Author Interview: Richard Strachan from Black Library

 Hi everyone, for a bit of a different entry into the Artist Interview series, I reached out to Richard Strachan, a writer for Black Library who has stories in Maledictions, Invocations and Anathemas from the Warhammer Horror range of books, as well as the upcoming Oaths and Conquests. I asked him about his inspirations, processes, and for advice for those of you interested in writing for Black Library--hope you enjoy!


How did you decide that you wanted to write for Black Library?

I started getting into Warhammer around 2015, with the release of Age of Sigmar (I’d been really obsessed with Warhammer Fantasy, 40K and Blood Bowl when I was a kid, in the late 80s/early 90s, but I hadn’t played for over 20 years), and when the 2018 Open Submissions window opened it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. I’ve been writing for years and have had a lot of short stories, reviews and articles published, but the Open Submissions period just perfectly coincided with my growing enthusiasm for the setting.

 

Was there a specific element or theme of the setting that you wanted to capture that perhaps hadn't been captured before?

I really wanted to focus more on ground-level characters and the minutiae of everyday life, especially in the Mortal Realms. At the beginning, Age of Sigmar fiction had tended to focus on the Stormcast Eternals and it often felt as if there was an element missing to give a more rounded impression of what this new setting was really like. Books like Josh Reynolds’ Spear of Shadows and Nick Horth’s City of Secrets were starting to open this up a lot more, and I wanted to continue in that kind of vein. Fortunately, I got taken on by Black Library at the same time as they were planning the first Warhammer Horror anthology, and when I was asked to submit something for that as my first short story (‘The Widow Tide’ in Maledictions), it felt like a perfect fit. Warhammer Horror has been designed specifically to explore the darker, smaller-scale aspects of the Age of Sigmar and 40K universes, and for me, it was the ideal introductory showcase.





What research and/ or planning do you do before writing a story?

If the story is about a particular faction then I’ll make sure I’ve read their background lore so I have a reasonably good handle on how they operate, how their culture and society is organised, what their general motivations are, and so on. I need to get to a point where I can imagine them quite clearly. Also, I find looking at maps incredibly helpful; I find I need to have some spatial awareness of the landscape and the distances between places to make that environment seem real. (Even just the names on the map can conjure up ideas for events and scenes.)

 

Can you briefly talk me through your writing process? Do you make notes first? Any quirky tips and tricks? How long do you take? etc.

You’re generally operating from a pitch that you’ve made to the Black Library editors, and if it’s a novel you’ll have put together an outline as well. If it’s a short story, then I usually have a good idea before I start of how it’s going to pan out. I’ll usually sketch out scenes on paper, by hand, and then type them up. For novels, I’ll use the outline as my general guide, but I’ll break it down even further so I’ve got roughly a page of notes for each chapter, sometimes more, and I’ll refer to that as I go. Of course, it’s important not to let yourself be too bound by your initial outline; the best ideas often just appear serendipitously, and you’ve got to trust your instincts to go with them when they do.

            I’m one of those annoying people who can write quite quickly, so I can generally manage about 1000 words an hour once I know what I’m doing. I tend to write in the evening, once the day job is out of the way, and I usually hit 2000 words minimum every night. I do like going back and refining things as I work though, and once you’re halfway through a story or a novel there might be narrative decisions you’ve taken that mean you have to go back and change things around earlier in the story. It’s very much an organic process once you start writing. The only real tip I can give is to sit yourself down and actually write, as much and as often as you can. The more you write, the sooner you’ll have something complete and finished, and it’s much easier to look over a completed story and see how it can be improved than to feel yourself bogged down or just picking away at a piece of work, with no end in sight.

 

Some of Richard's notes


Who and what inspires you?

I don’t really believe in the concept of inspiration (as in the sense of something filling you with an urge or an idea from the outside). Most of my ideas are generated internally; they’re part of a process of narrative problem solving or they come from interrogating certain obsessive images and concepts. It’s quite hard to describe, but the actual process of writing is ‘inspirational’ – the more you write, the more you want to write, and those moments when you hit on what feels like a perfect phrase without consciously trying are endlessly energising.

            Saying that, certain types of landscape do sometimes fill me with an urge to write. The sea striking the rocks, moorland veiled in mist – these kinds of things seem to invite stories.

 

What is an interesting quirk specific to your writing/ narrative style?

I often have to remind myself that not everyone is as interested as I am in obsessively detailed descriptions of landscape and natural processes! I think that the environment is often the best framing device for a scene, and although I try to rein it in, I often overdo that kind of descriptive writing.

 

What hobbies do you have outside of your work surrounding your writing?

Warhammer, obviously, and all kinds of tabletop gaming. Other than that, reading takes up most of my free time, and walking (through obsessively detailed landscapes etc – see above) whenever I get the chance.

 

What is your favourite GW model and what models would you like to see them make next?

I think my favourite ever is the Ork Stormboyz kit, for 40K. I painted a unit of them recently, and everything about them was perfect – the character, the poses, the expressions on their faces. They perfectly encapsulate the faction and they’re not too over-detailed, which is the highest praise I can give a model.

            I really like seeing new races introduced in Age of Sigmar (the Lumineth aelves being the newest), so I’d like to see something like that for 40K. A brand new Xenos race designed from the ground up – I’d love to see that.

Richard's Stormboyz


What have you learnt from writing for Black Library?

I think the main thing I’ve learned is the very basic stuff of structure, character and plot. It might sound weird, but in my other, non-Black Library writing I’ve never bothered with any of that – I’ve always been more interested in language and imagery. For Black Library though, I really feel that I’ve improved in these aspects of the craft. It’s immensely difficult and challenging to structure a story or a novel properly, to create characters with a light enough touch so that they seem genuine and interesting, and to guide the reader towards what is hopefully a narratively satisfying conclusion. It’s something I’m always trying to improve, and I’m learning more and more about it the more I write for BL.

 

Any tips for budding authors, Black Library or otherwise?

The most obvious one (see question 4 above) is to actually write. Plenty of people want ‘to be a writer’, but you’d be surprised how few of those people actually commit to sitting down and putting words on paper (or on a screen) every day. Also, if you want to do it professionally, then you have to be able to write when you’re not in the mood, when you can’t be bothered, and when you’d rather be doing anything else other than writing. That might sound quite forbidding, but if you can get to a point where you’re regularly getting words down, then you’re more than halfway there! Also, the best writers are the best readers – read widely, outside and inside any genres you might like. Read fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, comics – just read as much as you can.

            Specific to Black Library, if you’re already a fan of the Warhammer settings then you’ll probably have a good handle on the lore. But it’s worth trying to dig a little deeper behind that lore. The battletomes and codexes often give an exalted view of those factions, but if you can think your own way into those characters and really interrogate what it must actually feel like to be a Space Marine or a Stormcast warrior (to take the obvious examples), or what the worlds they exist in must be like, then you’re going to open up lots of possibilities for stories of your own.



Thanks for reading, and thank you to Richard for taking part. Find him on Twitter @richstrach and find his Wahammer work on the Black Library website--you can buy Oaths and Conquests here: https://www.blacklibrary.com/warhammer-age-of-sigmar/novels/age-of-sigmar-oaths-and-conquests-ebook-2020.html

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