Writing Fantasy Heroes: Tyrion

It’s Writing Fantasy Heroes week here so I thought I would chip in with my two cents worth about one of fantasy heroes I have worked on recently. I’m going to use Tyrion, one of the two main characters in my ongoing High Elf trilogy, as an example.

This process of developing Tyrion was a little different from creating a character from scratch, since Tyrion already exists as part of the Warhammer universe. What I’ll be talking about is how I put flesh on his bones and hopefully turned him into a well-rounded and complex character as well as a believable hero.

In epic fantasy, the word hero obviously has two meanings. There is the one that we apply universally, an individual who either possesses extraordinary courage or performs extraordinary deeds or both. Then there’s the meaning in the narrative sense, an individual who is the protagonist of the story. In more realistic fiction these two don’t necessarily go together but in this genre, they tend to.

As authors, it’s our job to make the hero believable and to a certain extent sympathetic. Being believable doesn’t mean you have to fill the reader in on every minute of the hero’s backstory, or show how he got to be how he is (although it does feel that way in a lot of modern fantasy). It just means the hero needs to be convincing when he walks on stage. If you want examples of what I mean by this take a look at David Gemmell’s Druss, Robert E Howard’s Conan or Michael Moorcock’s Elric. These are all fully formed when they walk on stage. They are convincing because of the way, they act.

Since the character is also the hero in the narrative sense, he is going to have to be somebody we can root for. Hopefully the audience can, and certainly the writer must. If you’re going to write a book or a series of books about a character, there has to be something that motivates you to do so. You’re going to be spending months or years in this character’s head and there needs to be something that keeps you going back there.

It helps if there’s something about the character you can like or admire, preferably both. My basic formula for fiction is create characters I like, admire and/or sympathise with then torture the bastards. By this I mean put them through the emotional and physical ringer. Threaten them. Cause them harm.  I have built a decades-long career on this simple formula.

Anyway, let’s look at Tyrion. Tyrion is an elf prince of the line of Aenarion. He is arguably the greatest warrior of his people in the current age of the Warhammer world. He is honourable, courageous and heroic. Fair enough– but what I need to know is how did he get to be that way? There must be a reason for it. As I said above, normally I would not feel compelled to show the reader any of this. I just need to know it and be able to allude to it in the story. In this case though I was commissioned to write what was basically an origin story for the character so I will need to show the reader all of this stuff. 

Physically, it’s easy enough. He is of the line of Aenarion, a descendant of the super-humanly powerful demigod who originally ruled the elves. This is already an established part of the background. Tyrion bears a resemblance to Aenarion and has quite obviously inherited some part of his power. He is more than mortally quick and strong, with a natural understanding of weapons and combat. That’s the upside. The downside is that all of the descendants of Aenarion may share his curse. It’s something that will make him suspected by his own people in the long run. There’s a point of attack when it comes to causing the character problems. When writing fiction this is invariably a good thing. The more trouble you can heap on a protagonist the better.

Psychologically we need to find out why he is the way he is. In part, it’s because of the culture he comes from. The High Elves of Ulthuan place a premium on things like nobility, keeping your word etc. They live the chivalric ideal. Even the worst of them pay lip service to it. The question is what makes Tyrion outshine the typical High Elf.

The place I chose to start looking was the logical one– his childhood. Tyrion was brought up far from the great cities of the elves, by his aloof widowed father, with only his sickly crippled brother and the servants for company. He grew up reading and believing all the great heroic epics of the elves, and dreamed of getting away from his dull home life and taking part in such things. He felt his father, a wizard, despised him for not being intellectual, scholarly and wizardly. He mistook his father’s protectiveness of his sickly twin as a preference for his brother who was, after all, more like his father. He actively sought an arena in which his gifts will allow him to shine. When his father’s old friend, the warrior Khorian Ironglaive, came along and offered him a chance to find a place in the world as a warrior, he jumped at it.

Tyrion’s childhood also provides another invaluable insight into his character. He is close to and protective of his sick brother. They were each other’s only real companions during a formative period of their lives. This gave Tyrion a genuine sympathy for the weak, unusual among elves who typically despise anything less than perfection. It also gives him another vulnerable spot. He is in the habit of sticking up for his brother, which often gets him into trouble. It’s a habit of behaviour that gets transferred to other people in need of protection. Emotionally, Tyrion is already programmed to defend the weak.It is one small keystone in the foundations of his heroism.

It has already been established that Tyrion is semi-immortal, handsome, charming, rich, brave, powerful. He is a perfect wish-fulfillment fantasy figure. There’s a major problem. As described, he is too sickeningly perfect. There’s nothing there that I can particularly identify with. There are no flaws. We all have them, and once we’re beyond a certain age we tend not to believe in characters who don’t have them. Even in the greatest of heroes there has to be some shadow to balance the light. Without it, you don’t have a real person.

Let’s take a look at his background again. Tyrion is an archetypal elf as portrayed in the Warhammer world. This means among other things he is arrogant and more than somewhat self-centred. These are not particularly attractive flaws but at least he has some to be going on with. They’ll do as a start. We’ll get back to them.

With heroes, there’s always the problem of motivation. Why do they put their lives on the line? In real life people usually become heroes in answer to circumstances. They rise to the occasion, often because they have no choice.  In fantasy series, heroes put themselves on the line again and again. It’s always possible they do it for selfless and noble reasons. In fact, if they are heroes they ought to, but they ought to have other reasons as well, sometimes darker ones. The problem of motivation is compounded for Tyrion. He is an elvish prince. The chances are he will live for millennia in the greatest luxury his world has to offer if he does not put himself in harm’s way. We must ask ourselves what would motivate someone like him to do such a thing?

The easiest way to do this is not to give him a choice. He lives in the Warhammer world so enemies will always come looking for him. This is, in fact what happens in the first book. He has inherited not just some of Aenarion’s power but also one of his enemies as well, the mighty demon N’Kari. In addition, there are always the people he loves to threaten as well, friends, family, lovers; it’s a time-tested way of forcing action heroes into action.

That typical elvish arrogance can be used as the basis of a pride that will force Tyrion into action when called for. He is proud of his lineage. He feels the need not to let down the family name (if you want to see how powerful a motivator that can be, take a look at the Roman Republic which was built mostly by competing families of patricians seeking to enhance their family reputations. Since I was using the late Republic as a partial model for how the High Elves are depicted, bringing this in allowed me to tell the reader something about the society Tyrion comes from as well. That’s a bonus.)

He needs something more though, something darker, something less admirable, something to add real shadow to all that light. In Tyrion’s case this can be achieved by one simple change. He enjoys combat. He enjoys the thrill of triumph. But in particular he likes to kill. It’s the ultimate marker of victory. He takes a visceral pleasure in it.

In a way Tyrion is a monster behind a hero’s mask. And he sometimes feels himself to be so. He is not only a great warrior he is also very clever. He understands what he is. He understands too that it’s a huge disadvantage in the society in which he lives. He keeps himself on a leash and only let’s himself off it in circumstances that will do him some good.

He is also genuinely noble in his way. He is ashamed of what he is and he feels that this killing lust may be the way the curse on the bloodline of Aenarion manifests itself in him. He wants to be a hero but he feels it would be all too easy for him to become a villain. There is a war taking in place inside him between his better side and his worse side, and it makes him interesting to watch. Hopefully he has gone from being a cardboard cut-out to something more rounded and believable.

To finish up, I would just like to remind you that there is still a chance to win a copy of Jason Waltz’s very fine book Writing Fantasy Heroes. If you’d like to learn about how Steven Erikson writes his epic series or how Brandon Sanderson writes his compelling fight scenes, here’s your chance. Just read Jason’s post and leave a comment. 

Writing Blood of Aenarion (Part Four)

I am sometimes an idiot. Last time I was talking about how I came to the solution of how the Elves of Ulthuan figure out N’Kari’s plan. I fully intended to discuss that in this post then I realised it was, in fact, something of a huge spoiler so, apologies if I got your hopes up. I won’t be doing that today. Instead I shall  talk some more about the process of writing  Blood of Aenarion. Hopefully I will get to the end of this saga before this series of posts becomes longer than War and Peace. 

Having solved most of the technical problems of plotting and structure, the actual writing of the books was a pure pleasure. I am sorry to disappoint those of you who feel that writing should be like opening a vein and bleeding on the page (a la Hemingway) but I confess that most of the time, I find writing to be an absolute pleasure. It was even more so this time because I was combining writing with another of my life’s great pleasures, travel.

I moved on from Kuala Lumpur back to Georgetown, a place that has always been very fond of. I have written several Warhammer books there over the years. If my itinerary seems pretty random that’s because it was. I tend just to move on when the mood takes me. While I was there, I pushed on with the tale. I was aiming to get to 75000 words before my family arrived in Singapore to join me for the next phase of my trip. 

I was alternating between staying in hostels and writing mostly in cafes. This gave me the advantage of being able to think about what I was going to write for the day when walking to them, and then ruminating on any problems that had arisen when walking back. I am someone who finds walking very helpful when I need to think things over.The Romans had an expression for this solvitur ambulando. (Writing in cafes also gave me access to an endless stream of coffee.)

In quick succession the twins entered the deadly social whirl of Lothern, and the reader was introduced to some major characters including Malekith and his principle agent in Ulthuan, Urian.

I was pleased by the way this pair turned out. Malekith, in particular, was not quite what I was expecting. He was every bit the terrifying Dark Lord but he had a sinister sense of humour which I rather liked. I managed to to foreshadow his encounter with N’Kari in Book 2 and hint at the reasons as to why it happened. While all this was going on the Keeper of Secrets itself was slaughtering its way across Ulthuan in a spectacular series of set-pieces which showed quite how depraved it and the followers of Slaanesh really were. 

While all this was going on I was sketching in Lothern, it’s politics and streets, and it’s general atmosphere. I showed the way the human trading colony was starting to expand as Finubar (at this point we are very early in his reign) started to encourage global trade. I had realised that one of the advantages of the century-long gap between the action of book one and book two, was that it gave me a chance to do some interesting stuff. By book two I wanted to show the Elves really looking outward, Lothern becoming fantastically rich from trade and in some ways becoming a very atypical Elvish city-state. Here was a chance to show the city before the process really started so the reader could really see the contrast. By book two Lothern is a city on a scale and of a type comparable to Elizabethan London. In book one it is an altogether sleepier place, becoming important because it is the home city of a new Phoenix King.  

I filtered a lot of my memories of Rome, it’s hills and warmth and omnipresent ruins and statues into my descriptions of Lothern. Rome was on my mind for a lot of reasons. One of the influences on my ideas of the politics of the High Elves was the late Roman Republic, a place where a number of Patrician houses competed for influence in a state where the consent of the ruled was still seen as necessary. I was starting to think of Malekith and Morathi as in some ways like Tiberias and Livia. I talked more about this in my essay on Morathi.

As an aside, I just realised that in many ways the weather patterns of the book reflect my trip. As I was travelling from winter in Northern Europe to tropical South East Asia, our heroes were travelling from cold mountainous Cothique to the Mediterranean warmth of Lothern.

In any case, I was reaching the home stretch on my first draft. The book was heading towards its climax with our heroes about to be sent for their own safety to the sacred precincts of the Temple of Asuryan and N’Kari coming right for them. Me, I was heading back to Singapore. 

Hopefully, I will conclude this next time!

Writing Blood of Aenarion (Part Three)

So there I was trying to decide whether to junk yet another opening. If you’ve read the book, you already know I didn’t and you also know why. The solution to the problem was pretty simple. It had already been established (in Daemonslayer, for example, and in the Daemons of Chaos book which was causing me so much trouble) that daemons can return from the dead. You can’t ever really kill them, only destroy their body. When this happens they are banished from mortal reality for a time until they can take a new form. All I needed to do was posit that N’Kari did this before the Battle of the Island of the Dead. Given the fact that this was at the height of the first and greatest Chaos incursion, when the Winds of Magic blew most strongly and mortal reality itself was under threat this was not too hard to justify.

I thought, OK, that’s N’Kari sorted, the opening set down and the basic structure of the book established. I already had given a fair amount of thought to the use of imagery, so all I needed to do was get on with it, and with my travels.

The contracts for the series came through while I was in Georgetown, so I signed them and couriered them off to my agent in the UK. I have to say that made me feel very writerly. I took a bus down to Malacca, the old spice port, to meet up with Jeff and Eve in time for Chinese New Year. 

I came across a quote  from some long dead Italian that said, he who controls Malacca has his hands on the throat of Venice. It was one of those things that gave a feel for the way maritime trade affects  the outlook of the people doing it. It got me thinking about the way the Elves of Lothern look at the world in big picture terms and see the ocean and the places on the coast as their backyard. 

In Malacca, one of the city streets had been transformed into a replica of an old street market complete with wooden arches as part of the celebration. Red lanterns were everywhere. My friends were staying in an old Chinese mansion that had been converted into a hotel. The hostel I was staying in was in a converted go-down (a combination house/warehouse) that would have seemed quite at home in the merchant city of Lothern. 

Bits and bobs of all this found their way into the book. I used the furnishings I saw in the hotel as part of my description of the Emeraldsea Mansion. I found myself inventing (or just outright lifting) little details for the local Elvish festival of Deliverance. In Lothern the great ball at which Tyrion is challenged to a duel takes place to celebrate the recovery of Aenarion’s lost children saved by the Treeman Oakheart. The scene is illuminated by green paper lanterns, there are small treeman dolls that acknowledge Oakheart’s place in history. Describing the festival was an easy, unobtrusive way of filtering some background knowledge about Elvish society and our heroes’ forebears into the text. 

As writers always do I smuggled small bits of my own experience into the narrative. We took a boat trip along the river canals in Malacca. At one point our small boat crossed the wake of another one and bobbled up and down in the disturbance. I lobbed this into the text as Tyrion was coming ashore in Lothern harbour, a small, concrete detail that makes things more convincing when you’re describing a fantastic city. While all this was going on I hit the halfway mark for the first draft of the book. 

Jeff and Eve departed and I took a bus up to Kuala Lumpur, a place I had passed through many times and had always wanted to spend more time in. I took a place in a hostel behind the huge Times Square shopping mall complex. I actually like staying in hostels when travelling because it gives me more of a chance to meet fellow travellers than staying in hotels. When you spend time on the road and on your own writing,  opportunities to socialise are to be welcomed. I ambled around Chinatown. I bought books.

I was nailing down the assorted characters as I wrote. I already had a pretty clear vision of Teclis from Giantslayer, clever, caustic, proud of his talent, insecure in his physical infirmity, compensating for it by forcing those around him to acknowledge his cleverness. He was a very flawed character but such are often the easiest to make interesting. Tyrion was more difficult. He was a golden boy, a hero, fearless, charming, attractive to women. In short, horrible to read about as anything except a wish-fulfillment fantasy figure. I wanted to keep him as all those things but somehow round him out, to make him more interesting, to show the flaws in this flawless elf.

There were some clues in Giantslayer. While acknowledging that he was a well-liked, charismatic, heroic figure, Teclis managed to convey the sense that his brother was suspected by many of their contemporaries and suspected of many different things. There was obviously something sinister behind the mask, or was there? Elves are a notoriously bitchy bunch and maybe it was jealousy made manifest. I knew I needed to work on this. 

I wanted to stress the physical contrast between the two so I made sure almost all the scenes Tyrion takes part in he is seen to be astonishingly physically active, while Teclis is mostly bed-ridden. I started this in the very first scene in which Tyrion appears and I kept it up throughout the book.

I wanted to show the twins growing up in isolation with their somewhat neglectful father, who is obsessed with repairing and recreating the Armour of Aenarion. I put in a scene where late at night Tyrion sneaks into his father’s lab and looks at the armour. He has no idea that his fate and that of the armour are going to be intertwined, but the reader does. It is one of the pivotal moments of his life, but as with so many such moments, he will not realise this until long, long afterwards. It is a bit of foreshadowing I am still very proud of. 

I knew Lothern was where Tyrion was going to come into his own. In Cothique, isolated in his father’s house, he was the outsider with not much in common with his scholarly wizard father and his intellectual brother. Like most boys he wants approval but in such a situation he cannot get it. In Lothern, where his wit, good looks and charm make him much more acceptable in a social situation, he finds the approval he seeks, and that, unlike his father, most people actually prefer him to his brother. 

The scene where it really came together is the ballroom scene where Tyrion is challenged to a duel and manipulates things so he has to fight it even though people are trying to give him a way out. He wants to kill the elf who challenged him. In the duel and its aftermath he comes to the chilling realisation that he likes killing and he is very, very good at it, and he’s only going to get better. It is this that really sets him apart and makes people suspect him. Underneath the intelligence, the good looks and the charm lies someone very frightening, a deadly killer when he lets himself off the leash. In a city where duels are often a form of legalised assassination, he becomes someone who is useful to have on your side.

I was happy with the way Tyrion was starting to come through, and the N’Kari storyline sped along. I traced the trail of carnage the Keeper of Secrets left all over the map and wondered how the Elves would solve the puzzle. The solution came from a most unusual source. Of which more next time.

Blood of Aenarion has made the short list of the David Gemmell Legend Award. You can vote here.

Writing Blood of Aenarion (Part Two)

After realising I was going to have to start all over again, I read and re-read the descriptions of the twins conflict with N’Kari and considered my options. This was not going to be an easy story to write. As things were stated it took place at the Shrine of Asuryan. There were no encounters between the twins and the Keeper of Secrets prior to that point as the daemon rampaged around Ulthuan slaying the heirs of Aenarion. I realised that this was going to be a difficult tale to structure because the heroes and their main antagonist only meet once at the very end. There would be no slow build up of conflict between heroes and villains.

Most of the action of the story as written was performed by N’Kari (unsurprisingly since this was taken from a Daemon Army Book). In Daemons of Chaos there were plenty of details of N’Kari’s rampage and lots of excellent opportunities for describing the sort of battles, sieges and violent action that readers of a Warhammer novel expect but the Keeper of Secrets was the one doing all the travelling and slaying and decision making. Our heroes didn’t even get to react to it. They were sent to the sacred island of the Shrine by the Phoenix King for their own protection. Normally I like to have my protagonists out there, making things happen, reacting to events. I think this is particularly important in the military fantasy genre which Warhammer inhabits. A character who is shunted from pillar to post with no control over his fate is not terribly interesting to read about.

The structural problems were not the only ones that had arisen. There was the simple fact that I had already written well over 20000 words and I was loath to scrap all of them, particularly since I felt  some of them were amongst the best writing I had done. I wandered around Georgetown, drinking the famous white coffee and eating the brilliant food and thinking about this. Preparations were starting to get under way for the Chinese New Year and I was trying to organise travelling down to Malacca to meet up with Eve and Jeff after they got back from Vietnam. Travelling over the Chinese New Year period in Malaysia can be difficult. I have had experience of it in the past. It did not make me any less stressed.

I thought, of course, there was one big advantage to all of this; N’Kari is one of the prime movers in the Elf War when he is bound by Malekith to serve him and eventually unleashed to hunt down Tyrion and the Everqueen. This was something here I could use to tie the structure of the books together ever more tightly. I was sure of it.

A bit at a time I began to unravel the problem. I realised that I was absolutely going to have to make the N’Kari plotline the dramatic spine of the book. In some ways writing a Warhammer novel is like writing a historical novel, you have to go with what is already written in the background text, build on what’s already there, weave your characters into the established events. 

I began to sketch out an outline of a sort of serial killer tale, told partially from the point of view of N’Kari and partially from the point of view of his victims. It would, of course, be a horror story. It would let me ratchet up the tension in one way because the reader would know that the daemon was coming for Tyrion and Teclis and that they were going to have to face him. It would also be a mystery story for, while the reader would know what was going on, the Elves of Ulthuan would not. Someone would need to work out why the attacks were happening in order to stop them. This would give us a chance to look at high politics in Ulthuan and watch the Phoenix King and his court react in a crisis.

I also needed to involve Tyrion and Teclis because this was after all their book. Fortunately Lothern is a dangerous city swirling with intrigue and violence so while these events unfolded our heroes could be caught up violent intrigue, assassination attempts and duels. I wanted to have Tyrion kill his first elf before the confrontation with N’Kari to show quite how cold and dangerous an elf he was even while very young. I wanted Teclis to demonstrate the first glimmerings of his awesome magical powers because it was a fact that would need to be established before the fight with N’Kari. I also wanted to give the reader a sense of the dangerous depths of High Elvish politics. Behind everything lurked the threat of Malekith, the the Witch King and his agent Urian who was taking a personal interest in the twins.

I performed triage on what I had already written. I realised that with a fair bit of rewriting I could use the original framing sequence as a part of the straight chronological narrative in Book 3. This actually had advantages. It gave me a beacon to navigate by. It meant I already had a scene that I knew was going to be in book 3 and more to the point it was an important one which set the tone of much of the action preceding it. I began to think I could make all this work.

There remained one problem.

I had an opening sequence written where the twins were summoned from their father’s villa in Cothique to Lothern to a meeting with the Phoenix King to be tested for the Curse of Aenarion. It introduced a number of the major characters such as the White Lion Korhein Ironglaive and the twins’ sorcerer aunt Malene. It gave a sense of the (vast) economic power of our heroes’ relatives and the fact that they came from a relatively despised and minor part of the family. I had taken the twins all the way from Cothique to Lothern at this stage and introduced their city-dwelling kinfolk and their rather sinister grandfather. It was all very interesting from a cultural and character development point of view but it was not exactly action packed.

One thing the original opening had done was provide a hook to engage the reader and promise thrilling action to follow. Once that was gone I had an opening section that basically consisted of the twin’s taking a sea voyage to Lothern, albeit a fairly exciting one with storms at sea and threats of death bubbling away in the background. It was a very quiet opening, not exactly suitable for the beginning of a great Warhammer epic.

I realised that it all came back to the greater daemon N’Kari. One thing struck me immediately. N’Kari was freed from his prison by a great lightning storm. I had already written a scene in which there is an enormous storm at sea in which the ship our heroes are travelling on almost founders. Obviously these events could be connected. This would also start the clock ticking on my timeline. N’Kari would be freed as the twins were already en route to Lothern. Teclis could even sense the event happening. The reader would know the daemon and the Elvish lads were on a collision course.

I kept gnawing away at this idea. N’Kari was seeking vengeance on the line of Aenarion for his defeat at the hands of the first Phoenix King. I realised it did not just come back to N’Kari. It also came back to Aenarion. Hell, his name was there in the title of the book. An idea struck me. Instead of having a framing sequence I could have a prologue showing the reason why N’Kari was seeking vengeance. I could show the clash between Aenarion and N’Kari. I could also show any reader who did not already know exactly who Aenarion was and why he was important.

And here I confess a simple mistake on my part affected the structure of the entire series. I was convinced that N’Kari was the Keeper of Secrets that Aenarion fought at the Island of the Dead when he faced four Greater Daemons of Chaos to protect Caledor as he created the Vortex that would save the world from the threat of Chaos. I was completely confident of this and I had reason to be. Hell, I wrote the original version of this more than 20 years ago back when I was working on the first High Elf Army book.

I had what I immodestly considered a great idea. My prologue would be that cataclysmic battle. I would open with the last day of Aenarion’s life, show him defeating N’Kari in the most decisive way imaginable and have the Greater Daemon slink off into the newly created Vortex in a pathetic bid to escape the angry demi-god. This would show how he had come to be bound.

The more I thought about this, the more I liked it. Start with the Apocalypse, build to a climax, to paraphrase Samuel Goldwyn. Not only that I could let the reader see Aenarion and experience all the reasons why the Elves considered him so great. I could show the decisive event of Elvish history on the day it happened. I could introduce the reader to Caledor and Morathi, two of the four titanic figures who have shaped Elvish history to the present day and whose influence would be felt later in the series. I could show the reader what unleashed Chaos was like and why the destruction of the Vortex in the era of Tyrion and Teclis was an event to be truly feared. I could explain to readers the Curse of Aenarion and how it came about in the most vivid way possible.

I could do all of this and describe one of the most kickass battles in Warhammer history. What was not to love? Here was an introduction to grab a reader’s attention and no mistake. Filled with wild enthusiasm, I sat down and I wrote it in a white hot frenzy. And, by Sigmar, it was a blast to write, a 9000 word description of the end of the Warhammer world and the last doomed stand of the desperate few trying to prevent it. It had armies of demons, flight of dragons, the death of the first and greatest Archmage, the fall of the demi-god who was quite possibly the most powerful being ever to walk the face of the planet. When I finished I thought it was the best opening chapter I had ever written.

There was only one problem. Something was niggling at the back of my mind. I went back and read the High Elf book and I found no reference to N’Kari being at the battle of the Island of the Dead. Indeed Aenarion had defeated him a century before to end the Rape of Ulthuan. Damn, I thought. Just goes to show, it’s not what we don’t know that hurts us, it’s the things we think we know which ain’t so.  

Was I going to have to go back to the drawing board again?

To be continued.

Blood of Aenarion is on the shortlist for the David Gemmell Legend Award. You can vote in the second stage of the voting here.

Writing Blood of Aenarion (Part One)

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.


Another Blast From The Past

Here are some more mad ramblings from the recently rediscovered files of Wilhelm of Praag, strangely still relevant to the Tyrion and Teclis Trilogy. (I would like to thank Jimmy Carmine for pointing me in the direction of archive.org in the comments to the previous Blast From the Past). I should point out that this comes from my old website, was written over 10 years ago and was never part of the official background anyway. Still bearing all that in mind, let us proceed!

The Paths of the Old Ones

Some Speculations on their nature by Wilhelm of Praag.

Recently there fell into my hands some of the texts translated from old Elvish into the common tongue of men, by the Elvish mage, Tasirion of Turmir, before his unfortunate demise at the hands of a mob of irate Ulric worshippers in the city of Marienburg. These books, the so-called Testament of Tasirion, are a fascinating insight into the strange world view of the Elves. Moreover in them, we often find references to the mysterious beings known as the Old Ones, a god-like race of extreme mystery that has exerted a fascination over the minds of scholars for generations.

Tasirion, as we all know, was quite insane, and many have claimed that his writings are nothing more than the demented ramblings of a deranged maniac. Yet they do corroborate some things written elsewhere by other, somewhat better regarded, scholars. His are not the only references to the mysterious Old Ones. The Book of Sigmar speaks of them, as do certain scholarly tomes kept in the vaults of the Grand Theogonist’s library in Altdorf, of which I am forbidden to mention by name. The Eighth Scroll of Verena contains twenty seven stanzas dedicated to the Old Ones, and their servant race, the hideous Slann. Some texts claim that they were the original rulers of our world, and that all of the races that came later were their creation. This is blasphemy, for all know that the Gods created men and elves and dwarves, and I record it here, merely in the interests of scholarship.

But let us not forget that Tasirion was an Elf, one of the Elder Race and privy to much knowledge that men can only speculate about. Their history is far longer than ours, and their written records date back into the first age of the world, and even to the legendary Dawn times.

All of these works, even Tasirion’s, are vague. No one seems able to describe the Old Ones, or, perhaps if they could, they chose not to. Some of the texts make references to them being so glorious that mortals were unable to gaze upon their visages without dying of rapture. Others claim that they were so hideous that no man could look upon them without descending into madness.

Tasirion writes that they ordered their worshippers to destroy all images of them before they departed this world. Why this was, he did not say, and all we can do is speculate. What could beings of such awesome power possibly fear?

Tasirion makes other claims, which most scholars dismiss as lunacy, but which I find oddly convincing. He states that it was the Old Ones who were responsible for the creation of what he calls the Great Black Gate of Ultimate Madness in the Uttermost North. This Gate was intended to take the Old Ones back to the Heaven or Hell from which they came, a place located among the distant stars or so the Mad Elf would have us believe. That it is possible to open pathways to other worlds is not open to doubt. Where else do daemons come from? Is it then so unlikely that other mightier beings than we should be able to create such gateways when even human mages can open such portals?

Tasirion writes that the Great Gate of Madness was merely the final culmination of the Old Ones work. They also created paths to the Gate that once criss-crossed our world but which are now corrupted by Chaos. In ancient days these paths were sealed by mighty spells to prevent their corruption seeping out into the world, but in all the long ages between now and their closure these spells have worn away, and at their terminal points the raw stuff of Chaos seeps through into the world, congealing into warpstone, and other foul substances.

Tasirion claims that he himself passed through the Paths of the Old Ones after he found an opening where the seal had weakened, in fabled Ulthuan. In a matter of days he made his way to the lands of men, suffering hideous perils along the way, and much to the detriment of his sanity. If this was true, it might also explain other things, like how hideous monsters sometimes appear seemingly from nowhere even within our own Empire. All of us have heard of places of power, located in centres corrupted by mutations, places where demons sometimes appear- might there not be a connection?

Tasirion also indulges in further and even more disturbing speculation. He claims that the Paths and indeed the Great Dark Gate may not be what we think them to be at all, that the minds that created them were not remotely similar to those of mortals. The fact that they can be used as a transit network does not mean that this was their purpose. Humans and even daemons may be like rats scuttling through the empty pipes of an abandoned alchemical laboratory. To them, the pipes are a convenient route of travel, but one that in no way reflects the intent of the original designer.

In his books, Tasirion even posits a theory that the Old Ones were actually trapped on our World by some form of cosmic shipwreck. The Great Gate, the raising of whole civilizations, was to them, the equivalent of a man building a raft to escape from a desert island. They simply abandoned their creations to their fate once their purpose had been achieved, and that the coming of Chaos was nothing more than a by-product of their departure, possibly even one they foresaw.This is not a pleasant thought nor is it one calculated to make us think well of ourselves. Perhaps it is for the best to dismiss the Elf’s works as the final diseased writings of drug-crazed lunatic.

Readers should note that Wilhelm of Praag spent several months in a cell in Marienburg after this paper was published and then, having recanted of his heretical writings, was scourged through the streets of  the city at the orders of the High Priestess of Verena before being sent into permanent exile to do penance for his follies…

Blood of Aenarion is on the long list for the David Gemmell Legend Award this year. You can vote here.