Forgotten Texts: Alex Hammond on The Demon Bottle

A couple of months ago I posted a Forgotten Texts review for Alex Hammond’s first Necromunda short story The Demon Bottle. Alex has kindly agreed to a quick interview looking back at the time that he spent writing for Black Library and his thoughts on the various stories he wrote back in those early days. Without further ado, let’s get straight on with the interview…

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Can you remember if you had a specific brief for The Demon Bottle, or did you did you have the freedom to pick your own subject?

AH: My best recollection is that we had quite a bit of latitude. More so than with the 40K stories, Necromunda being quite new and not carrying with it the weight of many of Games Workshop’s other settings. I pitched the story, what I thought it might be, and the editors gave me some feedback on a few changes to the ending. They recommended I go bigger than I’d planned to, but given the other material that was being written for Necromunda at the time, taking their advice was the right decision. No room for subtlety in the 41st millennium!

I assume this was your first Black Library story – was it the first story of any sort you’d had published? Can you remember much about writing it?

AH: It was my first ever published story and a big thrill at the time. I do remember hammering it out in one sitting and just pushing a kind of gritty, visceral feel. There’s something impersonal about miniature gaming, I wanted to make it more emotive, more sensory of what it would be like to live in that world in those conditions. I strongly suspect I overused the words “ashen wastes” and “acrid air”.

How familiar were you with the Necromunda setting and its style? How well established do you think it was at that point?

AH: I had only read the game rules, which had a scattering of prose. The setting wasn’t well established, but in classic Games Workshop style its sources were pretty obvious – Mad Max, Judge Dredd, Dune…I drew lightly on those sources and kept the scope of the story manageable.

How did you get into writing for Black Library?

AH: A friend and I had successfully pitched a Skaven supplement to Hogshead Publishing who had the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay license at the time. James Wallis was heading it up and recommended us to Marc Gascoigne and he gave us both a shot (and we both proceed to write more stories from there).

Have you kept up an interest in Black Library and Games Workshop?

AH: I keep an eye on things but can’t say I really follow it closely. I did note the controversy around Age of Sigmar. Blood Bowl is back! I still miniature game (historicals mostly) so I’m distantly aware.

How do you feel settings like 40k have changed since you wrote these stories?

AH: I can’t much say I like the new mythic setting, although the miniatures are certainly impressive. What attracted me to the settings feels as though it has become overly convoluted and overwhelming. I wouldn’t know where to start with it these days. Give me Rogue Trader and old school John Blanche, and 1st Edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

The Demon Bottle is a standalone story, but you later wrote two stories featuring the same character, Knife-Edge Liz – A World Above and Rat in the Walls. Did anything in particular prompt you to return to Liz after having written A World Above, or was it just a nice opportunity to revisit an old character?

AH: As you’ve suggested it was a nice opportunity, that was definitely part of it. But also it allowed me to write a slightly longer narrative. When read together those two stories are a bit more substantial, a further exploration of the hive. Also there was very little out there that looked at the upper hive.

By this point you’d had a 40k story published as well (The Emperor’s Grace). Did you feel like there were clear distinctions between writing for Necromunda and 40k, or was it very similar?

AH: Yes! 40k took a lot more research and more limitations to remain in canon. I felt as though because of it’s relatively minor setting (Necromunda concerns one strata of a hive planet), you could get away with a lot more.

What influences do you think you drew from when writing these stories? Was Liz inspired by anyone in particular?

AH: Ha. In typical Games Workshop fashion I stole from a secondary source and made it my own. I was inspired by Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita, which in turn drew its inspiration from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. I also drew on books I read as a child, the kind of underdog antiauthoritarian characters of Michael de Larrabeiti’s Borrible trilogy.

How do you feel about Necromunda making a 21st Century return?

AH: To be honest, I think Games Workshop has become a lot more sanitised and less political than it was in the 80s and early 90s. Now it seems to be aimed at appealing to the younger audience. So Necromunda now? It’s intriguing, but I feel it’s had its time.

What are you up to these days, in terms of writing?

AH: I’ve published two crime novels with Penguin, part of a series that has a third waiting in the wings. I’m also slowly researching a new historical crime book set during the Second World War.

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How do you feel writing crime fiction differs from writing stories set in the grim darkness of the far future?

AH: Crime, certainly the style of crime I write, aims to give a sense of realism and plausibility. My protagonist is a lawyer and people want to feel that the law is accurately represented. So there are fewer liberties that can be taken. However, there isn’t an official world setting or formalised bible that you have to follow. So in that sense it’s more liberating.

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Big thanks to Alex for taking the time to chat about his work for Black Library; as always it’s great to hear about how things were in the early days! If this interview and my review of The Demon Bottle have piqued your interest in Alex’s work, do see if you can get hold of a copy of one of the old Necromunda omnibuses…or try getting in touch with Black Library to ask them to reprint these stories!

In the meantime, check out Alex’s website for more information on his writing – http://www.alexhammondauthor.com/ – or check out his novels Blood Witness and The Unbroken Line on Amazon.

Check out the rest of the Forgotten Texts articles here.

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