Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The moving finger writes (and draws)

You’re looking at a turning point, a signpost of destiny. Like the hiss of cosmic background radiation, or that iridium line through the rocks of time that says “Dinosaurs Keep Out”. This is where history made a decision to go one way and not the other. And that made all the difference.

It’s like this. My friend Jamie Thomson used to edit
White Dwarf, which in those days was a role-playing games magazine published out of Games Workshop’s offices on an industrial estate in North Acton. Most days I would go in to write articles and scenarios and generally hang out.

This one morning, a gangling, bespectacled, leather-jacketed artist arrived with his portfolio under his arm. He had an appointment, he had enthusiasm and talent and smarts, but nobody at Games Workshop had remembered. It was close to the monthly deadline. He ended up having to lay his artwork out on the floor as people ran in and out with red-marked sheets of copy. I took time to look at his stuff and I loved it (still remember a great picture of a magic book with things manifesting out of the pages) but, after all, what use was
that to the poor guy? I was just a freelance writer.

A few days later, I signed a contract to write my
first ever professional books, The Crypt of the Vampire and The Temple of Flame. In those days, editors were titans; they made decisions fast and effectively. Angela Sheehan at Grafton said find yourself an artist. My first thought was of Russ Nicholson, whose work I liked, but he was off in Papua New Guinea for a year. The hand of Fate again.

That weekend I happened to go to Pevensey. Halfway there, as the train clacked and swayed through rabbit-dotted countryside, I remembered the artist kneeling on the White Dwarf carpet. Didn’t he live on the south coast somewhere? I called Jamie. Did he still have the guy’s telephone number? By nothing short of a miracle, Jamie had left his wallet out of his jeans pocket when he washed them that week, so the scrap of paper with Leo’s details on it was still legible. That afternoon, we met up in the garden of a pub near to the castle. Leo brought Jo. We walked and talked all afternoon, had tea in a sort of barnacled driftwood shack on the beach. Leo agreed to illustrate my two books. We didn’t know then that it would be a lifelong friendship and creative partnership, that Jo and he would be married with three great kids, and that I would be godfather to the youngest. (Hi, Inigo!)

And this? This was the first drawing Leo did. The very first page of the very first book either of us ever published. And, whaddya know - it’s a gate!


  1. White Dwarf was the only rejection letter I ever received (1985 or 86) - from John Blanche, was it?

  2. John Blanche was one of the artists; I didn't know he looked at submissions. The art director was Mary Common, but her field seemed to be layout/design rather than illustration.

    The design of mid-80s WD was eccentric, to say the least: blocks of heavy purple or red running right over text (supposedly the silhouette of an orc army or whatever) which meant that to read the mag you had to make a very washed-out B&W photocopy of those pages!