THE END IS NIGH!!!
If you don't know me in real life, you may not know of my lifelong love affair with the tabletop wargame Warhammer. I've played Warhammer since the early '90s, and always as the lovable greenskinned monsters the Orcs and Goblins. And if you haven't been following Warhammer lately you may not know: the world is coming to an end.
In late 2014 Games Workshop aka GW (the company that makes Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, and the Lord of the Rings game) began releasing models and books about the end of the Warhammer Fantasy setting, dubbed The End Times. At first casual gamers like me assumed it was going to be an expansion or campaign like the Nemesis Crown or Storm of Chaos of years past.
All signs now point to tectonic shifts in our beloved hobby.
Which brings me to today's guest! Guy Haley is (not even fucking around) one of my favorite authors. And he makes me look like a positive neophyte in greenskin lore, having literally written the book on Orcs and Goblins, SKARSNIK from GW's Black Library aka BL publishing house. He also used to work for GW's in-house magazine, White Dwarf or WD. The man's such an orcspert (ha!) in fact, that BL asked him to write THE RISE OF THE HORNED RAT, settling the End Times affairs of some of our favorite greenskins, Dwarves, and the rat-like Skaven*.
Guy has very kindly agreed to stop by all the way from Yorkshire in the UK today to talk about The End Times, his career as a journalist, and his original fiction. First, let's meet the chap, then let's dive right in!
*by decree of the Grand Theogonist of Altdorf I am required to inform you that "Skaven" or "Chaos rat-men" do not actually exist.
About Guy Haley:
Guy Haley is a long time science fiction journalist and writer. He has been deputy editor of SFX magazine, and editor of Death Ray and Games Workshop's gaming magazine White Dwarf. He is the author of REALITY 36, OMEGA POINT, CHAMPION OF MARS, CRASH, and BANEBLADE, among others.
You can find hundreds of reviews, interviews, opinion pieces, free pieces of fiction and more on Guy's blog.
SK: Welcome, Guy! Thanks for being with us today. So, I understand you've been playing Warhammer since its inception.
GH: I have, from the very first edition. I've always had goblins, by the way.
SK: Have any of the End Times events come as a surprise to you? Or is this about how you figured it would play out? Or as a former White Dwarf staffer have you always known all the behind-the-scenes secrets?
GH: It was a complete surprise, and I knew nothing about it. GW understandably keep their secrets very, well, secret. Even in the End Times writers briefing, we were told only as much as we needed to know. Being an ex-WD editor counts for nothing!
SK: So, as far as I know, SKARSNIK was the first Black Library title to feature Orcs and Goblins from their own perspective. I mean, there were a few scenes in the GOTREK AND FELIX novels and that sort of thing, but really you broke the green color barrier. Some people even used to say it couldn't be done. So how did you get into the head of a greenskin?
GH: With GW fiction, I just try to stick with the way the subject matter is defined in the material. All the races are exaggerated archetypes of particular forms of human behaviour. The trick is to make them seem real enough so that they're not one note, but keep them within the archetype. Otherwise they just become people with masks on. That said, I have a great affinity with goblins. They're sneaky and little, a bit like me. I have been known to claim to actually be Skarsnik, after all.
The problem with greenskins, and the reason they had not been tackled before, is that BL were afraid writers would go off down the comedy route. It's important to remember that although the greenskins' antics are amusing sometimes, orcs are built for war and would eat you, whereas goblins are vicious little backstabbing horrors, and would torture you to death, and then eat you.
Bearing that in mind, they also have to have societies that function, reasons to have any social cohesion at all and, in the space orks' case, be believable as a starfaring race. It's fun figuring all that out while sticking within what's there in the game lore. Stick all that together and it starts to form up nicely. It's all about being true to the material, not my interpretation of it, or how I think it should be, or any of those other things you see on forum message boards, but how GW want it.
SK: And how did you convince your publisher it was worth getting into the head of a greenskin?
GH: The way it came about was fairly convoluted. I pitched a couple of ideas to BL when I was still at GW back in 2007. One was BANEBLADE (because they had just made the kit), the other was SKARSNIK (because I love goblins). Or maybe Nick Kyme suggested it? He and I worked together on WD before he went to BL. Whatever. I think they mulled it over for a long time before deciding that if anyone could do it, I might be able to. It was daunting, but I like to think their faith in me paid off.
SK: Do you hate Grimgor Ironhide as much as I do? (Audience: I promise this is the last of the Warhammer super nerd questions.) You can feel free to do with this what you like, but I envision a novel called NECKSNAPPER. What happens is, Grimgor is stomping around being the worst Mary Sue ever as he is wont to. Then a speck appears off in the distance, coming from the east. And he spots it and then bam, suddenly his head goes flying off somewhere and Morglum returns to reclaim the title of "only Black Orc character." What do you think? Solid gold, right?
GH: Grimgor is a fine character. I have no problem with him at all. I don't see why some people don't like him, really. He is a bit... limited, but that's in keeping with what he is - the ultimate expression of orcyness. Morglum is a different kind of Black Orc. I like the contrast - it goes back to what I was saying about finding shades of a character within narrow archetypes.
SK: So, you've worked primarily in journalism and just recently made the switch to fiction.
GH: Well, I dunno. I've been doing this for five years now. But on the other hand, I was purely a journalist for twelve. So I suppose you are right.
SK: Do those skill sets jibe or do you find yourself trying to break bad habits from one discipline or the other?
GH: The skills are exactly relevant. Being a journalist taught me to write to a brief, not to be precious about my words and how to write large numbers of words to a high standard in a short space of time. It taught me how to brutally cut said words if there wasn't enough space. It taught me how to take criticism, and how to adjust my work without complaint if it was not deemed fit for purpose. It taught me how to edit other peoples' work, and look at my own more objectively. And - super crucially - it taught me to respect deadlines. All these things and more have proved invaluable to me as a writer, especially when writing in other people's universes. It is all writing, after all.
SK: I think you're the first guest I've had on the blog who has written licensed work, which for the benefit of our audience means writing in a pre-existing world, possibly with pre-existing characters (i.e. when George Lucas gives permission to Thomas Pynchon to write about Luke Skywalker's wedding or whatever.) So can you tell us a little bit about that?
GH: It's a bit different to writing original fiction, but not much. You have less freedom, which makes it easier in some ways and harder in others. One big difference is that you have to remember it is not 'yours'. If the client (GW in my case) want something done a certain way, or if they want to give one of 'my' characters to someone else, then that's what happens. Fair play. That's their prerogative.
There's a financial difference too. Writing licensed fiction is a good way to make regular money. It generates a predictable income, but there is also an equally definable upper ceiling to that income. With original work, you stand a small chance of hitting the big time, but the odds are you will not make anything beyond your advance. I've yet to have a "break-out" original work, as they say, mostly because it's hard to get noticed these days. GW gives me a good platform, my words will get read.
My original books have not enjoyed huge sales, but they have been well received enough that I keep getting asked to do more, so I hope one day one will make it.
SK: Is the sense of pride or affection different for licensed work vs. original work?
GH: That's a tough one. I can point at one of my original books and go "I made that up all myself". The sense of ownership is different, thus the sense of achievement possibly greater. On saying that, SKARSNIK is one of the two books I am most pleased with.
It's important I do at least one original piece a year, otherwise I find myself getting stale with the BL material. An original tale freshens me up for my next round of future war.
SK: Do you get a list of ironclad rules or is it more of a "we hired Guy because we trust he knows his stuff" kind of thing?
GH: Both. They hire me, I think, because I can turn round work of a good quality quickly, and I understand both the settings and the way the company operates. There are some explicit rules, and other unwritten ones that you sometimes fall foul of without realising. But it works out pretty well for both sides. I like working with them.
SK: So, with the publication of THE RISE OF THE HORNED RAT you've now created original characters (Richards & Klein, etc.), written licensed characters (Skarsnik, etc.), and even inherited characters from another author (Gromvarl, etc.) I'm interested to know how you make sure your characters always ring true. I would think original characters would be the easiest to write, but maybe that's not always the case.
GH: Like I say above, make them people, but not necessarily human. With established characters, like Gromvarl, I read what other authors have done and try to follow it carefully. As a fan, it's important to me that there's continuity to these worlds. David Guymer read an early draft of HORNED RAT, and said I'd written his dwarf characters exactly the way he would, which was a huge compliment. Original characters, on the other hand, are different. Not harder, just different. The big challenge there is to make sure they're not all just bits of me. I'm not sure it's even possible to get away from that, but I try. Licensed characters, being pre-defined, at least give you a shove away from yourself.
SK: Well, thanks for being with us today, Guy. Is there anything we didn't cover in the interview or anything you'd like to say to your fans here across the Pond?
GH: Nope, other than to say: try out my original stuff if you like SF and my GW books. CHAMPION OF MARS, REALITY 36, OMEGA POINT, and CRASH. A shameless plug that gets me feeling all Britishy and ashamed of myself, but it has to be done! Thanks for having me.