Archives for September 2011

Aenarion

One of the great pleasures of writing the Tyrion and Teclis trilogy was getting to do my take on many of the great characters of the Elvish  mythos; Aenarion, Caledor, Morathi and Malekith. I have been living with these people in my head for nearly twenty years and it was good to finally look into their’s. The four characters I have mentioned are probably the most influential characters in Elvish history and upon the history of the Warhammer world. Three of them, in one way or another, are still around to the present day. The last is present only as a myth and is thus possibly the most enigmatic and misunderstood. He was also the one who was most crucial to the shaping of Elvish society as it currently exists. I am talking, of course, about Aenarion.

Aenarion was the first warrior king of the Elves. He taught a pacifist people how to fight in the face of the first great Chaos invasion. He offered himself up as a sacrifice at the Shrine of Asuryan when no others had been accepted and the Elvish gods gifted him with near divine power. He led the armies of the elves into apocalyptic battle and in the end he fell defending Caledor as the Archmage cast the spell that drove back Chaos and saved the world. To this day, the elves see him as their greatest hero. In many ways he was, but he was also something much darker. When he believed his family to have been slaughtered by daemons he performed a great act of sacrilege, he drew the Sword of Khaine, a forbidden weapon from its altar on the Blighted Island and took upon himself a power feared even by the gods who had previously blessed him. He became a dark and twisted being, a precursor of the sort of elves who would one day inhabit the blighted lands of Naggaroth. He became lover and husband to Morathi, perhaps the most evil witch who has ever lived and he alienated those who had previously been his most devoted followers and greatest friends.

I chose to open the first book of the trilogy with a prologue showing the last hours of Aenarion’s life. I picked it because there is probably no more dramatic day in Elvish history and it shapes everything that is to come. On this day, Aenarion dies, Caledor creates the Vortex and the destiny of the island continent of Ulthuan is determined for the next seven millennia. The book was titled Blood of Aenarion and I wanted to make sure that the reader understood who Aenarion was and why he was important. (I know pretty much everybody who has ever played Warhammer knows who he is but as I have said before I try not to assume all my readers will be players.) I wanted to establish the fact that his bloodline was accursed and why this was. Plus I wanted to describe one of the greatest battles in the history of the Warhammer world from the point of view of arguably the most powerful mortal ever to stride across its surface. I mean this is a warrior who can kill four greater daemons of Chaos one after the other. I can’t think of anybody else who has ever done that.

So we get to see Aenarion on his last night, brooding about the nature of defeat and then responding to the appeal of his former friend the Archmage Caledor. We see his farewell to Morathi (a character we will be seeing a great deal more of later) and hear his last address to his troops. We see him fly into battle on the back of his great dragon Indraugnir and we get a ringside seat at the creation of the Vortex and Aenarion’s last stand. It was an absolute blast to write.

I also wanted to show where the fault-lines in Elvish society come from. The elves were not, prior to the Age of Aenarion, a hierarchical, authoritarian people. He was their first warrior king, a general who became accustomed to being obeyed on pain of death in situations where military discipline was of the utmost importance. It is made clear in his conversation with Caledor that the two great elves have very different ideas about what this role means. Aenarion sees himself as a king, chosen by the gods, the undisputed and indisputable overlord of his people. Caledor sees Aenarion as something more like a Tyrant in ancient Athens or a Dictator in ancient Rome, a supreme leader, wielding ultimate power for the duration of an emergency. Given the life-spans of elves this is an important distinction.

It is made equally clear during Aenarion’s address to the army that he regards his son Malekith as his successor. He views himself as having the power to determine who will rule the Elves once he is gone. It is an act of colossal vanity but we are, after all, talking about an elf anointed by the Gods here. If Aenarion’s view of the kingship is correct, and he had been made king by the Gods, then Malekith really is the rightful ruler of Ulthuan. History has shown that he was prepared to act on the basis of that belief. The counter-argument is, of course, that the Gods rejected him when he came to walk through the Flame of Asuryan. That is a discussion for another day though when we come to take a look at Malekith.

 

Kindles, Kindles Everywhere

Amazon has just announced a raft of new Kindles, including what looks like the first serious challenger to Apple’s iPad, the Kindle Fire. Before the Apple fans start howling me down, let me point out why I think this is the case; it has nothing to do with utility or the OS or how wonderful the iPad is or is not. It’s the price ($199) combined with access to Amazon’s awesome (and, yes, I do use some of them) cloud services. The Kindle is tied to Amazon’s e-commerce platform but that is no bad thing given the library of movies, tv shows, apps, games and ebooks this gives you access to.

In the midst of all this Android-powered loveliness, it is easy to miss another very, very significant point. The cheapest Kindle e-reader, the basic keyboard-less Kindle, is now $79. This is well below the psychologically important $100 barrier. Basically hidden away in this Amazon launch is the fact that e-readers have pretty much just gone mainstream and right in time for Xmas. Coincidence? I think not. I can’t wait for this stuff to hit Europe.

Gamesday Report

So that was my first Gamesday in eight years. It was a lot of fun and a lot of travel compressed into a very short time. We flew into Manchester and took a train to Nottingham and checked into the hotel. I dropped in to the Studio, said hello to a few people and recorded an extract from Blood of Aenarion to be broadcast sometime on GW TV. I also picked up a couple of author copies of Blood of Aenarion which is a very beautiful looking book indeed. In the evening we went out to dinner and visited Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem. Well you’ve got to, haven’t you, when you’re in Nottingham for the first time and my family were.

Saturday saw us en route to Birmingham NEC and me in the hall signing books in the company of Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, Sandy Mitchell, James Swallow and Nik Vincent. We built walls of books while chatting away about this and that. In the evening we went out with a group from Black Library editorial and new author Sarah Cawkwell (check out The Gildar Rift) and her family for a nice dinner. Back at the hotel, we sat around in the lounge until late and chatted.

This was like the secret Gamesday for authors. I think it was Robert Heinlein who said that meetings of SF writers at conventions are like the campfire meetings of trappers on the frontier in the Old West. You get together for a moment and swap jokes and tales and then go your separate ways back into the wilderness. There’s something to that. The life of a tie-in writer is a solitary one. It’s an unusual job, done by a very small group of people with its own language and unique problems and interests. It’s not often you get the pleasure of discussing such things with people who understand them from the inside. It was fun. And where else would you get to hear Dan Abnett give a perfect description of the way collecting comics used to be in the days before modern distribution, discuss the logistics of 40K writing with Sandy Mitchell and Jim Swallow and be reminded of exactly how exciting and intimidating it is to be a new author at Gamesday by Sarah Cawkwell? But I digress…

Aenarion Pic IMG 0336

Sunday was Gamesday itself which passed me by in the usual blur. I did not even get a chance to visit the Studio stands where I was hoping to catch up with old friends from the time I worked there. I did some interviews and signed some books and was, as ever, astonished by the sheer scale of the thing. I remember the old days at the Assembly Rooms Derby. Back then I was astounded that a games company could command such a following. Little did I know what was coming! My wife and son got the chance to see all the wonders of Gamesday, the huge games and displays and the beautifully painted minis. They are not hobby gamers so I think it came as a revelation to them. I know it usually does to me.

For me the nicest bit was getting to chat with readers. Having someone tell you that you are the reason they started reading Black Library books never gets old.  Someone also said the most flattering if incorrect thing I have heard about myself in quite some time; “It’s true, you do sound like Christopher Lee.” If only it were so. You’ll get a chance to hear my actual slurred troglodytic Scottish muttering when the Blood of Aenarion extract is broadcast.

Anyway, I would just like to finish off by thanking everybody who made it such a lovely day and apologising to anybody I have forgotten to mention of whom I am sure there are many! See you all next year.

The Absence Note

I set myself the goal of writing 3 posts a week when I started this blog. My initial plan was to do them on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Much to my surprise I have managed to keep this up for a few months now. Given the fact that my idea of a regular blog schedule used to be posting once a year whether I had anything to say or not, I think I have done pretty well. However, I am off to Gamesday on Friday– I know this is on Sunday but hitch-hiking from Prague takes time. Just kidding– I am actually heading in to the Nottingham Bunker on Friday to talk with the High Lords, then I will be in Birmingham Saturday signing copies of Blood of Aenarion for sale on Sunday. I’ll be on my way back to Prague on Monday. On top of all this I have a deadline in a couple of weeks and I had the workmen in yesterday building stuff which was pretty distracting. This means there will be no regular scheduled blog post today, Friday or next Monday. I will return to burble nonsense, most likely about Gamesday, next Wednesday. I look forward to seeing those of you who are going to be at Gamesday at the signing booth!

Death’s Angels: the 99 Cent Experiment

Financial alert: this post talks about money. If you are one of those people who get offended when writers talk about finances, look away now!

Some of you may remember that a month ago I dropped the price of Death’s Angels to $2.99  to see if it had any effect on sales. The basic theory was that the more people who read the first book in the series, the more would be likely to read the second and the third and so on. The Terrarch books are an ongoing narrative; they have an epic storyline that progresses rather than just being a bunch of tales featuring the same characters therefor getting people in to the first book is important.

So how did it go?

So far I have to declare the results a success. Sales did indeed go up, not quite enough to cover the loss of royalty income but almost. The eventual earnings were within 2% of the amounts gained at $4.99. I figure I can eat a 2% loss of revenue for around 60% more readers. I can’t think of any sort of advertising available to the likes of me that would get such good results. As a writer more readers are pretty much always a good thing.

One interesting point is that the Serpent Tower, the second book in the series, sold faster at $4.99 than Death’s Angels had done at that price point. This is more or less what you would expect given the fact that there were a bunch of readers out there who had read the first book. On the other hand, you always expect to lose some readers between book one and book two– there are always those who don’t like the initial book– so keeping a pool of new readers coming in is important.

So will I be keeping the price of Death’s Angels at $2.99? Well, actually, no– thrilled by the success of my experiments I am pushing on a bit further. I have now dropped the price of Death’s Angels to 99 cents to see how this affects sales. This is a more interesting price decision in some ways. It moves the book into impulse buy territory. I know this works, at least on me, so I am keen to see if it works on other people. I have also dropped the price of the rest of the books in the series to $2.99 which is the lowest price at which Amazon pays it’s 70% royalty rate and thus allows me to earn a reasonable amount per book.

The question is not whether I can now sell six times as many Death’s Angels and thus earn the same as I would from selling one at $2.99.  I don’t honestly expect that to happen. The question is whether the increased sales of book one in the series translate into enough sales of the rest of the series to make it worthwhile. If they do, I will stick with the new price structure. If not, I will revert to the old one. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes next month.

The Queen’s Assassin

When I was about nine years old a group of local lads threw me into the deepest part of the Marine Lake, a huge man-made pool made by damming off an area of the harbour with a massive concrete breakwater. I had not yet learned to swim.

It was sunny. The sky was blue. My mouth was filling up with salty water. I was trying to shout for help while flailing around in water too deep to stand in. It washed over my eyes and blurred my vision. The concrete ledge was covered with broken barnacles that ripped my hands bloody as I tried to pull myself up. The kids who had thrown me in watched me scrabbling away and laughed. They did not realise I was drowning in front of their eyes. Eventually, after what seemed like ages to me, but which could only have been moments in reality an older boy saw what was happening and dived into the water and pulled me out. Nobody thought it was funny then.

While swimming in the sea a few years later I was stung by a Portuguese Man O’ War. My leg turned blue and I was taken to hospital and given an injection with a very large needle, which was not an experience I enjoyed particularly. I have loathed these creatures with their poisoned web of stingers that can stretch a hundred feet through murky water ever since.

Our house was on top of a hill and I could see the sea from the upstairs window and it used to trouble me when I thought of what could be lurking beneath the waters of the bay. I had a book with a picture of a battleship seen from the air. Beneath it in the water a vague outline was visible. It belonged to an enormous tentacled monster rising from below. It was much bigger than the ship. As a kid I used to look out the window and think of that.

I’ve never had any difficulty imagining dead Cthulhu dreaming in his sunken lair at R’Lyeh. I’ve never, ever had any difficulty imagining horrible things beneath the waves. All of which is just a long-winded way of saying that I have a very ambivalent relationship with the sea. It scares and excites me in about equal measures. The Queen’s Assassin is a book that was inspired as much by my fear of salty water as it was inspired by the horror stories of HP Lovecraft’s Deep Ones and old, dark oceanic gods.

In many ways all of the Terrarch books are about the things that terrify me. In Death’s Angels our heroes met the minions of the sinister Spider God, Uran Ultar. I have always hated and feared arachnids. You’ll need to read The Serpent Tower to see which of my phobias it deals with, saying any more would be a huge spoiler. (It’s not snakes—I have had a full-grown python wrapped around my neck and it did not bother me in the slightest.)

In this book, we encounter the squid-like Quan. They are a very Lovecraftian race indeed with their enormous living mother-ships that spew shoals of their feral seed into the waters and their slave Kraken that can pull galleons below the waves with ease. The Quan are vampiric soul-eaters who feast on the life force of living things even as they pull them beneath the water. They are intelligent and they have made a deal with the rulers of the great seaport of Harven. They protect the city and its giant fleets and in return are rewarded with human sacrifice. To alter the course of the war that erupted in the previous books in the series, half-breed Rik and Lady Asea, the scheming Terrarch sorceress he serves, must seek an alliance with the Quan. Unfortunately, they have opposition in the shape of Rik’s long-lost father who is just as vampiric as the Quan and already in league with them.

The Queen’s Assassin is a book about things long hidden below the surface coming into the light with terrible effect. The Quan are emerging from below the waves and an army of the dead is starting to emerge from the graveyards of the world and all of it is part of a monstrous master plan conceived by beings ancient and terrible.

This is a very dark book, the darkest in the series so far and those preceding it were by no means all sweetness and light. It is full of wicked sorcery, backstabbing and assassination, a goodly number of these dark deeds being perpetrated by the ostensible heroes in their desperate effort to save their world.

Rik continues his rise. He is learning sorcery from Asea and is now an unofficial agent of the government, an assassin for the Queen. He is still not at home in the world though and he is about to become less so as he encounters the remaining members of his sinister family, the last remnants of a clan of genetically-engineered super-killers who don’t have any reason to let him live and a lot of reasons for wanting him dead.  As well as being reflections of my fears, these books are love letters to the pulp fiction of my youth. In the Shadowblood we see a twisted reflection of Roger Zelazny’s wonderful Jack of Shadows. The forebears of all these Elder Races can be found in the works of HP Lovecraft and Karl Edward Wagner. The Quan have a good deal in common with the Scylrendi, the demonic alien race of Wagner’s classic Darkness Weaves. There are echoes of Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers films as well in the duels and swashbuckling action.

Despite all the darkness and horror, The Queen’s Assassin was a lot of fun to write and I hope it is fun to read as well.