It should come as no surprise that I am a big fan of Black Library fiction, which has been improving consistently over the past decade. The publisher has been putting out increasingly-good-quality fantasy and science fiction novels from a string of new and established authors.
Darius Hinks is a relatively new addition to their stable, but one who has made a clear mark on fans of Warhammer fiction with his distinct and engaging writing style, not to mention his interesting characters. His debut novel, Warrior Priest recently won the Gemmell Morningstar Award for best fantasy newcomer, and Razumov’s Tomb and Sigvald are now available. To get a little more about his novels, upcoming projects and writing, I contacted him for an interview.
It’s been a pretty good year for you, so I’ll mention each of your novels individually, if I may.
First up, congratulations on winning the Gemmell Morningstar Award for best newcomer! The novel that won it for you was Warrior Priest. Could you tell us a little bit about the novel, what people can expect from it, and whether or not you might re-visit any of the characters in the future?
My main focus with Warrior Priest was to write something really dynamic, fast-moving and action-packed. This is a book based on a war game, after all, and I didn’t want to lose sight of that. More than anything, I wanted it to be a rollicking good adventure story. The priests of the Warhammer world aren’t there to promote harmony and peace, they’re the last hope of a kingdom on its knees, overwhelmed by legions of unholy, unnatural foes. I thought it would be interesting to show what happens when one of those priests finds out that his whole life is founded on a lie – even Jakob Wolff’s reasons for becoming a priest stem from a terrible misunderstanding. I wondered how he would cope with this discovery and what effect it would have on those who rely on his unwavering faith.
The other side of the novel revolves around a young acolyte called Ratboy. He starts the novel wanting nothing more than to become a warrior priest and emulate the career of his master, Wolff, but as they face horror after horror, Ratboy begins to see just how much he would have to sacrifice to be a beacon of faith in such dark times. In terms of revisiting the characters, it’s hard to say. The book was well received, and there’s lots more I could do with the characters, but I have a really big project lined up (see below!) that’s going to take up a lot of my time over the next couple of years.
Sigvald, your latest novel, is your contribution to the Warhammer Heroes series. What can readers expect from this novel? And what’s the main attraction of writing for this series, in particular about the “darker” side?
There were lots of things about Sigvald that appealed to me, but what I found really exciting was how gloriously epic and technicolor his life would be. The small amount of information that already existed suggested a deranged, self-obsessed, rapacious demigod, blessed with immortality and legions of adoring followers but very little grasp on reality. That’s just my kind of protagonist! He’s the doomed, beautiful, terrifying Caligula of the Warhammer world – a man so lusty and enamoured with his own myth that his empire is collapsing around his ears and he doesn’t even care. I loved the idea of setting a character like that off on an insane quest and then just sitting back to see where he took me.
Your new Warhammer novella, Razumov’s Tomb, was released recently. It’s a different kind of Warhammer story, what with all the crazy magic going on. Was it fun to write this style of fantasy? It seems like you had a lot of fun with it. Also, what’s with all the cuttlefish?
There is a peculiarly English form of lunacy to the Warhammer setting. A cursory glance might reveal shades of Tolkien and Moorcock, but if you scratch a little deeper you’ll find that thirty years of deranged creativity has resulted in something very odd and quite unique. It’s like a Hieronymus Bosch painting filtered through the prism of dark, European folktales and then pumped full of weird, steampunk gyrocopters, mechanical pigeons, ships carved from the carcasses of enormous fish, drifting demonic cities, and colossal steam-powered tanks. When I was asked to write the Razumov’s Tomb novella my brief was to focus on all this madness that, as you say, I found very enjoyable.
In terms of the cuttlefish, I live in Nottingham, a city that is regularly plagued by vast migrations of wild, land-going cuttlefish, so I thought it would be nice to include some local fauna in the story.
Where do you draw your inspiration from, generally, and who or what would you say are your biggest influences?
I have a stock answer for this, so apologies to anyone who’s heard it before. Rather than other authors, I get most of my inspiration from listening to music. Lyricists like Stuart Lupton, Joanna Newsom, Bob Dylan and Hamilton Leithhauser always make me want to lock myself in a room and write something with a tiny fraction of their brilliance.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I don’t accept that writing is work. Things I would put in the category of work are: discussing boilers, going to a supermarket, any interaction with cars beyond driving, using power tools, carrying heavy things and anything else that means you have to leave your armchair or put proper shoes on.
By a cruel twist of fate, I can only write successfully very early in the morning, so with every book I finish, the bags under my eyes get slightly larger. At the current rate of facial sag, I will end my literary career looking like one of those rubber finger masks you get at the zoo. Or a pizza designed to look like a bearded face that has been left on its side in a bag of shopping.
What’s it like writing within the established Warhammer setting? What are the challenges, difficulties and advantages of writing in a shared-universe/fantasy setting?
See my earlier comment! It’s great fun. Having such a fully realised world to play in enables an author to focus all their attention on developing interesting characters and plot devices.
When I was a teenager, rather than send my girlfriend, Kathryn, love letters, I used to send her envelopes full of gruesome horror stories. They usually revolved around people injuring their eyes in a variety of entertaining ways and generally had no beginning, end, plot or middle bit. After several years and thousands of words of directionless pupil-related fiction my girlfriend was starting to feel quite nauseous, so I had the idea of writing something that other people might want to read.
In those days (back when everything was sepia and people still spoke without turning every sentence into a question) Games Workshop had a short fiction magazine called Inferno! After four or five rejections, I managed to get a story accepted and eventually one of the Black Library’s editors asked me if I’d be able to write a novel for them. I lied cheerfully through my teeth and said I’d definitely be able to write 100,000 words of readable prose, and that I absolutely knew what I was doing when it came to writing novels. I then spent an evening hiding under my bed, wondering if I should employ a ghost writer or just change my name and move to Mexico. However, by this point my girlfriend had become my wife and, terrified that I might start sending her eyeball stories again, she padlocked me to a laptop and told me I couldn’t have the key until I’d written a proper book.
I’m an incurable romantic, though, and in memory of our courting years, I always include at least one major eye injury in everything I write.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I’m not sure I should admit to this, but I don’t read a lot of current fiction. I spent my school years listening to ’80s metal, sulking, imagining I was a hobbit and not paying any attention to my teachers, so since then I’ve been making a desperate attempt to educate myself by working through all the classics.
In terms of where I fit into the SF/Fantasy genre, I think that’s more a question of where Warhammer fiction fits (as that’s all I’ve had published so far). The Black Library novels have decades of world-building behind them and some of the best writers in the industry (Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, Chris Wraight, etc.), so I think they are equal, and in many cases, superior to a lot of the other genre fiction that’s out there.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
I’m just finishing off a Warhammer 40,000 novella called Sanctus that revolves around a Space Marine Chapter called the Relictors, and will be released as part of a collection called Architect of Fate. After that I’m going to start planning a really huge epic fantasy story. I’ve spoken to the BL editors about tackling something on a larger scale, spread over several books. The protagonist would be a character from the Warhammer setting called Orion. He’s a mysterious, inhuman avatar of a god and the ruler of a realm inhabited by a bizarre collection of sylvan horrors, sprites, dryads, daemons and an elven race known as the Asrai. It’s a long-cherished dream of mine to embark on a really involved, sustained piece of writing that gives me time to really develop a large cast of characters and follow them through a rambling, labyrinthine plot (sorry editors, I meant to say: a really logical, sensible plot).
Who are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
I’m rereading my favourite novel – The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch. I read it on an almost yearly basis and would recommend it to anyone, but for those who don’t have time to wade through it, here’s my detailed synopsis:
An unpleasant old man moves to a lonely coastal spot to escape his weird friends.
He is tormented by a fantastical sea creature.
His weird friends discover his hideaway.
Some people die.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
One of my Brummie ancestors, James Hinks, bred and named the English Bull Terrier (Bill Sykes’ dog Bullseye in Oliver Twist). It was originally called the Hinks Breed. I think this is why my cats are so wary of me. James sounds like quite a character. I found this great description online:
“James Hinks was no goody-goody; several times in his life he came into conflict with the law. We know that around 1855 he served a few months in prison for selling rabbits stolen from the vicar’s garden. Another conviction followed when a policeman asked him to remove a crate of chickens from a walkway and Hinks punched the man.”
Also, I have unnaturally large feet and they once tripped up Bruce Dickinson (lead singer of Iron Maiden) while he was wearing a wizard suit. Bruce then apologised to me for disturbing my canoe-like shoes.
What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
Turning 40. My life so far has been one long dress rehearsal for retirement. Mooching around tea rooms and book shops and having long afternoon naps seems to come quite naturally to me, so I am excited about edging slightly closer to getting a free bus pass and investing in some really high quality slippers.
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If you’d like to know more about Darius and his novels, head on over to his blog.