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2017 – A Writing Year in Review

It’s certainly been a long time since this blog was last updated. I’ve got a few excuses on hand however, most of them relating to it having been a busy 2017. Work-wise (and, indeed, generally) my past twelve months have been pretty great. I’ve written three novels, had three published (all for Games Workshop’s publishing arm, Black Library), and managed to press on with my PhD in-between.

2017 started with a bang – or, more accurately, a rend-and-tear, as my sort-of-but-not-really-first-novel Carcharodons: Red Tithe hit the shelves. People seemed to enjoyed reading it almost as much as I enjoyed writing it, so that bodes well for Carcharodons: Outer Dark!

April rolled round with the release of both Dawn of War III and its accompanying novelisation. Getting to write that book having grown up playing the games was a huge honour, and it was also the first time I ever saw my name on the cover of a book in Waterstones, a childhood dream come true.

The summer was filled up mostly with writing Outer Dark, though I did also find time to write a Carcharodons appetiser, Death Warrant, which acts as a sort-of prequel to Outer Dark.

In November I not only had my fourth novel, The Last Hunt, released, but I also got to attend the Black Library Weekender and meet (and be on a quiz team with) Dan Abnett. Needless to say this was probably the highlight of the year.

It all ended nice and busy too, with two advent calendar stories released in December – my first foray into 30k with a Primarchs audio (which was also a great honour to get to write, especially since Perturabo is one of my favourites) and a prequel short story to my forthcoming Ultramarines Primaris novel Blood of Iax, which I wrote between August and November.

In all it’s been a hugely rewarding and enjoyable year, and if next year is anything like it I’m looking forward to it immensely. I hope everyone has a happy New Year, and would like to thank you all for the immense support that has quite literally made it all possible. I’ll finish off with a promise to keep this blog updated more regularly (my tumblr, Facebook and twitter are all far more prolific), and add a pic of one of my favourite authors, Dan Abnett, who I was lucky enough to meet at the Black Library Weekender.

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The Novel in Disguise


On Monday the final part of Legacy of Russ, my serialised Warhammer 40,000 novel, came out in digital format. It marks the end of four months of releases, and closes off a novel I wrote in the space of 43 days back in December and January 2015/16.

On the whole, responses seem to have been positive, and it certainly delights me to see the journey completed and my name splashed across the Black Library website’s homepage. Writing Legacy certainly wasn’t without its pitfalls. Yet perhaps the most long-lasting difficulty I associate with the book is how I personally view it. It occupies a curious half-ground on so many levels. On the one hand, it’s my first novel. Professionally paid or not, it’s undeniably the first 50,000+ word book I have ever had published. Yet it also isn’t really my first – like most writers, I already have a brace of novels completed but unpublished, waiting to see the light of day. In that sense I wrote my first novel seven years ago, and Legacy of Russ is merely my fourth. It’s like the first heir, with three older bastards preceding it (don’t tell Tory I said that).

And how much of a “real” novel is it anyway? Of course, none of us would claim the works of Dickens aren’t novels, and many of them were initially released in serial format, just like Legacy. To further cement its claim, it will indeed come out as a fully-fledged, physical, hardback, single volume sometime in the future. Undeniably a novel. And yet, as the writer I’m aware that I only wrote it half as a novel, and half with its initial episodic, serial release in mind. Do I personally think of it as a novel? Yes, but only in part. It’s a mongrel work, one that I love dearly in its own right, but not one that I think of as entirely as self-contained as, say, Carcharodons: Red Tithe.

These thoughts, of course are largely meaningless semantics. Even the purist inside me is more than happy to lay aside internal squabbling and enjoy the moment. That is until it remembers that I’ve still got half a short story, half a novel and a final set of PhD chapter 1 redrafts to do within the next two weeks. Better get back to it.



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The Wild King – Free Extract


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


“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 Thorny Issue of Reader-Writer Online Interaction


The third Google image if you search “flamewars” is a Warhammer 40,000 one. Coincidence?

The internet can sometimes be stereotyped as “not a very nice place.” There is a belief that, whatever the qualities of individuals, there is a miserly and cruel streak that runs through the collective hive consciousness of the online community. The old adage that anonymity brings out the worst is us sometimes doesn’t seem so far from the truth, and it only takes a glance “below the line,” whether on the comments sections of online articles, videos, or forum boards, to set faith in humanity a-shakin’.

That’s the pessimistic view. It holds that vicious and unreasoning arguments lurk beneath the surface of even the most benign online interactions. It warns us off “feeding the trolls” or stoking flamewars. Antagonism can be found in plentiful supply, supposedly, and no more so than when subjective material is the topic of discussion. Be it digital or print, fiction or non-fiction, animated, live-action or on-the-page, works of creativity bring out debate, and debate can end up showcasing every opinion under the sun.

It’s a long-established rule that someone responsible for creating something should refrain from becoming deeply involved in the consumer’s discussion of the nature or quality of their work. This is without doubt wise advice. Professional detachment and giving consumers the right to voice whatever opinion they desire about your work goes hand in hand. There are few things worse than seeing the creator of a piece of work become entrenched in a petty slogging match with those criticising their efforts. Even if the defence is justified, respect for the author of the work becomes fleeting.

As with so many things though, claiming that a creator should be detached is easier said than done, particularly when they have probably spent many months, or even years, working on their final product. The question of whether or not to become involved in online debate was one I first found myself being ask about a year ago, when my first professional works of fiction began to hit the shelves. It wasn’t a challenge I found particularly hard to overcome, initially. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading the praise my efforts have garnered, and whenever there are criticisms, I try to take it onboard. I’m acutely aware that I’m still learning, and any advice is valuable.

That being said, as the volume of my published work has increased, so have the comments, both for good and for ill. Basic criticism, or straight-up hate, remains easy enough to deal with. Every writer should have a thick, gnarly skin, regardless of how long they’ve been in the game. What’s harder is when comments stem from confusion. Sometimes a reader might misunderstand something, and form a negative opinion because of that misunderstanding. Knowing such things could be fixed with a simple comment or two makes engaging in the discourse much trickier.

It was with a degree of trepidation, then, that I recently signed up to several online forums where my work is discussed. My hope wasn’t to crack down on any negativity, but to show my appreciation to those who liked it, and make things clearer wherever there was confusion. Would I get dragged into messy arguments, and squander my fledgling credentials as a professional writer?

Well, no. In fact, the opposite seems to have been true. I was welcomed with open arms into every online community I entered. Critics stressed their comments were aimed towards being constructive. Readers seemed appreciative of any input, and enjoyed having a direct link to the work’s creative process. At no point was I lambasted. Even more importantly, at no point did I feel like an intruder, whose mere presence was stifling debate. As is so often the case, I just felt like another fan, fully invested in the fictional universe I was now helping to expand.

That in itself may offer a cautionary tale for authors. While remaining detached from debate is a commendable default, it seems that for some the pendulum has swung too far. There are any number of reasons why writers can’t engage regularly with their readers (the biggest undoubtedly being the time required for such a luxury), but fear of coming across as unseemly by “stooping so low” as to discuss – and yes, very occasionally defend – your own work should not starve the community of interaction. Ninety nine percent of the time, readers are delighted to be able to discuss all manner of things with the creators of the works they enjoy. That’s a privilege we should not dismiss out of hand. If anything, we should embrace it whenever we have the opportunity.

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