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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 Publishing Team Effort

My first audio drama came out yesterday, and it’s been a great team experience from start to finish.

When I was first asked to write Vox Tenebris way back in February I got inordinately excited, mainly because it meant revisiting the first character I ever wrote about for Black Library, the arrogant young Space Wolf, Drenn Redblade. Even better, it picked up the Space Marine’s story two hundred years on from that first tale, pitched him in alongside an old enemy, and placed the pair of them in the daemon-infested vaults at the heart of the ongoing War Zone Fenris saga. What more could I ask for?

Story plotting aside, working on an audio drama really brought home how many people work on any given product in the publishing industry. After my keyboard-battering my editor, Lindsey, was first port of call in explaining how, no, I couldn’t just approach this as another short story. She held my hand through the process of turning Drenn’s tale into one that would translate properly via the spoken medium. After that another editor, Laurie, took the story I’d written and turned it into a proper, fully-fledged script. Next up the voice actors, John Banks, Steve Conlin and Toby Longworth – all incredibly talented guys – brought said script to life. Howard Carter added in the sound design, SFX and music, while it was all overseen by the managerial, production presence of Matthew Renshaw. The process received the cherry-on-top via Rafael Teruel’s stunning CD cover artwork, which you can see above.

I couldn’t be happier with the way it’s all turned out. To have contributed work towards such a talented and hard-working team is something I’ve always wanted to do, and the fact that Black Library embraces all possible publishing medias shows they’re staying with the cutting edge of an ever-changing industry. Hopefully Vox Tenebris won’t be my last such piece!

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The Novel in Disguise

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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

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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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