Graham McNeill - Black Library


Welcome to the second Warvault interview with Graham McNeill, this time (almost) exclusively discussing his writings and short stories, especially his contributions to the Black Library. Enjoy!



Angron: Hey Graham, welcome once again!

Graham McNeill: Hi, good to be back.

Angron: First question's winging in from Daemonslave here; What are you able to tell us about the short story you have recently done for the Horus Heresy series?

Graham McNeill: Not too much, I want it to be a surprise after all. Basically, Dan and I wanted to do a 'two sides of the same coin' pair of stories that told of a defining moment of the days of the Horus Heresy which showed two view points that ended very differently.

Graham McNeill: We picked two Primarchs and then went for it...One good, one psychopathic.

Angron: How do you feel that turned out?

Graham McNeill: Really well. Both are very different stories and each has a subtly different 'feel' depending on what order you read them in.

Graham McNeill: There's no set order to read them in and early readers have said that each one colours the other in neat ways. Angron: Would you recommend reading each twice then, in order to get the most out of them?

Graham McNeill: Depends whether you want to feel uplifted or wracked with despair when you get to the end...

Graham McNeill: One is a very action-driven story, the other very talky and philosophical (in a great, twisty, way!).

Angron: Well, I for one am definitely looking forward to them.

Graham McNeill: Me too, it's been a while since I read them and the way they're being presented makes it a cool, 'must-have' item. You'll see come Games Day (Games Day UK, 2007).

Angron: Here's one from Major Rawne; Dan hinted that he may well be doing an original sci-fi novel in his Xfire interview last week. Do you have any similar plans to do an original novel of your own, be it Fantasy or sci-fi?

Graham McNeill: I do indeed. I'm about a third of the way through a novel set in ancient times of this world and have done the synopsis for a dark fantasy set in the present day.

Graham McNeill: Don't know when I'll get the time to finish one and start the other. BL and various others are keeping me real busy.

Angron: On top of Heldenhammer and your next HH offering?

Graham McNeill: Yep, on top of everything... I'm very busy at the moment, which is a great place for a freelancer to be.

Graham McNeill: I'm in the middle of Heldenhammer just now, but won't be getting onto another HH book until next year.

Angron: How does it feel to be involved in writing the accounts of the major backdrop for each of the worlds (Heldenhammer and the HH series)?

Graham McNeill: It's amazing. You're getting to play in the sandpit of what makes each setting great. It's fun, it's epic and it's terrifying. All at the same time. Graham McNeill: Certainly with Heldenhammer, it's real back-to-basics fantasy, which I'm having tremendous fun with at the moment. Very like early Conan is my touchstone.

Graham McNeill: With HH you're playing in a sandpit that's very precious to a lot of people, so you have to be careful, but the canvas you get to play on is so vast and epic.

Graham McNeill: it's such an honour to tell these big stories.

Graham McNeill: It's also very flattering that folk think I can tell these stories and do them justice.

Angron: Are there any more plans for Time of Legends novels after Heldenhammer? Obviously the HH was written with a trilogy in mind to start it off, are there any other writers on board?

Graham McNeill: The Time of Legends series is still very fluid, so I'm not sure what the plans are for it just yet. There's a bunch of writers who could certainly contribute to it, like Nathan Long and Mike Lee, but I really don't know.

Graham McNeill: The HH series is one that is evolving as we go, so other authors will probably be added to the existing stable, but that's up to BL to decide...

Angron: While we're on that topic, then; anything at all you can possibly allude to about your next HH offering?

Angron: You knew it was coming. ;)

Graham McNeill: Well, it's no secret I want to tell a story about the Mechanicum. After doing the Kaban Project, I kind of fell in love with the idea. So, if BL will let me, I'd love my next one to be set on Mars. Lots of strange wierdness, which is something that really appeals...

Graham McNeill: I put a post on my blog about the HH to reassure folk that we're not just going to see the same stories with different characters. Legion is already starting this trend and it's only going to continue.

Graham McNeill: We've reached the point in the story where all factions are getting involved, not just the Astartes... Angron: Well fingers crossed that you get to play around with Mars, then! Here's one from narry; Last I heard, you were writing comics for Boom! Studios, following in Dan's footsteps. Can you comment on the differences between prose writing and comics writing, getting into the comics business (for those similarly interested), what stories you'll be working on, and anything else interesting about that side of your work?

Graham McNeill: Yeah, it was very different. With prose, you can waffle until you've said what you want to say, but in a comic you have to be very disciplined, saying things in a way that will fit on the panel, the page and in the length of the strip.

Graham McNeill: It took some getting used to, but after the first strip, it started to flow very naturally. I did mini storyboards with stick figures to plan out what needed to be said on each page and how much space I had. I look at them and laugh now, but they were very useful.

Graham McNeill: The stories I did were for Warhammer, but I can't say much more about them than that. By the end of next month, all will be clear...

Angron: Brotherbigall is interested to know which is your favourite book you've written?

Graham McNeill: Oh, man...that's like asking which of your kids you love most! I'm very proud of all of them (I wouldn't have handed them over if I wasn't) but I think I like The Ambassador Chronicles most. Ask me again tomorrow and you'll probably get a different answer. I think it's the easiest, most natural read. Like I said, I was proud of Fulgrim and DS,BS, but neither of them are what you'd call 'easy' reads...

Graham McNeill: Though I have a soft spot for Nightbringer, as it was my first...

Angron: On the topic of Nightbringer, actually, here's a question from 'Anon': About the Ultramarines series; will Uriel and Pasanius ever be welcomed back into the Chapter? And should they be? They have after all, done some pretty 'outside the codex' things to complete their Death Oath, the least of which is misleading a pack of freakish hot-housed Astartes rejects.

Graham McNeill: Haha! Yeah, they've done some oddball stuff, but yeah, I think they'll get back eventually. I'm working on the next UM book after Heldenhammer. It's going to be called The Killing Ground and I'm pretty pleased with how it's shaping up. Their return to Imperial space was something I've take some real time to figure out, so don't worry, it's not going to be a cheesy, 'Welcome back, lads...all's forgiven and forgotten,' cheat.

Graham McNeill: There you go...a little exclusive for you :-) Angron: Veering wildly back 10,000 years, Bjarki would like to know if we'll be hearing anything about Tallarn or Calth?

Graham McNeill: I'm sure you will in the fullness of time. The Battle of Calth is a great story and definitely merits a book. Tallarn (if I remember rightly - I don't have my books to hand) happened after the Heresy, so that's probably not going to happen for a while.

Graham McNeill: Calth is a story I'd like to tell, but whether I do or not is another matter. I may overload on Ultramarines...

Angron: Are there any other Heresy moments you'd like to be in charge of?

Graham McNeill: Well, the way things are going now, we're entering unknown territory, where we step out of the known events...though one I'd love to do, in a Dork Tower 'IT MUST BE MINE!' kind of way is the Battle of Prospero.

Angron: That's gotta be one hotly contested cookie. No one's grabbed that yet?

Graham McNeill: Not yet, no. Though I've thrown my hat in the ring.

Graham McNeill: We're still looking at ways to tell it. Two books, one from each side's POV...One book from both. Different authors, one author. We'll see which way sounds best and go for it.

Graham McNeill: Either way...you can bet it's going to be interesting.

Angron: One from Postmortem; Graham we currently know that you're working on a new HH Novel, The 2nd high elf novel and it seems a new UM book ;), but quite a few don't know that you're working on a Starcraft 2 novel. How do you feel to finally write for another universe? are you well learnt with the Starcraft Universe?

Graham McNeill: True, I'm doing a novel for Starcraft 2 for some time next year. Yeah, I know the Starcraft universe pretty well and have read the books and played the game. I can't wait to play in another universe and tell new stories with new kinds of characters.

Graham McNeill: It's going to be great. The story I've planned out is one I'm excited about writing (which is always a good sign) so when I'm done with the boys in blue, it'll be time to get on with that.

Angron: one from LordoftheNight; How about Honsou - will he be making a reappearence sometime?

Graham McNeill: He already has...

Angron: Other than Dead Sky, Black Sun and Storm of Iron?

Graham McNeill: I've done a story for the Planetkill anthology that takes his story on from the end of Dead Sky, Black Sun...

Graham McNeill: So he already has...just not in print yet.

Graham McNeill: Lots of nastiness, evil deeds and the reappearance of Ardaric Vaanes and the Newborn... Which has turned out to be one of my favourite, horrible characters to write for.

Graham McNeill: Honsou has turned out to be a lot of people's favourite character, and the more I write for him, the more I like him too (in a twisted way...).

Angron: One from Uruk-Hai-Scout here; Is there any chance that Leofric Carrard may make a return appearance in the future? Or failing that any other characters from Guardians of the Forest?

Graham McNeill: Absolutely. Again, I did a short story (this time in Tales of the Old World) that has a further adventure of Leofric Carrard. And I'd love to tell more stories of Kyarno. There's a bit of link between the kinbands of Athel Loren and the noble house that appears in Defenders of Ulthuan too.

Graham McNeill: 'Freedom's Home or Glory's Grave' is the name of Leofric's short story. Angron: Another from Postmortem here (he's got quite a few...): Do you intend to merge Uriel and Honsou oncemore in the future? Which quite possibly may end both series?

Graham McNeill: Oh, I most certainly do. Given the ending to DS, BS and what happens in the short story...that's GOT to happen. I've planned out the arc for the next three UM novels (and a Honsou one) that will see them cross paths again...

Graham McNeill: Though, of course, that might all change as better ideas occur to me as I go along, but it's looking good so far.

Angron: With all of these recurring characters, it seems apt to ask Major Rawne's next one; Which character's your favourite?

Graham McNeill: Favourite...? Honsou's fun to write for, but I'm a sucker for the good guys, so I'd have to say Uriel. As far as non-recurring characters, I loved writing Sasha Kajetan, as he was (hopefully) much more than just a two-dimensional villain, he had a backstory and reasons for being such a monster...

Graham McNeill: Solomon Demeter was also fun, as it was interesting to play with the reader's expectation of who would fall to Slaanesh and who wouldn't.

Angron: One from Xenephobic here; When creating these fantastic characters of yours, how do you go about developing the plot and backstory that allows them to become the vivid creations we read about?

Graham McNeill: I develop a fleshed out backstory for the plot and characters and that helps feed who they are. There's lots of details about each character that don't make it into a book (and wouldn't be interesting if they did) but help me to make them more real, just by knowing it.

Graham McNeill: Stuff the reader doesn't need to know for their enjoyment of the stoy, but which I need to know to tell it.

Angron: Is there perhaps an example you could give of one of those untold stories?

Graham McNeill: Well I developed a lot of Kaspar's backstory for his career in the army before he got to Kislev, some of the battles he fought, the places he went and how he met his wife etc. All of which gave me a better idea of who he was so I could write him like a real person.

Graham McNeill: Similarly with Cairbre (the Hound of Winter), I decided that he'd been a bit of a wild child in his youth, which is alluded to a couple of times and hints at why he indulges Kyarno.

Angron: Another from Bjarki, that could lead to a big answer; What're the best and worst things about being an author?

Graham McNeill: Yup, that could be a long one...but here goes.

Graham McNeill: Best: Telling stories for a living is great when it all comes together and being able to have people read your stuff and get inspired by it. That never gets old.

Graham McNeill: I'm my own boss (and I'm pretty lenient with myself) and I have freedom from nine to five routine.

Graham McNeill: I've found a way to work that's strict enough to get my work done, yet flexible enough to stave off cabin fever and madness (I think).

Graham McNeill: Getting paid to tell stories...It don't get much better than that.

Graham McNeill: Worst: I miss working with other people around me. Hence why I work a lot in a tea room in town, to soak up the atmosphere of people.

Graham McNeill: Writing can be a very solitary occupation, so it's essential for me to get out and have interaction with people.

Graham McNeill: And you have to be very disciplined to do it. It would be very easy to just take days off, but the work won't get done.

Graham McNeill: It was a challenge moving from GW to this, but I wouldn't change it now. I love what I do and there's not many folk get to say that about their job, eh?

Angron: And another from Bjark; Whats the best book you've read recently?

Graham McNeill: I've just read two great books, one after the other. Len Sullivan loaned me The List of 7, which has Arthur Conan Doyle mixed up in all sorts of Cthulhu mythos shenanigans, which was wonderfully written, lots of fun and a cracking page turner.

Graham McNeill: That book's by Mark Frost in case folk are interested...

Graham McNeill: I also just read David Gemmell's, Troy: Fall of Kings, the last in the Troy trilogy, which was also fantastic. A story we all know, but which is told so well that, even during Hektor and Achillies' duel, I was still on the edge of my seat.

Graham McNeill: Even though I pretty much knew how it ended. Or at least I thought I did...

Graham McNeill: At the moment I'm reading No Logo, by Naomi Klein, which is simultaneously infuriating (in its subject matter) and enlightening. A must read.

Angron: One from our friend in the wings, Nagathi; Has a game or tournament you've ever played affected or inspired you to a story or part thereof?

Graham McNeill: Not that I can recall, though plenty of the campaign games we played in the Studio during Eye of Terror and Armageddon gave us lots of ideas.

Graham McNeill: Though most of these we turned into Battle Reports or fiction for WD.

Graham McNeill: Phil Kelly and I used to have an annual Inquisitor dust up, which was always immense fun and would, more often than not, spawn a great story, though usually one best kept with an NC-17 rating.

Angron: Another from Postmortem; What is your way to work that is strict enough to get your work done and also enjoy life?

Graham McNeill: My way to work is that I get up and have breakfast around 8, read for a bit and then work until about 1.

Graham McNeill: Then I go to the gym or for a swim and then either come home and carry on, or go to my tea room in town to work for the afternoon.

Graham McNeill: I make sure my weekends are kept for me, so that I have structure to the week and it feels like a working week.

Graham McNeill: I try and vary which days I do things and don't beat myself up if I dont' keep to a regular time. As long as the work gets done.

Graham McNeill: And that's pretty much it. Not rocket science, eh?

Angron: One from Uruk-Hai-Scout; Do you still keep up with your gaming/painting hobby now that you no longer work as a Games Developer?

Graham McNeill: Oh yeah. I still have my armies and play in a Warhammer campaign at my mate, Dylan's house. I'm playing in an Apocalypse Demo on Tuesday next week in a re-enactment of the battles in Warriors of Ultramar.

Graham McNeill: I don't paint as much as I used to, but that's more a factor of time than inclination.

Angron: From Postmortem; When you used to work at GW as a developer, how did you find time to write as well?

Graham McNeill: I'd get home at about 6, have some food and watch some Simpsons then get to work around 8. I'd finish around 11:30 or so. Sometimes (in fact, most of the time) I'd also work one day out of the weekend.

Graham McNeill: It was time consuming, that's for sure, but it was doable when I lived on my own.

Graham McNeill: Having a full time job and being a novelist...doesn't leave much time for a social life, so I'm glad I'm just doing one of them now!

Angron: Xenephobic again; Is there a character that you created for an armies fiction that you would love to develope further into its own novel?

Graham McNeill: I'd like to something with Karamazov, the Inquisitor in the Judging Trousers.

Graham McNeill: Or the team of Assassins that appeared in the last Chaos Codex who went off to hunt the Chosen of Abaddon.

Graham McNeill: That's about all I can think of off the top of my head...

Angron: Fair. Another from Nagathi, then; As a follow-up on the work schedule you have made for yourself; how do you deal with a writer's block? Or do you not get any?

Graham McNeill: Touch wood, I've not had it yet. I know where the plot's to go before I put one word to paper. But if I need to work something out that's stumping me, I'll pace it out and talk it through or write it out on a pad as a Stream of Consciousness kind of thing, writing out questions and jotting down possible answers until one presents itself.

Graham McNeill: It's worked so far and if I've agonised over some bit of writing, it's a sytlistic thing rather than not knowing how it pans out. And that's it...

Graham McNeill: Oh, actually it's not...one more thing I do is chat to other writers. I'm good mates with Gav Thorpe, Ant Reynolds, Matt Keefe and Dan Abnett, so if I really need help, I'll e-mail or phone one of them.

Graham McNeill: You just can't beat another brain thinking on a subject.

Angron: This could be our last BL one, from Postmortem here;

Angron: at the end of DS/BS Uriel ended up armourless. Is he still without power armour in the new novel "the Killing Ground"?

Graham McNeill: Actually he doesn't. I've read it back and it's quite non-specific in some ways. It mentions some parts of his armour, but I always envisioned that scene as like cutting of chunks of it, rather than removing it whole, but I've a plan for that very thing in The Killing Ground. But you'll have to wait and see what that is.

Angron: As is always the way, eh?

Graham McNeill: Oh yeah, can't spill everything here can I?

Angron: I think our audience feels differently!

Graham McNeill: Hey, you already got one exclusive :-) But I'll see what else crops up in the questions.

Graham McNeill: Ask and ye may receive...

Angron: What to ask, what to ask!

Graham McNeill: Ah, now that would be telling.

Angron: You've sparked a brainstorm ;)

Angron: So, in the interim before the FINAL QUESTION, what's your favourite haribo?

Angron: from Major Rawne...

Graham McNeill: My favorite Haribo? I don't eat sweets... Least of all ones with such a silly name.

Graham McNeill: Or is that a term for something I don't know about...?

Angron: Another frontpage exclusive; Published Writer Holds Silly Sweets in Contempt

Graham McNeill: Sweets should tell you what they are...Curly Wurly...Double Decker. They're proper sweets.

Angron: very honest, very British.

Graham McNeill: I'm definitely a savoury person, I don't have much of a sweet tooth.

Angron: forgivable.

Angron: I don't think anyone has a question that could invite some more exclusives…

Angron: And I must say, other than getting on my knees and begging for more info about the Mechanicus, I couldn't get it...

Graham McNeill: Haha...though I'm sure as soon as we're all signed off, everyone will think of something...

Angron: However...

Angron: the two primarchs you and Dan are writing as; have we read of their exploits in previous HH installments, or are they new to be covered?

Graham McNeill: One is new, the other has made a brief appearance.

Angron: Is one, perhaps, Lorgar?

Graham McNeill: Nope. Ok...since you've asked nicely…

Graham McNeill: ...it's Dorn and Night Haunter!

Angron: Very very nice.

Angron: I do so hope Mr Gascoine doesn't crucify you for that little snippet.

Graham McNeill: Me too!

Angron: But I think that should just about wrap us up really.

Angron: I know there's a lot of people who haven't had their questions asked, and I apologise, but time is getting on....

Graham McNeill: Nice one...So what's the FINAL QUESTION?

Graham McNeill: Are we going off piste?

Angron: Well, there's a few coming in that are a bit off the runners... blondes or brunettes, for starters... so perhaps we should call it quits at two exclusives in two hours, don't you?

Graham McNeill: Fair enough. And for the record, brunettes...though I always seem to date blondes. Go figure...

Graham McNeill: Ok, well this was fun, guys...thanks for all the questions and being so patient while I typed it all out.

Angron: On behalf of our illustrious audience, and Warvault, I'd like to thank you again for finding time to come down and chat with us a second time!

Graham McNeill: No problem at all. I always enjoy these things and if you didn't get a question answered, sorry, maybe on the next one (or I'll see you at an event!).

Angron: Oh, and for the audience...

Angron: I promised I'd announce who we're interviewing next time…

Angron: I saw his name popping up in the public chat before, so some of you may be pleased;

Angron: in a few weeks time we'll be interviewing Mr Steven Savile about his Von Carstein novels!



So, another interview over and more on the way. Stay tuned on Warvault, and if you enjoyed the read, why not take part next time?

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