I’ll start with the basics first. Black Library (BL – hey I’m lazy) is the publishing arm of Games Workshop, and their job is to lever the Warhammer and Warhammer 40000 universes in to the mainstream fantasy and Science Fiction market places. Not as easy task given the snobbery of the average genre enthusiast when it comes to tie-in fiction. The event took place at Warhammer World. There can hardly be a place on earth that is more like geek heaven. It truly is a fantastic place where you can see people that write/paint/build/play in a safe and harmonious environment. Oh and there is a bar attached with a well stocked selection of board games and books. I’ve seen plenty of mums sitting in there happily knitting whilst their offspring geek out in the main hall.
So what is the BL Live event I hear you ask (at least I hope you did)? I’m glad you asked. It is a chance for die hard BL fiction fans and aspiring writers to interact with the editors and writers in several seminars throughout the day. Add to that a massive collection of BL books and artwork for sale next to the signing desks and you have a recipe for success.
What do you get for your money? A chapbook with two short stories by Andy Chambers and Sarah Cawkwell and the opportunity to attend a combination of twelve seminars. You also had the chance to buy some pre-release books including The Primarchs which is not due for release for three months (and yes I did buy it). I didn’t make it to the signing desk at all. I’ll go through the seminars I attended one-by-one.
Writing for Black Library
The panel consisted of Christian Dunn, Laurie Goulding, John French and Josh Reynolds. I could almost taste the hunger in the room. Every person eager to be the only person to hear the one nugget of advice that would allow them and them alone to become the next published author in the BL stable. There were some interesting points raised and questions answered but for me the most important point was that knowledge of the Warhammer and 40k universe is secondary to being able to write a good story. That certainly matches what I want as a reader so it was good to hear from the submissions editor. I am fairly sure that some of the advice such as do not base your story on established characters and the major races will be ignored. I found it interesting that BL are finding that the don’t really want novel submissions any more as usually they get writers to write some short stories before asking for a novel. This to my mind is a great way to nurture and bring on new talent.
This panel was made up of Josh Reynolds, William King, Gav Thorpe and Sarah Cawkwell. I’ll freely admit to being more of a 40k fan than a warhammer one, but I enjoyed this talk. It was nice to hear that the authors read all the army books that might be important before they start writing. There were some highly specific examples used in some of the questions that went way above my head, but there was always a quick and insightful answer from the panel. William King’s Gotrek and Felix books are a great example of some quality BL books and I noticed that when Mr King was speaking all the panelists were as attentive as we were in the audience. Gav Thorpe was as I expected very interesting and spoke about the planning and research which was what I would expect from somebody that in my mind was the 3rd edition of 40k. Josh Reynolds is an interesting character, his pragmatism and honest added a fresh viewpoint. The surprise package for me was Sarah Cawkwell. I enjoyed what she said so much that I walked out to the book sales counter and asked what they had by her.
William King Q&A
I needed to eat and I chose this time of day to do it. I did however catch the second half of this informal Q&A. The first thing I’ll say is that I didn’t hear any of the questions. I think somebody should have walked the mic round the audience for that. The man is a legend, and all those years of experience allowed him to regale us with some really interesting stories. I was fascinated by his view that Warhammer is the 18th century and 40k is the 19th century. Obviously he was only talking about the feel but I instantly identified with it.
This talk with Andy Chambers and Rob Sanders was the one I had been most looking forward to. It did not disappoint. I was so glad they said that lots of Tau text would detract from a book as it would annoy the hell out of me. The key point I took from this talk was how difficult it really is to get in the mindset of an alien race. How to write for Dark Eldar without showing torture and killing of innocents was discussed and demonstrated with a brilliant and chilling example (I can’t remember if it was Mr Chambers or Mr Sanders) of slowly placing the glistening tools out one-by-one then cutting away and returning to the character washing their hands after removing a pail of bloody bits. Gruesome and yet not at all graphic. Pure genius. There was also some strong advice to try and stick to the main race as main protagonists, this sounded very sensible to me as the purpose of BL is to exploit the GW Intellectual Property in fiction. Oh and no Squig POV was a clear message.
Horus Heresy / The Art of Black Library
I didn’t go to either of these talks, instead I spent the time chatting to one of my favourite reviews and evil twin outside on the balcony. I only have two words to say about that conversation ‘Vibrational Passage’.
Hammer & Bolter Presents New Talent
As the title suggests this seminar was left in the hands of some of the newer BL authors. John French, Amdy Smilie, Sarah Cawkwell and Josh Reynolds initially looked a little startled to be left in front of an eager audience without a responsible adult but they passed a leadership test and rallied. I have to say that Andy Smilie does not look like an author, he obviously works out and is not as pasty as most others. He had some very simple and obvious advice that I think most people would not always think of. Just write, every day, don’t stop and don’t care if it is crap. Just keep on writing. See, I told you it sounds simple, but how many aspiring writers actually do that? No, I don’t expect an answer. One thing that they all agreed on was that writing down your word count every day helps. Not just for hitting targets, but for estimating whether you can actually complete a job in the time allocated by the publisher. Sound advice indeed. The four presenters obviously spend a lot of time conversing about their work. It was like a writing group amongst the new writers to help each other out with proof reading and sanity checking. I think this talk was also a reality check for people that thought writing stories for BL would make them rich. It is a lot of work for not a huge amount of money. Each of them cleared loved not only their own work but the whole BL atmosphere and acted as great examples for aspiring writers to aim for.
All that I have said above is paraphrased from what I can remember and is by no means all that was said during the sessions. I really enjoyed this day and for £15 a ticket I would heartily recommend it to anybody that has an interest in Warhammer or 40k fiction. I always want to mention the events team at Warhammer World. As usual they managed the event excellently and everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves.