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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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Star Wars Episode VII – A Review

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So I caught Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens last night, which means it’s high time for a review. Beware, Star Destroyer-level spoilers ahead.

So, right off the bat, I’m giving it a 3/5 stars. I’ll kick off with what I enjoyed.

Obviously, at a basic level, the generally Star Warseyness of it all. Droids. Space freighters with tentacle monsters. X-wings battling TIE fighters. Stormtroopers. Light sabre duels. All these things salve my soul. On a more detailed level, I’ve been a long-running critic of the franchise writer’s inability to incorporate more believable military doctrine into its set-piece battles (I’m a War Studies graduate, what can I say?). That’s been addressed somewhat in VII, with First Order troopers calling in airstrikes, relying on air support and generally being slightly more effective and intimidating than the Failtroopers of old. Speaking of, how badass is Captain Phasma? It’s criminal that she didn’t have a bigger role, but in fairness to J. J. Abrahams he didn’t realise how much the fans would love her. Apparently she’s not dead (yay!) and will have a bigger role in Episode VIII. I hope she finally makes Storm Troopers a (lower-case f) force to be reckoned with.

Sticking with the bad guys, I also liked the slightly mad-eyed General Hux. Unlike the simpering Imperial commanders of old, he takes absolutely no s**t from Kylo Ren, which is refreshing. Hopefully, like Phasma, he continues to give the Resistance a real run for its money, and doesn’t just regress to disposable villain sidekick.

Turning to the Light side of the Force, I thought both Fin and Ray were great (and I think Daisey Ridley has great acting talent), BB-8 was sufficiently adorable, and I like how they kept Luke more or less out of this first new installment. Sometimes it’s best to play the long game.  Also, Poe Dameron, the X-wing pilot, had a great retro Star Wars feel about him.

This is where most of the 3 of my 5 stars come from. Where are the other two? Well, I’ll address my biggest beef first of all. And that was

THE DEATHSTAR MARK III

Seriously. I wish I’d been a fly on the wall when the creative team were all sitting round a table and someone said “right everyone, for the finale, how about they attack… an even bigger Deathstar.” And everyone cheered. Presumably.

I feel like I’m the only person in the world that hates the presence of the Star Killer, but I just can’t shake it. I mean I think it’s terraforming was cool. And the symbolism of it sucking up a sun and turning everything dark was also pretty awesome. But beyond that I’m left screaming why. It’s so ridiculous the film actually has to address it in-plot during the Resistance briefing, with one officer being like “it’s another Deathstar” and then everyone agreeing they’ll just destroy it the way they always do. The fact that it’s a BIGGER BADDER DEATHSTAR THAT CAN DESTOROY A BUNCH OF WORLDS AT ONCE just makes it more cringeworthy, as does the fact it was once again stopped from firing with 30 seconds to go. I want to find the guy designing all these evil doom machines with their one big exploitable structural flaw, and Force-choke the hell out of him.

By the time the finale fight was underway I’d actually just about come to terms with Star Killer. I could see a way the plot could be salvaged. The Resistance were going for the weak core, just as they had done in Episodes IV and VI. It had to be a trap, right? I could see it in my mind’s eye – the Resistance takes the killing shot, everyone cheers. Then cut to the bridge of the Star Killer. Grim-faced, General Hux orders his subordinates to “activate the stabilising systems.” To the Resistance’s horror they realise Star Killer has a falesafe, and they haven’t actually dealt it a fatal blow. It would even have helped the Deathstar-loving script writers, because then they’d have gotten to use their doom-laser-planet in Episode VIII as well.

But no, true to past form, it just dies. At least all the villains make it off.

The presence of Star Killer actually summed up what I didn’t like about Episode VII. For large chunks of the film I felt as though I was watching an extremely high-budget Star Wars fanfic production. It was a love letter, written by Abrahams and addressed to the childhood nostalgia of millions of fans. Which in itself is fine, but it wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t really go to see another droid evading Stormtroopers with vital hidden plans, or X-wings wrecking another doom machine, or a desert world that’s Definitely Not Tatooine (I get there were lots of little differences, but still, there are a lot of the worlds in the galaxy that don’t involve scavenging sand peoples). Of course I appreciate the nostalgia as much as everyone else (go Millennium Falcon, go!), but it felt like too much of a carbon copy. It made me appreciate just how much the prequel trilogy really did explore new territory.

Hopefully this has been done to plug a fresh generation into the style and feel of the Star Wars franchise. Presumably the next films (and the spinoffs, which I’m really looking forward to) will now forge ahead with new, unexplored plotlines and settings.

The Force is strong in this series. The Originals have it. The Prequels have it. The new trilogy has it. They just need to not be afraid to explore it in full.

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