Thursday, 1 December 2011

Author Interview! Sarah Cawkwell

I had a lot of fun reading 'The Gildar Rift' (have a look at my review over Here) and, once I'd finished, found that I had a few questions that I would have loved to run past Sarah given half a chance. Well, not only did I get that chance but a whole load of answers came flying back; thanks Sarah!

Check it out...

In what’s becoming a question that I ask Black Library authors... Do you have your own army of Space Marines and (if so) did you use them to enact key scenes when writing ‘The Gildar Rift’?

I’m in the process of building my first full army. At the current rate, I might actually have a game-ready force by around 2017. My entire army presently consists of a Terminator Librarian and two-and-a-half Devastators. But you know. They could probably fight off a couple of angry squirrels.

I happily admit to using a couple of figures to block out certain scenes. More fun though was the blocking of the space battles. ‘This stapler is the strike cruiser… and this hole punch is the Wolf of Fenris, these pencils are…’ Things were swept off the desk and the battle of office stationery was waged.

I do something similar with my office stationery, the big difference though is that I'm not writing a book... On your blog you mention that you get to ‘write about super-human, 7ft tall, heavily armoured killing machines with BIG guns, bigger swords and a collective mental age of about 15’. How do you go about making an emotionally stunted post-human character someone that a reader wants to spend time with (when he’s not blowing stuff up)?

I enjoy creating characters that people feel something about. Whether that ‘something’ is sympathy, dislike, affection or whatever. Contrary to other people's beliefs, I don’t think that Space Marines are flat and emotionless. They fascinate me. Everything about them is exaggerated – and that includes the way they interact, particularly with each other. They're only flat and emotionless if you write them that way. Of course, there's always a need for 'red shirts'.

If you aren’t emotionally invested in your own characters whilst writing about them, you can’t expect readers to care about what happens to them. If I have a character I don’t enjoy writing about, I tend to assess their behaviour and try to make them start behaving the way I would want to read about them behaving.

There must be countless Chapters of Marines fighting their way across the Imperium, what led you to focus on the Silver Skulls? Can you see yourself writing more about this Chapter in the future?

I’d developed some stuff about the Silver Skulls alongside some friends on the old Bolthole forums and over time have grown very fond of them. My fellow forumites were very supportive of my pursuing getting some of our stuff into canon. Of course, some of the things that were originally developed were thrown out for being too radical and stringently anti-codex, but many other things have remained. Above anything else, I like the tribal, superstitious nature of the Silver Skulls.

I also like that they are going through a vital period of change in their history, a change that they may have left too late.

I’d definitely like to write more about them. There are too many characters in my head I want to give screen time to.

Huron Blackheart is a pretty major character in the Warhammer 40K universe. What was it like to have him stride around in your novel? Were there any constraints that you felt in writing about a character that may yet have a part to play in future books written by other authors?

It was wonderful. He took on a life of his own. Whilst I was writing The Gildar Rift, Aaron Dembski-Bowden was also completing Blood Reaver, so we spoke a bit about how our different realisations of the same character could marry up properly.

It was definitely a great honour to get hold of a character like Huron. There’s just something so immensely satisfying about being able to write for a character who is as mad as a box of frogs, but who still possesses the remnants of one of the most brilliant strategic minds ever.

‘The Gildar Rift’ ends with one particular story left unfinished (and it just had to be about the guy I was rooting for the most...), are you planning on tying up any loose ends in a future book?

I most definitely hope so. The character I’m guessing you are talking about is one who actually survived the original draft cull. He was scheduled to die somewhere around page 300, but I’d gotten too attached to him (see previous comment about investment in characters). So his over-arcing story changed completely during the process of storytelling.

I’m shamelessly stealing this question from my interview with Chris Wraight... You’re writing in a universe that isn’t just shared between writers but also between thousands (at least) of wargamers. How has this second group of people taken to your work so far? How does it feel to be the one depicting cities and even entire planets that have been fought over for years now?

Feedback so far has been brilliant. It’s an unnerving experience watching your first novel go out into the wild, particularly amongst an audience with as much enthusiasm and eagerness as the Warhammer fandom. I’ve been to several signing events now and without fail, people have been highly encouraging, having read one of the several Silver Skulls stories that have appeared throughout the ‘life’ of Hammer & Bolter. Now that the book has gone on more general release, with a full release very shortly, I’ve started getting a trickle of feedback. And it’s all been encouraging stuff.

I love this universe. I have researched and read until my eyeballs bleed and I am glad to be seen to be doing it some justice. If I can continue produce stories people enjoy reading… then that’s good enough for me.

If you could be any other Black Library writer, which one would you be and why?

Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Nobody can rock the beanie like that man.

Actually, every other one of the BL authors has 'something' going for them that I envy in one way or the other. But being fundamentally pragmatic, I'll just have to carry on learning from them - and believe you me, these folks are very generous with their time and advice.

Why should someone who has never picked up a Black Library book give them a go?

It’s too easy to dismiss Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Fantasy books as ‘just more tie-in fiction’. But the universes are both so stunningly unique. There is so little that’s meh… generic… about the fantasy/40K verses. For the most part, there is a great mix of character-led stories and high energy action set pieces. And they’re just plain fun to read.

The ‘Horus Heresy’ books are a pretty big deal for Black Library at the moment, have you got your eye on writing one in the future?

That’s the dream of any author who gets taken into the Black Library fold, I’m sure. It would be an absolutely brilliant opportunity should it arise and I’d leap at it. To be able to contribute to such a rich series would be amazing.

And finally, you have another Black Library book coming out next year, who is Valkia the Bloody?

This lovely lady is the consort of Khorne and one of the most notorious Warriors of Chaos of the Old World. She’s a former barbarian queen who has something of a penchant for doing things her own way and dishing out fast punishments to any who dare challenge her. After a bit of a heated discussion with a daemon prince of Slaanesh who suggests that she might be more suited to being one of his slave girls, she dedicates herself to Khorne and…

And lots of things happen… mostly involving blood, decapitation, pitched battles and all the other things you'd expect of a Champion of Khorne.

Thanks Sarah!
You can find out more about Sarah, and what she's up to, at her blog over Here.

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