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Gav Thorpe Creates Warhammer Worlds

28 October 17 words: LP Mills

With over thirty novels under his belt, author and self-confessed “professional geek”, Gav Thorpe is one of the better-known names in modern fantasy writing. With his novel Warbeast winning the David Gemmel Legend award for best fantasy story earlier this year, we popped round for a chat about his work with the Warhammer franchise...

First off, could you tell us a bit about Warbeast?
Warbeast is the eighth book in the Realmgate Wars series, which is part of the new Age of Sigmar setting of Warhammer stories. The narrative follows this age-old battle against the forces of chaos, but in a very different world to what Games Workshop fans might be used to. By the time the story starts, the bad guys have won, but we’re now starting to see people fighting back as they try to get hold of these portals called “realmgates.”

That’s where the title character, Arkas Warbeast, comes in; he’s the commander of an immortal army who was plucked from his previous existence as a failing king and transformed into a huge, armoured soldier. He receives help from another commander, Theuderis Silverhand, who is the exact opposite of Arkas. Where Arkas was struggling with defeat before the story, Silverhand was at the height of his power, creating this real tension between the two characters. That’s the basic setup, but in essence, the story is a buddy-cop movie, focusing on the dynamic between the two main characters.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? How much research do you normally do before writing a novel?
Usually quite a lot. Warhammer has a very specific timeline and you have to work within the parameters of that universe, so it’s important to be aware of the story you’re writing. I’ve been a fan of Warhammer World and 40K since I was ten, and I’ve worked with the design team here for fourteen years, so when it comes to a lot of the stories from the old setting, I was lucky enough to have been steeped in the expanded Warhammer universe.

The Age of Sigmar setting, however, is completely new, so I had to almost relearn it from scratch, which meant a lot of time delving into backstories. A big challenge with my research – apart from remembering which characters used which weapons and the like – was getting the new feel of Sigmar right. It’s slightly more cosmic and strange with a very particular style, and one of the things I needed to work out was how to establish the limitations of the landscape and story. For this story, I felt it was important to scale everything up; the battles were more about the fate of the world than one or two cities.

As for the writing process, it really does vary. I have longer deadlines for novels than I do gamebooks, so I may go through five or six rewrites of various intensities before getting something I’m happy with. Especially with Warhammer, a lot of what I’m writing is being developed for the game itself elsewhere, so minor details may end up changing right up until the final draft.

How was the transition from traditional Warhammer to Age of Sigmar?
It took a while to settle into it, but I think I’m getting there now. It was a bit strange at first; as I’ve said, I’ve been entrenched in this world since I was a child, so it was weird being just as much of a newbie as everyone else. When it first started, everyone was very strict about what could and couldn’t be done, but once we’d got over the hurdle of it not being the old Warhammer, we found ourselves able to embrace what was there while coming up with new interpretations on classic themes.

Because the story begins with this great re-conquest, you’ve got carte blanche as a writer to find new factions and stories to explore. Over time, it’s really come into its own and the fans are really starting to get behind it, which is a huge relief. There’s a lot of freedom in Sigmar, which is exciting in itself, and it will be interesting to see how the world continues to develop.

How have you remained so prolific throughout your career?
Well, I write full time, which helps. There’s a big difference between writing from nine till five and trying to squirrel away bits of writing around other jobs and responsibilities. Luckily I’m quite fast when it comes to writing anyway; once I’ve got a plan ready, I’ll write the story around that basic framework and do a big edit once I’ve got the first draft down. That first draft is always a complete mess, and it’s only after a heavy redraft that it starts to look a bit more like a decent story.

I also used to work as a lead writer for Warhammer’s White Dwarf magazine, which is much more of a journalistic working method. With journalism, it doesn’t matter if you end up working through the night; a deadline’s a deadline, and you have to stick to it. I try to apply that same ethic to my story-writing. I suppose the intensity of working for Warhammer – where deadlines are strict and come around fairly quickly – allows me to hone my skills and prevents me from getting hung up on my writing.

I’ve become very good at pushing past writer’s block, usually by taking a step back and mulling it over for a bit longer before jumping back in. Realistically though, there’s nothing like an impending deadline and a looming mortgage payment to motivate you to finish something.

How did you get into the career of writing for Games Workshop?
I’d been a gamer for years before I ever put pen to paper. My older cousin got me into Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop RPGs, and it’s always been something I’ve been interested in. Originally I wanted to be an illustrator, but my drawings of monsters and warriors never really took off, and I couldn’t face another five years in education, so I decided to settle on writing and creating these worlds instead.

In the end, I typed up some of the ideas I’d had for stories on my mum’s old electric typewriter, put a little pack together, and sent it off to a designer working at Games Workshop, applying for a job. In the cover letter, I even put that I wouldn’t mind emptying the bins and making cups of tea. Thankfully, they were expanding their studios and were looking for an assistant games designer. That’s how I ended up with the role.

Do you have any advice for our readers who might want to get into writing?
There’s so much cliched advice out there when it comes to writing – “read as well as write”, “write what you know”, that kind of stuff – but my one piece of advice is to just finish something. I normally find that if I can’t finish something it’s because I haven’t planned the story properly, so I need to go back and think it through a bit more.

Some writers are able to write by the seat of their pants, but I’d say most people are better when they’ve planned the story out ahead of time. Starting with the end and working backwards is a good trick that I always recommend. Also, make sure someone actually sees the work. Finally, feel free to ignore any writing advice that isn’t helpful to you. Every writer is different.

Gav’s award-winning novel Warbeast can be purchased at all major retailers.

Gav Thorpe website


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