Interview with author Graham McNeill

The David Gemmell Legend Award winner chats to SFX about fantasy literature, his influences and his future projects

The latest issue of SFX is on sale now ( number 199 ) and in the Red Alert news pages you can read our exclusive interview with top author Graham McNeill. The novelist, famous for his best-selling books based on the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes, recently bagged the David Gemmell Legend Award for his marvellous Empire. We didn't have space in the mag for everything he chatted with us about, so here's a bonus follow-up interview:

SFX: Were you optimistic when you walked into the Magic Circle theatre for the awards? What were your ambitions for the evening?
Graham McNeill:
"When we'd gone down there, I was trying not to get any hopes up - there's nothing worse than thinking you're going to win and then not! But I hoped we had a decent shot at it. I didn't realise all the shortlisters were all going to get a mini Snaga so when I saw the five axes on stage I thought 'at least I'm going to get a wee axe'. I was standing on stage, I got my little axe, I thought, 'That's pretty good, I can go home happy now.'"

SFX: Then you won the biggie! Are you hoping this award will resonate out and encourage people to try more of your novels?
"Hopefully. The people who vote in the Gemmells are people who are spending money on books, so I'd like to think that we'd hear from book shops and libraries that they've upped their orders for future Graham McNeill books!"

SFX: You said on stage that you're influenced by Gemmell. What is it you like about his stories?
"Amongst other things I always love the way Gemmell stories seem to end with a huge siege. The second book I wrote, Storm Of Iron, ended with a siege - it's a Warhammer 40,000 version of a Gemmell story! The whole tale is set against the siege of this enormous fortress. Ever since I read Legend and Waylander, siege warfare became an aspect of war that I studied and researched. There are so many opportunities for great drama within the mechanics of a siege, from the storming of the walls to the final onslaught. It always leads to a cracking, exciting read."

SFX: And you met David Gemmell when you were younger, right?
Graham McNeill:
"I met him at a signing in Glasgow - many years ago. I went as a fan to see him in a bookshop. I was still at university, and obviously quite nervous at meeting him. He was the very definition of a gentleman. Within two seconds he'd put me at my ease, asked me what I liked about his book, told me how he'd come to write those bits - he was just really great, spent a whole lot of time chatting. I was having a proper conversation with him and he wasn't just treating me like 'person number 55 in the queue'. He was a hero of mine in terms of writing fantasy but he was also in person a genuine guy and happy to spend time with readers."

SFX: As a New York Times bestselling author, what's your ultimate secret for winning over fantasy readers?
"If I had an ultimate secret...! Whenever I've been asked about writing advice, one of the phrases I like is 'earned instinct' - you get used to looking at text a certain way. Why did you move that paragraph there? I'm not sure but now it feels right. That's something you only get after doing it over and over again. I've been writing professionally since 2000 but writing stories since I was 10 years old, and I've read voraciously since I was able to. By reading lots I learned lots, first about the practical things like grammar, and then you get to learn what you like about style too. I'm always learning about what you can or can't do in a book, what tricks and mechanics you can use. Keep writing! Keep learning! Get opinions on your stories from people you trust to tear you a new one - as long as they say why they don't like it. Feedback is the lifeblood of writing. Get a good source of feedback and that's the best start you could ever have."

SFX: What are you working on now?
"Next you'll see the third book of the Sigmar trilogy, God King, which I finished recently and is weaving its serpentine way through editorial to come out later this year. Next year you'll see more Horus Heresy from me. I've got a dozen other projects in my head too, including some original fiction - I've written the first third of a book about the first emperor of China. The Ultramarines are on gardening leave at the moment, I'll get back to them in a couple of years! But in the meantime I've got an audio drama that fits into the chronology of their story arc. I normally try to write three novels a year, alongside two or three short stories and comics."

Visit the official website of the Gemmell Awards here . Graham McNeill maintains a site here . There's more information about him at the Black Library website here . Let us know if you're a fan of his Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 novels in the comment thread below.

Dave Bradley

Dave was once the Group Editor-in-Chief for Future's film group, but now he's the COO of Pocket Gamer and Pocket Gamer Biz. He also freelances for SFX Magazine and hosts the Robby The Robot's Waiting podcast with a couple of friends.