An Interview with Dan Abnett

Yes that’s right folks, a chat with the big man, the king, the don of Science Fiction. I’m so happy that I set this blog up that I could kiss myself…ahem…

So, anyway, 10 questions with the man responsible for my passion for the 40k Universe, my own love  of writing, and why the bookshelf in my games room is going to collapse any day now…

TSC: I’ve heard a couple of different stories of how you came across the Games Workshop and the 40k Universe and then put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard and created the awesome Gaunt’s Ghosts. Can you tell me how it really happened?

Dan: It was about 1996. I was an established freelance writer (mainly comics), and I had a long-standing interest in RPGs, so I knew all about GW and 40K, though I hadn’t played much – D&D and Traveller had been my games (TSC: For shame!). Black Library was just being set up, and they were looking for likely people, and the artist David Pugh had seen a Conan I’d done for Marvel and suggested me. So, I got an invite to write… comics first, then short fiction, then novels.

TSC: And the rest, as they say, is history. How much planning went into Gaunt’s Ghosts and had you always intended for it to be a long running series?

Dan: At the start, none. I think the first Gaunt short was the second or third thing I wrote, and it was just an exercise in finding a way into 40K. The first stories were shorts for Inferno. I chose Imperial Guard  because I didn’t have a handle on Space marines, and I wanted ‘real’ humans. It just grew from there. Needless to say since, ooh, Necropolis, there’s been a LOT of planning.

TSC: Once those fine Tanith chaps were established you wrote the Eisenhorn & Ravenor trilogies which are, to this day, 6 of the best books I’ve ever read. Am I right in saying the Bequin trilogy is in the pipeline? Can you tell us anything about it?

Dan: Thank you. Yes, that’s my job for the start of this year, the first Bequin book. It’s called Pariah. The Bequin trilogy will conclude the Inquisitor books, so you’ll have a trilogy of trilogies. Each trilogy lifts to prominence a character from the previous one, though this is also “Eisenhorn versus Ravenor”.

TSC: Eisenhorn verses Ravenor? Okay, awesome… The hugely successful Prospero Burns redefined the Space Wolves legion, from their culture to their place in the galaxy. How did you go about creating such a vibrant group whilst still holding true to what had already been established in existing canon?

Dan: Honestly? A lot of hard work and research, balancing established canon with the way I needed or wanted them to feel. There were things I simply couldn’t do because it would take them too far away from what Space Wolves are. Don’t get me wrong, I love Space Wolves, but – like Orks – they’re great on the gaming table and harder to make ‘work‘ in straight-faced fiction.

TSC: I’d agree with that. And you didn’t a cracking job. Although you have totally ruined the Ragnar Blackmane books for me forever. Know No Fear is your next Horus Heresy title out in March 2012 and being an Ultramarines player I can’t wait. Are you able to give us a few of the juicy details we won’t see on the Black Library website?

Dan: It’s the biggest, loudest and most violent BL book I’ve ever written. It’s bolter porn…in the best way (TSC: Is there a bad kind?). Shooty death kill on Calth. Ultramarines versus Word Bearers. I was exhausted by the time I’d finished writing it. It felt like I’d been yelling all the time. I thought it was too much… but the BL staff went a little nuts when they read it. I think they liked it.

TSC: Sounds awesome. Reading that might give me the kick up the bum I need to paint my 1st & 5th companies…maybe. On of the things I’ve always admired in your work is your ability to create engaging characters…and then kill them off. Are these dramatic exits planned or is it more organic than that?

Dan: Sometimes they’re planned. Sometimes they’re necessary. Sometimes they just happen. These are war stories. If people didn’t die, there’d be something wrong. And if only people who weren’t interesting died, there’d be something dishonest.

TSC: Tell that to Bragg… You’re talent has meant you’ve got to work on a variety of IPs including DC, Marvel, 2000AD, Doctor Who and, of course the Games Workshop. Do you ever find it hard jumping between universes and have you ever inadvertently had IP cross-over?

Dan: Sometimes, with high-laaarious results. On the whole, moving between ‘franchises’ (including my own for Angry Robot), keeps my imagination fresh and stops me getting bogged down.

TSC: My argument with the wife over my ten or twelve hobbies. Doesn’t seem to work with me… Anyway, considering everything you’ve written, what’s the book or story you’re most proud of?

Dan: Eisenhorn. Or my 17 year run on Sinister Dexter for 2000AD. Or Guardians of the Galaxy. Or Necropolis. Or Legion. I dunno.

TSC: All good choices and all brought something different to the table. Out of the 3 Black Library novels you suggested I couldn’t pick a favourite. What’s the one thing you’d like to work on that you haven’t yet had the chance?

Dan: That’s hard to say, but the one big franchise I’ve never worked on at all is Star Wars…

TSC: I’m sure George would give you a pop at the franchise. You might be able to undo some of the damage done over the recent years. Finally, and because I have to ask, what advice would you give someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Dan: Read a lot. Write a lot. Be confident in your own ability, but don’t be deaf to the remarks of others. Grow a thick skin.

TSC: The latter point I could certainly benefit from with my work. And finishing something too… Thank you for taking the time Dan, I really appreciate it.

Keep your eyes peeled on the Black Library website for Dan’s upcoming releases and read his book, Embedded because it’s awesome.

8 thoughts on “An Interview with Dan Abnett

  1. Great interview, can’t wait for the next spacemarines book or Gaunt and or anything else that Mr Abnett writes in the 40K arena. Oh and “Embedded” was brilliant.

  2. Nice interview. Especially the bit about Know No Fear. I think most Black Library fans are looking forward to that one.

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