Black Library Weekender 2017 – Roundup

It’s been three years since the last one, but the weekend of the 18th/19th November 2017 saw the triumphant return of the Black Library Weekender. I’m sure there will have already been plenty of write-ups after the event, but I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the highlights from my perspective. I say ‘quick look’, but if I know anything I know my tendency to ramble…so apologies in advance for when this turns into something ridiculously long. That being said, I’m going to try and keep it to highlights, rather than a blow by blow recreation of the weekend!

Seminars

One of the main reasons to attend an event like a Weekender is to sit in on the seminars and listen to authors, editors, artists and (for the first time, this year) actors talk about their work. There are usually some tough decisions around which seminars to attend, but this year it was particularly hard – a couple of times there were three seminars taking place at the same time that I’d have loved to have sat in on, so I’m sure I missed some great sessions by virtue of not being able to be in three places at once! To be fair, that’s a good problem to have.

I wasn’t taking notes in the seminars that I attended so I won’t bore you with detailed descriptions, instead I’m going to talk a bit about the seminars by grouping them into a few loose areas.

Inquisitors and Holy Terra

There were three seminars across the weekend which focused on the Inquisition, covering The Horusian Wars with John French, The Vaults of Terra with Chris Wraight, and the new Eisenhorn book with Dan Abnett. The first two seminars were the sort where anyone who hasn’t read the relevant books will have gone away fired up about reading them, while those who have read them will have enjoyed the extra context.

Any seminar with John French is going to be interesting, but spending an hour listening to him talk about the Inquisition was a total joy! There were some great questions about inquisitors and their role in the Imperium, and this only got me more fired up than I already was for book two in the series – Incarnation.

Chris Wraight was joined by Dan Abnett for the seminar on The Vaults of Terra, for a wide-ranging discussion on Terra itself. I’m a big fan of ‘in conversation with’-style seminars, so I particularly enjoyed this one, with the two authors asking each other questions as much as anything else. Clearly Terra provides both a challenge and a boon to authors, based on the discussion here – and we’re going to be seeing more of its Heresy-era version soon!

The third of the Inquisition seminars focused on Dan Abnett’s new Eisenhorn book – The Magos. This one was filmed by Warhammer TV, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some or all of it show up online in the run up to the book’s release. Suffice to say the original plan was apparently for Dan to write a new short story to be included in a collection of the existing Eisenhorn shorts, however he was having so much fun writing it he just kept on going…and accidentally wrote a novel. Great news for everyone, I’d say! The end result is a brand new novel, collected along with all of the short stories into one huge volume that’s due out in February 2018.

Audio seminars

I went to two seminars focusing on audiobooks and audio dramas, one with actor Toby Longworth (the voice of Garro, among MANY other characters) and one with authors Gav Thorpe, John French and James Swallow. Both were compéred by Audio Producer Matt Renshaw, and involved some fascinating discussions around acting in, and writing for, audios, along with snippets of various audio dramas.

Hearing Toby Longworth explain the process of arriving at different characters’ voices was incredibly interesting, not to mention frequently hilarious. If you ever get the chance to listen to Toby talk in person I’d wholeheartedly recommend it! Here he talked about the preparation he does for a role, the inspiration he draws from for voices, the way a day of recording tends to be laid out…loads of really cool stuff. Hearing him switch instantly into the Garro voice, or the Judge Dredd voice, was brilliant!

The second audio seminar was with three of the authors, talking about the challenges and benefits of writing for audio. It was very sparsely attended, which on the one hand was a shame because there was loads of good stuff to talk about, but on the other hand meant that it felt like a very informal, intimate session. James Swallow has been one of the key proponents of audio for Black Library so it was great to listen to him talk about the choices he makes when writing for audio, but likewise Gav and John who have both written some brilliant audio dramas. These sort of sessions are often a real highlight, as they provide a direct line into the thought processes of these talented authors – very interesting indeed.

The Horus Heresy

It wouldn’t be a Black Library event without the Horus Heresy, and I made it to two seminars on the topic – ‘The Road to Terra’, which you can probably guess what that was about, and a session with Guy Haley discussing his next Heresy novel. Lots of interesting stuff came out of both of those, in terms of the wider series and the specifics of Guy’s novel…

The first session saw Nick Kyme leading the seminar, with Dan Abnett, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, John French and Chris Wraight discussing their work which has contributed to the run-up to Terra, as well as a bit about what’s to come. This seminar was very well attended, and I’ve seen other comments about it online so you might well already know some or all of this, but here are a few quick highlights of what was discussed:

  • John French is writing Slaves to Darkness, which is set post-Beta Garmon and will include pretty much all of the traitor primarchs expect Curze. It looks like this is going to start looking at the implications of Chaos for the traitors, which should be fun! Great title, too.
  • Someone asked if we’re going to see Belisarius Cawl in the Heresy, and the answer was…”yes!”
  • The Siege of Terra will “probably be a bit more than” three books, and will be covered in novels and novellas. Originally the idea had been to finish with a trilogy in the way that the series started, but clearly that’s no longer the preferred option.
  • In the last Heresy meeting the authors and editors came up with a ‘kill list’ to keep track of everyone who died. That’s dark.
  • Josh Reynolds has written a second Blackshields audio drama, called Blackshields: Red Fief.

Guy’s seminar was specifically about his next Heresy novel, Wolfsbane, which is subtitled ‘The wyrd spear cast’. It’s set after The Path of Heaven and Ruinstorm, and sees Russ trying to work out how he can take the fight to Horus. Guy demonstrated his class by not just talking and answering questions about the book, but giving a reading of the opening chapter in which we see the first meeting between Horus and Russ. He even did the voices, and his depiction of Russ had the audience in howls of laughter! I’ve got a very good feeling about this book…

Gaunt’s Ghosts

I want to make just a quick mention of The Warmaster, book fourteen in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. It’s been a long time coming, a fact which Dan tackled head on in his seminar, but fans will be pleased to know that he’s already working on book fifteen, Anarch. He also talked about how keen his is to finally write Interceptor City, the sequel to the excellent Double Eagle, which is great news for anyone looking for a bit more Sabbat Worlds action. Likewise Matt Farrer’s novel Urdesh, which will (when it’s finished) tie in nicely with both The Warmaster and Anarch to show some of the bigger picture of what’s happening on Urdesh while the Ghosts are there. Lots to look forward to!

***

If I could have cloned myself and gone to all of the seminars over the weekend, I absolutely would. I agonised over which ones to attend, and was really hoping that I could make it to one of the Age of Sigmar sessions in particular, but in the end I was really impressed with all of the sessions I went to. Great stuff, Black Library!

I’ve not included anything here about the new titles revealed in the Coming Soon seminar – I’ve done a separate post about that, which you can check out here.

Organisation

In any seminar, the actual content of the session is only ever as good as the organisation and structure, which means you need a good compére. In previous years the standard has been…variable, shall we say. Not so this year – in all of the seminars I attended, the compéres were organised, well prepared and did an excellent job of keeping the seminars focused and on track. Questions from the audience are a big part of seminars, but I find they tend to work best as part of the process, and in all of the seminars I attended it was clear just how much thought and preparation had gone into the structure and the questions that the compéres used to get things going. Big thanks to Matt, Nick and Hannah for doing such a great job!

That wasn’t the only area where the impressive organisation was visible, either. I thought it was telling that, when checking into the hotel about lunchtime on Friday, the chap behind the desk commented on the event saying something like “we’re really on it this year”. That showed through across the whole weekend, in my opinion, from the decision to open registration early once a queue started, to the efficiency with which the sales stand was run. There are always queues to buy things at this sort of event, but here they were managed well and went down very quickly – impressive.

I gather that, unlike previous Black Library events, the whole thing was organised and run by Black Library staff, and not the Games Workshop Events team. Without wanting to disparage the Events team, I’m very pleased that Black Library took this on – there were loads of staff on hand throughout the event, and every one of them that I spoke to was lovely, and really passionate about the books. To have the opportunity to chat directly with editorial staff from Black Library was particularly good – I really enjoyed chatting with Kate about the upcoming Space Marine Conquests series, for example, or Hannah about the perils of taking the red pen to non-work books.

The opening speech from Neil, who if I remember right introduced himself as the Black Library Manager, set the tone for the whole event really well, and that was carried on by all of the team. Huge credit should go to everyone involved for putting on such a great event, although most of the Black Library staff I spoke to credited Caroline as the brains behind the event – good work Caroline! I’ve been to maybe six or seven Weekenders now (Black Library and Horus Heresy), and I feel comfortable saying that this felt the best-organised of the lot.

Entertainment and sales

It’s not just seminars that make these events worth attending – there’s usually some form of evening entertainment (of variable quality), which is cool, as well as the chance to pick up a bunch of exciting new releases to feel smug about. This year I’m happy to report both elements were present and correct, and an excellent time was had by all…especially Guy Haley. More on that in a moment.

In terms of cool stuff to buy, there were SO MANY books, audios, art prints and other bits of merchandise, it was dangerous for the wallets of all present. I was delighted to see that Dan Abnett’s The Warmaster was available in both standard and LE formats, especially as the Black Library website hadn’t listed the standard edition as due to be available, and it was also a pleasant surprise to see the entire range of Print on Demand Necromunda titles available to buy. Here are a couple of pictures to demonstrate the level of temptation on offer, and then another one to show what I succumbed to in the end…

As for the evening entertainment…well. In previous years it’s tended to be a fairly standard style of quiz, where everyone around a table forms a team and many silly names are chosen and plasticine gets broken out so of course everyone reverts to being a teenager and creates bizarre phallic monster sculptures. So far, so standard. This year was different. And much better. First off there was an audience participation audio drama, which involved members of the audience auditioning to join Toby Longworth and Matt Renshaw on the stage to perform Lukas the Trickster: A Matter of Etiquette by Josh Reynolds.

Suffice to say hilarity ensued, with the highlights being Matt Renshaw’s audience instruction cards, including one with STOMP STOMP STOMP written on it which saw everyone shouting out loud instead of stamping our feet (we’re a literal bunch), and Guy Haley’s legendary performance as an ork warboss. He might not look much like an ork, but looks can be deceiving – the microphone kept shutting off, Guy was shouting so loud! It was all helped along by a typically witty Reynolds script and Toby’s truly excellent acting as Lukas.

To follow on from that audio extravaganza, instead of the usual style of quiz we instead had two teams of authors – Team Throne and Team Horus – pitted against each other and the audience while Nick Kyme took the role of quizmaster. Quizzes can often go on for far too long, so it was refreshing to see this rattle along at a rapid pace, even if not all of the authors were entirely delighted about being sat on stage having to shout out “for the Throne” or “death to the false Emperor” in order to answer a question.

I may of course be ever so slightly biased about how much fun the quiz was, considering my success in the picture round. For this round there were ten pictures, each one a small snippet of a Black Library book cover, and whoever was quickest to figure out the book got the points. By this time I was perhaps getting swept up in the enjoyment of it all. Maybe. Let’s just say I’ve clearly spent WAY too much time looking at cover art recently…because I think got maybe seven out of the ten answers on my own, calling them out before anyone else, prompting Aaron Dembski-Bowden to shout out “where are you from?! in bewilderment. Oops.

Next time I think what would make it really tricky would be to put the pictures up in black and white! That, or I’ll keep my mouth shut.

People

Putting aside seminars, purchases, entertainment and so on…what makes an event really successful often comes down to the people in attendance. The staff, the guests (in this case authors, artists, actors) and the attendees. I could talk for ages about the people I met over the course of the weekend, but that would probably just be boring, so let’s keep it simple. It’s always a pleasure to meet people at Black Library events, because everyone’s a fan – not just the attendees, but the authors and the staff as well. This year, probably more than any before, I met some really great people and really felt like part of the community.

A big part of that was down to this website, actually. It was really humbling to have so many people recognise me as being from Track of Words, and speak to me about the site. To everyone who made a point of coming up and saying hi, who recognised me (somehow) or who realised who I was because I was wittering on about Track of Words – thank you so, so much. It means an awful lot to hear even one person say that they enjoy this site, but to hear so many of you saying that – it was pretty amazing.

Likewise to all the authors who I chatted to – including but not limited to Jim Swallow for listening to me chatter about the Rubicon series, Justin Hill for a brilliant conversation about Cadia, and Chris Wraight for genuinely being the nicest man in any room – thanks for spending time with all of us fans. Similarly the Black Library staff, who I’ve already mentioned loads – you guys are all brilliant. Special thanks to Matt Renshaw for chatting audio engineering with me, and reliving my SSR days!

If you haven’t yet been to a Black Library event, I honestly can’t recommend it enough. Next time there’s an event, especially a Weekender, come along – chat to people next to you in queues or in seminars, share inspiration and ideas for stories and artwork, stick around chatting for ages in the bar at the end of the night. You’ll meet some great people – like Scottish Stu, who I met at a previous Weekender three or four years ago, and I’m already looking forward to catching up with at the next one!

***

So. I told you I’d end up rambling on. If you’ve got this far, thank you and apologies in equal measure! I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention a load of things that I wanted to say, but I’ve talked enough really. It’s just left to reiterate how much of a great event this was, and how grateful I am to the immense efforts put in by all of the team involved. If I’ve missed your name off the list it’s hopefully because I didn’t catch it, but you’re all heroes in my book!

In case you needed any more enthusiasm from me, take a look at this Warhammer TV video where you can see me rambling on about how much fun I was having, alongside loads of other much cooler guests and attendees – I’m the one at the start and end in the red sweater!

I’m now eagerly looking forward to Black Library Live! 2018 and the Black Library Weekender 2018 – I’ll hopefully see you there!

4 comments

    1. No worries 🙂 Yeah in essence that’s it – so you don’t get quite such a social vibe to it, but you get a similar mixture of seminars, signings (which I tend not to go to), stuff to buy, etc. It’s also at Warhammer World, so you can take a look around the awesome exhibition hall, and have a drink in Bugman’s Bar. If I remember right, the tickets are also usually about £15, instead of £75!

  1. Good synopsis of the weekend, I was there and truly had a great weekend speaking to people from all places, and of course the authors themselves. Spent way too much! I turned up on a motorbike from Wales, but to speak to some wonderful people who had travelled from Sweden, Germany and Poland was really great. Just a great weekend with brilliant people, well organised and good fun. Looking forward to the next one.

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