For an earlier Forgotten Texts article I looked at the short story The Dead Among Us by James Wallis, an old-school Warhammer story set in the city of Middenheim, which might be familiar to fans of the classic Warhammer book Hammers of Ulric. If you haven’t checked out that article, you can find it here. James has generously agreed to answer a few questions about writing this story, and his thoughts on the Warhammer setting today. Without further ado, let’s go straight onto the interview…
ToW: Did you write The Dead Among Us as a standalone story, with the freedom to pick your own subject, or was the idea always to contribute towards Hammers of Ulric with Dan and Nik?
JW: The Dead Among Us was written as a standalone story for Inferno! magazine, as was its follow-up, the title of which I can’t remember [The Bretonnian Connection, from Inferno! issue 13] and which I don’t seem to have in digital form any more, and Dan Abnett’s original Hammers stories.
It was only much later that Marc Gascoigne, who was editing Inferno! and a lot of the Black Library’s output, suggested that since the stories were all set in Middenheim, they could be compiled into a single novel-length book, which became Hammers of Ulric. Dan, Nik and I had a couple of meetings about it but my life turned out to be horribly busy for the next few months and I wasn’t able to contribute anything new to the book.
ToW: What prompted you to choose a priest of Morr as your protagonist? Did you have a particular influence in mind, or was it just a cool idea?
JW: My main influence was a series of modern London noir novels known as the Factory series, by the writer Derek Raymond. They are clever, brilliantly written and fantastically bleak, and it occurred to me that there was a match to the Warhammer world. At the time I was running Hogshead Publishing, we’d been printing the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game-line for almost four years, and I’d been spending so much time running the company that I hadn’t written nearly as much game-material as I’d intended to…so I went off and wrote some short fiction instead. Go figure.
I’ve always been interested in the old religions in the Warhammer Old World. It feels like the worship of Sigmar is supplanting them and integrating some of their rituals and facets, just as Christianity did with many of the European mythologies. There aren’t any police as such in the Warhammer world, but I figured that a priest of Morr would be the equivalent of a morose detective who got all the worst, unsolvable cases.
ToW: Presumably you were pretty familiar with the Warhammer world as a result of working on the Roleplaying line; how well developed did the background feel at that time? Did you have lots of creative freedom, or was a lot of the detail already built up already?
JW: The roleplay background was always a lot more developed than the battle game. That’s the nature of RPGs, their sourcebooks are much more detail-oriented, and one of the books we republished was the fantastic Middenheim: City of the White Wolf by Phil Gallagher, so I had street plans and bios of the major figures in the city, and an overview of its political scene and underworld, and all the rest of it. The fiction side of things was in its infancy – there were the original novels and anthologies that Games Workshop had published, but there were questions about whether they were canon or not.
I remember Marc had some comments about the story, some edits he suggested, but none of them were about details of the background. I was free to create new stuff as long as it felt in tune with the background and didn’t contradict anything pre-existing.
ToW: Did you have much contact at the time with other early Black Library authors like Chris Pramas and Jonathan Green?
JW: I knew both Chris and Jonathan. Chris wrote for one of our early books, and I saw him at big American games conventions where we were part of the same group of friends – and still are. Jonathan Green used to share a house with Marc Gascoigne, and was one of the authors who worked on a series of Sonic the Hedgehog gamebooks for Puffin Books that I started in the early 1990s. I still see Jonathan as well, and I had a story in his anthology Game Over in 2015.
ToW: Do you get much feedback from fans on stories from this era, whether short stories or your Marks of Chaos novels?
JW: Very little feedback. This was the late 90s, the internet was in its infancy. I don’t remember getting any response about these stories, apart from one other Black Library author who told me that he’d enjoyed the way I structured the climax of the first one. But the fact that Marc wanted us to build a novel on them gave me a pretty good idea that they’d been well received.
I actually get more fan-mail about my Marks of Chaos novels these days than I ever did when they first came out. That still means about one email a year, but when someone contacts you to say how much a fifteen-year-old book means to them, it really means something.
ToW: Have you followed Black Library since writing these stories, and kept up with the Warhammer fiction being produced? If so, how do you feel settings like Warhammer have changed since you wrote these stories?
JW: I’ve not followed the Warhammer world since the destruction of the Old World. It was a gutsy thing to do, I understand GW’s reasons for doing it and I think they’ve made a success of the transition and the new background. But I liked the Old World a lot. I had a lot of history there, and I’m kind of sad it’s gone.
ToW: Would you consider returning to the Warhammer world and writing more stories for Black Library in future?
JW: No, I’ve moved on. My Marks of Chaos books were supposed to be a quartet – well, the first one was a standalone and then Games Workshop convinced me to write three more, but the production of the second book was not a happy process, not a good relationship with my editor, and I decided to end my relationship with Black Library at that point. I think it’s still a great place for new writers to break into book-length fiction and build a reputation and a following, but personally I’m working on other things now.
As always, massive thanks to James for taking the time to answer these questions. For more information on what James is up to these days, you can have a look at his website at http://www.jameswallis.com where you can see the remarkably wide range of work that he’s involved in.