Nick Kyme has just finished his epic Tome of Fire trilogy for Black Library, where he is also an editor. I therefore thought it would be a good time to ask him for an interview. He kindly responded with the following great answers, in which he talks about getting to know the Salamanders, some hints of his upcoming work, his working practices, and some thoughts on the genre.
You’ve recently completed your Tome of Fire series for Black Library. How would you introduce a new reader to the series, and what can existing fans expect from the third instalment, Nocturne?
Well, this is THE saga of the Salamanders, a lesser known Chapter (and Legion) that believe in self sacrifice, honour and the tempering fire of the battlefield. It’s an epic story that builds with the telling and has a cast of thousands, but at its core is a tale about brotherhood and loyalty. Expect storming battles, tragic deaths and epic triumphs. What else can I say, it’s a huge story and covers a lot of ground that’s not only confined to the three novels. Here, the Salamanders get their time in the spotlight and it is glorious.
Nocturne is the epic (I seem to be using that word a lot) conclusion to the trilogy. Readers can expect to see the entire Chapter in action in this book, also a lot of the questions and dangling threads from the previous two volumes will be answered and tied-up. As well as the final showdown between Dak’ir and Tsu’gan, and the fulfilment of the prophecy, all of the secondary cast get their time to shine too. Fans of Ba’ken, Emek and Praetor will be particularly delighted, I think. Finally, the Dragon Warriors are amassed in a vast army, including their Dark Eldar allies from Firedrake (who are actually fighting their own internecine struggle). It’s bigger than the other novels in both actual size and scale. This is the prize fight, the pay-off, the explosive finale that fans have been waiting for, and honestly, I think it’s the best one yet.
What attracted you to write about the Salamanders legion?
Tough one that. I didn’t know that much about the Chapter/Legion, but now that I’ve spent a little time with them (and that’s how it feels, like you’re getting to know these characters by writing about them and living in their barrack halls, strike cruisers, etc.), they feel like “my boys”. That might sound a little strange, but there’s a familiarity, a sense of being comfortable (not a million miles away from starting a new relationship or getting to know someone) that has enabled me to explore and build on what was fairly sparsely written background for the Salamanders. I suppose that was one of the main attractions; they were pretty much virgin territory. Here I could take a Chapter/Legion that not many people knew but (as I later discovered) one a lot of people cared about and make them mine, make them great. That’s a big draw for a writer. I didn’t have to worry about stepping on anyone else’s toes and could plough my own furrow, as it were. They are dear to me, that’s for sure. I sort of feel an affinity for them, and think that comes out in the novels and short stories – I strongly suspect that’s why I’ve written so much about them. They have a lot of very laudable characteristics, their humanity and stoicism, the pragmatic viewpoint and sense of self-sacrifice. As I learned more and researched more, I realised that they were the true heroes I always wanted to write about.
The first two Tome of Fire novels
According to Black Library’s website, your next novel will be The Great Betrayal, a Time of Legends Warhammer novel. What can you tell us about it?
This is the first instalment in the War of Vengeance saga, which recounts the great war between the dwarfs and the elves. The first book, The Great Betrayal, describes what led to the start of the conflict and features Snorri Halfhand and Morgrim Blackbeard as the main characters. I’m actually teaming up with a good author friend of mine, Chris Wraight, for this series. The plan is for it to span six novels with Chris and I alternating between them. My novels mainly focusing on the dwarf side of the story, whereas Chris will be dealing with the elves. Both of us agreed at the outset of this project that we didn’t just want to retell the events as given in the timelines but also to offer something unknown about the conflict. I can’t tell you any of what we’ve got planned in that regard (that’d be a spoiler), but I can say we are very excited about writing the novels and the awesome stuff we have planned for it.
Promethean Sun (limited edition Salamanders Horus Heresy novella)
Where do you draw your inspiration from generally, and who or what would you say are your greatest influences?
I think most writers absorb inspiration from anything and everything. Books, films, personal experiences, architecture, music, people we’ve met, and so on. A lot of writing is observation, literally the act of looking and then drawing conclusions from what you see and then interpreting that onto the page. I will say, however, that I draw a lot of inspiration (or should that be aspiration?) from my favourite crime writers. People such as John Connolly, Robert Crais and Lee Child have been a strong presence in my life for many years, and I believe that has influenced my writing style, if not the actual content. In my formative writing years (when I realised I might actually be able to do it and sell the odd book/story) I was heavily influenced by Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I’d never read a novel like this before, the flavour of it, the attitude and the atmosphere had a profound effect on how I viewed writing and story. The same is true of Demolition Angel, a fantastic stand-alone novel by Robert Crais (Crais is best known for his Elvis Cole & Joe Pike books). I bought this from an airport, attracted by the cover, as a holiday read. Again, the style, the visceral nature, the tight plotting all struck a chord. Lastly, I’d like to single out Every Dead Thing by John Connolly. Hands down, he is my favourite author (and an extremely nice chap, too). But he is dark and, despite the fact he ostensibly writes crime, there is a strong touch of the supernatural about his books. Connolly combines a literary style with a very pulpy genre and it blows my mind every time I read it. I guess in short, influence comes from everywhere. You have to be a sponge, absorb it, analyse it, use it if you can. We are, all of us, just products of experience. It’s a writer’s job to take those experiences and crystallise them into something people can read and experience too.
I like it very much, though it is important to maintain a level of separation between being an editor and a writer, especially given that I edit and write in the same tie-in series. To that end, I have started working on some non tie-in projects. It’s a slow process as deadlines for Black Library take precedent, but every three to six months a year I go on a retreat with some of my writing buddies – I resolved that whilst at the retreat I’d work on my non-BL stuff. So far, so good. No specific practices. I do my research like any writer should and try to utilise as many sources as possible (which, as well as books, is often people). I’ll try and get people to read my work and feedback on it as I’m writing the first draft. I am also wary of editing too much as I go along. Finish the book/story/novella first and then go back (preferably after a few days break so I can be as objective as possible), otherwise you end up editing and honing one small piece of prose to the detriment of everything else you’re supposed to be writing. Stick to deadlines (if you can). There’s nothing more infuriating for an editor than an author who can’t hit deadlines. Being professional, I guess that’s what it comes down to. It’s important to remember that as a commercial writer (i.e. one that writes for profit and for other people to read it) you are not the sole person in this process, just the first (usually). Respecting that and the other people in the process is important, I think.
Often I’ll write in a specific location (kitchen, office, lounge area) but this can change between books (or within books, if the writing is coming difficultly – a change of scene can be very useful in this regard). I also try to get out when I’m writing, head to a coffee shop or some such. I’m an extrovert and I get my energy from people. Rather than making it tough to write, the presence of others around me (muted by some soundtrack or other in my headphones) actually helps me to write. I like the buzz, the sense of being part of something. As a vocation, writing is quite lonely and insular – I need the stimulation of the outside world to ameliorate that. If I’m ever stuck, I usually go for a run, do some housework (dish washing is awesome for this) or take a shower – I find the mechanistic nature of these tasks helps to free up the parts of my mind that deal with the more creative and complex stuff, thus freeing up the blockage, as it were.
When did you realise you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
It was when I was 10 years old. I wrote a short story version of the final battle between Horus and the Emperor on the Vengeful Spirit for my English teacher. Funny how things work out. My first actual foray into writing was a short story called Perfect Assassin. It appeared in Inferno magazine and later The Cold Hand of Betrayal collection. My first novel was Back From The Dead (soon to be re-released through BL Direct in an omnibus of Necromunda novels). While I daresay both would seem crude and stuttering to me now, I do look back on both very fondly indeed. They gave me my start in this business and I will always be grateful to them for that.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I can’t comment too much on the genre because I am a huge fan of crime novels and actually read very little science fiction and fantasy. However, I would say that BL is really punching above its weight in terms of the tie-in market. New York Times bestsellers, the Gemmel Awards, the popularity and increasing sales on the titles and quality of the covers and design really lift BL above some of the dross that’s out there. I actually take offence when literary snobs look down on tie-in fiction (especially if it’s ours). I find that view to be elitist and myopic; they are missing out on some fantastic novels and wonderfully written escapism. [I totally agree! – CR]
What other projects do you have currently in the pipeline?
I’m working on some more Horus Heresy projects, two of which are novellas and the others I’m not saying. My schedule is actually pretty full until the end of 2013 and includes more novels, audios and short stories, as well as some other exciting stuff that I’m sworn to secrecy over.
Who are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
Robert Crais, The Sentry.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I own a house rabbit called Shakespeare and my latest novel, Nocturne, was dedicated to him.
What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
Writing some more Horus Heresy material for sure, but I’m also really looking forward to getting stuck in with The War of Vengeance.
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Big thank you to Nick for taking the time to answer these questions! Some very interesting projects in the work, and I really need to make time to read his Salamander series (I’ve read some of the short stories, but not the full-length novels).
Speaking of his earlier work: I actually remember reading Back From The Dead when it was first published by Black Library, in 2006. I have very fond memories of the Necromunda novels (they are based on my game of choice from when I was younger), so it’ll be great to see them available again – in eBook formats certainly.
If you would like to learn more about Nick’s work and writing, visit his blog.