The Beast of Times – The Year in Review

It was the beast of times, it was the worst of times. It was timeless, yet it’s gone on forever. How do you describe 2020?

Ernie’s Beach, the South Bank

Walking out of the FP office for the last time, laptop under my arm so I could work from home, waving breezily at my colleagues as we all thought this would be over in a couple of weeks… walking the empty South Bank and then across a silent Victoria station with the virus warning echoing from the tannoy. 2020, suitably enough, was the year our dystopian future finally broke through from fiction, and manifest as full reality.

The Dark Future

I confess, though: at the beginning, I was enjoying it. My life was utterly hectic – working commuting, writing, raising a teen – and the sudden slowing of pace let me see how tired I really was, gave me space to expand and think. The creatives of Twitter rallied round to make stuff up and share it out; we all shaved our heads and became bakers overnight. We clapped the NHS, meaning every strike of it, admiring those key workers who put their lives on the front line.

Pixie

But the year congealed. The monochrome fingers of ‘come down’ began to keep in.The FP van came to get the laptop; the dread and isolation began to grow. The clapping became empty, farcial in the face of Government hypocrisy and incompetence; I lost my job, and crashed and burned.

Handiwork Office, photo by Jon Hodgson

Against a backdrop of increasing darkness, though, I’ve been fortunate. With huge thanks to Andrew Girdwood, and to Jon at the team at Handiwork, I had another job within a week (and counted my blessings, seriously). I’ve written more wordcount in a single year, this year, than I’ve done… well, probably since I finished Ecko Burning and that must be eight or nine years ago. And I’ve just finished the longest single MS I’ve written since I completed Artifice in 2016.

Funny – FP, the store, South Bank… now, they seem like another world.

Sophie Aldred

I’ve ended the year with (what looks like) a physical injury that’s making focusing difficult – but still counting my blessings, y’know? However we’ve got through this, whatever we achieved – even if it’s only to keep our heads down and reach the year’s end it’s enough. And to all those who have been on the front lines, who have lost family, or struggled through the disease themselves, or who’s been plagued by the dog (you know the one), my heart goes out to you.

Books – Sanity in a Crazy World

I’d wish everyone a better 2021, but I fear the darkness is going to get worse before it gets better. So spoil yourselves, love those close, appreciate the good things, take escapism where you can, and remember to look round at beauty. And cuddle your pets, because now more than ever, it’s the little things that matter. 

The Rose In Anger

The Rose In Anger

Been a couple of people asking, so…

The Rose in Anger is the third part of the Sister Augusta story, following on from The Bloodied Rose and Wreck and Ruin. (You can probably count Mercy as the prologue).

Every time I’ve written an Augusta story, I’ve tried to make it different – a different context, or different bad guys, or a different mission parameter and brief. And this one sees the mini-trilogy ending with our trusty Sisters rolling out the Rhinos and fucking shit up.

It was an interesting thing to write, and probably the hardest of the three (learned a LOT about tanks); having been in both the Cadets and TA, squad-level military tactics are something I know very well, but this was a whole new experience.

I am rather fond of the Big Nasty, though – it might well be my favourite Boss of the lot.

Novella Series Three

Find the full run of novellas on the Black Library website, and, while I’m very sorry there will be no Weekender this year for the series to be loosed properly into the wild, I hope you enjoy the read, come November!

🌹

The Wisdom of Bob

Since I’ve had a couple of people ask me about this…

Bob. Bobobobobob. Who is Bob?

When I got thrown into writing the Judge Anderson novella, a couple of years ago, my knowledge of the 2000AD universe was kinda rusty. I was never allowed to read it, as a kid (I got ‘Whizzer and Chips’ as a little’un and ‘Bunty’ as I got older), so I used to borrow the graphic novels from friends.

Being thrown back into it at almost fifty conjured a lot of mental imagery – particularly from our old roleplaying days – but little in the way of a remembered lexicon. And, with very little time to write, it was a pain in the arse to stop every bloody five minutes and look up something else – the big stuff was obvious, but it was the little things. Does she wear socks? What does she use as a toothbrush? How does she start her bike?

And then, going from that to the VAST mythology of WarHammer 40k… well, that was kinda daunting.

So, I started calling things bob. When I needed a noun that I didn’t know yet, and didn’t want to interrupt my flow to keep looking things up, it was bob. Augusta spent a lot of Bloodied Rose pulling out the bob and aiming at the bob and running along the bob. In Wreck and Ruin, there was at least one bob that sneaked past the final read-though and got picked up by the editor. And in the current WIP (working title ‘Bastion’ after the Keep in Diablo III), there are still bobs all over the shop.

I do keep an Excel spreadsheet of WH40k terms – a writers’ guide, such as it is – which gets longer with every book both read and written. But even then, there’s a galactic bloody fucktonne of terminology to remember, and to get right. 

Hence – bob. Bob is everywhere. Trust in the Bob. Believe in the Bob. 

Bob is your friend, and he will be there for you, even in the dark times. 

Black Library Weekender

Very happy to be going back to the Black Library Weekender, this weekend!

Had a fantastic time last year, met lots of wonderful people, and had the opportunity to see the BL authors I usually see at FP… all in their natural element. Which was a whole new perspective…!

This year, I’ll be there from Saturday early evening, so please do come and find me (probably in the bar). Or you can come and throw things at me on the Sunday, where I’ll be talking about my newest Sisters of Battle novella, Wreck and Ruin, and then signing from 12:30.

Wreck and Ruin will be available at the Weekender as part of the BL’s second novella series – plus there’s more Sisters goodness in the Event anthology. And you can always find more tales of Augusta and her intrepid squad on the Black Library website!

Cover Art by Nemanja Stankovic

Look forward to seeing you there!

2018: A Year of Unexpected Changes

In many ways, 2018 has been a fantastic year.

Seeing Artifice published has been truly magical, plus having the opportunity to write for both the Black Library and for Rebellion/Judge Anderson has been a huge amount of fun. After a very long, fallow stretch, it’s been SO GOOD to be creative again.

I’ve gone away twice, caught up with long-unseen family, and taken my Mother back home. 2018 was the year I finally reached the Top of the Mountain, the End of the Quest, and was able to put the very last steps of the journey behind me….

For the first time in many years, I’m happy. I have no worries. I have a secure roof over my head. I have growing teen of whom I’m very proud. I have a good job, and we’ve had some fantastic events at the store. My writing is gathering pace, and going really well. And I’ve made a point, this year, of overcoming the inevitable (and slightly foolish) social reluctance and of going out – getting to the events, and the Cons. I’ve even started playing D&D again, after fifteen years.

But the year ended on a sour note, and one I’m still trying to understand.

I came down with a significant anxiety relapse in May, and it took me while to pick myself back up again – it was just so unexpected. (And seemed so utterly unfair). And as a part of trying to understand what had caused it, I took all sorts of tests – an MOT, more than anything else.

As we reach 50, we’re all getting to the point where we have to pay the piper, when those youthful excesses come back and catch us up. And I guess I was trying to brace myself for the worst. 

But the results were not what I expected – at the last, the year has thrown me a curveball. I don’t know where it’s come from – it may even be genetic – but I have an underactive (yes, underactive, that surprised me too) thyroid. I guess it explains why I’m so fucking TIRED all the time, why I get days of brain-fog so think that I can barely remember my name, and why – just sometimes – I find it almost impossible to get everything done. And it’s come with a couple of other complications, too, but I’m still working the kinks out of those.

It’s been a good year, and there will be many more. But the necessary sacrifices have been – and will be – very tough. ‘Fight Like A Girl’ is all very well on a battlefield.

This, though, may be a battle of a slightly different nature.

Three Conventions/Three Weekends

Not only knackered, and up to my ears in people, but three events that were all VERY different. I’m used to book Cons and to MCM, but I’ve never done the Black Library Weekender before, and seeing the BL juggernaut in full motion was quite the eye-opener.

But, anyway, from the top!

FantasyCon

Lovely to see old friends and make new ones, and to do the hanging out in the bar, the talking shop, and the sitting on the panels. Excellent RPG panel with Allen, Alasdair, Sara and Gavin, then an equally excellent Wring Warfare panel with Anna, Anna, Simon and Pete (doing a fabulous job of being Andy Remic). The last of the day’s talks could have gone better – but Con people are always family, even if you’ve never met them before. So thank you to those who checked in.

Chester was beautiful, and I spent rather too long exploring the town (not looking for Alleyne-Johsnon, honest) and the City Walls past the Cathedral.

The hotel was good, too – though it didn’t quite manage the craziness of the Radisson’s glass fish…

MCM

Say it with me, it’s a madhouse. A glorious, manic, (loud), colourful madhouse. It’s a feast of brand and license and costume and prop (and money). It’s half a million kids – and adults – allowed to express their fandoms/ships completely. It feels like a celebration in which everyone gets to let go, and to be whatever the hell they want.

And that’s awesome.

Was trading at this one, so very busy – but it was lovely to see the authors that came to our stand to sign, and to be a part of the MCM madness!

The Black Library Weekender

So, this was a first, and it had a whole different feel – and not just because I wasn’t behind the (truly colossal) trading table. I may be stand at the very corner of this vast and epic mythology, but the Weekender still felt like the ultimate in shared-world-RPG-experience – a place where its fans could come and celebrate their love of the creation, and where its creators could remain gatekeepers and gamesmasters, flying the flags of the fiction they’ve made.

Two excellent panels shared with Nick, Mike and Rachel, talking about the new line of novellas, and what it really feels like to be dipping that first foot (pen?) into the grim darkness of the far future.

And big cheers for the team at BL/GW for their ruthlessly efficient management!

More Nuns With Guns!

And there it is! Out on November 1st, the second (slightly longer) adventure of Sister Superior Augusta Santorus and her intrepid squad of butt-kicking nuns – and this time, it’s nastier things than Orks!

Seriously, tho – very chuffed to see this loosed out to the Imperium, and with such amazing support from the Black Library. The cover art is gorgeous – it shows Augusta’s age and experience, and the colour of her armour stands out perfectly. When I wrote Mercy, I made the choice to write about a different Order of Sisters, to step away from the inestimable Martyred Lady, and to create something slightly different, something that I could make my own… (well, kinda!)

The rest of the novella run looks absolutely superb, as well – check them out!

I will be talking about this novella, and about Mercy, at the Black Library weekender in November, and alongside a truly spectacular line-up. Please do come and say hello!

 

Orks Vs. Nuns with Guns – Writing for the Black Library!

Writing licensed fiction is a pain in the arse.

You have a great premise. You have a headful of imagery. You know your story and your characters and your bad guys and WHOOOOSH! – off you go…

But it’s difficult. There’s a lot to learn and there’s one HELL of a lot of canon (and cannon) in the 40k universe. Thanks to long years of gaming, I’m familiar with the basics, but even after all those rolling dice, I’d only touched the smallest corner of the Emperor’s cloak.

Writing for 40k has meant a lot of work, a lot of notes, and a LOT of reading. It’s meant highlighter pens in an assortment of colours, and a lot of learning from textbooks, old Schola. And it’s very much been an exercise in both confidence and patience. You write for a license, you can’t write five lines without stopping because you don’t know something. What’s this thing called? Where did it come from? How many rounds does it fire? What’s it made out of? And how do you say ‘this chickenshit outfit’ in High Gothic?

But: it’s also a LOT of fun – writing Orks vs. Nuns with Guns is about as close to pure self-indulgence as it gets. And, quite apart from all my years in armour, the skirmish tactics learned in the cadets and the TA, and the scatter of Latin (mostly choral, but hey) picked up at school, it’s given me the chance to write almost pure action. And an opportunity like that is just too good to pass up.

So: here’s ‘MERCY’, my tale of the Sisters of Battle. And it comes with a big thank you to Lottie and the Black Library for the chance, and to Sister Alec and Sister Superior Jim for their help. And hopefully, Sister Augusta and the Order of the Bloody Rose will have some more adventures after this one.

From the wrath of the editor, our Emperor, deliver us…

Da Orks by A-u-r-e-l on DeviantArt