An Interview with Nick Kyme

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That’s right ladies and germs, the Godfather of all things Salamander graces The Shell Case with his presences and waxes lyrical about the Green Marines, the Blue Ones and the Horus Heresy…

TSCNick, thanks for taking the time, I know you’re mad busy at the moment. First off, what was it like taking the leap from editing to writing a novel? Did you get any helpful tips along the way from fellow BL legends?

Nick Well, I was actually writing novels (and short stories) before I started editing. As well as a slew of shorts in Inferno! (TSC -Ahh those were the days…) I also wrote a Necromunda novel, Back from the Dead, before I started at BL. I would say that Christian Dunn was a tremendous support for me in those early days and I’ll always be very thankful to him for giving me an opportunity. Can’t say I knew many BL legends back then; at least none that I could talk to. I was certainly inspired by the likes of Dan Abnett and William King, however.

TSC Dan is a top chap. He’s certainly been very supportive/tolerant of this blog. Before I get down to talking about the Marines in Green; You wrote Fall of Damnos, part of the Space Marine Battles series, and the Assault on Black Reach novella. What was it like taking the helm on a chapter that had, up to that point, only been written about by Graham McNeill?

Nick A real nice change of pace to be honest. I actually did Assault on Black Reach before Salamander, so you could say I started with the Ultramarines. Graham was awesome as well, seeing it only as a good thing that another author was tackling the same Chapter, but a different character. His work on the Ultramarines is tremendous and served as a real inspiration for me, even though I was determined to put my own stamp on the Chapter.

TSC It’s Graham’s fault I have two companies of Ultramarines!

Nick Getting to write Fall of Damnos a little later was great as I’d had the experience of writing a full 40K novel by then and would be afforded the opportunity to explore the characters from Assault on Black Reach.

TSC I think it’s fair to say that you have a fondness for the Salamanders Chapter. What drew you to them in the first place?

Nick The fact that no other author had written about them was attractive. It allowed me to do a lot with them in terms of the Chapter itself, their homeworld, beliefs etc. I definitely found the dichotomy of their monstrous appearance and ostensible humanitarianism very interesting. The forging rites, Nocturne itself and their history during the Horus Heresy was also extremely compelling for me.

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TSC I never really gave them much thought until you came along. Now they competing with the Raven Guard for my second favourite Chapter. For those that haven’t read the Tome of Fire trilogy, tell us a little bit about the plot and how you went about the process of constructing the trilogy.

Nick The story centres on a sergeant called Dak’ir, who is unusual because he’s the only Salamander to have ever been recruited from the subterranean slums of Ignea, a region on Nocturne. His nemesis within the Chapter is Tsu’gan, a volatile but heroic sergeant who hails from Hesiod, one of the sanctuary cities, and is at the polar opposite of the class scale compared to Dak’ir. The two are thrust together in Third Company, a very uneasy pairing that gets tougher following the death of their captain, Kadai, for which Tsu’gan blames Dak’ir (though, secretly, he blames himself). Matters are complicated further when it becomes clear that Dak’ir could be the focus of a prophecy foretelling the doom of Nocturne and the Salamanders, a prophecy that goes back to when Primarch Vulkan still walked the earth.

Across the three volumes the Salamanders are pitted against the likes of orks, dark eldar and the Chaos Space Marine renegade Dragon Warriors, some of whom, including their leader, Nihilan, used to be Salamanders. The Dragon Warriors have sworn an oath to destroy the Salamanders and were the ones responsible for the death of Kadai. Slowly, as the story unfolds, Dak’ir evolves into a powerful psyker and starts to realise his potential as the saviour or destroyer of Nocturne and Tsu’gan, despite becoming one of the vaunted Firedrakes, descends further into a place of darkness from which there may be no return or redemption.

It’s an epic story and includes a vast supporting cast including Tu’Shan and Vulkan He’stan. The three books: Salamander, Firedrake and Nocturne are very much parts of one large whole and supported by a host of short stories that will be released together in the ‘fourth’ book in the trilogy, Tome of Fire in which there will be a brand new novella that goes back in time to when Kadai was still alive and how Nihilan strayed to the path of Chaos and created the Dragon Warriors.

TSC Sounds awesome!

Nick I always intended it to be a trilogy, the story line is fashioned in that way and although it has elements of self-containment was always intended to be read as three books. One of the biggest surprises for me was the evolution of Tsu’gan and his popular appeal. In the beginning he was only intended as an antagonist, someone to measure Dak’ir against but he became so much more, demanding more page time and story lines for himself. Dak’ir was always supposed to be the solo star and Tsu’gan went and pinched a load of the limelight, which I’m actually pretty happy about. I love telling both their stories. Their arc is an interesting one in that in Salamander you get to really see the needle between them, but in Firedrake they’re off chasing their separate destinies so there’s not the same back and forth. By the time Nocturne comes around they are thrust together again but on very different sides and actually quite changed as characters.

TSC As you say, it’s an epic trilogy and required 40K reading. As is Promethean Sun, the Horus Heresy novella. This was a game changer in terms of the relationship the Emperor had with his sons. Was this revelation planned or did the Black Library just green light your ideas as it was quite a bold move. And how much guidance did you get along the way?

Nick I was originally intending to write a 40K Salamanders novella (likely the Dragon Warriors origin tale I mentioned earlier) when my editor, Christian Dunn, asked if I would like to write something from the Horus Heresy era. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity and, of course, Salamanders was what I wanted to write about. Yes, BL did greenlight my ideas regards Vulkan and the Emperor but that process is the same for anyting any author writes. Although the story is ostensibly focused on the Great Crusade I wanted to do something that also had a little resonance for the greater Heresy to come, focusing on the relationship between Vulkan and his father seemed like the best way to do that. Fellow author Graham McNeill was a great source of support and guidance throughout the project as was my editor. It’s important as a writer to garner as much opnion from trusted and objective sources as you can. I was really pleased with the way Promethean Sun turned out and I look forward to next year when it will come out as a non limited edition novella so that more fans can read and enjoy it.

TSC Fans are going to be pleased a standard version is on the way for, it’s an outstanding book. I must admit I did get a limited copy. Number 12 in fact. But anyway, Primarchs, the Horus Heresy anthology is out later this year and I believe you have a story in there about Ferrus Manus, who I’ve always seen as quite a tortured souls despite outward appearances. What can you tell us the story and his development as a character?

Nick The story sort of dovetails with Promethean Sun in that it’s the same theatre of war, but totally stands by itself. Ferrus Manus and the Iron Hands are fighting eldar during a difficult compliance and during the course of the campaign Ferrus becomes separated from the Legion. From there he goes on a strange sort of odyssey where he’s forced to confront spectres of the future, his future and make a very difficult decision about his path. It’s a sort of a ‘what if’ story in some ways and throws some light on the importance attached to the choices that awesome beings like the primarchs make, and the resonance that can have afterwards. A little like with Promethean Sun I wanted to tell a story that had meaning and echoed forwards into what was to come in the series, dangling threads that are dragged on the current of the story line and aim towards the unwritten future.

TSC That sounds fantastic. Following on from that you have a novella in the pipeline called Scorched Earth that will have a follow on novel. What can you tell us about it so far, without giving too much away?

NickThe novella is set on Istvaan V, specifically in the aftermath of the Dropsite Massacre and focuses on a bunch of loyalist survivors that tried to escape the carnage but failed. They’re being hunted as remnants of the, now, Traitor Legions seek to wipe everything and everyone out who is still loyal to the Emperor. In particular, two Salamanders are trying to find Vulkan; his ship, his body anything, and have to cross some extremely dangerous territory to do so. I won’t tell you what they find but it will have the Horus Heresy boffins speculating until froth comes out of their mouths.

As for the novel, that’s strictly hush-hush I’m afraid.

TSC You tease! You’ve also got an Emperor’s Children audio drama coming out in October, how do you find writing an audio script compared to writing a novel?

With audio you need to think about the fact that it’s going to be listened to and not read (at least not until we print the script or a prose version of the story). It’s important not to have too many speaking characters as the audio dramas tend to be a small cast. There should also be plenty of action and dialogue, and light on the narration. When writing a script you need to consider scene changes and the atmosphere that should be evoked during that scene, any and all sound effects, the tone of voices and excising words like ‘said’ or anything that attributes a quality to speech – you don’t need it; the actor will provide, you just need to give them some guidance as to how you want something said/expressed.

I actually wrote the short story in prose first and then converted it into a script. I prefer to work this way as prose writing is something I’m more familiar with. I can gauge the pacing and tone a little easier. It takes about another day to work up the script from that, which is generally separating out the dialogue, excising unecessary narration and adding scene changes, atmosphere and sound effect instructions. It’s a very interesting intellectual exercise.

TSC The end results speak for themselves, I live the BL audio dramas. Finally, because I ask all the writers I interview, what advice would you give to budding writers eager to follow in your footsteps?

Nick The same advice I give to anyone who asks me that question: read widely and write a lot. Get feedback from as many objective readers as you can. Pick friends if you like, but only if you want an ego massage; the best advice comes from people who don’t have any stake in you at all – they’ll give you the hard truth and you’ll grow because of it. If you are/want to be a writer, do it everyday and try to enjoy it. Find your own voice, although there’s nothing wrong with emulating your favourite authors until you do. Finally, develop a thick skin. Unless you’re really lucky, you’ll get rejected. A lot. Don’t take it too harshly. Try and get feedback and anaylse what you can do differently/better next time. Don’t think you know it all. You don’t, and never will. As a writer you should be learning and developing all the time. If you think you’re not/can’t then it’s time to hang up your laptop and take up martial arts or something.

TSC Good advice. Nick it’s been a delight, thank you again and good luck with all the projects.

An interview with Gav Thorpe

Yes, my extraordinary jamminess continues with yet another interview. This time with author and Games Workshop living legend Gav Thorpe.

TSC: Gav, thanks for taking the time to chat with The Shell Case. During your 14 years at the Games Workshop, am I right in saying you worked on 18 books across the 40k and Gothic? Which one are you most proud of and why?

Gav: Codex: Sisters of Battle. It was my first Codex and is still my favourite. It was a chance to delve into an area of the Imperium that had only been mentioned previously in passing – the Ecclesiarchy. These days the imagery and background of the Adeptus Ministorum is well-established and has seeped into other armies of the Imperium, but at the time the possibility to write mad Confessors and Missionaries and, of course, shape the Sisters of Battle was an incredible opportunity. Not only that, I was allowed to detail the rise and fall of one of the Imperium’s best megalomaniacs, Goge Vandire.

TSC: It was a cracking book. For me it was a big leap forward towards creating 40k as a Universe. You’ve also had the opportunity, and challenge, of writing Black Library novels for the Imperial Guard, Eldar, Space Marines and the Horus Heresy series. Which book was your biggest challenge and which was the biggest achievement?

Gav: Each has its own challenges and rewards. Deliverance Lost for the Horus Heresy came with the burden of expectation, given the success of the series as a whole, but I would say that Path of the Warrior was the greatest challenge. Eldar had not been that well-served from BL previously, and I had taken it upon myself to rectify that, so I put quite a lot of pressure on myself to deliver not only an interesting story, but a narrative that could only be based on an Eldar character, as well as wanting to delve into the roots and background of the Eldar as I went. The fact that I also then decided that three inter-woven novels was the best way to go, with each giving a unique viewpoint on the same sequence of events, pretty much moved the challenge level up to eleven in terms of writing the actual books.

TSC: Three books retelling the same story about an incomprehensible Alien race from three different totally different perspectives on existence does sound like quite the challenge. Deliverance Lost, the 18th Horus Heresy novel, came out not so long ago, written by your good self. For those that haven’t read it, give us an overview of what we can expect?

Gav: Deliverance Lost focuses on the Raven Guard Legion, who have fallen victim to the traitor ambush at Isstvan V. Suffering about 95% casualties, the Raven Guard seem to be out of the war, but thanks to divisions in Horus’s followers they are able to escape from Isstvan. Their Primarch, Corax, travels to Terra to seek advice from the Emperor and eventually takes possession of an important gene-resource that will help him rebuild his Legion for the war to come. This task is made all the more complicated by the fact that the Alpha Legion have infiltrated the Raven Guard and plan to steal the gene-data for themselves and destroy Corax’s Legion.

The book concentrates on the Raven Guard post-Isstvan, but readers also get to see flashbacks of Corax’s early days during the uprising that took him to power, as well as the continuing story of Alpharius and Omegon.

TSC: Sounds awesome. Everything I’ve read or heard about the Raven Guard makes me crave an army so Deliverance Lost hasn’t helped and it’s no surprise that reviews have been hugely positive. How did you go about tackling the task of writing about the Raven Guard and how much freedom were you given to develop the legion’s background compared to Dan Abnett with Prospero Burns?

It all started when I was thinking about the Raven’s Flight audio drama. The extant background of the Heresy doesn’t deal with the Raven Guard very much – the Collected Visions book barely mentions them and their old Index Astartes article doesn’t explain how they managed to survive the massacre (TSC: That’s easy – they’re space ninjas!) or what they got up to other than Corax’s misguided attempts to rebuild the Legion. So the first thing I did was to compile a list of questions and outstanding issues that could be examined in the HH novels and stories.

In regards to the freedom I was given, really the biggest controls came from myself – wanting to adhere to the letter of what had been written already as much as possible, even if there was an extra layer of complexity behind the ‘official’ history. The other factor to be borne in mind was how much of the Raven Guard of the 41st millennium already existed at the time of the Heresy, and how much of it has developed over the ten thousand years since.

For example, the Raven Guard as a Chapter of about 1,000 space marines have this behind-the-lines, hit-and-run approach to warfare. That works fine for a few models on the tabletop, but what does that mean for a Legion of 80,000+ Space Marines? They can’t all be jump packers, they need fire support & flexibility. On top of this, I looked for an area that meant that they were unique from those around them. They weren’t constantly mobile attackers like the White Scars, and their guerilla warfare had to be different from the subterfuge of the Alpha Legion and the terror tactics of the Night Lords. In the end, there is a self-sufficiency, make-do-and-mend, adapt and overcome attitude in the Legion. They are very pragmatic in their approach, adapting to the changing needs of the battlefield, but always with one central tenet: attack, withdraw and attack again.

This tenet was created by Corax during the rebellion of Lycaeus before the coming of the Emperor and it is not only a tactical doctrine for his Legion but a personal mantra; stay mobile; never get caught; always be ready to respond; do everything that must be done for victory; keep fighting until the last. These qualities have been adopted by his Legion and taken to heart.

TSC: The whole ‘bodge it and make do’ attitude is very British. I like it. What’s it been like to work on a project as huge and as awesome as the Horus Hersey series?

Gav: It’s great, but it comes with a lot of difficulties, such as the continuity issues. It’s easy enough to write a 40K story, separated from any wider narrative. With the Horus Heresy all of the authors are sharing a timeline, a narrative and a cast of characters. I might not be the next person to write about Corax, for instance, so my treatment of him has to be such that another author can take on his story and bring their own take on the matter. The logistics of it – who is where, and when, and at what events, and communicating with the other authors – is another thing that takes more time than on other series. On the flip side, I get to be part of this huge story, one that is the most successful range of Black Library books, and it is a beast that has far outgrown its original stature and taken on a life of its own. It is a third setting, and in terms of novels bigger than the 40K universe that spawned it. I’m glad I am able to find little pieces and areas where I can lay down my mark on what is going to be a sci-fi series that will live long in the memory.

TSC: It really is a great series. And more than a few people, I’m sure, would love to see alternative Warhammer 30,000 rules released. Moving away from GW, back in September 2010 Angry Robot published the first part in The Crown trilogy; your entirely original fantasy series. Can you tell us a bit about the trilogy?

Gav: The setting is quite different from Warhammer, with a, bronze age, Roman and Persian feel to it. The main character, Ullsaard, is a general of the Askhan Empire, and a very good one at that. He has a problem though – the expansion of the empire has stagnated of late and he is chafing to push back the boundaries even further. The empire is ruled over by the Blood, descendants of the First King, a man called Akhos. Despite the name, the Blood are not vampires, as some people have assumed. When the heir to the Crown of the Blood falls ill on military campaign, one of Ullsaard’s allies, Prince Aalun, drags him into a conflict for the succession, and soon the future of the empire is up for grabs.

It is a very ‘adult’ book, in that it has sex and swearing and a healthy dose of violence. It deals with the psychology of conquerors and men of power, and has a healthy dose of real politik as various factions and individuals vie for control of the Askhan empire.

TSC: Sex and swearing? I’m on board! How did you find it moving away from Games Workshop IP and creating your own? Were there any moments in editing the trilogy when you suddenly realised you’d taken a wrong turning and found yourself in downtown Middenheim?

Gav: I deliberately took The Crown of the Blood a good distance from Warhammer, in setting and tone, so there has never been any clash in my mind. The only thing they share, I suppose, is a military angle. It was good to have a clean slate and just get on with the storytelling, the world-changing to the needs of the narrative rather than trying to fix a particular story in a world already defined. The downside is that it’s nobody’s work but my own, so if there is something a reader does not like, it’s always going to be a decision I have made rather than, perhaps, something I have inherited from the existing background.

TSC: Again, the reviews thus far have been very positive so I’d say you’re on to a winner. With Deliverance Lost already out and part three of The Crown trilogy out in August, what are you working on next? And what are you allowed to tell us about it?

Gav: What I am working on and what comes out next aren’t the same thing… Part three of the Path of the Eldar will be out in September – that’s Path of the Outcast, and deals with the character Aradryan, who leaves Alaitoc to find purpose in his life and ends up getting involved in rather more than he can handle. I’m just about to start Ravenwing, the first in a new Dark Angels trilogy that follows on from Angels of Darkness. The trilogy is called Legacy of Caliban, but I’m not sure when it will be coming out. The title sort of tells you what that is about. At the moment, I have a Horus Heresy novella being serialised in the e-mag Hammer and Bolter, and that will also be published in an Anthology called The Primarchs. The novella is simply called The Lion and deals with what the Dark Angels have been up to since Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s short story Savage Weapons in Age of Darkness. Iron Hands and Death Guard get involved too. After that…well, things get a lot more vague. Hoping to do some more Warhammer for Black Library, maybe something involving a Dwarf and some beer. I’m also hoping to do more with Angry Robot, but whether that is Crown-related or something totally different we’ll have to see.

TSC: So it’s reasonable to say, you’re quite a busy chap, then. But, if you could work on any IP, be it a game, novel or script, what would it be?

It would be something new, that nobody has seen yet. If someone gave me a big bundle of money, some talented artists, sculptors and about a year, I would love to see what sort of game I would come up with. Failing that, a video games development studio and a few million pounds would be nice. Really I’m at a place now that being involved in the creation of something new from day one is where I really want to be. The Crown of the Blood is cool, but the universe I’ve invented for that is very much suited to the purpose of the story I wanted to tell, although there might be some room for expansion. Given the time to indulge myself, I would create something more suited to multimedia exploitation – RPGs, miniature games, novels, comics, and so on.

TSC: You can come work with me then, I’ve been trying to get my game finished for years!

Gav: In relation to existing IPs, then my favourites would have to be those of 2000AD when I was growing up – Strontium Dog, Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper. There is so much that could be done with them, in terms of stories, games and other applications.

TSC: You’ll have to get Dan to have a word. And finally, because I have to ask; what advice would you give all us budding writers?

Gav: It’s hard to give catch-all advice to would-be writers because each has a different path to follow, and each stumbles at different obstacles. With that in mind, I have two pieces of advice:

The first applies to many things, but ‘keep it simple’. Do not try to write your magnum opus straight out of the gate. I’m almost into double digits now for the number of novels I’ve written and I still think my best is yet to come. Find some good characters and an interesting story and don’t go overboard with trying to be revolutionary. Most readers just want a good story, well told. Work on your style and structure on something straightforward before trying to get too fancy.

Secondly, find your writing process. Lots of starting writers over-think while they are writing. They agonise over every word, comma and clause, thinking that through sheer persistence they will stumble upon their style. Don’t. Concentrate on story-telling, style can come later. To that end, I always tell people to Think-Write-Think. That is, think about a scene, chapter or the entire story before you start trying to write it. Make notes if you need to. Come up with cool lines of dialogue. Fix an image and a purpose in your mind – why this scene? Why this character and how does he or she act? What is the point of what I am writing? Then just write something. Write the scene or the chapter. DO NOT read what you have already written until you have finished the scene or chapter. DO NOT edit as you go along, just leave in the typos and the mistakes. Do this quickly, go with the flow. When you have words on the page you have a raw material to work with, and then you can think again. This is the edit stage – look at what you have written and think about what you were trying to achieve. This is where the style and the language can be finessed. Most of all, though, find what works best for you, and remember this: writer’s write, but authors finish!

TSC: Great advice that I know many of my readers will appreciate. And I do too actually. One more question for the road; fancy a game?

Gav: Yes, in theory, though I have not played Warhammer or 40K for about four years, and I am horribly out of the loop as far as the game system goes. So don’t expect anything competitive, or even competent. Always happy to try out new games though.

TSC: That’s fine, it’ll just make me look like a half competent gamer for a change. Gav, it’s been an absolute pleasure, thanks for taking the time.

Deliverance Lost is out now and available from Games Workshop hobby centres, the Black Library website and all good book stores. The Crown of the Blood & The Crown of the Conqueror are available through the Angry Robot website and all good book stores. The concluding part, The Crown of the Usurper is available later this year.

Q&A with a GW Staff Member

Over on Reddit.com a former GW staff member answers people’s questions on the company including (and mainly about) pricing.

It’s quite interesting but it’ll most likely just piss you off as, essentially, GW’s pricing structure is based around charging what they like because they think we’ll just take it like a cheap hooker.

Anyway…click here.

Podcastastic

I’ve had a little reshuffle on the left side of The Shell Case today, partly to add in a couple of new friends of The Shell Case, but also to add buttons for two wargaming podcats; Noobhammer & War/More Radio.

I’m not going to waffle on about what these guys are all about as I want to do them justice, but I highly recommend you have a listen. And as an extra special treat, the chaps over at Noobhammer landed an interview friend of The Shell Case and all round top bloke; Dan Abnett.

You can read my chat with the man himself here. To catch the interview with Noobhammer either pop over to their site for a listen or click below… It’s about 1hr 50mins in.

Noobhammer Podcast 16 feat. Dan Abnett

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.

It’s Quiet…

I’ve been rather quiet lately both on The Shell Case and on Twitter. The main reason for this is I seem to be spending all my time working or being too tired from working to think of anything interesting to say.

I had to drive to Diss and then Kendal over Monday and Tuesday – a 845 mile round trip – and I’d hoped that I could get something done when I stopped in the hotel Monday night, but I was just too tired.

So, whilst I think of something to say that’s the tiniest bit interesting, I shall direct your attention to an interview DocBungle had with me and the method behind my particular brand of madness. Go here.

An Interview with Sarah Cawkwell

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I truly love this blog and what I get to write about. Today is no exception as I have the very great pleasure on interviewing the awesome and extremely talented Sarah Cawkwell, author of The Gildar Rift, Silver Skull addict and all round lovely lady…

TSC: First of all, a massive thank you for agreeing to speak with me. The Gildar Rift has hit bookshelves up and down the country. For those who’ve not read it yet can you give us a run down of what it’s about?

SC: When the ancient warship Wolf of Fenris emerges from the warp, Imperial forces find that it has been overrun by the dreaded Red Corsairs. However, this is no mere raiding party – Huron Blackheart and his entire renegade fleet soon follow, intent on conquering the Gildar Rift and tightening their grip on the sector. Lance batteries and torpedo salvos burn fiery contrails through the void, and only Captain Arrun of the Silver Skulls Space Marine Chapter can halt the renegades’ advance. The fate of the Rift will not be decided in the heavens but on the surface of Gildar Secundus below.

Or, it’s about big ships, big guns and big super-human soldiers having a scrap.

TSC: Hey, works for me. What got you into the 40k Universe in the first place?

SC: My husband constantly telling me I should read the Horus Heresy series. I eventually caved in out of a desperate need to shut him up. Before I’d reached the end of the first chapter of Horus Rising, I had fallen in love with the Adeptus Astartes completely and utterly.

TSC: The Heresy novels prevents Astartes in a very different way and it’s interesting to see how circumstances have driven the Astartes to ever more extreme views and practices from what was originally a family rather than a brotherhood. So, it’s fair to say that you’re a bit of a Space Marine fan?

SC: Just a bit. I love writing about the Space Marines; they’re so fascinating as characters. As I’ve said before, I dispute the claim that they are ‘two dimensional’. They are only what you put into them. I’m firmly of the belief that they are far more than cannon fodder and find the monastic warrior brotherhood lifestyle they lead to be great to write about.

TSC: I agree, anyone who accuses Space Marines of being mindless killers clearly doesn’t understand them. And just to spark arguments amongst my readers – which is your favourite Chapter and why?

SC: Silver Skulls, obviously! Although them aside (and they ARE my babies), I’m a Blood Angels girl through and through. As for the ‘why’, well, it’s because they’re massively flawed and I like that in my heroes.

TSC: More of a Ultramarines man myself…So what prompted you to put fingers to keyboard and write The Gildar Rift?

SC: I had already seen a couple of Silver Skulls short stories published in Hammer & Bolter and engaged in conversation with my editor about wanting to have a crack at writing a book. I found a single paragraph in the Space Marine codex about the Silver Skulls and said ‘hey! What about this.’ This was on the Saturday. ‘Brilliant,’ says he, ‘pitch me a full story by Tuesday’.

So I did. And they seemed to like it. And so it was born.

TSC: Three days? No pressure then… With The Gildar Rift under your belt and Accursed Eternity available to download, what’s next? And what are you allowed to tell us at this point?

SC: I have another short story (Silver Skulls, natch) due to appear in Hammer & Bolter 15, then there’s Bloodraven, which is my first WHF short story about Valkia the Bloody. That’s part of the Age of Legend anthology due out in  January. I’ve just finished editing the manuscript for Valkia the Bloody, which will be out in July next year. At this VERY moment, I’m working on Other Stuff which may or may not involve Silver Skulls. Maybe. Perhaps. Probably.

TSC: You really do love those silver skulled bastards don’t you? So, if you were given free rein to write what you wanted, what project would you love to take a stab at?

SC: I think every BL author would like a stab at writing something in the Horus Heresy era and I’m no exception to that rule. I’d love to do something set in that time period, even if it’s not one of the key events. Failing that, I’d like to just carry on developing the Silver Skulls.

TSC: What was it like going from a reader to writer of GW fiction, and the resulting shoulder rubbing with the likes of BL legends like Dan Abnett?

SC: It was and still is both a complete pleasure and absolutely surreal. There have been occasions when I’ve wondered when I’ll wake up. But they’re all such lovely guys and can’t do enough for you.

TSC: If I could sort my life out sufficiently I’d like to join those hallowed ranks myself one day. What advice can you give other blossoming writers?

SC: Sounds stupid, I know… but write. Write, write, write. Even if it’s on a blog, or just braindumping, write something every day. Plan out your story because even if you deviate – and believe you me, The Gildar Rift deviated quite a long way from the original plan – it helps to have that vision in mind.

Everyone finds their own way of working effectively. I’m of the ‘write now, edit later’ school and tap away until I have the story down. Then I go back and expand/rewrite. Other people edit as they go along. There is no right or wrong way – find what works for you and stick with it.

TSC: And finally, when can we expect Captain Cockwomble to feature in your work?

SC: Unfortunately, the Captain is away in the Wimbledon sector, collecting litter for the Imperium.

TSC: Dammit!

The Gildar Rift is available in Games Workshop hobby stores and all good book stores. So go buy it.

The Lord Inquisitor – The Interview Part 2

It’s that time folks! Part 2 of the interview with the creator of The Lord Inquisitor animated short film. I was lucky enough to interview Erasmus on the 6th October and we chatted about the awesomeness that is his film. If you’ve not read it, you can find it here.

On the 11.11.11 the trailer for The Lord Inquisitor was unleashed on the world and to put it simply, it’s just the tits and for your viewing pleasure you can view it below. Because I’m nice like that…

Now you’ve had a chance to watch that and drool at its splendour, below is part 2 of my interview with Erasmus where we discuss the film in a bit more detail and some of the efforts that has gone into making it.

TSC: Thanks for taking the time to chat to The Shell Case again. The trailer for The Lord Inquisitor went live yesterday and having watched it through two or three times now I have to say it looks amazing. I knew we were going to be in for something special but it just blew me away.

Although obviously rooted in the 41st Millennium certain features, like locking mechanisms on bulkheads, have a degree of artistic license. Where did you get your inspiration from?

E: I’ve created art and fantasy for a long time now and I have my inspiration from various different sources; movies, animations, mangas and of course Warhammer. All those inspirations are etched into my memory and form a certain pool of ideas which I dip into as I need it. So I can create all sorts of things on the fly while modeling. For example the door, which Torquemada walks through, was created within a few hours. I thought of a door and this image instantly came into mind. I then modeled and textured it and lastly created the animation of it.

TSC: And he looks hard as nails while he does so. The trailer, aside from giving us a proper look at Inquisitor Coteaz, reveals some of the other characters we’re likely to meet in the movie. Can you give us a run down of who’s who?

E: Sure, Torquemada is definitely the main character, but there are other important figures as well. The second main character is Marcus Allenbrisk, in the trailer you can see him sitting in front of the commando table watching the report of the imperial ship carrying the artefact. He is the acolyte of Coteaz and thus being not as powerful as Torquemada himself he is the most human character. He has no super powers or genetic improvements, he just serves the Emperor with all his passion and knowledge. He is a clever guy and able to help Coteaz on his path against all sorts of Xenos. He’s young but tough. The dialogue at the beginning is spoken by just some mining workers who found this artefact; however you hear that they want to report this case to Admiral Phoenix. This guy is a fleet commander of the sector in which the artefact was found and really a high-class person. He has overall command of the naval elements at Coteaz’s disposal.

TSC: So plenty of Imperial brass lying about the place as one would expect. It’s great to see the Grey Knights in action during the trailer, especially that last tantalising clip before it cuts to black. How do you choreograph fight scenes when everything is built-in a computer?

E: Well it’s very similar to visualising any other scene. I instantly have images, or whole scenes very clear in mind and can go create them just as I see them. In this particular scene I was rather lucky, the animation of the Grey Knight took only one hour. Sadly, the really long part was the cutting of the deamon into two halves, which was really a pain in the ass. It took me a week, but in the end the scene just looked exactly as I had it in mind.

TSC: Blimey. So no scribbled story boards for you then. Seeing the Grey Knight going to work on Bloodletters has me interested to know, without giving too much away, about the ‘bad guy’ in this movie and some of the challenges facing the Inquisitor?

E: The bad guys are Chaos, yes. I think for a movie they are always a good choice, but in Lordi, there is a special case as the Inquisition has to deal with the Alpha Legion, who are known for their devious and insidious plans. This will hopefully make the film really interesting to watch as you can’t say for sure who is evil and who is not. You never really know what circles the Alpha Legion move in and who of the Emperor’s servants are truly loyal and it’s hard to say if the Alpha Legion are the real danger.

TSC: I suppose it’s made more complicated as not all of the Alpha Legion have embraced Chaos. And knowing what we know now from Dan Abnett’s Legion (if you haven’t read it you’re just a terrible person) it’s entirely possible their motives are just.

Between the trailer and the clips on your website we’ve seen a visual of a Land Raider, a Thunderhawk, Strike Cruisers on fire), a Battlebarge, strip miners and super heavy tanks speeding through the desert, which looks epic. Of all the various vehicles you’ve animated, what sticks in your mind as the most fun and the most frustrating?

E: The most fun was the strike cruiser falling through the sky. I really love that scene. For me it shows, that even Grey Knights are not indestructible and how breathtaking it must be to see such a massive ship crashing through the heavens. Also you can see the scale of this scene, as the ship is so big and far away that you can’t really see it falling, it just seems to be stuck in the sky. And, to be honest, the ship is not animated at all. The smoke is obviously animated and I added the feeling of driving on a road and filming out of the window to create this large-scale effect.

The most frustrating was the scene with the Baneblade through the desert. Luckily the work paid off as it is one of the visual most impressive ones in the trailer. The tank itself was modeled by Alexey and textured and prepared for animation by my friend Dennis. I then created a rig for the tank treads and animated this monster driving through the scene. But then I wanted to have this sand coming up to make it look cool and I tried several methods to achieve this effect. It took me maybe 2 or 3 weeks to complete this effect and I ended up with a real smoke simulation with FumeFX using 200 GB of memory on the HDD. So all in all this scene took me and the other artists maybe 6 weeks for a 2-3 second scene. Of course you can count only the evenings in, as we all have jobs – but still it was rather frustrating. I’m really happy that it turned out so great.

TSC: Six weeks for 2-3 seconds of footage? That’s dedication for you. And I couldn’t agree with you more about the Strike Cruiser. It looks epic. You’ve recently landed Adam ‘The Ultramarines Movie’ Harvey to compose the soundtrack for The Lord Inquisitor. Tell us how that all came about.

E: Adam contacted me and was really complimentary about all the progress I’ve made on Lordi. We had a nice chat for a few evenings and spoke about different things, Lordi, Ultramarins and creating films in general. I loved the music he composed for Ultramarines and I still couldn’t really believed that this guy had contacted me. So I took the chance and asked if he would like to create the music for my trailer, and luckily he said yes, as he loves 40k and is so passionate about creating music for that world. I think there is no better choice for a 40k movie than Adam. His music is really heroic and sticks in your mind. Also his music is not so full of clichés like other ‘heroic’ themes. His music has something special. So I was very lucky to have him on board and I have to admit to doing a dance around my room the evening he signed up.

TSC: Sounds like the soundtrack is gonna be epic. Hopefully it’ll be made available to download. And from reading your news page you’ve got a couple of voice actors onboard too. Tell us a little bit about the auditioning process.

E: Yes, that was crazy and easy all at the same time. The easy thing was the dialogue at the beginning with a great guy called Robert S. Benjamin. He contacted me and I was impressed by his talent without being a professional. He only has a small role now in this trailer but I want to work with him in the future as he seems to know what I need in the acting. Also I know a German music composer named Daniel Pharos who has a really cool voice and has been a big help too. The hard part was the role for Torquemada’s voice. I found a professional speaker named Zdravko and I think his voice is just perfect for this role – deep and powerful. It started well enough as he was quick to send me over his first take on the script. I had a few notes but was generally please. Sadly he I did not hear from him again. So the voice overs in the trailer aren’t perfect, and people did notice, but luckily it is easily fixed and I just need another voice actor for the final movie.

TSC: I’m sure it’ll come good in the end. At least you’ve got a couple of years to find a replacement. Last time we spoke you talked about how involved the site forum had been in your early efforts. Now the trailer is out, how much impact will the forum community have on the movie or any edits you may make?

E: The audience is very important for me but I have to separate the different forms of comments. They range from “it’s shit” to “you are the Emperor”. At the end of the day, some love to be negative and other like to be really constructive. However I am the harshest critic myself and I see errors in every scene. So when I see that more and more people share the same opinion as myself I will go back and make improvements. Right now I have so many comments I can’t read them all, but I fly over them and see the main reaction of the fans for the trailer. In the first 24 hours of the release the video was watched by around 18.000 people and the main reaction is really really positive and that made me really happy. The criticism I’ve had so far has pretty much reflected my own thoughts so I think I have a good feeling of what the fans want to see. But I have to remember I can’t make everything perfect which is important for fans and myself to keep in mind when creating a vision of something as established as the 40k Universe. I’m doing my best to make a really cool film that everyone will enjoy but I know I can’t please the entire 40k community and will try to include their ideas as much as I can.

TSC: Well there’s plenty of shell cases so I’m happy. You’re aiming for a 2013 release, how are you intending on making it available to the masses?

E: I definitely need a larger team for this release, as the work load is immense. I especially need good animators and technical artists. But I will explain that later in detail on my website. If I work alone on all things I need much much more time and I’m not perfect in every field of the CG industry. I need support with animation, story writing and voice acting. So every talented person willing to serve my orders for this project, feel free to contact me via the Lordi site.
The final release will be available for download on the website and of course free to watch for everyone on YouTube, Vimeo or whatever. This all will cost nobody a single penny.

TSC: I think it’s a shame that you’re putting in all this effort and you won’t make anything back from it, but I understand why you can’t and I’m certainly very grateful to you for carrying on anyway. It really matters to the community that people like you are willing to share their talents in such a significant way. So, finally, where can I get a Lordi t-shirt?

E: You can download the design from The Lord Inquisitor website. I don’t want to sell those shirts on my own, as I really can’t be seen to be making money out of Games Workshop’s IP. Also I think it is cheaper for everyone to create their own shirt and that way they’ll all be slightly unique.

TSC: Once again, Erasmus, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and hopefully you’ll be back again in the new year to discuss further developments.

For more information about The Lord Inquisitor or to get in touch with Erasmus about some of the skill sets he requires then please go here.

The Lord Inquisitor – Interview

When I started this blog at the end of July I thought that I’d be writing about models I painted, a scenario or two, have a bit of a moan about a gaming injustice or two, and maybe get to do the odd game review. I didn’t think that I’d be interviewing the creator of The Lord Inquisitor, a CGI short set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Yet here I am, staring down the barrel of a two-part interview with that very person.

TSC: Erasmus thanks for agreeing to chat with me. For those that don’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourself?

E: Sure, my name is Erasmus Brosdau, I’m 26, and live in the North of Germany. I learned everything about 2D, 3D, Composition, Music, etc by myself and got a job as a 3D artist with 22. During that time I worked 8 to 10 hours professional and continued my private CG things in the nights and evenings whilst my girlfriend was asleep. The big project before Lordi was a video about the Audi R8, which you can watch on my homepage http://www.destrega.de. This took me around half a year to create, not to mention the render times, but I learned a lot from it. I also do a lot of music related things, but writing all about my creative hobbies would take way too much space here, so let’s say I’m really addicted to CG and spend all my free time with my girl or my computer.

TSC: Sounds much like myself. What gave you the idea in the first place to begin such an ambitious project?

E: I always have to do ambitious projects in my free time, otherwise I feel uncomfortable. After I finished the Audi video I thought ‘Ok, what’s next?’ and by this point my brother had infected me with his passion for 40k. So I really was into the whole atmosphere, story and so on. I quickly recognized that there were a ton of fantastic 2D images, but almost no CG related images – at least no good quality ones. So I decided to create a short movie about 40k to show its grim and dark atmosphere. It was my brother who suggested I focus on the Inquisition, so I opened up Lexicanum.com, had a look at famous Inquisitors and quickly decided on Torquemada Coteaz to be the main character. I wanted to spend the next two years with the project, but it now seems that it will take 3 years probably.

TSC: You said your brother pointed you towards the Inquisition, but with the 40k Universe being so fast and rich, how did decide that was the right way to go?

E: My main intention was not to make an animation about Ultramarines – don’t get me wrong they are really cool but they are displayed so often. I wanted to show something that hadn’t been done. As I said my brother had the great idea to show the Inquisition, and I thought they are really a good choice for a movie, as they have much influence within the Imperium.

TSC: The film focusses on the imposing Inquisitor Coteaz, Protector of the Formosa Sector. Can you tell us a little bit about the plot?

E: The story seems very easy to overlook at first, (TSC: As was evident in the Ultramarines Movie) but there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes, that he discovers more and more as he follows the trail to the root of all evil. It all starts with the Imperial Guard finding an artefact of unknown origin on a distant planet. Believing it to be of xenos origin they have it send to the Ordo Xenos sector headquarters. When the ship carrying the supposed alien artefact is destroyed by Chaos forces an already sceptical Torquemada Coteaz gets involved. He does not believe artefact destroyed and assumes the influence of Chaos. However the extent of the corruption is staggering into him.

TSC: Sounds awesome. Dealing with such a detailed universe, did you get any advice or guidance along the way to keep the look and feel authentically ’40k’?

E: Yes, it was important to me to reach all the fans of the Warhammer 40k universe, so I created a blog and later a website where everyone now can post comments without registrations and so on. This way I receive a lot of positive and motivating feedback and often lots of constructive ideas and advice. I can’t know everything about Warhammer 40.000, so I’m always happy when someone says ‘Hey, this is not right.’ or ‘Have you tried it this way?’ when I really made some errors to the 40k franchise. I think this is something the official site should have taken more care of, they had a comments section, but never replied to fans and eventually disabled comments. Maybe this is something that makes The Lord Inquisitor so special, as you can write me comments and I will go through them all and see if I can bring those ideas in – so this project includes the whole community.


 
TSC: So a movie for fans by fans. Which brings me smoothly on to what kind of visual treats can we expect from the film, am I right in saying we can expect to see Grey Knights?

E: Yes! Torquemada will be supported by a group of Grey Knight Terminators and also a heavy vehicle support which includes a GreyKnight strike cruiser, Landraiders, Thunderhawks and a custom dropship for Torquemada which I designed by myself. And of course the whole atmosphere and the aspect of violence and gore will be a visual highlight too.

TSC: If you’re not elbow deep in blood and guts you’re not doing 40k! Judging from the clips on your website, the film is going to be epic and it’s fair to say puts the Ultramarines Movie to shame and there’s only 5 of you working on it. How many people hours have gone into it so far, and how many left to go?

E: Well that’s hard to say as I don’t count the hours exactly, but basically it’s like this: I created 95% of  this movie on my own and have some people supporting me with modeling (vehicles and props etc). Also I was lucky to make a friend who takes care of all the website which is really time-consuming and I have no idea how that all works. But most of the modeling stage is done and I’m very thankful to the people who helped, as it would have taken me so long to create the Thunderhawks and so on as well by myself. However there is still a lot of work to do, especially shading, lighting, animation and post production, which I do completely alone. Combined with the aim to create the graphics as cool as possible this can take some time. But to come back to the question – I have my core team of 4 people (for CG) who try to create things as fast as possible in their free time. Reliability is very important to me, so some people had to leave this project already, as their progress was really too slow and I was faster creating it by myself. Right now for the Trailer I’ll do everything alone, but once this is done I’m sure I will have more to do. I’d really like to get some support from a rigging artist and animators by the way if anyone is interested?



TSC: The Games Workshop is known for protecting their IP quite vehemently and other similar projects have been shut down. What was the process like approaching them for permission to see The LordI through to completion and beyond?

E: When I started this project I had no idea about this IP thing of Games Workshop. I discovered that 6 months into the Lordi. However, it is true that films are forbidden, but their policy allows animations. Obviously it is hard to say what is a movie and what is an animation, but I see all computer animated elements as animations, so I regard The Lord Inquisitor as ‘legal’. Also GW is aware of the project and haven’t made contact – so I continue.

TSC: No news is good news. Now, the trailer is coming out 11.11.11 which I’m dead excited about seeing, but when will the finished product be released and what’s the estimated run time?

E: The whole animation should last around 20 minutes and can be expected in 2013. Sadly, as I am a one man army, I can’t make this any longer, otherwise it will take the rest of my life… I wish things were different, but Lordi can only be longer if GW makes it official, which is rather unrealistic.

TSC: And presumably give it financial backing too. Finally, what suggestions or advice would you give to any budding writer or film maker wanting to embark on a similar project?

E: Well, this all about passion. Were I not so focused on creating 3D characters, scenes and so on, this amount of work would have killed me already and stopped this project. And because the project requires a lot of research and I’m tackling it on my own, it would make a lot of people stop before they even get started. But as you might think, Lordi wasn’t my first project, I have been creative my whole life and I’ve been doing 3D for around 8 years now. Having high aims and to be inspired by other 3D artists, movies, etc is really the way to go and to become better and better every day. Start with small projects which you can finish and then make every project a bit bigger. You’ll need all the experience in the next project you create. Of course I have some plans already what I will do next once Lordi is finished, but I won’t tell for now. So practice and endurance is the key to create projects like The Lord Inquisitor.

TSC: Erasmus, thank you very much and keep up the good work.

The trailer for The Lord Inquisitor will be out on 11.11.11 after which Erasmus will join me again to go over some of the content and hopefully reveal a little bit more what Inquisitor Coteaz and his Grey Knights will be up against.