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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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How to Write for Black Library

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If there’s one question I get asked more than any other, it’s “how do you become a Black Library author.” That’s totally understandable, given that at the time of writing I’m one of Black Library’s newest recruits, and until I was chosen I’d been trying via the selection process for a full decade. Older and wiser scribes than I have already provided some top tips on bringing your writing up to a publishable standard, so I’ll keep this post focused the specifics of the submissions process itself.

To my knowledge, since the Cold Hand of Betrayal anthology back in 2006 there have been three ways to submit your unsolicited work (a.k.a. without requiring the services of a literary agent) to Black Library. The first method is via a fixed anthology format. Black Library comes up with a subject for a collection of short stories, for example, Planetkill, and new writers are encouraged to submit within the guidelines.

The second method allows authors a little more creativity. Black Library sets broader parameters, and allows writers to submit their own work. For example, last year the only rule of thumb during the submission period was that all short stories had to focus on characters belonging to the Imperium of Man.

The third and rarest method of selection is via a standard job advertisement on Games Workshop’s recruitment site. Those who impress sufficiently with their cover letter are asked to complete a few brief writing tests, and those who do well enough with those are admitted to the author team. That was how I got in, after a decade of hammering away at the open submissions.

All three of these processes generally happen just once every year or two, normally in the springtime. If the method being used is the first or second one described above, Black Library typically offers a two month window for people to submit their stories. No stories outside of that time frame, at any other time of year, will be considered, and those who submit also have to adhere strictly to the rules (so, for example, don’t submit a novel if they only ask for short stories).

That’s really the long and the short of it. Beyond waiting patiently for the next open  window and sticking to the rules, the next best thing you can really do is keep reading and writing. And remember, don’t give up!

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The Wild King – Free Extract

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Tomorrow sees the release of the final part of my serialised novel, Legacy of Russ. It’s still not too late to catch up before the finale though – part seven can be found here (with a free extract below), and if you’re just joining us then part one is here, free to download in its entirety!  

The void, Fenris System

In a surge of shrieking wyrd-light, Bran Redmaw and his Great Company returned to Fenris. The warp spat them out off-course, dangerously deep inside the system, trailward of Frostheim. As his flagship’s kaerls sought to triangulate their exact location, transmit ident codes and establish vox contact, Bran paced his bridge from one end to the other, bare, blood-encrusted fists clenching and unclenching.

He had thought they weren’t going to make it. The wyrdrealm’s maddening waves had mocked them, tossing and turning his fleet’s vessels with bows of gibbering insanity, scattering them and ripping them away from their destination. As his Navigators had battled to hold onto the beacon of the Astronomicon, Bran had been engaged in his own fight, with those he’d once counted as brothers.

They were still his brothers, he reminded himself. Regardless of the wounds they’d dealt him. Regardless of how they now looked, thought and acted.

‘Lord, we have established a vox connection with Lord Deathwolf,’ called a Vox Huscarl. ‘His signal is currently being rerouted from Svellgard via his flagship.’

‘Accept it,’ Bran said, pacing to the communications station. Harald’s lagging voice came through on a tide of static.

It’s good to see you on our sensors, Redmaw.’

‘And good to be home, Deathwolf,’ Bran replied. ‘How goes the fight?’

It’s a bastard. Young Bloodhowl and myself are on Svellgard. The place is crawling with wyrd-dung. Fenris is quiet, and we’ve heard nothing from Midgardia.’

‘My scanners are reading a large non-Chapter fleet in orbit above you,’ Bran said, glancing over the readouts flooding back over the monitors and occulus vidscreens from his fleet’s augur probes.

Aye, and that’s only the half of it. It’s a crusade fleet, elements from fourteen different Chapters along with Russ-knows how much Militarum and Navy support, all come to call us to heel. A lance strike by one of their ships nearly ended both Bloodhowl and myself. They refuse to communicate with us.

‘They’re here for the Wulfen,’ Bran surmised, fists clenching harder.

And more than reluctant to help with our little wyrdling problem. We’re hard-pressed down here, Redmaw.’

‘My warriors are hungry for a kill,’ Bran said. ‘If Fenris is indeed secure we will deploy in full to support you.’

That may turn the tide,’ Harald said. ‘Hurry.’

As the connection ended Bran gazed out of the viewing port. Its blast shutters were rattling back, exposing the glittering expanse of the Sea of Stars beyond. The ship’s bridge was reflected back in the thick layers of crystalflex, and Bran caught sight of himself towering beside the brass-edged vox banks. It was not a vision he was familiar with. His helmet was off and his dark hair lay unclasped, thick around his shoulders. He’d stripped off his pauldrons, rebrace, vambrace and gauntlets, revealing thick arms that were criss-crossed with a latticework of fresh cuts and sheened by a slick of sweat.

They only respected strength. Bran had shown it. Even that would not be enough though, if they were not released to the hunt soon. Bran had promised to reinforce Svellgard as though he had a choice – the packs would demand he struck out at the nearest enemy, whether he’d wanted to deploy them to the moon or not.

A crusade fleet. That made matters even worse. How his brothers would react to his return had been worrying enough. He hadn’t dared consider what the wider Imperium would do when they discovered what had become of Bran’s Great Company during their warp transit. Confronting the wyrdspawn would surely mean confronting those who had come to accuse the Wolves too.

But that was a risk he was going to have to take eventually. Battle called, and with it a release of the primal hunger that had been building among the Redmaws. He called up his helmsman, eyes still locked on his own savage reflection.

‘Set a course for Svellgard.’

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The Fear Part 3: Return of the Fears

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“Fear” by akirakirai in deviantART

If you’re not aware of my hit series “The Fear” yet you’re really missing out. Part 1 saw our lovable, naive young author-protagonist ruminate about the unease he felt over finally breaking into the “pro” writing market and having to put his work before actual, real-life, professionally-paid editors. Part 2 saw the still-pretty-much-naive and relatively young author-protagonist stressing about how his first pro-published stories would be received by the savage and ravenous reader-folk.

And now, part 3. What lies in store? The answer should be pretty obvious: more fear.

In a bout of literary foreshadowing I remain proud of to this very day, Part 2 included the following elegantly-rendered line; “maybe these are first-time fears, or maybe I’ll always be afraid that what I’m writing is stinky word-crud.” Well folks, it looks like the answer to that question is the latter – most writers, it seems, will always be afraid their work sucks. They just accept it, get used to it, and bury it beneath all the previous happy experiences where their work clearly hasn’t sucked.

Unfortunately I’m not at that stage yet.

If Part 2 was a snapshot of my doubt-daemons just before the plunge into my first publications, Part 3 is the snapshot just prior to the Big Push. The past half-year has gone as well as I could have hoped. I’ve been inundated with work, and my small writing resume has been growing with every passing month. The future, however, is a scary thing, made so by the release, in six months time, of my first full, feature-length, stand-alone novel. And in hardback to boot.

Said novel was completed about two months ago. Since then the social medial platform I’ve spent the past four years constructing has been kicked properly into action for the first time. It has performed admirably. Hype, marketing, call it what you will, I’ve been able to get the word out about my novel well in advance of its arrival. People from all across the Internetsphere have flocked to offer support, from Facebook to Twitter to tumblr and beyond. I’ve been inundated with messages from people saying just how much they’re looking forward to reading it. I’ve even had folks promising not only to purchase multiple copies, but even encouraging others to do so. This is even more touching given that this particular piece of writing involved me sticking my neck out a little bit with my publisher. They weren’t a hundred percent convinced the subject matter could sell well. I convinced them they could. And, without jinxing it too much, going off how much momentum the hypetrain is picking up, I think it’ll do just that.

But that’s exactly what’s causing this latest bout of Fear. This really is it; back against the wall time. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. My name is stamped to this release, quite literally. People are excited, expectant. I would have to be slightly unhinged not to fret over my work’s reception after deliberately attempting to whip up a frenzy over it. Sure, if I keep it up this first big novel is going to sell well. But if it doesn’t live up to the high expectations of my growing readership, what hope is there for anything else I write, let alone direct sequels?

Of course, to top it all I’m suffering from Writer’s Blindness, insomuch as I’ve re-read the work itself so many times I have no idea anymore whether I personally think it’s any good or not. It could be some of the best work I’ve ever produced, or it could be total trash. The editors, of course, are happy enough with it to let it go to publication, but who can truly predict the reaction of the literary masses once they get their hands on it?

The tin whistles are still a long way from blowing, but zero hour is marching steadily closer, and in the quiet moments before going over the top, Fear is at its most powerful. And all I can do is wait.

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The Riddle of Writing Serials

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At the close of last year I received a phone call I’d always hoped for, but certainly never dared expect. Black Library, the publishing wing of wargaming giant Games Workshop, wanted me to write a novel for them. They’d been impressed by the work I’d already done for them – four short stories earlier that year – and wanted to take me to what one editor called “the next stage.”

There was just one twist. Before being released as a physical, printed hardback, the book – Legacy of Russ – was to be serialised into eight parts and released online over the course of six months.

Say “serialised novel” and some smart chap will immediately jump up and tell you that “that’s how Dickens did it.” And indeed he did. It was how I’d done it too, at least in novella format, for my Jukepop Serials hit Werekynd: Beasts of the Tanglewild. I strung that story out for almost a year. The perfect initiation, you’d think, for writing the eight parts of Legacy of Russ.

Except knowing that writing serialised novels was possible didn’t actually help with any of the problems inherent in such an undertaking. The difference between a “full” novel and serial installments is more or less the same as the difference between a television series and a feature-length film. There are a number of very important differences, most of which revolve around issues of plot and pacing.

In brief, a serial has to take into account considerations that don’t trouble a novel. Each “episode” has to be reasonably self-contained, and as gratifying to the reader as the last. The stakes are always high – one boring installment and readers will be lost. They’ll stop buying the follow-ups. There’s no danger of that after someone’s bought a novel. Because of this, writing serialised fiction can assume a somewhat frantic air. Not only must you spend at least a small amount of time setting the scene at the start of every installment (to jog memories that have lain dormant for a month or more), but the remaining word count is typically expected to fulfill the requirements of the genre, in this case set piece action and crunchy fight scenes. Dedicating an installment to calmer activity may work out, but it’s also a gamble. The loss of reader attention is a constant specter. Conversely, in a novel the writer can typically afford more coherent pacing – the ebb and flow around start, midpoint and ending give the reader respite and varies their experience. While this certainly isn’t impossible to achieve in serial form, it’s far trickier.

All this was compounded by the nature of the story I was trying to tell. It was  a contender for the title of “sweeping epic”, taking place on a grand total of three planets, two moons and more spaceships than I care to count, and viewed from the perspective of over a dozen point-of-view characters, including a shape-shifting daemon and a machine-man. Such feats would have been daunting in standard novel format, but getting it all into episodic installments meant I had to spend a lot of time in each story touching base with multiple characters and inching their individual development forward, all the while not exceeding the wordcount I’d been set.

If you’re thinking at this point that I had an unenviable task, you’d be wrong. It was still a privilege to be involved in writing something that was going to affect the universe I’d grown up reading about. I was more or less aware of all the challenges posed by serial fiction before I started writing. I made a decision early on to try and treat the project just as I would any other novel. I knew it would be released as a whole eventually, and that was the legacy I decided I should work towards – while the serials were fun, ultimately this was something that was going to be on people’s bookshelves.

If I had to choose between advising readers to follow the story in its serial format, or reading the whole thing as one novel, I’d have to go with the latter option. Hopefully, however, it’s enjoyable whichever way readers feel they wish to approach it.

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