Welcome to this instalment of Rapid Fire, my ongoing series of quick interviews with Black Library authors talking about their releases. These are short and sweet interviews, with the idea being that each author will answer (more or less) the same questions – by the end of each interview I hope you will have a good idea of what the new book (or audio drama) is about, what inspired it and why you might want to read it.
In this instalment I spoke to Chris Dows about his new audio drama Renegades of Elysia, the second instalment in a series after Scions of Elysia, which is available to buy now.
Without further ado let’s crack on with the interview – over to Chris.
Track of Words: What’s the elevator pitch summary for Renegades of Elysia?
Chris Dows: Following the alleged murder of a high-ranking Elysian officer by Sergeant Zachariah, the Commissariat continue their questioning – but the Whiteshield under scrutiny is not all he seems…
ToW: Without spoiling anything, who are the main characters and what do we need to know about them?
CD: There’s three main characters in this part of the story – Commissar Mastroval, who started his investigation into the accused Sergeant Zachariah (and second main character in this story) by grilling his old comrade Veteran Adullam in Scions of Elysia. The third character is a Whiteshield rookie drop trooper, Pilyar Uldek, who Adullam and Zachariah took under their wing – but the harder the young man tries to deny the allegations against his sarge, the worse it seems to get.
ToW: Where and when is it set?
CD: It is set on the Elysian homeworld (specifically a drop trooper training ground) and on the nearby moons of the pirate House Lysimachus. It’s set somewhere around the fall of Cadia.ToW: Is there anything that you’d recommend readers check out before reading this?
CD: To make any sense of it, you’ll need to listen to the first part of this three part audio drama – Scions of Elysia. There is a third and final part currently in production and due for release early in the new year.
ToW: Why this story? What made you want to write this in particular?
CD: Very early on in my Black Library career, I talked with Nick Kyme and then editor Laurie Goulding about the Elysians. There was a plan to push the figures and bring some new ones out (which I’m unsure actually happened) and I was invited to write two book-ended short stories, The Mouth of Chaos and Monolith, which introduced top Elysian sniper Sergeant Zachariah and his special weapons squad (only demolitions expert Adullam survived).
Even then, there’s more than a subtle hint at Zachariah being conflicted about Elysia – something which is crucial to the three part arc across the audio dramas. On top of all this, who wouldn’t want to write about space paratroopers? They’re too cool for words!
ToW: The Elysians haven’t had a lot of coverage from Black Library – what made you choose them as a regiment to tackle?
CD: Initially it was a request to feature them in a short story as detailed above. That aside, I think I would have chosen them anyway – what scant information existed alluded to Elysian pirates, which always fascinated me as a potential exploitable plotline (in fact it was Nick who, over a pint, suggested ‘Chaos pirates!’) The special weapons squads are particularly interesting because of the variety of weapons – and there’s something about a lightly armoured, fast-moving human squad that appeals enormously. If they get into trouble, they’ve only got their skill, wits and guts to get out of it.
ToW: What were your main influences when writing it? Did you draw upon any real-life experience to help you plan or write it?
CD: Early discussions of the trilogy between Laurie and I focussed on a Full Metal Jacket-type approach mixed with the ‘Currahee’ episode of Band of Brothers. I really wanted to look into how a drop trooper earned his wings – which forms one of the main set pieces in Renegades…
More than that however, I was encouraged to world-build; there was, as you know, very little Elysian backstory so I took influences from Frank Herbert for the political and social structure, forming ‘Houses’ that have been vying for power over millennia. Of course when Elysia itself is threatened, all come together to join forces – or do they?
As for real-life experience, I interviewed an ex-paratrooper friend of mine for an hour and a half, taking copious and careful notes on everything from mid-air rescues to tactical movements on the ground. I like to think there’s a feeling of authenticity to the way I write the Elysians – after all, it’s going to feel the same dropping out of a Valkyrie as it is a Hercules!
ToW: How does the final product compare to your original concept? Has anything changed much from your first ideas?
CD: Considering I had three editors over just under a year’s writing and redrafting, it’s surprisingly intact. One thing I’ll say about Black Library editors is they are entirely focussed on making the story the best it can be – so while there can be a bit of debate and discussion, it’s always for the betterment of the story.
There were a few changes to dialogue and a bit of restructuring, but no interference with the characters or what they did – I am very, very happy with the way it worked out and hope all three, when listened back-to-back, stand up as a solid, single narrative. Renegades… did have the ending beefed up, but this was more to do with the balance of the last act than anything – so, again, I’m very happy with how it turned out.
ToW: How does this story compare to the rest of your work? Is it a familiar style, or a departure?
CD: Renegades… is only the second audio drama I’ve had released, but I’m now working on my fifth. As far as script-based narrative is concerned, I was a comic book writer for fifteen years so working with scripts isn’t new to me. Do I enjoy it more than prose? Not necessarily. Is it easier than prose? No. It’s just different, but it’s surprising how close writing graphic novels and comic books is to writing audio dramas – the range of tools you have to tell your story is equally wide, and as I’m a huge audiophile I love thinking in sound to make a picture.
ToW: Do you have plans to continue any aspects of this story, or is it a standalone piece?
CD: The whole story arc resolves itself in the final part, to be released early in the new year. Does Zachariah live? Is he executed by the Commissariat as a murderer? You’ll have to listen to it to find out!
Big thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer these questions. You can find my review of Renegades of Elysia right here! If you fancy taking a look at some other Rapid Fire interviews, just click here.