Today I managed to talk with David Guymer, the author of the final two books in the Gotrek and Felix series amongst several other Warhammer Fantasy novels.
We discuss about what it’s like writing for the Black Library, how the doom of Gotrek came to be, the End Times in general, and much, much more.
Tyler: Lets start from the beginning, how did you first start writing for the Black Library?
David: Quite by chance really. I was an aspiring writer with a fantasy novel that wasn’t really going anyway and all the distractions of work and life conspiring to ensure that it was never in danger of getting close to completion. Then, a round of quality internet procrastination unearthed the Black Library open submissions window (2012 being the last year they ran it, unfortunately). I had only two weeks to the close of submissions and the temptation was to leave it for a year – which in hindsight would have been the most dick move of my life – but instead I worked on my idea, wrote a 5000 word story about my beloved skaven, edited it to death, picked out the most exciting 500 word sample and submitted it.
That story of a pair of clanrats in an Arabyan cellar became the Gotrek & Felix short story The Tilean’s Talisman.
Tyler: Can you explain the process that starts off a book? Do you approach Black Library with a completely new idea of your own, or do they give you the basic premise (for example, a book focusing on Imperial Fists) and let you come up with the rest?
David: Very much the latter. With City of the Damned for instance, my brief was for a story where Gotrek & Felix go to Mordheim. That was pretty much that and the rest was up to me. I then write a plot outline that the editors make some notes on, I produce a new outline and on it goes until everyone’s happy. Often the final outline will look nothing like what I started with. I think only Slayer even remotely resembled my opening pitch.
I’ll continue to delicately seed my ideas however in the hopes that they find receptive minds in which to grow. I’m sure that with the right idea to the right editor at the right time, it could happen.
Tyler: What has been the most rewarding story for you to write?
David: Difficult question actually, as a lot have been rewarding in different ways. The one audio short I’ve written, Curse of the Everliving, was amazing to do as there’s something deeply satisfying about hearing your words spoken aloud by actors. Headtaker, being my debut, was rewarding for obvious reasons and was nominated for awards which is nice, but it was a book where I had something to say and a lot of readers got it, which is, again, deeply satisfying. The most rewarding though was probably Kinslayer, the first of the last Gotrek & Felix’s. There was a lot of different characters and threads that I somehow managed to hold together with some epic battles and I got to take them – and, personally, say goodbye to – to a lot of places. It was emotional and I rate it as my personal favourite.
Tyler: What other Black Library novel, series or author inspires you most right now?
David: Guy Haley is winning all my favourite person awards right now. And he knows it too, it’s quite embarrassing. The first novel of his that I read was Death of Integrity and the level of space opera-style expanse, the physical detail (coming from me as a scientist), and the beautifully drawn characters of the Blood Drinkers and the Novamarines just blew me down. It was unlike anything 40K I’d read until then so I jumped straight into his Blood Drinkers short stories, and then went and read Champion of Mars. To prevent disappointment I should point out now that that’s not a new Mechanicus novel, but a proper mind-opening sci fi published by Solaris. And a damn good read too.
If I had to sum it: he writes the way I hope to be able to write when I grow up.
Tyler: One thing I hear a lot is how important it is as an author to continually read other people’s works, what are you reading now and what are your all time favorite books? (from any genre)
David: My favourite book of all time is Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield. Read it now. No excuses. In the early days I used to read a new Stephen Pressfield book as I started in the belief that doing so made me write better. It’s that good. But even if you don’t want to become a better writer, it’s worth it for some incredible Spartan on Persian violence.
I generally read fantasy and sci fi, as you’d figure, but I do try to ‘get out more’. I like a bit of Wilbur Smith (the character of Belegar was largely inspired by one from When The Lion Feeds), and I’ll occasionally find a Lee Child novel whenever I recover my kindle from girlfriend’s thieving paws.
Tyler: You recently wrote the last two books in the Gotrek and Felix series. When did you find out that you were going to be the author to wrap it up and what was your reaction?
David: I was just into writing Thorgrim when the group of writers who were initially slated to be working on it were told about the End Times, and with it that I’d be doing the final Gotrek & Felix novels. I was thrilled just to be invited to that meeting, to be honest. Not nervous just yet, that would come later, once I’d started and started to thinking that I really, REALLY, wasn’t allowed to screw this one up. There was some sadness too though. We, the authors, didn’t know at this point how the End Times were going to end: all we knew were that a lot of characters we loved were going to bow out. Gotrek and Felix. Malus. Not to mention all the game characters. I may have shed a manly tear over King Kazador; I’m dawi enough to admit it.
Tyler: What did Gotrek and Felix mean to you? To many people they are the iconic characters of the Warhammer Fantasy fictional universe when it comes to novels.
David: Trollslayer was the first Black Library book that I read, and I was still at school when I picked it up. Even before that though I’d been subliminally reading Gotrek & Felix through short stories in the Empire, Undead, and Orcs & Goblins army books so yes, they’re inextricably woven into the fabric of Warhammer. Their adventures have covered pretty much every race and realm of note and taken in several iterations of the Warhammer game. Even Storm of Chaos! Their story is, in effect, the evolving story of Warhammer.
Tyler: How important was it to you to wrap up all of the loose thread and character plots from the series?
David: It was great to bring back all the old guard and give them a send off. Continuing the story arcs of Snorri and Ulrika was a particular treat as they were such rich characters to begin with, and getting to play with Malakai Makaisson was just fun. It would’ve been great to have had the time and the space, another book perhaps, to give some more attention to Max and Thanquol. And there were a couple of loose threads that the End Times didn’t allow me to go into. I’d love to have explored what became of Lurk after Beastlayer. And what was Felix’s Uncle Gustav doing smuggling forbidden books of arcane lore…?
Tyler: How much of the plot was left up to you to develop and what parts were requested by GW and Black Library?
David: So rather than having an overarching two-book storyline plotted from the outset, the two books were planned individually, one after the other. You have to remember that at the time of writing Kinslayer I was as in the dark over where there the End Times were going as anyone.
As I remember it (which is, naturally, suspect) my spoiler-excised brief for Kinslayer was ‘we want character X to die and we want character Y to kill him, go do something with that.’ What followed was probably the most intense period of back and forth between myself and the editors and a long, long talk with diagrams at the Black Library Weekender where a story originally featuring Thanquol, Snikch, and a lot of Hobgoblins became the Kinslayer we love today. The only surviving feature of the original proposal was Throgg as the King of Praag. With these being the last books of the series I’d wanted to hark back to the origins in Trollslayer, a bit like in the final series of Buffy where they brought in those super vampires to bring back some of the titular villain’s menace. As it turned out, he was one of my favourite characters to write too, and I’m quite proud of him.
With Slayer I almost had a free hand except I think I was asked to make Be’lakor the villain. Everything else that took place and the where and the how of it was my own decision, including the title.
Tyler: Queek Headtaker was a character you had previously written a novel for, was he a character whose storyline you wanted to finish or were you happy with letting Guy Haley wrap it up?
David: I would have loved to have written that book. I’m a skaven player and have been since I started playing when I was 13. My Bloodbowl team is skaven. I’m a skaven…
No wait, scratch that last part.
Reading Rise of the Horned Rat was a fun experience; seeing what another person’s take on my characters were. And not just Queek. Don’t forget I’ve written Thorgrim and Belegar and a few others too. Guy and I did talk a bit about Queek’s character before he started and he gave me the chance to look at his first draft and make comments, but I think he nailed it (following on from question 4: I read this after finishing Champion of Mars…). I hope people will read the full ‘Karak Eight Peaks’ series starting with Skarsnik–Headtaker–Thorgrim and finishing with Rise of the Horned Rat because there’s a lot of continuity there that’ll reward you for reading it all.
Tyler: If you could have tackled any of the storylines from the End Times, either from the novels or the source books, and written a novel for it, what would your choice have been?
David: The End Times were so huge, and in an ideal world it could easily have been a 10 or 20 novel series released over 3-4 years. Like a mini Heresy. So as a consequence of getting it into 5 novels there are loads of untold stories. The fall of Karak Azul would have been a great one, or of Zhar-Naggrund, because man I love Chaos Dwarfs. Give me any storyline at all though and I think I’d go for the massive battles for Lustria between Clan Pestilens and the Lizardmen. It’s a real end of the world, clash of civilizations epic that would have made for a great story.
Tyler: What was your reaction when the fate of the Warhammer world was revealed to you?
David: Worry. At first.
I’d grown up with Warhammer, I love Warhammer, and I wanted to continue writing stories about Warhammer. The last thing I wanted to do was see it all torn down, but as it turned out the End Times was the massive shakeup that we and the setting all needed. As for Age of Sigmar, I can’t take really talk about it. There have been very legal-looking forms. But I think people will be happy with what emerges from the ashes.
Tyler: Would you have liked to have written about some of Gotrek and Felix’s adventures in Cathay and Ind that are alluded to? I always found the unexplored corners of the Warhammer world to be some of the most intriguing.
David: That’s probably because they’re unexplored!
I suppose we got a little bit of Araby and the Dark Lands in the Gotrek & Felix anthology, and a hint of Tilea-Estalia in Nathan Long’s short story leading up to Orcslayer in the Third Omnibus, but there’s a very enticing gap there. Rather like you, I’ve always been fascinated by Ind in particular and would certainly love to write stories there. If Black Library ever decide to go back and publish more Gotrek and Felix novels, then they could easily fill another 20 year series with their adventures.
Tyler: Was there any grand plan for the pair’s finalé set up by William King or Nathan Long that went into writing these books?
David: I’d like to say yes, but no, there was no grand plan. I’ve spoken to Bill King, though not about Gotrek & Felix (I know that he’s not read any of the stories written since he stopped), but I’ve not actually spoken to Nathan Long at all. I’m sure they both had their own ideas though for how Gotrek should finally meet his doom.
Tyler: You have written a few short stories for 40k, is that a setting you would like to explore more?
David: Definitely. In fact I’m writing some novel-length Space Marines right now!
Tyler: What has been your favorite story that you have written for Black Library?
David: I already let my favourite novel slip, didn’t I, so how about my favourite short story? I’d go with Unseen, a fantasy thriller / haunted house horror featuring a band of mercenaries, a Celestial wizard, and a certain skaven Deathmaster.
Tyler: Can we expect something from you set in the upcoming Age of Sigmar?
David: See question 12 regarding the forms. There were sub-clauses and all sorts.
Tyler: Any final thoughts?
David: Just to say thank you for giving me my first interview on your site, and for reviewing my books. I hope that whatever I write for Black Library in the future continues to find such favour!
Tyler is a life long painter and hobbyist and took home his first Golden Demon award at the 2012 Chicago Games Day with a follow up at the 2013 North American Games Day. More of his work can be found at his blog, Mengel Miniatures.