Earlier in the week I posted the first part of a wide-ranging interview with Black Library Commissioning Editor Laurie Goulding, which included loads of fascinating details about Laurie’s work chronicling the Scythes of the Emperor chapter of Space Marines (which he writes under the name LJ Goulding). In this second part of the interview we talk about the other side of Laurie’s work for Black Library, as the man responsible for editing the Horus Heresy series!
Before we get onto the Heresy however, I had one more question for Laurie about his Warhammer 40,000 writing…
Some of your previous writing has covered things like Kaldor Draigo carving Geronitan’s name into Mortarion’s heart, or the uneasy alliance between Blood Angels and Necrons in The Word of the Silent King…which are the sort of contentious topics that get a certain section of the fanbase hot under the collar. It seems like you chose those topics specifically to address these unusual topics where you think there’s something else to say – is that the case, or was it more that you just saw them as cool stories to tell?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the things that’s been said lots of times is that all of the IP is created equal. All of the background of Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, the Horus Heresy – everything is cool, and I think the only way that stuff appears not cool is if people either overthink it or if not enough detail of context is given. In the case of Mortarion’s Heart, Christian Dunn who was my editor at the time – I’d just done a Scythes of the Emperor story, Shadow of the Beast – he said “what do you want to do next, would you like to do an audio drama?” I was working a lot on doing the scripts and the editing for audio dramas so I said “yes, absolutely!”
He said “we should probably start you off with a Space Marine chapter. We’ve done all these chapters – Blood Angels, Ultramarines, and that leaves us with a few major chapters we’ve not really touched. Nobody’s touched the Grey Knights in audio at this point. Have you got any ideas for a Grey Knights story?” I said “I think I might have one, yeah! How about the thing where he carves the guy’s name on Mortarion’s heart? Would that be a good one?” He said “well…yeah, if you can make it work?”
Originally I had a couple of ideas of how I might approach that and make it something that wasn’t so much a joke, and more something where once you understand the context it becomes a little more believable or a little more authentic feeling within the background. I mean this is all mad science fantasy wizards and daemons and people are saying ‘oh well it doesn’t make sense if it doesn’t exactly line up scientifically’! It doesn’t matter; as long as there’s a reason or as long as you acknowledge that the reason is mental, then you can make a cool story out of that.
The first idea I had was that Mortarion was swollen to immense proportions, almost titanic in size, and he would eat Draigo, who would be running around within him. I’d written a good chunk of that story and then I turned over the next page in the codex looking for more details that I could add in and there’s almost exactly that story with one of the other characters, Justicar Thawn, who goes inside a daemon and explodes it from the inside. That’s the same story, so I had to think of a different way of doing it! We came across that idea of the true name, and there’s so much cool background for the Grey Knights, and for daemons and daemon princes. You can tie the Horus Heresy into 40k, there are so many strands!
I think as readers, and writers, of Warhammer fiction everybody just needs to think ‘what’s the context for this seemingly mad series of events that’s just been described in a sentence in a codex? What’s the context, what makes it believable, what makes it true?’ I tried to do the same thing with The Word of the Silent King, with the context of the Blood Angels and the Necrons having an alliance. There’s the whole joke about the brofist – I used that as my Twitter banner for the day it came out and it’s all good fun, but there’s actually a very serious story idea behind it.
Some people do get very invested in this stuff, and they take one sentence as gospel truth saying ‘well that doesn’t make any sense, I hate this and I don’t want any part of it’. Other people think ‘it doesn’t seem to make any sense but I wonder if there’s a story behind it’. A surprising amount of what we do editorially as well when we’re writing for ourselves within the Warhammer background come out of that – ‘this seems crazy, how can it be made more authentic?’
Some people have said ‘oh wow, now that finally makes sense, I really like it!’ while others say ‘what’s the point in doing it? It’s a stupid idea anyway, and you’ve just made it worse!’ Okay, if you didn’t like it before and you still don’t like it now – great! I still got to tell my story, not everyone’s going to like it.
We’re going to move onto the Horus Heresy shortly, as you’ve been a crucial part of the Horus Heresy team at Black Library…but that’s about to change! Could you give us a little bit of information about what’s happening, and what you’re going to be up to next?
Yes indeed – bombshell, right? I think a lot of people thought I’d never leave GW, like Crazy Uncle Laurie who lives in the attic and hoards all the Horus Heresy reprints! A lot of people in the office were very surprised, but the support I’ve had from everyone here and fans alike has been overwhelmingly positive.
Essentially I’ve been offered a new job in California, because of my experience with the Horus Heresy and all the commercial success it has enjoyed in the past five years or so. I spend a fair amount of time there anyway for holidays and such, and I’ve often thought about living in the US, so when this offer came through I just couldn’t turn it down. One of my cousins lived in Hollywood for five years, and she was really excited to see me heading over there more and more. Another of my cousins is a professional football… soccer?… coach in Virginia, so I’m not too concerned about my broad Midlands accent being a problem for my new colleagues!
I can’t really talk about what I’ll be doing, yet, but it really is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of opportunity. Maybe in a few months’ time we can talk about it some more.
How do you think that’s going to affect the Horus Heresy series going forward?
You know what, I really agonised about this. The decision to leave wasn’t an easy one, as I’ve been so completely focused on Black Library and the Heresy in particular, it felt like I would be turning my back on all that work, and all the other people who’ve become so invested in it as well. In fact, some of the authors said some very kind things about the work we have done together in the past six years, it was very touching. I always joked that when a book is a success then the author gets praised, and if it’s not so well-received then the PUBLISHER gets criticised… but to hear these world-renowned writers praising my contribution to their work was, well it was just so flattering. I can’t really describe how that felt.
Having said that, I’ve known about this move for a little while now, and I’ve been manoeuvring things ahead of time. Alan Bligh and I started planning out the Siege of Terra about two years ago, and the rest of the HH novel slots are accounted for and allocated to authors, so that was all already sorted. I’ve put in a lot more of the groundwork on the series in the past three months, so it should just be plain sailing from here, for the rest of the BL team and whoever else joins in future.
Are you going to remain working with Black Library in any form of consultative way, in order to continue lending your Heresy expertise as the series draws to a close?
Absolutely. The rest of the team know that my head is full of this Heresy trivia, so it would be crazy not to just offer the answers when they are needed. There’s no acrimony here, I still really want to see the series finished in the way we’ve been planning it for the past few years.
We’re currently looking at whether or not it would be helpful for me to continue to attend the author planning meetings, like a creative consultant or something like that. I’d be happy to live in the US and take my holidays back in rainy Nottingham, and offer whatever assistance I can in the completion of the project along the way.
It’s strange, because Alan Merrett only recently left Games Workshop after thirty-five years or something like that, and I spoke to him in Bugman’s bar at his farewell drinks party. He said something like “Ahh, the Heresy will be fine with you to keep everyone in line,” and I was thinking, but what if I end up leaving for this new job?! Yikes. That was another reason I had to think really carefully about it, because Alan and I worked very closely on Visions of Heresy and he was always at the HH meetings. I didn’t want to let him down, which is why I’ve been working so hard to get things planned out and ready for whoever steps up to the plate next.
But you know what? I’m not the Horus Heresy. Alan wasn’t the Horus Heresy. No author is the Horus Heresy. It’s a huge setting, it’s the ancient history of the distant future. This is bigger than any one person, and it’s going to be fantastic even though I won’t be in that office when the final book goes to print.
In fact, part of me is looking forward to being ‘just a fan’ again. Maybe I can troll the new editors on Twitter or Facebook, asking the same old questions like a broken record! Ha!
Will you be making any more contributions in terms of writing the Horus Heresy?
Recently I’ve been handling such a huge plate-spinning, herding cats sort of role on the editorial side. I’ve always been THE editor for the Horus Heresy, since I started – I’ve edited everything that came through Black Library for the Horus Heresy, and commissioned all of it since 2013. Everything that the studio’s produced, like board games and additional content for White Dwarf – everything like that has come through my desk as well, and for Forge World I’ve been a collaborator with Alan Bligh since day one. In fact I’ve just finished proofreading the latest batch of stuff from them, which is all very exciting! With all of that, it’s been such a huge task that writing my own HH stories felt like a whole new marathon race on top.
I did The Heart of the Pharos and a couple of other things that are related to that – Nick said a while back “Do you have more ideas that you want to do?” but I’ve had no spare time! I couldn’t possibly have written any more of this! Nick and I both find we have so many editorial tasks to do that we don’t get the time to tell the stories that we’d like to write, but then who knows, now? Never say never! Essentially there would have to be a really good reason for me to tell a story rather than Aaron, or Graham, or Dan – and because of the fact that it’s all laid down now, I can safely discount myself from writing any Horus Heresy novels.
Was it the setting on Sotha (and the links to your Scythes work) that drew you to writing The Heart of the Pharos, or was that a coincidence?
Interestingly, it was actually a line from Prince of Crows that set this whole thing in motion, way before The Unremembered Empire was properly planned out. I had already pitched for the next Scythes of the Emperor novel, and we had some names floating around from the existing background but nothing concrete. Then Aaron Dembski-Bowden had Sevatar nominate Sotha as one of the mustering points for the Night Lords fleeing from the Thramas Crusade, and the cogs started turning in my head…
In the next Horus Heresy meeting, Dan was asking about a possible location in Ultramar for his ‘new Astronomican’ idea around which Imperium Secundus would hinge, and I blurted out Sotha. We all kept on talking this through, and the moment I pointed out that the fortress monastery was on Mount Pharos, the deal was done. The same name as an ancient, iconic lighthouse? It’s like we planned it all along.
One of the names that Richard Williams and I had discussed way back for the Scythes was the first Chapter Master Oberdeii, a venerable old veteran of the Ultramarines Legion. Dan loved this idea, and he put Oberdeii into The Unremembered Empire as a neophyte Scout. The Aegida orbital platform became part of the legacy of the 199th Aegida Company, and the concept of Sotha later being the centre of a political coalition of worlds was cemented into the 40k lore, just like a smaller version of the Five Hundred Worlds of old Ultramar.
The idea for The Heart of the Pharos was always intended to be the next step of Oberdeii’s story, but when Guy Haley started talking about his ideas for the novel that became Pharos, he and I started working really closely together to make sure that the two of them tallied up and felt like a single story in many ways. I had finished the script before he started the novel, but Nick (as my editor) wanted me to add something more and make it feel a little more separate, not just like a prelude or prequel. Because of this, I decided to focus a lot more on the Lion and the Dark Angels at the end, which becomes the point of the whole plot. It’s no longer a story about Oberdeii, but Lion El’Jonson, who’s not in Pharos at all. Because of that, Gav Thorpe and I did a lot of back and forth to make sure I left the primarch where he needed to be at the beginning of Angels of Caliban – basically, as far away as possible from Sotha.
There’s plenty of exposition in there, though, if you know where to look. Why do the Scythes make such a big deal out of horses and horsemen in their heraldry? What is that tune that Tebecai is humming? What exactly IS the Pharos, and what did Oberdeii see when he fell into its workings? I can tell you, the Tyranids didn’t build that machine, and they sure as hell weren’t hiding down there in the depths during M31, even though some fans have convinced themselves otherwise.
Oh yes – here’s a Horus Heresy Easter Egg for your readers. Tebecai is so named because we couldn’t think of a name for him during the synopsis stage for the audio drama. It’s literally ‘TBC’, to-be-confirmed, like Forrix from Graham McNeill’s Iron Warriors was originally named ‘XXXX’ in the pitch. I have Graeme Lyon to thank for that bit of inspiration. Cheers, Graeme!
From your perspective as the Commissioning Editor, which story are you happiest with during the time you’ve worked on the series?
I really like the Calth stuff, before you get to Imperium Secundus. I’m ashamed to say, I knew virtually nothing about Calth before Dan wrote Know No Fear, but I was so enthused by it that I pushed for Mark of Calth as a project and the associated audios as follow-ups, as well as tying in to a lot of stuff like Betrayer.
It’s interesting, because with the Betrayal at Calth board game and the amazingly positive response that it has had from the fans, Calth and the Underworld War has become almost like a setting in its own right. The Honoured and The Unburdened wouldn’t have been commissioned if there wasn’t a board game to tie in to, but they are both excellent stories with so many links to other parts of the Horus Heresy, as well as each other.
In fact, I’ve recently had a few discussions after The Beast Arises and as we start to approach the Siege of Terra, like what would we do differently? As in, if we had never done the Horus Heresy as a series but we still knew all the lessons that we have learned from doing it, and we were going to start it from scratch tomorrow – how would we approach it? I like the idea that there would be different settings within the Horus Heresy, like ‘Warzone: Calth’ or ‘The Isstvan Atrocity’ – each of those story arcs would be standalone, books would be released from different settings almost seemingly at random. You could pick up any one of them and read and enjoy it, and follow the storyline as it fits into the wider setting, but you don’t NEED to read Isstvan to enjoy Calth, you don’t NEED to know what happens in Prospero to appreciate Tallarn, and so on. Of course, if you did read all the different arcs then you’d pick up some nice Easter Eggs or subtle little links.
I reckon Calth is the closest to that, as a concept. Know No Fear is Book 1, Betrayer is Book 2, then Mark of Calth etc. It would end with something like the story Rules of Engagement, where Guilliman starts to think about Imperium Secundus – then the next little setting would be just that. It’s all purely theoretical, of course, but it’s good to learn from mistakes AND successes in publishing, and put those lessons into practice on the next project. The Horus Heresy is in some ways a victim of its own success, with any number of fans wanting more while others just want to skip to the end. I think we could cater for both types, if Black Library had any idea how successful the series would be and planned ahead in the beginning, accordingly.
Are we going to see any new authors, who haven’t yet contributed to the Horus Heresy series?
Yes! People who’ve been following the series recently have seen that all stories are starting to look towards the Siege of Terra, and there’s so many stories lines now like the White Scars – we’ll continue what happens with that storyline, with Jaghatai Khan and Revuel Arvida. That’s all set on Terra now. And the Space Wolves stuff (without spoiling it for people who don’t know what’s happening) the Space Wolves and the Raven Guard are taking a real sideline now. We’ve got Imperial Secundus collapsed and everything’s heading towards Terra. The stuff that’s going to be in the rest of Advent and early next year, people are going to see more and more that this is definitely the end phase, these are the final stages of the Horus Heresy.
We’ve also got the Primarchs as a separate series – there’s a lot of Great Crusade content and a lot of Horus Heresy content potentially in there, and these are the absolute, definitive stories that really tell of the definitive character of those Primarchs – how those primarchs got to be like that, and how that affects their Legions, and essentially that’s why the Legions are the way they are, and that’s why the Horus Heresy turned out the way it did. It all comes back to these huge characters – this is still The Horus Heresy: The Primarchs so it’s another opportunity for us to bring in authors who perhaps weren’t around for the original HH series. David Guymer for example has announced that he’s working on the Ferrus Manus Primarchs novel, which I was then forced to confirm because he’d told people in front of an audience! So yes, we do have newer authors to the series who’ll be taking a bit more of the heavy lifting.
Which story coming up are you most excited to see told?
I’m really, really excited to see what people think of Master of Mankind. This was a book where Aaron had been writing it for so long, and he’d be the first to admit it took him a long time to write this book! He and I talked about it before he started, and then he gave me a couple of updates throughout, and then he changed some of the focus of some of it and wrong-footed me on the cover artwork commission a little bit so we had to change something there because he’d changed what the story was going to be about. Then when it came in – I’ve said this to him, that I really wanted to hate that book. I really wanted to read it and go “Aaron you have turned in a dreadful book, you’ve wasted all that time, go back and never darken my door again”…
Unfortunately I think it’s the best thing he’s ever written, so I kind of hate him for that! It’s really, really good. When you read Master of Mankind you then look all the way back to Horus Rising and everything that’s ever been written about the Emperor and it’s like…’oh wow! That’s not what I thought this guy’s about…’ There are some harsh truths in there. It’s quite an emotional meat grinder when you read it – I mean it’s not like The Path of Heaven (which apparently had grown men weeping in Bugman’s when they read it) or anything like that, but it’s like when you go back to Legion by Dan Abnett and it says something along the lines of ‘I don’t think the Emperor can even be described as a man’. It’s like ‘WOAH, he’s not even human! What is he really?’ Now we’re picking that up again – does he think like the rest of us or are his motives unknown to mere mortals? It’s pretty harsh.
What’s going to be the greatest challenge, in your opinion as an editor, in closing out this series?
The one thing I’m most concerned about is making sure that the authors don’t abandon any storylines or characters, purely for time. We’ve spent more than ten years building up the Horus Heresy and all the characters in it – in fact, someone online showed me a combined Dramatis Personae for the whole series including novellas, short stories, audios and so forth. That was one HUGE document! And every single character has a part to play in the overall story. And every single character with a dangling plot thread has people waiting to find out what happens to them. I think we’d be doing the characters and the fans a disservice if we had anyone just vanish between the pages.
I know a lot of readers have joined us halfway through, or dropped in and out depending on what the latest releases are. One idea that was mentioned a year or so ago is a sort of ‘reader’s guide to the Heresy’, with sections covering each of the Legions, primarchs, major characters and events, stuff like that. Then, people can go ‘I really liked the Dark Angels plotline, I wonder if I missed anything’ and this guide would have a section, like, here’s everything on the Dark Angels. Look how dodgy the Lion was, in the middle of the story! Who were those guys stationed in the secret Alaxxes nebula base? What was the significance of the Ouroboros to Warhammer 40,000 in general? What exactly happened with the Lion Sword?
If the opportunity came up for me to be involved in that after I leave, that’d be awesome, such a great labour of love for a Heresy nerd like me! I guess we’ll have to wait and see what my successor wants to do with it all.
You recently chose your five favourite Black Library novels, but how about flipping that – which upcoming releases are you most excited about?
Within the Horus Heresy, obviously we’re heading towards the Siege of Terra and there are any number of cool story threads covering setup from the old background that we’ve known about for a long time, stuff that we’ve introduced in the course of the Horus Heresy series, and then new stuff. I’ve seen the plan – I’ve seen everything that’s coming for the Horus Heresy and in a lot of cases I’ve decided upon whole sections of it and how it’s going to be handled.
At some point soon, when all the other pieces are set and when all the Primarchs have been assigned to their tasks, the authors will then meet and decide how we’re actually going to tell these stories. We’ll work out what the roadmap of the Siege of Terra’s going to look like and we’ll have that big final meeting where Terra will be carved up and divided up, people will start to tell their stories and everything will come together at the same time. I know what a lot of that is, and it’s really exciting.
In terms of the immediate future, David Annandale’s writing a book called Ruinstorm which is the definitive end of Imperium Secundus. It’s the absolute, final, there’s no more storyline left for Imperium Secundus after that point! Then Nick Kyme is writing Old Earth, which is Vulkan’s final adventure – after his rebirth in Mount Deathfire this is him moving into position to fulfil whatever destiny it is that Eldrad Ulthran might have seen a snippet of.
We’ll have a whole bunch of new audio dramas coming, with John French working on some new stuff, and James Swallow as well who has got some fantastic ideas for audios, short stories and novels coming up.
For the Primarchs series we’ve got Gav Thorpe writing Lorgar and David Guymer writing Ferrus Manus, then we’ve also got three or four other authors who are currently either in the process of pitching their stories or we’re talking to them about which Primarchs they’d like to do. With the ones that are currently being pitched there are some fantastic ideas in there, stuff you’d never think would be part of a Primarchs storyline.
What’s next from LJ Goulding – will you keep writing for Black Library?
I’d definitely like to keep writing for BL. I’ve got the Scythes of the Emperor stuff coming out next year, including Slaughter at Giant’s Coffin as a standalone Space Marine Battles novel, Scythes of the Emperor: Daedalus, and then the Scythes of the Emperor omnibus. I’ve then got this other short story that’s coming out which I’ll leave as a surprise – I think people will enjoy it!
I’ve also got one other novel project which I’m currently working out the exact details for. It’s another one of those things where I had to wait a little while to see how things would shake out, and what cool stuff I could borrow from other things that other authors are working on. It’s been a case of just finding the exact combination of characters and events to make it the best story it can possibly be, but a lot of it is already written! I like to write stuff and then sit on it for a while and see what else I can add in.
One final question – what would surprise us about Laurie Goulding? Any hidden talents or unexpected interests?
I can recite, from memory, The Elements by the songwriter Tom Lehrer. I’ve used that ‘knowledge’ to win cash in quizzes, before.
Massive thanks to Laurie for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to me and answer these questions! If you’re anything like me you’re now itching to find out more about what’s coming up both for the Horus Heresy and the Scythes of the Emperor… watch this space for reviews of the upcoming stories as soon as they’re released!
Separately I’d like to wish Laurie all the best in his new venture, and I’m sure everyone reading this will want to do so as well. Good luck, and thanks for so many great Black Library stories!