Thursday, 26 August 2010
Author Interview! Chris Wraight
Isn't the internet great? There used to be a time where if I enjoyed a book there wan't much more I could do after I'd read it other than think, 'that was a good book'. These days though, if I enjoy a book then I can chat to the author online and run a whole load of questions past them. Everyone wins (but mostly me)!
After having enjoyed 'Sword of Justice', the power of the internet gave me the chance to run a few questions past Chris Wraight. Here's what we had to say for ourselves...
You write in both the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K game settings, which one do you enjoy writing in the most?
Until now I’ve been exclusively a Fantasy author, so that’s the setting I feel most comfortable in. That said, I’m writing my first 40K book at the moment, and it’s been a huge - and fascinating - challenge. There are definitely some things about 40K that are very different - the darkness of the far future has the advantage of truly epic scale, and (arguably) a more consistent vision and tone. There are some BL authors who write for both settings (Graham McNeill, for example), and if the editorial gods will it I’d be happy to do the same.
How did you get into writing for the Black Library?
I submitted a short story to one of the old writing competitions, which ended up being published as Premonition in the Warhammer Invasion anthology. An invitation to pitch for a debut novel followed. I wrote Iron Company for the Empire Army series in 2009, after which BL invited me to pitch for the new Warhammer Heroes line.
What projects have you got coming up and why should someone who has never picked up a Black Library book give them a go?
Sword of Vengeance, the sequel to Sword of Justice, has just had its final edits sent in. I’m now over halfway through the Space Marine Battles book Battle of the Fang, which features the Space Wolves and Thousands Sons duking it out on Fenris. Like Rynn’s World, a previous title in the series, this part of the background has existed seemingly forever, so it’s a privilege and a challenge to take it on. I’m currently talking to the BL guys about a third Warhammer Heroes title featuring Volkmar, so the chances are I’ll be back writing Fantasy soon.
In terms of BL books in general, I’d simply encourage anyone with an interest in mainstream Fantasy or SF to give them a read with an open mind and not worry about whether they’re licensed works or not. There are authors writing for BL who are as talented as any in the business, and with Empire winning the Gemmell Award and the Heresy titles consistently entering the bestseller lists, the dismissive response of ‘but they’re just tie-in books’ looks lazier than ever.
In the same vein, what are you reading right now and why do you think I should be reading it too?
I’ve just finished Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, which didn’t quite hit the heights of the brilliant Oryx and Crake for me, but was still interesting and characteristically well-written. I revisited Legend a few days ago, which needs no recommendation, and have recently started Warrior Priest by Darius Hinks, which is due out later this year. It’s very immersive, and steeped with the gritty details that make Warhammer stand out from lighter, more optimistic Fantasy worlds.
You’re writing in a universe that isn’t just shared between writers but also between thousands (at least) of wargamers. How has this second group of people taken to your work so far? How does it feel to be the one depicting cities and countries that have been fought over for years now?
That’s a good question, and probably the thing that gives me most sleepless nights as an author. Sword of Justice has had a fantastic reception in its first few weeks, including from review sites that also cover the gaming side of things. The feedback I’ve seen so far indicates that the ‘feel’ of the established setting has been faithfully reproduced, which is immensely satisfying. One of the unresolvable issues of writing for a big franchise such as Warhammer is that you’ll never please everyone, since each individual will have a slightly different take on the universe, but you can do your best to capture the essential qualities that make it unique.
There are established characters from the Warhammer universe (I’m thinking Schwarzhelm and Helborg here) whom I’m guessing are almost sacrosanct in that you can’t kill them off easily if at all. How does that affect the writing process for you?
That’s the challenge of writing licensed fiction. There are lots of things that as an author I can’t do - certain people can’t die, certain places can’t be destroyed, and the balance of power in the Old World has to remain basically the same once the battles are over. In response to those limitations, you have to find different ways to generate jeopardy, interest and uncertainty. Characters have to be sufficiently well-rounded to draw the reader in and suspend disbelief, and you have to find fresh ways to treat long-established ideas. In Sword of Justice I was able to make use of a situation that’s been a longstanding facet of the background - the undetermined succession in Averland - which opened up lots of fictional possibilities.
Was it just me or is there a lot of Druss the Legend in Ludwig Schwarzhelm? I’m not just thinking about that amazing beard either...
You’re not the first to point out Gemmellisms in Sword of Justice. Druss wasn’t explicitly in my mind when I was writing Schwarzhelm, but of course there are a lot of similarities in their situations. In a broader sense, Gemmell is such a dominant figure in ‘low’, military-based Fantasy - which Warhammer basically is - that comparisons are probably inevitable. I’ve taken them as compliments.
Without giving too much away... There are four Chaos powers, what made you choose the one you did to infest Averland?
I chose the one that Schwarzhelm - a straightforward, noble, and in some ways naive warrior - would have the most trouble understanding. That’s really the whole point of the book: taking a man who’s almost unbeatable in a plain fight, and putting him up against opponents with a very different set of values and characteristics. To my mind, Chaos is at its most insidious and impressive when it preys on the weaknesses of mortals and turns their strengths against them.
I have to ask this... Are you a Warhammer gamer and, if you are, do you use the figures to act out battles from your books?
No, not a gamer I’m afraid. And having just finished writing battle scenes with armies of several thousand soldiers in them, acting them out would be very expensive...
If you are a gamer, how do you fancy painting my ‘Lord of the Rings’ figures for me? ;o)
You really wouldn’t want me to do that. The results would be... unfortunate.
If you could be any other Black Library writer, which one would you be and why?
I’m in awe of Dan Abnett’s ability to place memorable characters into taut, fast-paced action stories and make the end product so satisfying. As preparation for writing Battle of the Fang I read lots of his stuff, and it was a mixture of terrifying and inspirational. That said, there’s a lot of talent in the BL stable at the moment: I think Aaron Dembski-Bowden is frighteningly good, and on the Fantasy side I’m a big fan of what Nathan Long has done with Bloodborn. For all of that, though, I’m very happy doing what I’m doing and wouldn’t change it - I’ve been lucky enough to write about some of the most compelling characters and factions in Warhammer Fantasy and 40K, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
And finally ... Can you give us any clues for what we can look forward to in the sequel to ‘Sword of Justice’?
Schwarzhelm has a lot of work to do in the follow-up, but we get to see much more of Helborg’s motivation and character - there’s plenty of unresolved business between the two of them that forms one big strand of the book. The sequel also ties up all the threads left open in Sword of Justice, so if you’re wondering what happened to Achendorfer, Tochfel, Alptraum, Heidegger, Bloch, Verstohlen, Skarr, Gruppen, Natassja, Kraus, Rufus and the rest, there will be answers...
If you want to find out more about Chris Wraight, and what he's up to, then you should be clicking right here...