Graham McNeill is best known for his novels set in the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 settings. His works include the incredibly successful False Gods, and the Gemmell award winning book, Empire. His latest novel, Lords of Mars, was released recently...
Starburst: Tell us a bit about Lords of Mars.
Graham McNeill: Lords of Mars is the second part of my Mars trilogy. It’s set just as an exploratory fleet gets across the edge of the galaxy and into the unknown wilderness beyond that. It’s a chance to take the readers beyond their comfort zone and challenge all the things they know about the Imperium. It’s a region where all the normal institutions are gone, and they’re properly on their own.
What’s in Lords of Mars for those not entirely familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 setting?
It’s a way that you can explore what The Imperium of Man is from an outsider’s point of view. The Mechanicus are part of, but separate from the rest, and because the story is set in an exploration fleet, there’s all sorts of branches of The Imperium that we can observe. We have Rogue Traders, Space Marines, Imperial Guard, so we get a nice spread of the culture.
What’s the lasting appeal of the Warhammer 40,000 setting?
For me, it’s that it isn’t all shiny. Everything is broken down and mankind is fighting for survival in a hellish, nightmare world. 40K is very grimy and very little works; the only stuff that works is the robust stuff, not because people understand how to fix it. When I’m writing, I tend to look at the story first and then bring out the 40K-ness out of it later.
Will we see anymore Ultramarines stuff?
Yes, absolutely. You’ll see a lot more Ultramarines stuff from me over the coming years.
What real world influences do you bring to your work?
I have an interest in science as a discipline and I think that to understand what things are and how they work is a beautiful thing. If you don’t understand, you ask and learn and grow. It’s something I’ve tried to do all my life. I’m very interested in history. Anything that really appeals to me as a person I try to bring into a story in a way that works but without crow-barring it in. Just because I like something it doesn’t mean it will fit the story.
Tell us more about the Arkham Horror books you’ve written.
Writing in a day to day setting was very different from the Warhammer books. The main characters’ concerns are very much like ours are, they’re ordinary people. Reporters, Universtiy lecturers, that sort of thing. Their concerns are things like a roof over their heads, so writing people who aren’t necessarily going to be dragged in to save the world or save the galaxy or what have you was, weirdly, more of a challenge. Trying to write someone who is “ordinary” while still making their conversations interesting whilst at the same time dragging them into this Lovecraftian world was tricky. Writing real world fiction should be easier given that we live in the real world, but it’s not. The books are set in the 1920s, so getting used to the way people speak and live was interesting and a lot of fun. They were probably the three books I had the most fun writing, especially when that world was ending and everyone was going mad.
Your background is in table top gaming. How does that mesh with the writing?
These days almost not at all. I’ve two little ones under four, so the time I have for tabletop gaming is next to zero. I still keep up to date with what’s coming out, because that informs my work, but it’s very rare I get the chance to throw dice on a table top and move toy soldiers around.
What can we expect from your next Horus Heresy novel?
Currently I am working on Vengeful Sprit, which is a Sons of Horus centric novel. It brings the Warmaster back into centre frame, because for a while we’ve been telling stories about the other Primarchs. What the Warmaster was doing is something that we don’t know an awful lot about. We’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what the major characters have been doing, and it’s about time to remind the readers why it’s his name on the series title. The book will bring him front and centre to the Heresy and remind the readers just how terrifying The Sons of Horus are when they make war.
Who will write the last Horus Heresy book?
It’s not called the long war for nothing. That’s a question that will come up much, much later on. There’s plenty more to come, and we’ve got a lot planned, right down to the artwork. At this rate I’ll be getting my four-year old to write it when he comes of age. As Aaron put it, “I fear for our friendships when we get to the end of this.” We are all very invested in it, and yes, there will be one book that ends it all, but everyone will be writing an aspect of it. Holographic Storytelling, as Jim Swallow puts it.
Is there a tie-in franchise you’d love to be involved with?
There’s the obvious ones like Star Wars and Doctor Who, I’d love to do stuff with that. I’m a big fan of the Firefly universe. I kind of hope there isn’t any official tie-in stuff for that but I’d love to do something with that.
What other things inspire you?
Films, music, art, books, people around me, things I over hear, things I see and then do a double take and realise that it’s not what I thought it was, and then wonder what if it was. Comics, anything, it’s all grist to the mill. You need to fill your mind with idea fuel. I might read the same things as another writer and we’d both come away with different ideas. Everything and anything, it’s all sensory input that you bring in and mash up to see what comes out the other end.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you?
There’s too many. Probably being given an Axe for Empire, The David Gemmel Legend Award.
If you were stranded on a desert island what book would you want for company?
Legend by David Gemmel.
Tzeentch or Nyarlathotep?
Tzeentch, because you would never be bored. With Nyarlathotep you’d be endlessly entertained for a fraction of a second and then it’d all be over when your mind broke.
The Simpsons or Futurama?
Fantasy or Science Fiction?
Those are my babies. Fantasy.
Sigmar or The Emperor?
Truth or Beauty?
Truth. Beauty fades but truth is eternal.
Lords of Mars is out now.