‘Guaranteed royalties,’ said David Garnett (David Ferring), eyes shining like a prospector in a Gold Rush movie as dust glitters in the pan, ‘guaranteed royalties – We’ll be rich, d’you hear – b’wah hah hah – rich! Beyond the wildest dreams of avarice, we’ll be able to buy and sell publishers like goats, we’ll convert our advances into Spanish doubloons and bury them on desert islands, d’you hear? Rich!’
Well, maybe it wasn’t quite like that – but you get the picture.
In December, 1988, I spent an hour and a half stamping my feet in sub-zero temperatures outside Pinewood Studios because the publisher who wanted to sign me to write a making-of book about Tim Burton’s Batman was late and had forgotten to arrange with security to let me on the lot. The offer was low, the hours were going to be wretched and I would quite probably have to forego Christmas to get the job done. I didn’t actually have anything else coming up, though, and a freelance never likes to turn down work. So it was that hour and a half that tipped me against it – if this was how the publisher was going to treat authors, I could probably live without it. I also gathered from my morning at Pinewood that none of the big personalities on the film would be easy to deal with, or necessarily even reachable. So John Marriott wrote that book (a decade and a half on, you can probably find it in most Oxfam shops) and I went back to polishing my as-yet-unsold first novel. I thought I’d probably made a mistake.
Then 1989 was a good year for me: I landed a TV gig reviewing films for Channel 4’s pre-Big Breakfast stab at an early morning show, Empire magazine (which I still work for) began publishing and signed me up from issue one, that novel (The Night Mayor) sold, and David Pringle – editor ofInterzone, where my first professionally published fiction appeared – got in touch to say he had been hired to edit a line of novels and anthologies for Games Workshop. Though I was at school with Cheryl Morgan, who turned out to have done a lot of creative work in the early days of Warhammer and the Dark Future gameworlds, I didn’t know anything about GW or their franchises. I’d been aware of role-playing games in the 1970s through Cheryl and had other friends who’d been into tabletop campaigning (Eugene Byrne, my collaborator on some things, still has boxes full of painted soldiers somewhere); I’d also been involved in a quite elaborate freeform roleplay game in the late ’70s, which ran on for years among a network of people from around the town where I went to school, taking in students at the universities where the core group fetched up after leaving. Therefore, this wasn’t a completely foreign world to me.
I’d also seen stacks of Dungeons & Dragons tie-in books in shops and, without deigning ever to open one, assumed they were rubbish. My first guess was that GW wanted stuff like that, but David assured me they’d hired him to make sure the books had some real qualities. He also mentioned the guaranteed royalties thing – and quick calculations showed that if a book could be written quickly enough, it’d be more than worth my while. One of the clever things David did was to solicit short stories before dishing out novel commissions, to test the waters. I received the pile of GW rule-books and histories and campaign materials, which proved baffling (and, since the games were always evolving, interestingly contradictory) and daunting. I knew other authors who were in the same business – David, Brian Stableford (Brian Craig). We worked out which pages of which manuals were essentials: mostly the time-lines and the maps. And which things we didn’t want to think about: those ten-day weeks made for neat campaign calendars but would have been too much of a break with our accepted reality to work in a novel (everyone would have to be significantly older in our terms than their calendar age in the Warhammer world, unless they aged and matured at a different rate). All the rules about what monsters could and couldn’t do were handy, but malleable (we noticed the rules changed, and GW’s Bryan Ansell indicated that if something worked for a story they’d change the rules to fit – which opened up a can of worms re: vampires that no one ever screwed the lid back on again tightly enough).
Everyone else on the line was using a pseudonym, so I did too; later, Ian Watson put his own name on Warhammer 40,000 novels and if I were doing it over again I would have also. I first intended to use ‘John Yeovil’, the name of a character in my first published story ‘Dreamers’, but on the line-up was Paul Barnett, who writes under the name ‘John Grant’ (and, in the end, only did some short stories) so I went with ‘Jack’. It’s been useful having a secondary writing name: outside GW, Jack’s byline has appeared on film reviews for Empire and other publications, the story ‘Pitbull Brittan’ in Alex Stewart and Neil Gaiman’s Temps and a sleazy paperback horror novel written as Bloody Students but published as Orgy of the Blood Parasites. The critic John Clute once deconstructed the name Yeovil as evidence of a hard-working peasant ethos – which suggests he’s never visited the rather genteel West Country town of that name. I grew up in Somerset, and knew Yeovil pretty well – but when I was writing ‘Dreamers’, I used the name as a homage to a favourite writer, Alfred Bester. I later learned that Bester, in writing The Demolished Man (which features a character called Yeovil), took his character names from a map of England. Since, as Kim, I’d got a lot less out there in 1989, and it all differed from the style of the Yeovil books; now, with more varied material around from me under both the names, I can’t tell one output from the other and it all feeds into itself somewhere.
Like Michael Moorcock, a big influence on the Warhammer world, I think I create a multiverse in my fiction, and all the worlds of my books overlap in an infinity of possible realities – which is why Genevieve, of the Yeovil books, has an equivalent (several, in fact) as Geneviève in the Kim Newman Anno Dracula novels and some other stories (most included in the collection Seven Stars). Incidentally, the reason she doesn’t have an accent on her name in GW books is that word-processing/printing techniques were so primitive back then that putting in accents was a major pain and used only on special occasions, like when listing her last name, Dieudonné. There was a vampire Genevieve in a Paul Naschy film called Shadow of the Werewolf which I’d seen but completely forgotten; I think now I took the name either from the old song or a girl I’d been in a Bridgwater Youth Theatre Production of The Dragon by Yevgeny Schwartz with in 1975 (she signed my program ‘Gené’, which is what Genevieve’s friends call her); Dieundonné comes from Albert Dieudonné, the stone-faced Frenchman who plays the adult Napoleon in Abel Gance’s epic silent film.
As is obvious, I seeded my version of the Warhammer world with riffs on other genres and pop culture. Even though much generic fantasy fiction boiled down to a barbarian and a princess going on a quest to fight a Dark Lord, it struck me that there was no reason not to do different things. I saw the GW world as a setting, like the Wild West or Victorian London, that could be used for many types of stories and ticked them off one by one: horror, farce, detective, cop thriller, mystery, action, backstage musical, romantic comedy, western, samurai. ‘The Ignorant Armies’, my first essay at the form, borrows a lot from the John Ford classic The Searchers, with a sprinkling of the Japanese horror movie Onibaba, and I enjoyed putting in elements from famous and obscure sources to dress up the stories. Drachenfels, the first novel, actually begins with a barbarian and a princess on a quest to fight a Dark Lord, then jumps ahead twenty-five years to see what happened to everyone after their regular fantasy adventure was over. I often worked by thinking what didn’t happen in other fantasy novels and exploring that. I was particularly struck by an incidental character in Drachenfels who was a dwarf – as far as I know, no author had ever dealt with what it was like being a General Tom Thumb or Kenny Baker-type little person in our world in a world where there are races of Tolkeinesque separate-from-humanity dwarves. As firsts go, it’s a modest one – but there you are. Sometimes, I just stole: the clue about a number written inside a coffin-lid by a dying man in Beasts in Velvet is copped outright from a Spanish horror movie released here as Brackula: Terror of the Living Dead.
The books found a few friends, were nicely-reviewed, seeped out across the world in foreign editions and have been brought back into print several times. I’ve even started running into grown-ups who tell me that they were the books they loved most as kids – which is at once wonderful and depressing. The stereotype, often justified, of the GW gamer-reader is a boy in his early teens, but I’ve discovered a lot of girls were taken with Genevieve as an unusual, non-princessy identification figure (all the Jack Yeovil books have action heroines with Marvel Comics-style ‘problems’ beyond beating up the next bad guy). For the first incarnation of GW Books, I did Drachenfels, Beasts in Velvet and the initial Dark Future novels; I also completed the fix-up that became , but that didn’t actually appear until GW Books emerged from a temporary eclipse a few years later. That incarnation (with Boxtree) came and went, and GW began its Black Library imprint: in hand was a never-published novella ‘Warhawk’ and it became obvious that with one more substantial piece there’d be enough to issue a rest-of-Jack collection alongside the two novels and one fix-up. I’d floated the title ‘Silver and Iron’ for the story that came out as ‘Red Thirst’ (the expression is from George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream) but David Pringle nixed it because someone else was doing something with a similar title (‘Wood and Iron’?); so here was my chance to use that title at last – only someone else was doing something with a similar title (‘Blood and Iron’?) and it got canned again. I settled finally on another title, Silver Needles, only that got mistaken in the bureaucracy, perhaps mixed up with Robert E. Howard’s ‘Red Nails’, and came out as Silver Nails. Fair enough.
The story I wrote to fill out the book, composed over ten years after the previous batch, was ‘The Ibby the Fish Factor’. I had undeveloped Warhammer ideas lying around: a Dirty Dozen-style bunch-of-guys-on-an-impossible-mission tale called Vastarien’s Vanquishers (taking up from things mentioned in the story ‘Warhawk’), a centuries-spanning Dynasty-type soap opera about the vampire Czarina Kattarin called Bitch Vampire or The Scarlet Empress, a payoff to all the conspiracy theory villainies in the series using a title for a book Dashiell Hammett never got round to writing The Invisible Empire (some of the villains established in earlier stories, like Dien Ch’ing and Yefimovich, would have finally got their come-uppance). Any of these might have served to complete Silver Nails, but when I reread all the Jack Yeovil Warhammer stories, I realised that the big, heroic issues and the tides of history were less important to me than the character stuff. Of course, the earlier titles were written during the reign of Thatcher, which informed some of the baddies – especially of Beasts in Velvet; with Tony Blair and New Labour, I wanted to go back and show an Empire with a different, but perhaps equally tyrannical tendency. More specifically, I had to bring Genevieve out of the forest and catch up with her on-and-off love affair – so that’s where the Jack Yeovil-Warhammer Saga ends, not with Dark Lords and barbarian quests but extraordinary folk coping with lives that seem ordinary to them.
I still like them, and I hope you will too.
This piece was published as the introduction to the 2005 omnibus, The Vampire Genevieve.