The Black Library are best known for producing tie-in fiction connected to the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 settings. They are also gaining a reputation for seeking out and encouraging fresh talent, and one of their most recent and interesting finds is North-East of England based writer Sarah Cawkwell. Despite having only one novel out, her short stories for Warhammer anthology magazine Hammer and Bolter have already gained her a healthy fan-following amongst the Black Library fandom. Starburst caught up with her to find out about her debut novel and any other projects she may have coming soon.
Starburst: The Gildar Rift was your debut novel and was very well received by connoisseurs of Warhammer 40,000 fiction. What was your biggest challenge when writing it, and what would you have done different?
Sarah Cawkwell: The biggest challenge really came from the fact that until The Gildar Rift, I'd only ever written short stories with a maximum length of 10,000 words or so. Keeping a lively pace and ensuring that momentum kept happening was an interesting challenge and one which I enjoyed very much. Funnily enough, I wrote two novels essentially back-to-back and then a short story. When that happened, I found it hard to get my head out of the epic novel-length scale!
What I would have done differently... hmm. There's a few things that I'd change in hindsight, but ultimately, the book is what it is. People seem to be enjoying it. My primary goal as an author is to write stories that people enjoy reading. On that scale, mission very much accomplished.
Your next book, Valkia The Bloody, comes out it in June. We understand it features Khorne, The Blood God. What else can you tell us about it?
It's the rise and fall and rise again of a very strong female character, one of the few in the Warhammer universe.
Valkia is the daughter of kings; a warrior queen born to a conquering tribe. When she takes the leadership, she leads her people to many wars. Such bloody activity brings her to the attention of Khorne and she swears to travel to the Chaos Wastes to serve him better. On the way, all sorts of things try to slow her down and stop her, but she does not waver... until the ultimate betrayal that sees her fall within sight of her goal.
Khorne's a bit angry about this, as you can imagine, and he gives her a second chance at life, only this Valkia is the new and improved version. And you can bet your bottom dollar that she's out for retribution.
Fun and hi-jinx ensue.
Was writing Valkia The Bloody much different from writing The Gildar Rift?
Totally different. Having written one novel, the process of writing the second came much more naturally. In terms of writing style, I found that I had to adjust my tone considerably. Space Marines speak very formally and there was not much call for that here.
I grew up reading mostly fantasy books and to write within a world that is so dark and gritty was an absolute pleasure.
Before you became a professional author, you were very involved with the online fiction writing community, and you still maintain a very strong online presence. What are your thoughts how the internet and e-books affects the modern author?
The Internet and the modern author are unlikely bedfellows. In some respects, it's great that people can have the chance to talk to their favourite authors, to ask them questions, to read their blogs and so forth. In others, it takes away some of the element of mystery. It can also be quite disconcerting to suddenly have 500 Twitter followers instead of the 100 or so that you had originally. Disconcerting, but very flattering as well.
As for e-books... well, I'm one of those people who is very much on the fence. I'm a technophile, certainly. But for my money, nothing beats the feel and weight of a book in your hand... that delicious new book smell and that wonderful feeling you get from selecting a book off the shelf. I understand why people like e-readers and I see their convenience... but I think it's sad in a way as well. I don't own one and have no immediate plans to do so.
I do think it's a great way of opening up literature - particularly the now-freely available classics - to a wider audience and that's a good thing. But it also widens the possibility for piracy, something which is just as rife in the publishing industry as it is in the other arts.
Definitely on the fence.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book for company, what would that book be? (Let’s assume you’ve had ‘surviving on a desert island’ training.)
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. It's been my favourite book for almost as long as I can remember. Also, in light of the previous question, at least I wouldn't have to worry about my battery life...
What inspires you?
Film and game music. Whenever I'm writing, I load up iTunes and tune into Streaming Soundtracks. My dad is heavily into film music and so I developed an unconscious love of it as well. Some of it can be so massively atmospheric. At least one scene in The Gildar Rift was born off the back of hearing a particular piece of music. It can paint such vivid pictures.
My son definitely inspires me. He's one of those young people who can offer up the most surprisingly mature advice at times (example: Me - 'I'm thinking of getting an iPad'. Him - 'But you already have an iPhone. What can an iPad do that it can't? Save your money.')
It's a good job he's here.
What fictional worlds do you find the most interesting?
Ohhh... loads. The Warhammer universe obviously; they're so rich and delicious. One of my favourite series when I was growing up was the Dragonlance saga - so the world of Krynn is another source of inspiration. Jim Butcher's Chicago as seen through Dresden's eyes... and the insect-populated world of Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series.
In terms of tie-in type worlds... Star Wars, Doctor Who, Stargate, Farscape... so much potential. So little time.
If you got the chance to write for one of those, what would it be?
Doctor Who, definitely.
Tom Baker or Matt Smith?
Tom Baker. I grew up with Tom Baker as my Doctor. I like Matt Smith; I think he brings a fun Troughton-esque style vagabond element to the character, but for me, I'll always have the Pyramids of Mars.
Robert Downey Junior or Benedict Cumberbatch?
Benedict Cumberbatch. I enjoy RDJ in the films, but perhaps it's the creeping whisper of 'BUT HE'S AMERICAN!' that puts me off. Mind, Benedict Cumberbatch makes me confused. He's oddly attractive, being (as a friend put it yesterday), a gangly, arachnoid sex-bomb.
So I like spiders. Great.
The Simpsons or Futurama?
Futurama. The Simpsons stopped being funny years ago.
Tweenies or Teletubbies?
Tweenies. The Teletubbies were just before my son's time, so I'm far more familiar with the Tweenies. And Bob the Builder. And Bear in the Big Blue House...
Truth or Beauty?
Truth. Beauty is like cake. It is a lie.
'Valkia the Bloody' is published by Games Workshop Ltd and will be released June 26th