I first read the name Gav Thorpe when I picked up a mid-nineties White Dwarf talking about the Squat Cyclops [HERESY! Blam!].
I later picked up Realm of Chaos and was happily surprised when I realised the first story, Birth of a Legend, was written by him. Later I became enamoured with the Warhammer Vampire Counts, two editions of which he wrote. So, Mr Thorpe, you are to blame for my crippling addiction to Black Library novels, Dark Angels and Vampire Counts. I hope you’re happy.
[Get the drokker!]
So, on a whim I messaged him on Twitter, hoping to interview him but not really expecting a reply – he’s an important writer guy, surely he has better things to do with his time. But when he replied a small part of me melted into a big puddle of fanboi goo (imagine that at your own risk) and I started gibbering and tearing at my clothes. I’m not going to lie – I spent the majority of this article grinning like a loon and simultaneously cringing at the memory of bowing to Gav when I managed to corner him at a Games Day over ten years ago.
I’ll be honest, I wanted to write this with an angle in mind, but I really couldn’t think of one. Gav just lays it all out in such a simple and confident way that to try and slot his replies into anything other than a simple Q&A felt wrong. I’ll be using his unvarnished words for the most part with minimal interference from me (I’m not lazy, you’re lazy! You also cry at sad movies and eat to take away the pain!).
So, without further ado, let’s see what Gav has to say.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
‘I am the scourge of diversity in writing, the stereotypical middle-aged, middle class white guy… I’ve been writing prose fiction professionally for nearly twenty years, and for a little longer than that in games development.
‘As a writer I consider myself experienced, quick and accurate and I’m always striving to improve the quality of my prose and storytelling, learning something every time I write a new piece.
‘I am not tortured by my art, but I am also not complacent – every project is a fresh challenge that has to be taken on its own terms, and if I feel a project isn’t stretching me in some way I find ways of making it harder… Not the most productive trait in a writer, but it helps keep me interested writing stories in a setting I’ve been working with for over two decades! While I maintain a highly professional approach to my writing (I do it full-time, so I have to think of it like a job) it is also a vocation and I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing.
‘I would say my style is… straightforward. I like broad brushes for description, dialogue pared down, a lot left to the readers’ imaginations rather than forcing mine onto them [as an aside from me, that’s something I really need to apply to my own writing]. I’m big on certain themes – the basis, use and abuse of power; the nature of identity and self-identity; the self-destruction of ambition – which seem to tie very well with the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes (and was probably informed by them by contact in my tender teenage years).
‘As a person I am far less interesting than my writing, which is how I like it. I value getting stuff done, I’m not a completer-finisher sort of person. I usually have several creative plates spinning at once between various writing and games projects, though I focus on the paying, commissioned ones above the others, for obvious reasons. I like variety in my genres, subjects, characters and style. I really should watch less TV and read more books – I have far too many good ones on the shelf waiting for me.
[Artists rendition of Gav’s ‘to read’ pile]
To be honest, I’m the same. Books play a woefully small part in my day and I really need to get on that. A well-written novel can transport you to other realms, and fill you with new perspectives and incites. This goes hand-in-hand with the expansion of vocabulary and will also help me with my own writing. Gav actually has a pretty detailed ‘Writing Advice’ section on his blog. Have a look at it.
So, when did you get into writing and what keeps you interested?
‘In my youth I focused on becoming an illustrator, but as a gamer and avid reader I dabbled in stories, role playing campaigns and the like, so I’ve always been interested in writing. The art thing wasn’t going to happen, due to lack of ability and dedication, so fortunately the writing came to my rescue when I was 19, when I started at Games Workshop and didn’t have to get another proper job.
‘Writing is endlessly challenging, entertaining and rewarding. I have been favoured by the breadth of projects I have been able to work on over the years, including tabletop games, fiction and videogames. Some more script work would be lovely. While the bulk of my writing has been through the Black Library, this has opened up opportunities for lots of other things like video game scripts and world design, background and concept work, as well as working on original fiction like my Empire of the Blood series of Angry Robot books. And the Black Library work is also broad and varied enough that I can come back again and again to find something slightly different I want to say or explore with my writing.’
As an aspiring novelist myself, I have been inundated with advice by friends and family, mostly to the tune of ‘Write Every Day, You Horrible Little Man’. Where I suffer is actually doing it unless I reward myself with M&M’s. With my girlfriend’s desire to join Slimming World I need to come up with a new plan…
What has the experience been like?
‘When I first went full-time freelance I was both excited and terrified, these days it’s mostly the former. Working for yourself means there’s always the concern that the work will dry up (or I will!) but for the most part it’s been a great time. I’ve had a few squeaky patches along the way, to do with finances or confidence or just sheer workload. As a father of a two year old, I would compare it to those early months of parenthood when you’re utterly exhausted, have a screaming monster at 3am who smells of poo. Six months later you’ve forgotten all that, and it’s the gurgles and smiles and first steps you remember instead.’
[Children; not as advertised]
‘Every project brings its own pleasures and pains, whether its deadlines, looking for an angle, or simply trying to fit it around the other ideas cramming into my head wanting their time in the sun – I have terrible ‘shiny thing’ syndrome that means I really have to focus on the project in hand rather than let myself get carried away thinking about the next work.’
As an aside, I suffer from this a fair bit too. Not a day goes by without the thought of what could be done by slamming two ideas together and writing about the result goes through my head. One day the world will know my genius when I slap down a manuscript that is basically a cyberpunk version of Waylander onto a publishers desk.
‘Life-wise, working for myself from home is the best thing ever. I don’t think I could ever go back to an office, no matter how laid back and creative the company was. Not for more than a few weeks, anyway. I am my own boss and my partner, Kez, works for me doing lots of office manager, marketing, admin-related type stuff, as well as running my website. This has been the prefect arrangement with the arrival of little Sammy, meaning I can work and spend time with the family on a fairly flexible basis.
‘But it’s only been possible by a series of very fortunate events for which I am very grateful, stemming from my work at GW. I’ve never had to chase work, which has made the whole experience far less fraught than for many other writers.’
Out of all your achievements, which is your favourite? Do you have any big projects in the works?
‘In purely writing terms, I would have to say that getting my first original fiction trilogy published by Angry Robot was a high point for me. Or more precisely, the boost I got from the Crown of the Blood getting a good reception from readers. Affirmation, approval, it’s one of those spectres of being a creative. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing something, the doubts never quite go away. Nor should they; if you’re not pushing yourself into arenas and projects that aren’t a little hard or uncomfortable, complacency sets in and work will get repetitive. As a predominantly tie-in fiction writer there is always the suspicion that people wouldn’t be reading me if it wasn’t for the Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 logo on the front. This may be true in some cases, but putting out a series of books that were entirely my own creation and having people enjoy them was a good moment.
‘That said my favourite thing is usually the next thing I’ll be working on… Or the thing I don’t have time to work on. At the time of writing, I am writing the first book in a brand new original fantasy series that I hope to sell in the summer. It’s quite different from my Black Library work (as was The Crown of the Blood) but I think people are going to enjoy it, and hopefully I can find someone who likes the big plans I have for the characters and setting. The ‘City of Endless Days’ has the potential to be something very special.”
Have you any horror stories (eg; exploding manuscripts, computer crashes that deleted months of work or SAS raids in the studio) about the craft?
‘A chunk from the original draft of Angels of Darkness, about a half of it, was lost in a hard drive failure a week before deadline. I wrote about 40,000 words over the course of just over a week to get it finished (well, rewrote most of them, but still it was a lot of typing). On top of my day job in the Design Studio. Now I always use back-ups!’
Let that be a major lesson to all aspiring writers. Nowadays I have all my stuff backed up on my Google docs and Dropbox. Before now I’ve had entire essays disappear off my computer – I technology real good, ok.
And, finally, what’s your favourite charity?
‘The RNIB. I make regular contributions, as the thought of sight loss is one of those things that I can’t really get my head around. I think just how profoundly blindness would affect my life, the massive changes that would have to be made. If my donations help out a little for someone going through that sort of upheaval, that’s good to know.’
I can’t say how grateful I am to Gav for giving me his time, not only I enjoy his work, but because it’s given me confidence to go after other authors I love and try and stalk talk to them. Below are the links to Gav’s particulars and thank you to everyone who enjoyed reading.