kids who’ve bought both the ebook and the hardback, that’s what I call superfans.

A sequel is now looking extremely likely!

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2016 – A Writing Review

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For developing my writing – in terms of both style and as a profession – 2016 has been the busiest and best year of my life. To that end, I thought it would be worth a review of the past 12 months, if only for my own train of thought, so I can establish where I’ve come from and where I’m going.

January: The new year started with me halfway through writing Legacy of Russ. Whether or not it can be called my first true novel or a collection of short stories, it was certainly fun to write, not least of all because it included characters I’d grown up reading about and who are loved and revered by tens of thousands of fans the world over. For an introduction to writing professionally, I couldn’t have asked for either a better or more intimidating assignment!

February: This month saw me wrap up Legacy and write my first audio drama, Vox Tenebris. It was tricky acclimatising to the differences between standard short stories and audio script writing, but it was a lot of fun to do.

March: Saw the second release of my first Black Library story. Deathwatch 4: Redblade originally appeared online as a Black Library ebook in October 2015. It was now repackaged in a print anthology to support the release of the new Deathwatch board game. It was certainly exciting being involved in another set of stories that linked directly to a miniature release, and all the hype that entails. This was also the first time I got to see my own Black Library work in print. On the writing front, I was given the green light to start Carcharodons: Red Tithe.

April: This month was spent writing Red Tithe. The first of Legacy’s short story serial format came out as well. At the end of the month I also received word that my editors wanted me to write the novelisation of Dawn of War III. As someone who’d been playing the Dawn of War games since the age of twelve, that obviously blew me away.

May: Mostly spent finishing Red Tithe’s edits, and included more of Legacy’s short story releases. These continued, roughly two a month, all the way until August.

June – September: Towards the end of June, and until the first week of September, my time was taken up writing and redrafting Dawn of War III. A lengthy post about the complexities of liaising with a gaming company over script and storyline will likely be forthcoming in the future! In between Dawn of War I also wrote a short story prequel to Red Tithe, entitle The Reaping Time. The start of July also saw the release of Heartwood – my first Age of Sigmar short story, written in November 2015, in the Sylvaneth anthology.

October: saw the release of Vox Tenebris, while I wrote my first Blood Bowl short story, Fixed. It was a lot of fun, in a wacky kinda way, and it was a privileged to get to visit the “Old World,” sort of.

November: was spent starting on The Last Hunt, my first White Scars novel.

December: A glut of releases to coincide with the ongoing Scars work. Firstly Fixed and then The Reaping Time were released as part of Black Library’s advent calendar program, then Red Tithe itself got an early Boxing Day e-premier. It became an Amazon bestseller about 36 hours after release – a fitting end to the year!

Overall I really couldn’t have asked for a more productive or fulfilling 365 days. In that time I wrote four novels, two short stories and an audio drama, a total of an estimate 320,000 words, or 877 words a day. All of it would have been meaningless without the hard work of my editors and everyone else on the Black Library team, the support and understanding of my friends and family and, certainly not least of all, the incredible contributions in time, money and enthusiasm from everyone out there who’s ever read one of my stories or interacted with me, here or elsewhere. Thank you for helping to make this year such a success.

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