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Graham McNeill, a few questions about Vengeful Spirit to a master writer

Since Vengeful spirit is released in France this month, we asked its author, Sir Graham McNeill if he could answer a few questions. Being a nice guy, he gave us a lot to read (and translate) in return. We asked him about his job as a writer, and about Vengeful Spirit  which is one of the major Horus Heresy title of the past years. If you don’t have read Vengeful Spirit yet, he might tells you things you’d prefer read in situ, so consider this interview as non-spoiler free, be warned !

Here at Le Reclusiam, we review a good lot of Black Library publication and try our best to give our personal insight on how those fantastic books are writen and released. We couldn’t let all these answers only available in French so here’s a special english release on this otherwise French website. But you’re welcome in the comments below, and a share with your hobby friends would be a great reward for us !

L. R

Could you please let us know how an architect ended up writing for Black Library?

G. M

As far back as I can remember I’ve always written stories. I wrote mini-stories when I was in primary school and tried to write my first horror novel in high school. I’d also written a number of card games, RPG systems and board games based on stories in 2000AD (A Judge Dredd board game and a proto-wargame based on Rogue Trooper) so telling stories has been a part of my DNA from an early age.

I wrote the first half of a fantasy novel at the end of high school, and the first half of a 40k novel at university (which goes some way to explaining why I’m not currently an architect). I’d fallen into the trap of starting lots of projects, but not finishing them – a cardinal sin! – and when real life intruded and insisted I get a proper job, I studied for one that seemed interesting; architecture. Turns out I wasn’t suited for that career and fortunately I’d kept up my passion for writing, so when an advert for a Staff Writer in the Games Workshop Design Studio appeared in White Dwarf magazine, I sent off an application the very next day. Two rounds of fun, terrifying, bizarre and cunning interviews later, I started work with Games Workshop in February 2000.

It was another two years before Nightbringer was published and I learned a lot working in the Design Studio, and there’s few training arenas as harsh, instructive and downright illuminating as that. I learned so much there that’s stood me in good stead. And when the chance came to write full time for Black Library it was tough to leave, but I’ve never had cause to regret that decision over the last eight years.

L. R

Could you please let us know more about your participation to the Eternal Crusade project? Why have you decided to be involved? What is a genuine decision?

G. M

It’s pretty simple, really, I was approached by the guys at Behaviour Interactive (the guys behind Eternal Crusade) we spoke about what they wanted and what I could do for them, and things just spring-boarded from there. We talked about the kinds of storytelling techniques that would work best and the kinds of games we liked, the style of play and how best to tell the story of Eternal Crusade. I loved what they planned to do with the game and their obvious passion for the 40k universe, so I was thrilled to be part of the Eternal Crusade team. After all, it allows me to indulge three of my favourite things, 40k, video gaming and writing, why wouldn’t I want to get involved?

I work closely with Ivan Mulkeen, the team’s awesome Narrative Designer, helping to develop the setting, characters and ongoing story. Most of my time on Eternal Crusade (at the moment) is writing short pieces of fiction to further develop the world of Arkhona, but as time goes on, that’ll change I’m sure and we’ll see more and more different varieties of writing coming out of Arkhona.

Note: 
Eternal Crusade is an upcoming MMO-RPG based on the W40k franchise, where you’ll be able to play Space Marines, Chaos Space marine, Eldars ; and Orks as a free-to-play.
L. R

Lord of Mars has recently been released, ending your trilogy. Would you write something else about the Mechanicum? Is there some aspect you haven’t approached yet?

G. M

Gods of Mars is the final book in the trilogy, and all through the series it veered from being a trilogy to a duology and back to a trilogy. In the course of writing Gods, I frayed some threads I might come back to with further stories (if there’s a demand for it…) and planted some seeds that could result in some great upheavals on Mars if that’s something people would like to see. I’ve written a short story (Zero Day Exploit) set on Mars to play as a companion piece for when Gods of Mars is released, and its characters would more than likely appear again if I play with the cast of the …of Mars books.

I think if there’s another book about the Adeptus Mechanicus in me, then I’d like to set it on Mars. I purposefully avoided doing that with this trilogy so as to avoid unwittingly going down any of the same roads I’d explored in my Horus Heresy novel, Mechanicum. But with three books set beyond the edges of the galaxy, I think enough time has passed that it’d be interesting to see a very different Mars from the one we saw during the Horus Heresy. And with the Adeptus Mechanicus, there’e always some new aspect to explore.

L. R

I really liked the first trilogy of Uriel Ventris but the second one always seemed to me quite unnecessary. In which circumstances have you decided to continue the story of Uriel and Pasanius because at the time you were already more than involved in other project like the Horus Heresy? In the meantime is it possible to tell us more about the first book of the forthcoming new Uriel Ventris trilogy, Swords of Calth?



G. M

The idea behind the second trilogy was ‹The Voyage Home›, as the first trilogy ended with Uriel and Pasanius stuck in the Eye of Terror, so I couldn’t very well have them just turn up on Macragge without the reader feeling cheated and folk wondering how they’d gotten back (and were they corrupt…). So I felt the odyssey of them voyaging home and how they reintegrated back to the Chapter would be an arc worth telling. Also, each story escalates the stakes; with The Killing Ground just having the two main characters involved, Courage and Honour involving the Company, and finally, The Chapter’s Due dragging in the entire Chapter. So, it was about re-establishing Uriel as a Captain of note, ready for the next trilogy, where that distinction will become increasingly important as things go on.

To explain why I continued the story of Uriel and Pasanius, it’s because I have a soft spot for the good guys. In 40k they always seem to be on the back foot, which is a great place to keep your characters as it’s always full of conflict and challenges – two things that are a must for any story to bear the reader onwards. 40k already has more than its fair share of anti-heroes (I’ve done a few myself…Honsou, for example) but they only work if there’s some good guys to rail against, and the Ultramarines are about as close to being good guys as it’s possible to find in the Imperium. True, I was involved with the Horus Heresy books, but any writer will tell you that the way to stay fresh and engaged in any long-running series is to find variety in your work. Hop between genres, styles, voices and so on.

I have my finger in all sorts of pies, 40k, Heresy, Fantasy, Horror, Time of Legends…and that helps keep things interesting for me as a writer, which hopefully keeps things interesting for the reader. And with Swords of Calth  in the near(ish) future, I can’t wait to get back to Uriel’s adventures, it is going to scale things back to just Uriel and his command squad and will put the Ultramarines in a situation they don’t often face. Losing.

L. R

Will we see Sharowkyn & Wayland again, the most badass commando in Horus Heresy ?

G. M

Funny you should mention that… I’ve written a Horus Heresy novella that should be out relatively soon and which has them as the two of its main characters. The story follows the crew of the Sisypheum (last seen in Angel Exterminatus) as they meet up with fellow survivors of the Isstvan V Massacre and find a mission that will allow them to strike a devastating blow against the traitors, specifically a ‹many-headed› Legion.

L. R

How long does a full Horus Heresy title takes from the publisher’s point of view, and from the author’s perspective, for something as big as Angel Exterminatus?

G. M

It varies, depending on the subject matter, author and the complexity of work to be done. On average, the process of pitching the idea and working with the editors to get a story ready for writing is a few weeks (as the idea will likely have been gestating for a while…). Then getting the words on the page is around three months or so (longer if the story grows in the telling, as it almost always does in my case).

Once it’s written, the editorial, feedback, proofreading loop can go on for another month or so before a final copy is laid at my door for a red-pen read through to catch any last errors or to apply that last critical (in my mind) polish before it heads to the printers. Add in another couple of months for printing and distribution and I’m looking at around six to seven months to go from conception to holding a physical copy in my hands.

L. R

I really liked Vengeful Spirit and the existing antagonism between Loken and Horus. How did you feel about writing on those great characters? What did you want to achieve with them?

G. M

Thanks for that! I loved writing those characters, as I’ve missed them since the opening trilogy. Yes, Horus has had some screen time since then, but aside from stomping about on his ship, he hadn’t had much chance to do anything that really  showed us why he was the Warmaster and not anyone else. What I primarily wanted to achieve was getting Horus back in the driving seat of the rebellion, and this was a perfect opportunity to do that (and reintroduce the readers to characters I felt had been absent from the series for too long). Writing Loken was fun in the early stages of the series, as he was our hero, a straight up and down guy who knew right from wrong and was our avatar in the story.

But now, after so much betrayal, so much loss and so much madness, is the man Nathaniel Garro found on Isstvan III still Loken? Can anyone’s psyche suffer that much torment and come back without horrific mental scars…? Playing up that aspect of Loken was great as it allowed us to see how far he’s come since the early days. Horus was a real challenge, but a great one. He still had to be the charismatic hero we’d seen before, but that had to be tempered by the fact that he’s slipping deeper and deeper into the embrace of the dark powers (even if he doesn’t see it that way).

What happened on Davin wasn’t his fall in its entirety, it was his unwitting opening of a door in his soul that has allowed Chaos to seep in gradually. After all if Horus went Full-Chaos that early, none of the legions would have followed him, they’d have turned away, repulsed. You never go Full-Chaos. You corrupt with small steps, seemingly inconsequential decisions that have grave ramifications further down the line

L. R

James Swallow has pretty much written everything about Nathaniel Garro so far. Will the same apply to you with Garviel Loken?

G. M

I don’t know, I’d certainly like to do more with Loken, though I suspect he may well appear in other writers› stories as time goes on. I know Dan Abnett has some plans for him further down the line, so we’ll see… I may have plans for what he’ll do after the mission to the Vengeful Spirit, and some issues he became aware of on the way there will require his attention. I’m thinking Mersadie Oliton, Kyril Sindermann and Euphrati Keeler might be involved here.

L. R

Vengeful Spirit has really exceptional new characters. Do you think we would meet them again?

G. M

Absolutely. When certain members of the cast needed to start dying, it was a really tough decision as to which ones would get the chop. The ones I thought I’d kill turned out to be too interesting to get rid of, and when once scene turned into a bloodbath, it was really hard for me to choose who lived and who died. In the end, I kept the ones I felt had most life beyond this particular story, the ones I felt would offer the most opportunities for ongoing drama and conflict. I feel Severian and Proximo Tarchon are especially ripe for further stories.

L. R

The Devine characters really amazed me in your short story The Devine Adoratrice and I was honestly really eager to read more about them in Vengeful Spirit. However I found myself quite surprised by the fact time has passed and we only got to read the end of their plot due to the ellipse. Could you tell us more about this? What was the most challenging aspect with those characters?

G. M

I came to really like Raeven Devine in The Devine Adoratrice (in the twisted way you ‹like› someone as nasty as Jaime Lannister) and I felt the best moments to see him were at the beginning of his corruption and the moment where he takes his first step over the line (in the mountains with his father…). To have spent too much time with him in the intervening years would have slowed the narrative down too much.

The biggest challenge with the Devine characters was that, if you know your background, you kind of already knew which way they went, so I had to find a way to keep the reader on their toes by subverting the easy way they expected House Devine to fall. In the end, how House Devine falls isn’t the way most would expect and Raeven turns out to have more strength of character than anyone reading the book had any reason to expect. And surprising the reader is the best thing any writer can do to get them to keep turning the pages.

L. R

Something is going to change Horus on Molech. How soon are we going to find out more about this event since it is not fully related in your book? What was the reason why you did not include it (apart from making me extremely frustrated)?

G. M

Yeah, Horus has come back from Molech massively changed, but we won’t see the full extent of that for a while. I originally wanted to include the ‹other side› element within the book, but realised it would slow the main narrative down too much and had the potential to become a huge story arc in its own right. So I think we’ll see more of what Horus did through the portal, but mostly as flashbacks or interludes, as to fully detail it (based on the little snippet of description Horus himself gives) would take a series of books as long as the Heresy itself !

L. R
What is your favourite scene in Vengeful Spirit and why?

G. M

I think it has to be the final confrontation in the Vengeful Spirit’s strategium, where Horus and Loken finally come face to face. Seeing all the characters finally let rip with all their skills and powers was great fun to write. Iacton Qruze’s four-way battle was a particular highlight.

L. R

To Which extent have you been free to write Vengeful Spirit? Have you had some element to submit to Alan Merrett?

G. M

I had a pretty free hand with this book – as I do with most of them, within reason – though we always keep in mind that Alan is the ultimate arbiter if we stray off-piste as it were. Usually a talk with the other authors or the editors is enough to get an answer to any contentious issues, though if I wanted to do anything that really changed the dynamic of what’s previously been established in the background (albeit in a way that’s plausible and in keeping with the setting) then, yeah, going to Alan Merrett would be the way forward.

L. R

On what are you working at the moment if we may ask?

G. M

I’ve just finished a Warhammer story set in Kislev, tying in with the End Times narrative that’s been established in the newly-released Nagash book. Great fun to return that frozen land and revisit characters from my Ambassador books (The Ambassador/Ursun’s Teeth). After that, I’ve a Horus Heresy short story to write, and then it’s off to the Planet of the Sorcerers to write The Crimson King, the sequel to A Thousand Sons, before returning to Ultramar and the aforementioned Swords of Calth. After that, who knows.

Thanks again to Graham McNeill for his precious time and willingness to answer all of our questions.

  • Publié le Vendredi 31 octobre 2014
  • 7 révisions avant publication
  • 5 corrections après publication
  • Par ♦ Priad ♦