Sometimes a book goes exactly the way you always thought such things would back when you were a kid dreaming about being a writer. You get to visit glamorous, exotic locations, eat great food, lounge around in your pyjamas (or your swimsuit) and do exactly what you would do back home, only patting yourself on the back about how lucky you are and how excellent your choice of career was. Writing Blood of Aenarion was like that for me.
I got an email from my agent about writing the Tyrion and Teclis trilogy late in 2009. It was an exciting prospect, returning to work in the Warhammer universe and writing about the twins who are the greatest heroes of the High Elves. As long ago as the early 90s I thought I would do this series, when I had worked on the High Elf army books back in the Games Workshop Design Studio in Nottingham.
I sent in a short outline based on a framing the story around an introduction set on the night before the Battle of Finuval Plain and then flashing back to show how the twins got there. I wrote a 5000 words framing sequence that took place the day before the battle as an example of how I proposed to do the thing. In it we saw a skirmish between forces led by Urian Poisonblade, the Dark Elf champion and Tyrion, and then its aftermath where Tyrion and his twin Teclis discuss the upcoming battle, and what it means for the Elves and themselves. One of the implications was that Urian and Tyrion knew each other and had even perhaps once been friends. Now how had that happened? It was an interesting question to leave dangling before a reader. It was a dark, ominous sequence hinting at betrayal, pain, love and disaster. I was pretty pleased with it.
The folks at Black Library wanted a meeting to discuss the project. I was on a tight schedule since I had visitors over the New Year and was due to fly to Singapore on the 16th of January via Qatar in the Gulf. The only date that really suited was around the 12th. So on a snowy day in January I found myself dropping from the sky over Nottingham and heading into the Imperial Command Bunker.
I met up with Lindsey Priestley and Nick Kyme. We discussed the broad outline of the trilogy. Most of this centred on book one because we knew that the second and third two books would be covered by the events of the war detailed in the High Elf army book.
Book one was therefor going to be a sort of prequel to all this, introducing the main characters and showing their adventures before the epic events of war between the Dark Elves and High Elves. We settled on a quest to the Chaos Wastes in the company of a Dark Elf spy who would betray our heroes and later turn out to be the great druchii assassin Urian Poisonblade. There was a reason for this. I wanted Tyrion and the Dark Elf to have some personal history before their great dramatic confrontation on Finuval Plain. It’s always a lot more satisfying when such a conflict is personal. Nick suggested making Korhein Ironglaive Tyrion’s mentor and close personal friend for the same reason. This seemed like a very good idea to me.
The only cloud on the horizon was that someone had brought up the possibility of the twins meeting N’Kari while still very young and the dates being a good century or so before the events of the Elf War. This was all news to me. I did not recall reading anything about it in the High Elf army book. It was also very far from my original plan of having the Elf War take place when the twins were still young. 120 may be young for an elf but they would not quite be the untested heroes I had originally thought them to be. The people in Nottingham went off to fact check this and I headed off back to Prague for a day or two before flying off to Singapore.
My resolution for 2010 was to write 1000 words every day. That being the case I had started on the book even before I went to Nottingham. On the day of the meeting I got up early to write 1000 words before going into Black Library. At this point there were no contracts for the series and not even final approval on the outline but I was excited and I wanted to get on with it. I kept writing even as I travelled.
I flew from Prague to Munich and sat in a departure lounge full of scary men with very short haircuts who, judging by the conversations they were having on their mobile phones, were military contractors of various sorts. There was some sort of terrorist scare in the airport that day when someone breached security and was not located. I read about this later but it in no way interfered with my flight.
My flight stopped over in Doha in Qatar. At 2 am in the desert morning I was sitting at a table in the airport Costa writing about Elves and watching people in traditional Arab dress queue for flights to exotic locations that I hope someday to visit. I wrote my thousand words and joined a queue myself. I was reminded of a conversation I had with Jes Goodwin nearly twenty years ago when we were first working on the High Elf army book. Jes had the idea that the Elves were a sort of quintessence of the western idea of the exotic east, a sort of Warhammer manifestation of Edward Said’s Orientalism. It seemed an auspicious coincidence that I was writing my first elf novel under these circumstances.
I arrived in Singapore jetlagged but this did not stop me. I booked myself into the Holiday Inn down near Clarke Quay, drank a lot of coffee and pushed on very slowly with the writing. I was in Singapore for a few days, letting my body adjust to the heat, the jetlag and the new routine. In the meantime I met up with my friend’s Jeff and Eve for a meal in Chinatown.They were passing through Singapore en route to Vietnam.
Before they went on their way we had high tea on the top of the Stamford Hotel, the tallest hotel in South East Asia. The view was like that from the flight deck of an airliner coming in to land. Out at sea I noticed many, many ships all heading in to the port. It was something I would use in my description of the sea lanes approaching the port city of Lothern later.
That night, jetlagged, out of sorts and obviously falling back under the influence of the Warhammer world I dreamed my room was in a SF convention hotel and outside in the corridor Felix and Gotrek fought flamers of Tzeentch. When I went out to find out what the noise was they insisted I join them. I shut the door and hid.
I booked a bus ticket to Georgetown in Penang in Malaysia. It’s a bus journey I have done not a few times in the past but this time was almost perfect, in the mountains between Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, there was the most astonishing thunderstorm. It lit up the night, revealing tall, jagged edged mountains. The rain lashed against the bus window and still jet-lagged I lay awake watching the storm as the bus pulled into out of the way little towns and dropped passengers off in windswept streets in the middle of the night. Later, when describing the apocalyptic storm that frees the Greater Daemon N’Kari from his magical imprisonment, the experience of this bus-ride was very useful.
Georgetown is one of my favourite towns in the world. It has a well-preserved, somewhat rundown core, full of old Chinese shophouses and temples and interesting cafes, along with a well-developed backpacker scene. I booked myself into the Continental Hotel where I had written large chunks of the Space Wolf saga almost ten years before. Unfortunately standards had slipped somewhat. The wooden headboard of my bed had become home to a nest of cockroaches. I discovered this by waking to them running across my face in the night. It was a less than thrilling experience. I moved hotels and kept working, finding a truly excellent food court near the new hotel. I ate one of the local soups which had a lozenge of what I assumed was dyed tofu in it. Later I discovered it was congealed pig’s blood. The soup was excellent.
I walked through the streets looking at everything, soaking up atmosphere, some of which made its way into the book. Lothern is a hot, port city, the shop-houses and temples surrounding me inspired some descriptions of its streets. I pushed on with writing the sequence set in the mountains of Cothique which introduced the twins, their father and the Armour of Aenarion.
Bad news came in. It was absolutely, definitely the case that our heroes had encountered N’Kari one hundred years or more before I had imagined they were even born. The information was in the Daemons of Chaos army book, not the High Elf one. My whole plotline and framing device went out the window. Obviously so momentous event as encountering and besting a greater daemon of Slaanesh while still teenagers could not just be skipped over. It was almost certainly a central and formative event in their life and a direct connection to the time of Aenarion. It was back to the drawing board and time to completely redraft the outline of Book One.
To be continued!
Blood of Aenarion is on the shortlist of the David Gemmell Legend Award. You can vote here in the second round of voting.