For Every Question an Answer

Last month I was fortunate enough to have been contacted by the excellent Nick Sharps who runs Goatfairy Review Blog. Nick reviews novels, films and games over at Goatfairy and kindly reviewed my latest novel Legion of the Damned - more of that later. Nick asked me if I'd like to answer a few questions on the blog and it was a pleasure. Here's the interview.

"Interview with Rob Sanders

Rob Sanders, author of Legion of the Damned and Atlas Infernal, was kind enough to take some time to answer questions I had after reading his most recent book. Here is what he had to say.

1. In one sentence, how would you explain Warhammer 40,000 to someone who has never played the game or read the books?

Warhammer 40,000 is a game and fiction setting - epic in scale - that depicts a far, grim and war-torn future in which humanity struggles to maintain a galactic empire that faces deadly alien threats from without and crippling corruption from within. (I know I cheated using such a long sentence!)

2. It seems to me that you have a noticeably different style than many of the other BL authors. If you agree, what do you think it is that separates you from the rest?

It is true that I have ambitions of being a signature author. I’d like to think that readers could pick my text out of a line-upon the basis of its style and preoccupations. This is complicated by the idea of contributing to a milieu in which you share a setting and sometimes even characters with other authors. Fortunately, there is a great deal of room for individual voices to come through at Black Library. In terms of ‘noticeable difference’, readers and reviewers often comment on structural experimentation in my narratives, an attention to detail and description that attempts to bring the fictional world to life and the unusual and imaginative directions in which I take my stories. I think that ultimately readers reward variety and appreciate versatility in the authors they read. Most will indulge a little experimentation in exchange for the possibility of discovering something that they then come to really appreciate. You see this also in television, film, music and video games. The big winners are often the big risk takers. Who dares wins, after all!

3. What would you consider to be your greatest writing influences and why?
It’s fair to say that I have a decent grounding in the classics, having taught a fair number of them. There are certain contemporary science fiction/literary authors that I particularly appreciate – for example, David Mitchell, author of Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas and Margret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake. I shouldn’t underestimate the influence of television and film on my writing either. I have broad tastes and they undoubtedly have an impact on my writing. I suppose I’m influenced by a little of a lot, rather than one overriding source like a single author.

4. What was the hardest part about writing from the perspective of Zachariah Kersh, the Scourge?

I suppose the hardest part is striking a balance. The Scourge’s perspective has to deliver simultaneously in a range of ways. He has to be recognisably an Adeptus Astartes – in thought, behaviour and action. He also has to reflect the distinct culture and beliefs of his particular chapter, the Excoriators. As the main character, he needs to be exemplars for both of these, while being different enough to justify following in a narrative. His recent shame and the indomitable desire to right in himself a perceived wrong is the character arc that helps to bind these myriad concerns. It also created some interesting dynamics between the Scourge and those under his command: conflict between the Adeptus Astartes that you don’t traditionally see in Space Marine fiction. That said - I don’t want to give the impression that he was actually hard to write. He came together pretty easily: he was the right character for the story I wanted to tell, and as such his rather extreme perspective was a natural extension of the extreme circumstances in which I immersed him.

5. Death Match: Zachariah Kersh vs Sarpedon of the Soul Drinkers. Who wins and why?

Sarpedon has undoubtedly got some game. Zachariah Kersh doesn’t need Sarpedon’s mind tricks and dark patronage. He is the raw, undiluted desire for victory at all costs. He is indomitable in flesh and mind. He would not allow himself to be beaten. Failure is beyond his comprehension. In terms of evidence – the Feast of Blades goes some way to advocate his martial superiority when faced with the best his brothers have to offer. His conduct during the events on Certus-Minor only supports this further. My money’s on Kersh, every time.

6. Are you currently reading anything for work or pleasure?

It’s interesting that you mention reading for work. I find research for creative projects very enjoyable. I always enjoyed reading non-fiction, even as a kid – so lots of that. As for what I’ve been thumbing through recently – I’m into The Walking Dead graphic novels, on the classics front I‘ve just started Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and before that I was reading the uncompromisingly bleak The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Like a lot of people, I also read for pleasure on the internet and you can do a lot worse than to learn something at the same time as laughing your ass off.

7. Can you tell us what your next novel might be about or at least give us a hint? And what are the chances of seeing Kersh and the Excoriators again?

Legion of the Damned, appropriately focuses on the phenomenon of the Legion of the Damned. I’ve been really heartened by the way readers have responded to the Excoriators and Zachariah Kersh. There was next to no background on the chapter when I started, so they have been built from the ground up and it’s really rewarding to see people want to see more of them. I would love to return to the chapter and Kersh. I think they deserve it! In terms of what I’m working on at the moment – my novella The Serpent Beneath, which is in The Primarchs (Horus Heresy), is released later this year. I’m working on more Heresy stuff at the moment and then I’m looking to jump genres and write a novel for the Warhammer Fantasy universe. Trying to keep it fresh and versatile!

8. If Legion of the Damned were an icecream flavor what would it be?

It might surprise you to learn that I’ve agonised over this question. Damn you, metaphor questions *shakes fist*! I’ve settled on Neapolitan, with its different colours, but Neapolitan the like of which you have never seen – alive with the shifting and incomprehensible colours of the warp. I’ll have mine between two wafers, thanks.

9. You’ve written about Space Marines, Imperial Guardsmen, and Inquisitors. What has been your favorite to write about and why?

I have no favourites amongst my children – and I apply a similar rule to my projects. At the time I’m writing about a particular faction, I’m totally jazzed and enthusiastic for their background and the narrative possibilities they offer. I could tell you exactly what I’m working on right now and why it is my current favourite but then I’d have to kill you - assuming my editors don’t kill me first!. Suffice to say, it wouldn’t end well for anyone.

10. Were there to be a film adaption of Legion of the Damned, name three “must have” songs for the sound track.

I extensively use soundtracks when writing and regularly make recommendations on my blog. On the jukebox under the heading Legion of the Damned, however, are a couple of tracks that are actually songs used on film trailers. Divorced from the films for which they are being used in this way, they have the right tone and atmosphere for both the characters and events detailed in Legion of the Damned. I encourage you to listen and enjoy them yourself.

Nine Inch Nails - the Day the World Went Away

E.S. Postumus – Unstoppable

And you might as well throw in the main title track from the Beowulf soundtrack.

Any final words for readers?

I’d like to say a great big thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my books. I really appreciate it and will keep trying hard to impress. I am also a regular blogger and post on a whole range of topics connected to the science fiction genre and my work. It can be found at Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to Nick for this opportunity and his killer questions.

From all of us here at Goatfairy Review Blog, thank you so much for your time and I look forward to your next work (and if it is Warhammer Fantasy I’ll have to finally give that a try)."

I heartily recommend that you check out the Goatfairy Review Blog and Nick's reviews of a range of cultural fare.


Anonymous said...

Thats a really good interview, Rob. I must admit, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into with Legion of the Damned, but I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be about the Excoriators rather than the Legion of the Damned themselves, who maintain a fantastically shadowy presence throughout. A question, though - you clearly have aimed high and gone for your own unique style among that of the BL authors. Did you initially toe the line when you were first submitting, or have you always just gone with your convictions and written your own vision of the 40kverse? I think I have read most of your stuff, but probably not the first stories you had published in Inferno. Cheers! Simon (@sqyiggle)


I don't think I write any differently now to when I first pitched for BL. Some might disagree but what I have probably learned is that it is useful to write in different styles for different circumstances. 'Legion of the Damned' is largely action orientated and so I chose a bit more of a straightforward style for me. 'Atlas Infernal' is an Inquisitorial novel that is by its nature convoluted and therefore I opted for a more convoluted style. Perhaps other writers simply stick to a single style and good luck to them if that is what works for them. I like to experiment - with narrative, character, style, language and structure. I'm a writer: that's what I see my job as doing. Surely writers only get better by experimenting - and I think I owe it to my readers to continually get better if I can. : )

Swede said...

Just finished your Legion of the Damned. More accurately, "Excoriators on Certus Minor". Some good stuff, but honestly you need an editor. One sentence that stuck out was something like "by whom amongst he was standing" or similar.

Good effort, it's obvious you care about the subject matter. I also realize that you are of course allowed some artistic license, but the whole "ghost marines" thing is pretty far out of line and makes it seem like each individual author is writing about a whole different fictional universe.

The prescription isn't more cowbell, but perhaps reading some more established authors' combat writing paragraphs?

EJ Davies said...

Hi Swede,

in response to your post I refer you to the following: Codex: Space Marines - where the Legion of the Damned are referred to as spectral entities who arrive and depart in mysterious circumstances. I'm fairly sure that if GW/BL had an issue with Rob's characterisation of the Legion that he'd have been told about it.

Also, I'm fairly confident that the BL editorial team have been through the book carefully - though obviously they can't read everything.

Finally, I'll paraphrase Gav Thrope if I may. When you approach something that's cool and not-written-about the author has a question to ask themselves: Do I write about it and risk taking away what was cool, or do I leave it mysterious and leave it cool? I'd argue that Rob's take on the Legion of the Damned was the latter approach. To write a novel focussing on them risks to take away the 'cool factor' about the Legion of the Damned, and instead reflects the existing lore surrounding the Legion of the Damned as referred to in Codex: Space Marines.

Have a good day.

Anonymous said...


Your surprise at the characterization of the Legion of the Damned as "ghost marines" betrays your lack of knowledge of the 40k background material. I'd suggest that before you criticize a particular interpretation or depiction that you actually have a handle on the canon yourself.

Also, your comment "The prescription isn't more cowbell, but perhaps reading some more established authors' combat writing paragraphs?" isn't very well supported and is a bit vague. Are you saying that you didn't like the writing style? What "established" authors would you suggest?

As far as the awkward sentence here and there, this seems to be a constant with BL novels. I think that's one area they could improve on; editing/proofing.

Anyhow, I personally enjoyed the novel a lot and I think Rob's novel sits up there with some of Dan's and ADB's in terms of quality. IMO, that's saying a lot because Dan and ADB are superb writers.


Big Cheddars had some passionate things to say about a previous comment. I’ve shaved off a bit of the very passionate stuff at the beginning and the end but wanted to say a big thank you to Big Cheddars for his defence of LotD. I too get passionate about stuff and like to offer counter-insights on the internet. Kindred spirits! : )

Originally by Big Cheddars
“Sanders is one of the best new (reasonably new) authors for BL, and in my opinion has the makings of one of the best. Oh, and by not focussing on the Legion of the Damned Sanders could focus more on the Excoriators and their plight, which was a better story to tell, frankly. The idiots who are complaining about the Legion in this novel drive me mental! They're blind fools who don't seem to realise that the Legion are meant to be a shadowy presence in the background, not normal Marines who go in guns blazing, like the Excoriators. I think you did brilliantly Rob, and you're my favourite BL author because you're one of the best, but you're also proof that even without having dozens of novels to your name you can still be a great writer.”