One of my earlier Forgotten Texts articles featured the short story Tenebrae by Mark Brendan, a bleak, gripping, psychological story that’s quite unusual for Black Library. If you haven’t checked out that article, you can find it here. Mark has kindly agreed to answer some short questions about writing Tenebrae, and what he’s been up to since. Without further ado, here’s the interview…
ToW: Can you remember if you had a specific brief for Tenebrae, or did you did you have the freedom to pick your own subject?
MB: We could pick our own subject. The way it worked was, we’d write our own brief and submit it, then it would get pinged back with editorial suggestions. It would ping-pong back and forth a few times until all parties were happy with the plan, and then the writer would get on with the story.
ToW: How familiar were you with 40k and its style back then? Were you a gamer?
MB: I was a gamer, and fairly familiar with the lore. Before working on White Dwarf I was a sales assistant at a GW store.
ToW: What influences do you think you drew from when writing Tenebrae?
MB: HP Lovecraft was a big one at that stage, and I wrote rather purple prose in emulation of his style (my style is lot more straightforward these days). Lovecraft definitely for the cosmic horror elements, and I was reading a lot of Kafka at the time, so no doubt a bit of that existential dread and helplessness leaked through.
ToW: Have you had much feedback from readers on this story? It’s such an unusual, interesting story for Black Library…
MB: Not directly, as I didn’t do much more for Black Library after that. I have talked to Marc [Gascoigne] and Andy [Jones] since, and they’ve told me a lot of readers said the story had an impact on them and was one of their favourites, which honestly came as a pleasant surprise to me.
ToW: I gather this was early on in your writing career. How did you get into writing for Black Library?
MB: I had aspirations to be a novelist, and I was fortunate enough to be working in the Games Workshop studio at the time Inferno! magazine was being set up. It was relatively easy to submit and get feedback, being in the same building (though I should stress there was no preferential treatment for GW employees).
ToW: Is there any more of your work with Games Workshop that long-running fans might remember?
MB: I did do one other short story, set in the Warhammer Old World, which was meant to be the start of a franchised character. It was called The Chaos Beneath, featuring the origin story of how a student of magic became a Witch Hunter. I left Games Workshop shortly after that was published, so it never went anywhere.
ToW: Have you followed Black Library since writing this, and kept up with the 40k and Warhammer fiction being produced?
MB: I’m afraid I haven’t. Modern distractions have consumed a sizeable chunk of my reading time these days.
While I haven’t been keeping up with the fiction, it strikes me that 40k hasn’t changed significantly as a setting since my day (mid-90’s). My superficial perspective is that the addition of Tau forces is probably the biggest change to 40k since I was writing for Black Library. They seem a bit more hard sci-fi to me than the other 40k factions, which tend towards Gothic and dark. Warhammer on the other hand, huge changes with Age of Sigmar.
ToW: Do you think there’s a place in modern-day 40k for a story like this, with the emphasis so much on a single character at the heart of such a huge event?
MB: Yes, I think so. Traditionally stories, irrespective of the scale, are the tale of a single protagonist (or at most a limited ensemble who are the focus of the story). This character gives the reader an intimate perspective that allows them to relate to the larger events (or in the case of Tenebrae, hammer home the insignificance of the individual in the face of such apocalyptic destruction).
ToW: Since writing Tenebrae you’ve gone on to do a lot of work on various games. Has that been from a fiction perspective, or more games design? How has this work differed from writing for Black Library
MB: A bit of both. The tabletop stuff I’ve done since has evolved from writing background lore and adding a few special rules, stat lines and scenarios, to doing all the game design and writing on later projects. Same goes for video games. Sometimes I’ve been hired to do lore, sometimes pure game mechanics, and occasionally both.
As for how it differs from Black Library, of course there is no game design element to that. However, in terms of a process, of coming up with a brief/project plan, and then structuring a document before finally doing the work, that is remarkably consistent across all aspects of design and writing. That is true for tabletop and video games, and the screenwriting I’ve been getting into in recent years.
ToW: You’ve recently worked on a new miniatures game called Age of Tyrants, with other familiar names like Wayne England (RIP), Adrian Smith and Jake Thornton. Is that what you’re working on the most at the moment?
MB: Actually, for me Age of Tyrants has been dormant for a while, as my work finished on it some time ago, and it’s now in production, which I’m not really involved with. It will pick up again later this year though, when I’ll likely do some expansion stuff for it. Meanwhile, lots of other things going on.
Apart from Age of Tyrants, I’m doing a bit of freelancing, I’ve written a number of spec screenplays, and I wrote a novel called Son of Mars, which is available on Amazon (very different tone to Tenebrae).
Speaking of screenwriting, I’m joining a production company set-up by a film-making friend from Birmingham, focussing on dark genre material; sci-fi, fantasy and horror. It’s called Dark Matter Films, and there’s a Facebook page up: https://www.facebook.com/darkmatterfilmsuk/ with a website soon to follow. We’ll initially be producing our own stories, and he’s already got us off to a flying start with his zombie short, Still, that’s been picking up quite a few awards.
As always, big thanks to Mark for taking the time to answer a few questions about this story. If you fancy checking out what Mark’s been up to, you can follow the link to the Dark Matter Films Facebook page above, or have a look at the Age of Tyrants website at http://www.ageoftyrants.com/.