Warhammer Wednesday – An interview with Gav ThorpeNovember 7, 2018
An Interview with Gav Thorpe
By combining the dual powers of unbridled enthusiasm and asking nicely, Jess recently had the privilege of interviewing Black Library Author and Games Workshop veteran Gav Thorpe. Read on for an insight into the mind and magic of a fan favourite…
What has been the most rewarding part of building such strong foundations for the stories and games we currently enjoy through Games Workshop?
I think it is that idea of legacy. Aside from taking satisfaction from individual bits of background I created or expanded, there’s a sense of being part of this ongoing venture. These days a lot of folks coming into the hobby will only know me as a Black Library author, but when they talk about some cool piece of lore I helped develop, or build an army based on something I’ve written, it’s nice to know that those ideas are still inspiring fans the way I was inspired by what came before (and what’s still being written).
And then you get something like the Ynnari, where an idea that was almost throwaway at the time gets picked up by the writers and turned into this whole big thing! Back in the mists of time, it was things like the ‘quiescent perils of the C’tan’ mentioned in the Codex Imperialis book that inspired the team to develop a huge chunk of history and a new race; it’s gratifying to think that my words continue to do the same to for the current crop of writers and developers.
You are well known for a commitment to representing all fans. Have you faced any barriers or opposition when dusting the narrative cobwebs from the Black Library shelves?
I don’t think there’s opposition from within GW itself, but there are barriers when trying to evolve ideas that have been three decades in the making. Given a blank sheet, ideas about trans-humanism could be explored very differently, form Space Marines to the Adeptus Mechanicus to portrayal of gender and body modification in the Aeldari. There’s not so much an overt barrier to overcome, simple the same weight of legacy I mentioned in the first answer.
How do you personally approach the concept of ‘canon’ and narrative consistency in Games Workshop literature and games?
There is no canon. The closest to such a thing is the latest iteration of codexes, rule books and battle tomes. These contained established ‘facts’ about the universes and their history. Facts that are true at that moment, but possibly weren’t before or will be after. I tend towards the expansive, inclusive approach in which something remains true in the universe until explicitly contradicted or ruled out. Something referenced in a battle report piece of colour text back in White Dwarf 231? Yep, that’s true to a given value of truth even now. But there’s been so much written over that time we cannot expect anyone to be entirely consistent with every line of text ever written.
When I was writing the Legacy of Caliban series, and Christian Dunn was also working on Dark Angels, we tried to compile a list of current company commanders. That was okay. But then once we started looking into what had been said about when Azreal took over as Chapter Master, or the histories of other characters, anomalies appeared. Did we go with what was in his codex description, or Forge World’s Siege of Vraks material? In those instances it goes back to whether it’s a codex or not, and how recent was it written.
And personal preference… Everyone had an ideas of how certain things should or shouldn’t work. There’s bits of background that we gloss over because they would ruin a story, or don’t gel with our personal view. And that’s fine. Other than some current ‘facts’ the universes are defined by individual interpretation. Some of us are privileged enough that we get to write stories and books, but if we considered them definitive in any way we’d paint ourselves into a corner pretty quickly. Guy Haley’s recently written books about the Blood Angels and the Tyranids, so does that rule out anyone ever writing about or collecting Blood Angels in the Dark Imperium timeline that doesn’t adhere exactly to what he’s written? Of course not. There has to be room for players and writers and painters and modelers to create what they want, without constantly looking over their shoulders or second-guessing what might come in the future.
If nothing else, the sheet output of material these days makes the idea of anything but a loose framework of facts unmanageable – much like the Imperium itself!
Both Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar have undergone some profound changes in recent years. If you could make one significant addition to either game right now, what would it be?
I’m not really concerned with additions – that’s like the world-building thing I’ve just been talking about. I like exploring themes within the context of the universes, which comes down to creating characters and story lines that enable that.
Although, thinking about it, between my Phoenix Lords novels and where I’m going with Rise of the Ynnari, I am using the fiction to flesh out the events of the Fall and the War in Heaven. As an Eldar fan that’s immensely satisfying.
What advice would you give to upcoming writers looking to add their exciting ideas to the Warhammer 40,000 or Age of Sigmar worlds?
Concentrate on the story first. I get some folks that talk about how they want to delve into this obscure piece of background, or write about a character that they feel hasn’t got enough attention from twenty years ago. That’s cool, but that seems to me more like an exercise in world building rather than storytelling. If that’s your thing, keep an eye out for openings in the GW narrative team, not BL submissions windows!
As much as it appeals on personal level to flesh out this piece of universe for yourself, what really stands the test of time is a good story. That has to be point A and B and C, and if you can do it whilst creating your own Chapter of Space Marines, or delving into some obscure timeline reference about the Halo Star, or re-imagining the adventures of Obi-Wan Sherlock Clouseau then go for it.