Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Gav Thorpe?
Hi, I’m a middle aged white guy that’s been fortunate enough to write about orcs and space marines and other made-up stuff since I was nineteen. I spent fourteen years as a games develop for Games Workshop, and in 2007 I left to become a full-time freelance writer, developer and creative consultant.
I live between Nottingham and Derby in the UK, with by partner Kez and our son, Sammy.
You work on a number of series for Black Library. Your next Horus Heresy novel, Angels of Caliban, will be published soon(ish). How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
Angels of Caliban is a story about loyalty and honour, but more importantly how those things can be measured differently. And how those measures may change depending on circumstance. It is the culmination and continuance of several storylines that have been playing out through the Horus Heresy series, including the Imperium Secundus arc, the growing rebellion on Caliban and the ongoing homicidal feud between The Lion and Konrad Curze. But there’s also a ton of stuff about the history and organisation of the Dark Angels legion, an examination on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate on the Primarchs and all the sort of lore you would expect from a Horus Heresy novel. Oh, and an ending that will drop a few jaws and have some folks just wondering what the hell is going to happen next.
How does it fit into the overall series?
That’s really difficult to answer. On one level it simply follows Unremembered Empire and Pharos, with backstory from Descent of Angels and Fallen Angels. But also ties to lots of other work such as the Thramas Crusade stories Savage Weapons and Prince of Crows by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, associated stories from Imperium Secundus, my work in Call of The Lion, The Lion, By the Lion’s Command (detecting a title theme yet?), as well as the audios Guardian of Order, Master of the First and John French’s Grey Angel. What a tangled web we weave…
Warhammer Fantasy Battle was recently brought to a close, and replaced by Age of Sigmar. What’s it like writing for the new universe?
It was difficult, to be honest. Not because of anything particular in the setting itself, but just having to re-learn lore and characters and a style that I’ve accrued over the last twenty years. It’s a trap to think of it as Warhammer but with the dial turned up even higher – it’s a completely different thematic, moving from a world on the brink of damnation and destruction to a moment poised on the greatest reconquest and a golden age. It was hard at the time, but looking back at Warbeast I’m pleased with what I’ve written. When I had my head around the concepts it was fun, and some of the big cosmic stuff is very different to what I usually write. I hope that I might return to the characters some day, though there are no more Age of Sigmar novels on my schedule at present.
Do you ever miss WFB?
Lots. Personally and professional the old Warhammer World was part of my life for thirty years! My genuine regret is that I only managed to fit in two Dwarfs novels in more than a decade and half of writing for Black Library – Grudgebearer and Doom of Dragonback. If I had a chance I’d love to have gotten my Bugman’s Rangers series up and running, or done something more with the folk of the mountain Holds.
You also recently wrote Asurman: Hand of Asuryan, taking on the story of one of the Eldar’s most iconic special characters. What was it like, writing his story? Any particular challenges?
It was my most redrafted novel to date, with a lot of back and forth between me and the editor to get the right feel, to keep Asurmen as the central character without exploding the entirety of the mythos around him, and telling a gripping story. An intrinsic part of the story for me was to take a look back at the Fall, the catastrophic collapse of the Eldar civilisation (and subsequent devouring by a newborn Chaos God!). At the same time, I didn’t want that to overshadow the ‘current day’ events that were the backbone of the tale. And it was a challenge to do that whilst fitting everything in to the 50,000 word limit I had been briefed by the Black Library. The intent was that it would start an irregular series, potentially by multiple authors, and the good news is that I’ve pitched a follow-up book that Black Library are considering at the moment.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
That would be the bookshelves in the living room when I was a nipper. I never realised until a little while ago, but there were some classic genre titles amongst James Clavell, Alistair MacLean, C.S. Forrester and Solzhenitsyn. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, obviously, but also some H.G. Wells (I read and re-read The Valley of Spiders many times) as well as the Pelucidar series from Edgar Rice Burroughs. And Asimov’s Robot series, I read that too. There were also the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, but I couldn’t get into it at that age – maybe I should try them again. My mum also read Stephen King which introduced me to the horror side of things.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I love being a writer. Specifically, being a full-time writer working from home so I control my hours, get to spend lots of time with my two-year-old son and partner, and avoid the daily crush of commuting and office life. It does mean putting yourself out there, though, and as a private, introverted person that can be difficult – but I’ve had a long enough time now that I can cope with that, as well as the inevitably criticisms and flak that comes my way. There’s also issues of cash flow, of course, but that’s also mitigated by experience and learning how to smooth out the bumps.
I’ve had an easy ride of publishing, what with working for Games Workshop when they set up Black Library and then being available when Marc Gascoigne left and created Angry Robot, so that I could write The Crown of the Blood. The profile of writing Warhammer fiction has helped me make contacts in other areas too like video games, which helps to pay the bills, and also means I get invited to write for anthologies and such that allow me to articulate different ideas that might not sit in a Warhammer 40,00 novel.
I’ve so far avoided the slush pile side of being a writer, but that may change soon. I’ve been working on and off with a new fantasy novel, the start of a series I hope, and I’ll be looking to tout that to agents later int he year – so far I’ve got by without an agent but I think it’s a necessary next step if I want to progress my career outside of the tie-in writing that has served me well so far.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I’m a full-time author which mans I sit down, I write for a number of hours every day, and do that five days week until the book or story is finished. I’m a planner by inclination, and certainly experience, which means my writing follows three distinct phases – planning, typing, editing. The more time I have to spend plotting out and thinking before actually getting the second stage, the swifter that part goes. I am not a seat-of-the-pants writer, I need to know where I’m heading when I set out so that i know I am on track.
As a career writer who has been busy building up a catalogue to pay the bills it’s been essential that i could write quickly, cleanly and to deadline over and over, and that discipline has come from my days as a games developer and staff writer at Games Workshop. The fastest, most prolific writers I know come from journalism, games, comics and similar industries – no indulgence of wandering about while the muse strikes.
With that said, it is important to visualise and think before planning anything, and I am often found staring into the middle distance while half-formed dialogue floats into my thoughts or a scene starts to coalesce…
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I wrote my first fantasy ‘novel’ aged about twelve, I think. It was called Anazar’s Crystal and went on for nearly ten handwritten pages. At least five hundred words, I’d wager.
I still want to write Anazar’s Crystal, actually, it was a concept that I thought a lot about during my teen years and I have a proper story in my head an everything. I wrote lots of snippets and short pieces, drew maps, invented elven languages and all the other stuff geeky teenagers do.
When I was nineteen I started at Games Workshop and my creativity was channelled into games development, but it was also there that I got my break on writing fiction, with the short story Birth of a Legend for issue 2 of Inferno! Magazine. My first draft of the story came back with more red ink than black, and I haven’t looked at it for a long time, and I learnt a lot from Andy Jones and Marc Gascoigne about plotting, conflict and drama in those early days, as well as the technical, craft side of writing. As they say, the rest is history.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Aaargh! This is the sort of question I find really hard to answer, if only because I think myself woefully uninformed and uninvolved in any genre or community. My sense, based only on conversations in convention bars and gut instinct, is that there’s a shift away from the ‘grimdark’ approach that has dominated a lot of fantasy in the last decade. Stories and settings with more adventure, more heroes are returning as real life continues to remind us that our world can be grimdark enough as it is.
Not escapist fantasy as such, and certainly possessed of more psychological realism than much of the Technicolor fantasy of the seventies, eighties and early nineties, but also more whimsy and willingness to embrace classic tropes with new enthusiasm and fresh perspectives.
On the SF front I think the genre is still struggling with itself, torn between its hard SF, concept-driven roots and the modern audience’s desire for more character-driven narrative. On the one hand you have something like The Martian, very much the S in SF, in the middle something like Emma Newman’s Planetfall and going to another extreme Adam Roberts’ Bête. Fantasy has coped well enough with fracturing into sub-genre after sub-genre, as much as it seems artificial at times, but SF continues to parade around in a monolithic state due to a lack of marketing finesse.
There’s also a lot more overt political and social commentary and dissection going on, from the likes of Kameron Hurley, Ramez Naam, Saladin Ahmed and many other authors breaking open the male, whitewashed imaginary worlds of our past.
And graphic novels. Stuff like Saga and Black Science and A Beautiful Darkness and Rat Queens and lots of other titles that are proving you don’t have to create a million-word series to explore amazing worlds and characters and explore deep concepts.
And we still have tie-in fiction breaking all the bestseller lists, and dare I say it there’s even a growing respect for authors working in the tie-in industry. Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, many other series are attracting critical praise as well as popularity, and these are settings in which ‘established’ authors are wanting to work (I wouldn’t be so vain as to throw in Black Library there).
And let’s not start on the blurring of Fantasy, SF, Horror and Young Adult marketing and audiences…
Okay, maybe I had a little more to say than I thought.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Well… As mentioned earlier Angels of Caliban is coming out later this year. I also have a second entry in The Beast Arises series, book 8 The Beast Must Die!, which was a lot of fun to write. I’ve just finished a Horus Heresy audio entitle The Thirteenth Wolf and I’ve returned to the Raven Guard in that setting too. I’m about to embark on a short novel in the Warhammer 40,000 universe (literally, when I’m done this I start typing!) but that’s not announced yet.
There is my aforementioned original secondary world fantasy novel that I hope to finish soon, and I’ve got my eye on a few short story anthologies I’m going to submit to over the next few months – it’s always nice to do those because they allow me to get ideas off my chest without embarking on a the full novel treatment.
I have a website, and there you can sign up to a newsletter in which I talk about stuff I’m working on (when I can) and upcoming releases, as well as what I’ve been up to, my favourite Kickstarter projects and all that jazz.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
What I’m actually reading, rather than what’s floating around the house waiting to be read, is Thursbitch by Alan Garner. Wonderful authorial voice in that. I’ve just finished The Relic Guild by Edward Cox, which I enjoyed, and I have some catching up to do with graphic novels, including the latest Saga, Pax Romana and The Private Eye. I’m on Goodreads — if people are interested in that sort of thing, but they will also see how abysmally slow with books I can sometimes be.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I am a big fan of professional wrestling. I can talk for hours about the narrative intricacies of men and women in spandex hitting each other.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Time to do more gaming and hobby-related stuff.
7 thoughts on “Interview with GAV THORPE”
This is a great interview ^^ ! A couple very telling lines about what BL is doing these days.
When Gav said:
“How does it fit into the overall series?
– That’s really difficult to answer. […]”
He wasn’t lying or exaggerating when he opened with that. EVERY Horus-Heresy-writer would have to respond like that these days. I wonder how well the HH-series is doing sales-wise these days in contrast to its beginnings. I mean, just imagine some newcomer reading Gav’s longer answer about how you need to read a couple novels, listen to a couple audio-dramas AND read various short-stories in order to understand the context of his novel. That’s an insane expectation for newcomers!
That isn’t exactly the definition of “accessible”.
Horus Heresy has no discernible story-structure as a franchise. Sure, meta-plot-wise, WH40k-buffs know where some of the story’s goals lie and if you have been closely following the franchise you have, at least, some idea of what is going on. But any newcomer? What’s he supposed to do with any comments about how the Imperium-Secundus-stories are relevant for the new novel? The original WH40k.canon didn’t even have a Imperium-Secundus (which ultimately turned out to be some sort of quicksand-trap for the meta-plot of the Horus-Heresy because it will take a lot of effort to move forward).
“And it was a challenge to do that whilst fitting everything in to the 50,000 word limit I had been briefed by the Black Library.”
That certainly makes it sound like all those Limited Edition Novellas that were sold at exorbitant prices were BLs idea. Also, and that’s a more idealistic issue, isn’t it a weird practice to go to your writers and just say “Write something according to these guidelines, okay?” instead of “Well, what do you want to write and let’s figure out how best to publish it and sell it.”?
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