Opening lines… By Nick Kyme

Imagine a magnesium bright desert. There is nothing as far as your eye can see, and the horizon and the landscape are so indistinct from one another that they merge into a single formless, toneless mass.

Welcome to the first page of your novel. Surprise, surprise – it’s blank. Better take on lots of water and figure out your route, it’s going to be a long road.

It gets better, though. Having a road map helps. You build it. You build the landscape too (though that can be capricious and surprising – it should be). It’s your world, remember?

Make no bones about it (there are many in the blank page desert, slowly bleaching in the sun), writing a novel is tough. It takes time, and isn’t for the faint hearted. If you are faint of heart, try some shorter at first. If that gives you concern too then I’d suggest getting the heck out of the desert at the first opportunity before you expire. This trek is not for you, sir/madam.

Perhaps toughest is coming up with that opening line. Thing is, once you’ve got your landscape up and running (your characters and the story they drive and inhabit), it becomes a little more self-perpetuating. Before that happens, there’s just the desert and all the compass directions laid before you.

See, the thing about opening lines is, there’s never just one. You might think there is, but that’s not true. There are lots, and therein lies the rub. So many places where you could begin, so many choices, directionless and amorphous.

It can be paralysing.


Some advice?

Write more than one. Don’t be afraid to throw out what you’ve spent the entire morning agonising over. No words are that important that you can’t jettison them in favour of better or more appropriate ones.

Recycle and redraft. In the blank desert landscape, this isn’t only environmentally friendly, it’s economically sound too. I’ve dumped loads of failed opening lines, only to find them in my mental scrap and ready to be deployed elsewhere. Throw nothing out. Not completely anyway. With a little care and attention, it can be put to use again.

But I’m digressing.

I equate writing a novel to running a long race. Think of it as a journey. I remember an interesting quote about this very subject (apologies if I don’t remember this accurately): Writing a novel is like driving down a dark road with your lights on. You know where you’ve been, and you can see just what is in front of you, but no further ahead than that. The only way you know what is around the next bend is to reach it and have a look.

Think about your route. Have a route. We are back in the blank page desert again, but if you have a route you are much more likely not to get lost, especially when you start to establish some of the landmarks along the way.

Going back to the idea of a long race, the opening line is you on the starting line. It’s your preparation and thought process up to this point. You just need to put one foot in front of the other.

Endurance is the key. You have to have e physical and mental chops to stay the course. Break up the miles. It’s hot in the desert, but you’ll be all right if you just take it steady and try not to think about the journey in its entirety. That is the way to madness. You’ll end up (or rather the idea of your novel will) as one of those bleached skulls on the side of the road, the ruins of your story putrefying in the heat.

When I’m writing a novel, I prepare. Mind and body. I research and plan. I think. Then when I’m ready, I act. I consider the variant possibilities of my opening line, that first scene and simply pick one.

I take it step by step, mile and mile. It’s tough at first, and takes some adjustment. All long races are, I think. I find a novel doesn’t start to attain its own gravity (and thus pulling me along into its orbit) until I reach about 20 to 30k words. I know I’m in a long race then, not a sprint. I reconcile the fact it’s going to take some time. I double check my route map. Do it more than once, to remind yourself where you are going. I do the miles, I work at that everyday even if I’m only chipping away at them.

Write. Read. Repeat.

There is no cheat or trick. That’s it.

Opening lines, they are scary but think of all the possibilities and what might come of it all when the finish line is in sight and you get to cross it…

What Kind of Year Has it Been?

The Shell Case has had its third Christmas and 2014 will see the site turn 3 years old. It’s been an eventful 2 and a half years and that certainly goes double for the last 12 months.

So, to repeat the question: what kind of year has it been?

A very mixed one.

In March I became a father. Whilst being a dad is awesome it inevitably had an impact on The Shell Case in so much as I couldn’t write as much as I wanted or as often. I did my best but inevitably I lost readers, some of which never returned. Between my time being hammered more than Charlie Sheen and some truly twatish comments on the posts I did put up I seriously considered closing the site. Until Erin (@sixeleven) suggested that to take the pressure off writing a post a day – which I was doing and then some – I bring in contributors.

It was a painfully obvious solution to the problem and have the added benefit of discussing topics and parts of our wide and varied hobby that I have no experience in. Bringing in contributors has seen mixed success with the initial team signing on and then almost immediately leaving again after they realised that when I said 1 article a week I actually meant it. We’re not quite there yet as all our contributions are a little up and down (mine included) and I’m still on the hunt for a couple more talented people to round off the team, but progress is being made and we’re slowly clawing our way back to where we were. And hopefully beyond.

Three months ago Lee and I, rather ambitiously, began A Tale of Two Armies. It’s been a lot of fun, if slightly stressy at times, to get back into Warhammer and actually do hobby and play games with any regularity. The narrative is developing nicely and as you’ve hopefully seen, Lee and I have been working hard to flesh out the entire thing. Check out our ‘Genesis of a’ posts.

I do have to extend huge thanks to Reece, Mat, Lee & Adam since coming on board. They’re all integral parts to the grand plan for The Shell Case and I’m not joking when I say this site wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. And to Jason, Ashley, Adam (again), Nate & John for agreeing to take part in my hair brained scheme to create a multi-national podcast. 10 shows in we’re starting to find our feet and the new year should bring some more exciting changes and possibly some TSC exclusive content.

I also owe a huge and un-payable debt to my sponsor, Firestorm Games, for supporting me these last 18 months. Again, without them I wouldn’t have been in a position to keep pace with our ever-changing hobby or have been able to run A Tale of Two Armies.

Thank yous also go out to Amera, Chris Wraight, Gav Thorpe, Nick Kyme, Sarah Cawkwell, Megalith, Studio McVey, Ainsty Castings, Avatars of War to name but a few. Getting to know you all has been a pleasure and your support of my humble site rather mind-blowing.

I’d planned on spouting on about the state of the hobby and all that had happened over the last 12 months but actually, what’s done is done. The next 12 months is what interests me with some big releases from the Games Workshop, Spartan Games, Megalith and many others. I can’t wait to get to Salute 2014 and go batshit crazy for the up and coming games. And I can’t wait for my daughter to sleep through the night so I have a bit more energy.

All that’s left to be said is to thank readers of the site, old and new, as you’re the reason I’ve pretty much given up sleeping. I wish you all a happy, healthy & prosperous 2014 with many toys, games and, occasionally, some painting.

Shell Case Shorts 12

So we’ve finally come to it; the last (ever) Shell Case Shorts competition. It’s been a long and interesting road with some awesome entries and as we stare down the barrel of 2013 I’m really excited about the anthology which will be out in the New Year.

As it’s the last competition I did my best to make the prize as awesome as possible. And this month I’ve been helped along by the awesome Nick Kyme, Gav Thorpe and Sarah Cawkwell. A huge thank you goes out to them as they’ve already been so generous with their donations to The Shell Case in the past.

So this months prizes are; Tome of Fire and The Great Betrayal by Nick Kyme, Ravenwing by Gav Thorpe and Valkia the Bloody by Sarah Cawkwell.

UPDATE – The prize now also includes a signed copy of Battle of the Fang by Chris Wraight.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to add to this prize over December to give the Shell Case Shorts the send off it deserves.


So, what do you need to do to win this pile of awesome? Well, here’s the rules…

Write a short story of between 3,000 & 5,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Monday 31st December 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 4

Yes, we’re in to the forth short story competition. And this month we take a look at origins. This can be the origins of whatever you like; a Space Marine chapter, a fantasy regiment, a warband in Mordheim or a horde in…er…Hordes.

Remember it has to be a force/chaapter/regiment of your own devising. You couldn’t write about the Ultramarines, for example.

This month’s prize is courtesy of the awesome and legendary Nick Kyme and because he’s been so legendary and, dare I say it, awesome, there will now be TWO prizes. One prize for the best ‘goody’ and a prize of the best ‘baddy’. And those prizes are signed copies of the Fall of Damnos & Salamander. And there may could possibly be a runners up prize. But only if you all work very hard!

All it needs to be is based on an existing wargaming IP of any stripe and be written in a historical style. Consider breaking the piece down in to the following:

Founding, Homeworld/Homeland, Combat Doctrine, Force Organisation, Beliefs, Significant/Defining Moment, Battle Cry

If you’re doing Space Marine remember to include something about their geneseed.

And yes you can include a picture of colour scheme or iconography if you want to.

Rules are as follows:

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke a sense of history and grandeur about thier chosen regiment/chapter/legion/company etc.

Word limit is 3,000 words (+/- 10%).

All entries must be received by midday Monday 30th April 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include at the top of the first page; the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

An Interview with Nick Kyme


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.


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.