Denny Flowers’ Novel ‘Outgunned’ is being released in Paperback this month. Preorder from 6 May. Our UK contributor Dan Payne had the opportunity to interview Denny and talk about his work as a Black Library Author - including ‘Outgunned‘.
For more than twenty years Black Library has produced works of fiction set in our favourite Games Workshop games settings.
This has allowed us to explore these fantastic worlds beyond the battlefields and discover a plethora of different characters, from noble heroes to vile villains and those somewhere in between.
While some of us might be casual readers of Black Library fiction, for others it is a die-hard passion and has inspired many a gamer/hobbyist to build, paint, and play games with an army inspired by their favourite Warhammer novel.
It is thanks in large part to the talented Black Library Authors, that we the readers, are able to be transported to these worlds of our much-loved tabletop war games. One such author is Denny Flowers (Fire Made Flesh, Outgunned, Da Gobbos Demise) who I recently caught up with to talk about working with Black Library and his writing process.
How long have you been a fiction writer and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?
I’ve enjoyed writing fiction for as long as I can remember. Creative writing was always my favourite subject in School. But I drifted away from it in early adulthood, and only started up again when I was commuting to work. I wrote a couple of long weird novels during those train rides. They weren’t good, though there were a few good scenes, the process of trying to make them good taught me a hell of a lot, as did my failed attempts to get them published. But writing remained a hobby, and when I stopped commuting, I gradually spent less time on the craft, particularly after my wife Beth and I decided to have a child.
When Black Library began its open submissions rounds, I decided to try writing again. I was unsuccessful on my first attempt (2017 I think? Or 2016? Whenever they had the submission window). But I tried again in 2018, submitting a couple of synopses. The submission editor liked my writing and took a shot on me.
I wrote my first few shorts and a novella whilst I was in full-time employment. Then I got asked to write a novel coinciding with my department being restructured, and Beth wanting to go back to full-time employment. So, I took redundancy, became the primary carer for our son, and began writing as my solo job. I’m coming up to the fifth anniversary of that first short, but I still have imposter syndrome and struggle to think of myself as having a ‘career’ as an author. Most of my time is spent being a father and househusband.
What's your experience with the tabletop gaming and miniature painting hobby and does it influence your work when writing for Black Library?
My introduction to miniature gaming was Heroquest, I was already a fan of the Sword and Sorcery genre, and something in the game just clicked with me. From there I started Warhammer Fantasy (back when the core set had cardboard cut-outs to represent some of the monsters and artillery), as well as Necromunda, Blood Bowl, and a few other games. But I mainly stuck with Warhammer Fantasy until around the game's seventh edition, at which point I drifted away from the hobby for a few years. I came back in during my late twenties and ended up playing 40K almost exclusively for years (5th edition was my personal favourite… excluding Chimera spam for Imperial Guard).
I don’t get much time for playing currently, having managed about two games this year! But I still paint and pretty much always have done. I really enjoy painting and converting, and it’s nice to have a creative outlet that you can undertake whilst listening to a podcast or having an old TV show playing in the background. My painting style is pretty messy; I lack depth perception and don’t have great eyesight (hence the weird glasses), but I can produce some pretty good results given these limitations. The only thing I hate painting is elves; I have a Blood Bowl Elf Union team which I bought in 2020 and still isn’t finished…
The relationship between gaming and writing is an odd one. Units, races and weapons have to be lore accurate, but I don’t think about game mechanics or rules when writing, as most of the games I play would not make satisfying stories. A charge may fall short by one inch, or my Archon may fail his first Shadowfield save and get clubbed to death by a bunch of grots if that is the dice gods’ will. But such events would not feel satisfying (unless it was a comedy I suppose). On the flip side, a sniper taking out a battle tank with a single shot is pretty much impossible on the tabletop, but it is quite possible in the confines of a story providing it is given the right setup. The author can establish the skill of the sniper and the preparation they have undertaken, and provide a believable set of circumstances that justify the kill (perhaps they take out a bridge, or fire through a viewport and detonate the ammo store). IMO, writing for the Black Library is more about setting the right tone and making the story feel part of the setting, rather than trying to mirror the game too closely.
Da Gobbos Demise Cover Art, Source: Black Library Publications
What's the process of writing a novel for a publisher like Black Library? Can you talk us through it from the initial concept to publication?
It varies depending on the subject. For Outgunned, my editor initially approached asking if I wanted to write an Aeronautica Imperialis novel. He gave me an idea of the tone they wanted for the book, and whilst I completed a couple of other projects the idea rattled around in the back of my brain. I then wrote a character profile for Commander Lucille von Shard, the protagonist of the novel, and once my editor was happy with that I wrote a few potential story ideas, each about a paragraph long. The editorial team reviewed these and selected their favourite, providing feedback and notes. From that, I drafted a couple of synopses of varying lengths, and once these were reviewed and approved I was given the green light to start writing it in January 2021.
Writing the first draft takes about six months. It’s pretty hard going, but significantly easier if you have a solid outline. Once the first draft is completed it goes to the editor for review; that can take a while depending on their current workload. For Outgunned, the feedback was straightforward and involved a few tweaks and a little shift in tone. There were mercifully no structural issues to address; those are much more challenging to implement! The second draft probably took a month or so. Then it goes back to Black Library for various proofreads and revisions. I get one final look at the text just before it goes to publication and can make some minor changes or fix any outstanding issues that came up during the proofing.
Outgunned was published in the summer of 2022, so I guess there was about two years between ‘Hey, how would you feel about writing a satirical story with planes and stuff?’ to copies being available to purchase.
With your novels Fire Made Flesh and Outgunned, both are set in the world of the 41st Millennium, but in different settings. How did you approach both novels? Were there similarities between the two or did each novel require a different method?
Fire Made Flesh was an exciting but challenging novel for several reasons. I’d already written several Necromunda shorts and really wanted the novel to tie into them all, even if just with cameos and Easter Eggs. However, this was quite restrictive as I had to conform to what I had already laid out. Added to that, soon after I began work on the novel the Covid pandemic took over the world. I got sick, my son got sick, and Beth got very sick and took several months to fully recover. None of that was very pleasant, but ultimately it probably benefited the story. Fire Made Flesh is a dark, oppressive tale. The characters are isolated and trapped deep underground, slowly being driven insane as what passes for Necromunda society collapses around them. Thematically, it felt depressingly on point for a while there.
In contrast, Outgunned was a fresh canvas with no history. I decided I wanted to approach it differently (I like trying new things). As the previous novel was cramped and claustrophobic I decided to set Outgunned on a swamp planet. As Fire Made flesh employed multiple POVs, I chose to write Outgunned from a first-person perspective. I didn’t want to have it from the POV of the main character, as I think a little distance makes the protagonist more mysterious and compelling. So, I needed a Dr Watson equivalent to recount the adventures of my Holmes. Rather than having someone who deferred to the protagonist I chose a narrator who would generate conflict. This led to the introduction of a Propagandist commissioned to produce a cinematic pict starring Shard.
Something about this idea just clicked for me, and once I had it Outgunned became a much smoother undertaking. I think the Aeronautica Imperialis lends itself well to this, as there is always a sense of Aces being elevated to almost mythical heroes in the manner of The Red Baron (or perhaps Commander Lord Flashheart). They are almost like medieval knights, and the seeming glamour of their position contrasts nicely with the impersonal yet brutal nature of air combat. It’s a juxtaposition I hope to come back to one day, assuming the readers enjoy the story enough!
Outgunned Cover Art, Source: Black Library Publications
You have written both short stories and full novels for Black Library, is there a format that you prefer? If so why?
Short stories provide (almost) immediate gratification. They can be completed in a few weeks and, in the case of e-shorts, published a couple of months after that. As an author, I get to really focus on each sentence (or even word) and polish it to the best of my ability. It’s never perfect of course, but the goal of perfection seems much closer with shorts. It’s a bit like the difference between painting a single character model and working on a horde of goblins. In the latter case, you simply cannot dedicate the same amount of time to getting the eyes right.
Shorts also allow you to dip into something that might not work in a longer piece. One of my earliest shorts was for the Direchasm anthology and featured a Skaven warband struggling with the curse of resurrective immortality. Conceptually, I don’t think the idea could sustain a full novel (unless the Skaven learnt from their experience and gained wisdom, which somewhat goes against their base nature). But it made for a very enjoyable short exploring their psyche and how such adversarial (and cannibalistic) creatures would cope with a cycle of death and rebirth. Loyalty is a rare Skaven commodity, and it gets rarer still when the followers you ate yesterday are expected to fight for you today.
Writing a novel is a more daunting prospect and a much greater investment of time and energy. When I write a novel it sits inside my head for the duration of the first draft; I end up struggling to engage with people outside my family because my thoughts are partly in the novel. It's hard early on, because you need to keep cranking out the words, and they are usually not great words because the focus of the first draft is getting a structure in place (otherwise you may end up polishing a section only to subsequently delete it because it no longer fits the story). But, like finishing an army, completing a novel is immensely satisfying and provides a real sense of achievement. Novels allow for greater development of characters and exploration of ideas, there’s more room to play with themes and background subplots. They feel far more personal. Ultimately, I suppose the variety is nice; back-to-back novel writing would probably burn me out, but I think I’d get frustrated if I only wrote shorts. It’s nice to do a mix.
As an author, what level of creative input do you have to create a work of fiction that fits in with the established settings of the Games Workshop games and stays on course with Black Library's direction?
For Outgunned, I was given free rein to develop Planet Bacchus, Subsector Yossarian, a varied cast of characters, and even an unpleasant fungal infection. However, the catch is all of the above fitted neatly into the 40K universe. If I’d proposed a cowardly Space Marine who lives for the 40K equivalent of techno music, then I suspect my editor would have had some reservations. So, I would say there is freedom provided the work sits comfortably within the setting. It probably helps that my tales also tend to sit at the weirder end of the 40K universe, where characters like Ciaphas Cain reside. I suspect if I was writing one of the Dark Imperium novels or something for the Horus Hersey there would be greater oversight to ensure it fits with the planned narrative moving forward. That’s an assumption mind, and not based on first-hand knowledge, but it’s what I would do if I was an editor!
Restrictions tend to be more about what else is coming out, or how a story might fit into a wider narrative. I’ve proposed a couple of stories that have been rejected or revised because they were too similar to another author’s upcoming work. It’s very annoying but completely understandable; as rejections go, someone telling you the idea is so good it’s already being worked on is better than the idea simply not being very good. There are also occasional moments where my editor pulls me back if it’s gotten too dark or graphic, or nudges me back when I’ve wandered a little off course.
What challenges/obstacles do you face during the writing process? How do you deal with these?
The easiest part of writing is having an idea and playing around with it in your head. At that stage, scenes are little more than imagining an amazing reveal, where the protagonist finds their greatest ally has been working against them all along. Great! Then you have to actually write it, and suddenly that twist has to be embedded through the plot in order for the scene to work. And that’s hard! Again, to overlabour the army painting comparison, it’s like deciding to create a new Space Marine Chapter and playing around with colour schemes. That bit is great, but by the time you are assembling your thirty-fifth marine the whole thing starts to feel a little more of a chore.
The actual writing is the hard bit. Because quite often you don’t want to, especially if it’s not going well, or you slept badly, or a thousand other reasons. Anyone who exercises regularly knows the feeling. There are days when you cannot wait to start that run or get to the gym. But more often than not you’d probably prefer to stay in and watch TV. The key is just doing it, whether you want to or not. Because even if you go to the gym and have a fairly substandard workout, this is still a million times better than not going to the gym. Like a lot of things, writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration. You have to keep going!
Having said that, sometimes you can run into a brick wall. Usually, if a scene is a real slog it’s because it shouldn’t be there, or something earlier in the narrative is wrong. I think these are the points where it's easiest to get demoralised and unstuck, or start unpicking earlier scenes. When this happens, I tend to leave a note and move forward to a section I know is going to work. Once I have that and I know where I’m going the earlier problematic scene becomes easier because I have a destination in mind. Or if I’m really braindead I go back and revise an earlier section, or revise my plan. As long as I am doing something that keeps me involved in the story then I can keep working on it.
Da Gobbo's Demise is your latest book to come out with Black Library, what was it like writing a novel that follows on from Mike Brooks' Da Gobbo's Revenge? What's it like to write from a non-human perspective?
Daunting! Taking on someone else's character is not something I find easy as I’m terrified of doing them a disservice. Additionally, the Warhammer fanbase are a passionate bunch, but not always that forgiving when they feel a writer has failed to capture a character’s essence. Luckily, the above was less of an issue for Da Gobbo Demise, as the book features a separate cast from Mr Brooks’ original tale (except Da Red Gobbo obviously, as he is irreplaceable and definitely is exactly the same Gobbo in all his appearances, despite what any orkish propaganda might tell you). My focus was more on mirroring the original’s tone and providing a suitably festival tale. Grots are fun to write because they provide an avenue through which to make observations about the Imperium and 40k universe. There are a couple of occasions in the story where the grots struggle to differentiate between the followers of the Emperor and the Chaos Gods, because both cover their armour with skulls, burn their enemies, and chant wrathful verses in a language the grots don’t really understand. From an alien outsider’s POV, the loyalists and traitors have far more in common than either would like to admit.
Writing from the perspective of non-human characters is always harder because a reader needs to empathise with them, and that can be difficult for some races. For Skaven, this is usually black humour. They are such a vile bunch we enjoy their suffering, especially when their greed, cowardice, or sadism is the cause of their misfortune. I suppose it’s a similar principle to something like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where we laugh at awful people ruining their lives due to their inability to self-regulate.
Grots are a little like that. They can certainly be sadistic and cruel, but not with the same malicious glee as Skaven. There is an innocence to grots. They are more like children who don’t know better, and as runts at the bottom of a very violent pecking order we naturally have sympathy towards them; everyone likes an underdog overcoming the odds. Plus, they are far more human than we might think. Grots might be petty, cruel, and foolish, but frankly so are most people at some point in their lives. They are simply us at our worst, stupidest and most honest. In many ways, they are far more human than, say, Space Marines, who only have the faintest understanding of emotions like fear or desire, and are more like sentient weapons than human beings.
Fire Made Flesh Cover Art, Source: Black Library Publications
What writing projects do you have on the horizon both with Black Library and other publishers?
I have a little short story coming out in the next couple of months, and I’m currently in the very early stages of pitching a new Black Library novel. Currently, and perhaps foolishly, I’ve embarked on National Novel Writing Month, in which one attempts to write a fifty-thousand word novel in one month. I decided to do this on a whim a couple of days before Halloween and have done no prep whatsoever. It's going… OK? An interesting experience given I’m usually the sort who plans everything down to the last detail (even if it then all has to change once I start). I don’t know if it will ever turn into a publishable piece, but it’s the first non-Black Library thing I’ve written for a few years, which is a fun change of pace. The only trouble is some paid work has just come in, so I might have to ditch it for that instead!
Finally what advice do you have for any aspiring writers out there?
Write. Even if it’s terrible or you don’t feel like it, because the only way you will get better as a writer is by honing your craft. Writing something bad is much better than writing nothing because something bad can be polished into something good, but nothing will always be nothing. Getting it wrong is very useful, providing you can figure out why it is wrong.
Also, read. All kinds of stuff, not just the sort of things you want to write, but anything good. Or bad actually, because when you read a bad book you can learn what not to do. Read the classics and read critically; try and figure out how the author is manipulating you for a better word. What techniques are they using? How do they pace the work?
Plan. I produce spreadsheets. You might prefer notes. Either is fine, but writing IMO is so much easier when you know what you want to say and where you are going. Everything should progress the story towards its conclusion. It's fine if it changes along the way, that’s what the first draft is for. But writing without a plan is so much harder. Also, structure your time and have a daily/weekly target for your word count. Writing a novel is a massive undertaking, but it’s much easier if you steadily chip away at it. Too long a gap and you drift out of the story and have to remind yourself where you got to.
Be wary of buying notebooks, posting too much on social media, and visiting places to do ‘research’ before you even have a plan. All these things *feel* like they are helping you, but it's like buying a new pair of running shoes and pretending it’s the same as actually going for a run. If you don’t have a notebook then by all means get one, but once you have it then you should only replace it when all the pages are used up. Buying stuff is not a substitute for putting the time in.
Finally, do what works for you, even if it goes against everything I have said. I write early in the morning, but if you are a night owl that’s fine. I plan everything, but if you can genuinely produce great literature by winging
it then more power to you (in fact curse you for your gift!). Whatever works for you is the correct approach.
Thank you, Denny and I wish you all the best with your future writing endeavours.
Denny’s novel Outgunned is available for preorder in Paperback from Saturday 6 May. Check out our affiliate link to Gap Games to secure yourself a copy or check out other Black Library titles.
If you would like to follow both Denny’s writing work and hobby projects, he can be found on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/denny__flowers/
A big thank you to Denny Flowers for taking the time to share with us his insights into fiction writing and his work with Black Library, I highly recommend you check out his novels and short stories.
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