Joe Parrino, Writer

Musings on Life, Writing, and the Free Territory of Ascham

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I, Witness

I’ve been mulling over this blog post for a while, letting the thoughts and ideas crystalise. It has sat, words clamouring for attention, in my head, waiting.

I also wanted to give people some time to read ‘Witness’ in case I spoil anything. If you’ve not read it yet, then this post may not be for you. Also, go and read it and come back. I’ll wait. Maybe.

I wanted to do something different with this blog post and delve into my writing process, into the generation of characters, in the subconscious stew that prompts my words.

But first, let me set the scene.

I am on a train. There is a big grin plastered across my face, reflected in the windows, reflected in my iPad’s screen. The source of the smile is an email, received a year ago, come to fruition, and the fruits of that email sit in my hands. It is a short story, crafted, lovingly, by my hands, by my thoughts. I never thought I’d be writing this, but here I am and here is the final result.

The story is called ‘Witness’ and the author’s name is Joe Parrino, my name. It follows an officer of the Imperial Guard, fresh-faced, hungry for glory, scared of war. His name is Danel Prestoff and he is me.

A strange way for me to phrase it, but let me explain.

As I read my story again, I realised something.

Danel Prestoff’s fears are my own, reflected in fiction.

His uncertainties, his naivete, these are mine also. I wrote this story in a strange, unfamiliar place. The story was written back in September, started on one side of the globe and finished in another. My experiences, my feelings shaped those of my main character in ‘Witness.’

I was alone at the time, recently relocated to the United Kingdom. I’d crossed the pond, left family and friends behind, to attempt graduate school. I felt trepidation, uncertainty, all those things that Prestoff feels when he first descends on Margentum.

In the beginning of the story, in the true beginning, he is brusque, full of boasting, full of comfort. He is on his troopship, surrounded by his wife and daughters, by friends and familiar faces. War (graduate school) these are far away, in the distance; a problem for future Prestoff, for future Joe. These were my reactions before leaving for Scotland. I was home, with friends and family, leaving was a few days distant. I was full of nervous energy, ready for anything graduate school could throw at me. I was brave, brazen, bold. I could handle this.

Flash forward a few days and I was on a plane. The unknown started to buffet me, the first gnawing sense of doubt. This became Prestoff on his dropship, still prepared, but the doubt eats away at him. He panics.

The first few days in Edinburgh were filled with me keeping myself occupied, wandering around the city, gawking at all the sights. In the same way, Prestoff’s experience of war is one from behind Brindleweld shields, kept at a distance. The fear is still there, but it is hidden.

School begins and the true doubt sets in. I am ill-prepared for this. The readings, the coursework, all unfamiliar. The accents. The languages. So different from what I was used to in the US. Now I was truly down the rabbit hole.

This too is Prestoff’s story. As the Margentine War turns into a thing of horror, as they begin to lose, driven back by things they cannot fight. The essays, the readings are the xenos (*cough* daemons) in the story. They begin to overwhelm.

Then defiance sets in. This is something I can handle. This is something Prestoff can handle.

As the story goes on, of course, Prestoff and I separate. Our journeys differ. His ends in a dark place.

Hopefully mine ends in glory.


I have always liked trains.

There is something comforting about the gentle swaying to and fro, the clickety-clack of squealing tracks.

And so, with excitement in my heart, I rode the train on Thursday last, into the west.

I departed from Edinburgh, bound with two companions for the city of Glasgow.

Armed with recommendations, we were looking forward to a day of misunderstandings, wanderings, and museum gawkings.

An hour’s journey by train saw us in Glasgow’s centre.

The transition from Edinburgh, stately, gothic, to Glasgow, bustling modern, Victorian was shocking.

We chose a random direction and set off.

Before us rose a building, spired, majestic: the Glasgow City Chambers. The rotating door, a favourite architectural design of mine, left me laughing. Inside the building, the hall glowed warmly.

It was beautiful. Tiles, marble, magnificence. Glass doors led into secret parts of the building. Polished wood panels danced with light. We were prevented from exploring further due to signs of forbiddance.

Our feet took us from that place, through the city streets, past hundreds of people towards some nebulous and ill-defined goal.

The Museum of Modern Art. This place, this museum, stuffed full of the pretensions of artists, cloaked behind the shield of the modern, proved entertaining. Shapes, colours, objects, arranged in what I am sure to a practiced eye could be considered pleasing and full of meaning, was entirely lost to my less appreciative mind. We wandered through the halls, interpreting, joking and judging. Three floors felt our treads. Three floors heard our scathing voices.

Once more the city streets beckoned. Glasgow, with the song of the Sirens obscured beneath honking cars and shouting voices, called us into her streets.

We became lost. The maze of modern life swallowed us. Galleries flashed by, their expensive glow filled with expensive things. Pubs, crowded with empty tables refused us lunch service. On and on we walked. Through areas both savoury and less than such, our feet carried us.

In the covered light of the Market Square, we took our repose, consumed a lunch worthy of the miles we had walked. More lay before us.

One final museum, one final goal lay in the city. It was far to the west, miles way. We set forth, sated from lunch, ready to expand minds.

We became lost again.

Distracted by sightings of a Blue Box, that may or may not have been bigger on the inside and an inhabitant of Glasgow that could only have been a pirate, we found the river.

The Clyde, frothed and whipped by passing wind, surface dappled by falling rain, lay to our left as we followed its path.

The smells of wet leather and freshly turned earth accompanied us on our drifting path. We weaved between construction workers as the buildings disappeared, replaced by empty lots. Doubt ruled our minds, but we persevered.

Where once there were sights of city centre buildings, now we found car rental lots, office parks on a massive scale and computer shops.

Farther into the west we went. Farther into the west we wearily trod. Rows of flats, rows of restaurants, rows of strangely named pubs, met our gaze, followed our footsteps.

Signs, infrequent, inconsistent, pointed towards our destination.

Finally parkland opened up and at its centre, crouched like a fat red spider at the middle of her web, lay our destination.

We sprinted up steps, feet lightened by accomplishment, weariness falling away.

The halls beckoned. Knowledge called.

Inside such sights were seen!

There was the massive head of a pike, an empty display case where a taxidermied haggis once lingered, the heads of birds, awkwardly articulated monkey skeletons, dinosaurs, Egyptian mummies guarded by the sons of a primarch.

This we saw and more. We climbed the stairs, intent upon viewing yet more of what the museum offered.

A uniformed docent found us among the arms and armour of bygone eras. ‘We’re closing,’ he whispered in the quiet voice reserved for museums.

Shoulders slumped, we left the place. We left, back through the city. Back down the path. Back on the train and back to Edinburgh.

Now my friends, I must away. I must prepare my soul. For Chaos once more descends upon Edinburgh and I will witness its coming.


Yesterday, yesterday I should have made an announcement here.

I apologise that I did not. Social media, conversations with friends, proud boasting, these things occupied my time and attention.

So the announcement shall be made today. My work is vindicated. I am allowed to speak.

I was published yesterday.

I still can’t get over that thought.

I was published.

A lifelong dream, held, cherished, scrunched tight within my soul emerged into reality, realised, fully formed.

I am now a writer, not just a blogger, not just a Captain of Chickens.

I am now Joe Parrino, writer.

Beyond that fact, beyond that vindication comes the fact of what has been published, what will continue to be published (Emperor and Editor willing).

My name is Joe Parrino and I am a writer for the Black Library.

That may not mean much to you, but to me it means everything.

Ever since I was a young child, I have read the works of William King, Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, since that fateful day I strode into Powells and found a copy of Trollslayer, Necropolis and Storm of Iron.

I was lost, lost within visions of a bleak future, of camaraderie, betrayal, all the things my young self wanted to read, to write.

Last year a friend of mine did the impossible. He won the lottery on my behalf with a selfless act. I was floored, astounded, shocked, honoured.

Then came the response, the response that left me stunned and ecstatic by equal measures. I could scarce sit still when I heard the news and yet, at the same time, I could scarcely cease moving.

An editor contacted me, asking for my work, asking for more.

It felt surreal, writing about the things that I had always read, that I still read.

I was no longer going to be a passive observer, I would contribute, add, create.

My first short story came months later, as I stumbled through pitch after pitch, striving, and not achieving. Finally one broke through.

The words flew from my mind and onto the page.

Then more came. I was asked for more and the dream deepened, became more real with every passing day.

A new story was commissioned, a new premise introduced. It was challenging to write for a subject with which I was scarcely familiar, with a viewpoint I had never before considered.

Yesterday that story was released. Yesterday I was published. Yesterday I was vindicated as a writer.

Yesterday a dream came true, burst forth from the aether, into reality, made manifest.

It is the first. It will not be the last.

My name is Joe Parrino and I was published yesterday.


Dear God this damn country is so cold.

I walk to class, huddled deep into a coat, compressing myself into as small a profile as manageable. My hands are shoved deep into pockets, swaddled in gloves, clenched tight into fists of discomfort.

My face, my ears, these things freeze.

This would be normal, acceptable even, were it winter.

This is not normal. This is not acceptable.

This is March.

By rights, by virtue of my experience (limited though it is) it should be raining, sunny, cloudy. Anything really, other than this soul-eating cold. Snow drops serenely from pregnant skies, drifting down in miserable white clumps.

I love snow. I really do. It reminds me of childhood, of sledding, of cancelled school, of the million things that little kids love and the million adventures a little kid can commit in the whitewashed world of snowfalls.

I love snow. But let me clarify. I love snow in the winter. It is now spring. I would like it to go away now please.

I hate walking to the gym as the snow drifts around me, shivering in the early morning cold, existing early morning misery exacerbated by inclement weather.

I hate walking to class as snowflakes tumble.

I hate sitting trapped in my room as the winds howl.

I hate staring hatefully out the window as snow swirls around dim light-posts at night.

So now I am torn. I love snow, but I hate it. I hate it now in this moment. I have hated it for the past few weeks.

I am notorious among my friends for reveling in foul weather, for greeting wind and rain with open arms, a glad heart and laughter.

Now I find myself full of curmudgeonly complaint. I want springtime. I want spring showers. I want flowers, and green, and a moderate increase in warmth.

Thus far the weather gods have deemed my complaints unworthy, unworthy of their consideration.

Winter please go away. Spring should be here and much as I appreciate your snow, it’s a bit inappropriate now.

The Politics of Primarchs

There is a spot in the Meadows near to where I live. There is nothing special about this spot, nothing visually appealing. It is just a quiet bend in a quiet park.

This is where ideas come from. They whisper in quiet voices. They whisper with the thunder of surety, of betrayal, of politics, of philosophy. They are the imagined words of primarchs and legionnaires, men who exist only in fiction. The quotes are usually not long, simple statements of intent and interest.

I do not know why I always think of the words from this spot. Perhaps because it lies on my route home from class, my mind still abuzz with the notions and theories of International Relations. Perhaps the walls between reality and the Immaterium lay thin there and the echoes of thoughts and deeds resonate on that spot. Perhaps it is just a spot and my fevered mind only ascribes significance conjured from the heady heights of nothingness. Perhaps it is all of these things. Perhaps it is none of them.

Most of you who read this blog may not find this post interesting, believing it to be part of the fandom from which the Hallowed Captain of Chickens draws inspiration.

There is an announcement that will soon brighten this webpage, but today is not that day. Instead listen to the glory, the heresy, the thoughts and philosophies of fictional beings.

‘Do you do the right thing because it is right or because it is the right thing to do?’
-The Primarch Lorgar Aurelian (c. M31)

‘Without the rule of law we are nothing.’
‘No, without the rule of law we are everything.’
-Interrogation of Anarcho-Heretic Milias Hartfel (c. M40)

‘The Emperor taught us to be brave, to know no fear. We carry that with us even now, as we dismantle His Imperium.’
-Unknown Speaker, Vox Capture, Elsidias Massacre, Shortly after Isstvan V (c. M31)

‘There is no good versus evil. No darkness versus light. There is only survival and extinction.’
-The Primarch Horus Lupercal, Address before the Siege of Terra (c. M31)

‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Lies written by idealists in an age of idealism. There is only one life worth preserving, that of humanity as a species. Liberty must be sacrificed towards that end. As for the pursuit of happiness, I have never agreed with this as a fundamental right. Happiness is incidental and trite. Preservation, order, duty. These are the values I prefer.’
-Private Correspondence between the Emperor and Malcador the Sigillite (c. M31)

‘The old adage, “fortune favours the bold,” has always rung false to me. I would replace it with “fortune favours the clever.”‘
-The Primarch Alpharius (c. M31)

‘A tyrant is a tyrant, no matter whether they call themselves Emperor or Warmaster. We reject both.’
-VIII Legion Captain Aral Tarn, Hours before his Assassination (c. M31)

‘I reject the doctrine of non-intervention. Those who will not see will be made to see. Those who will not hear will be made to hear. Those who will not bow will be made to bow.’
-Attributed to the Emperor, Onset of the Unification Wars (c. M31)

The Eating of the Sandwich

As per request and due to the paucity of blog posts of late.

Herein this moste dreade accounte shall I reveale to you the most harrowing storie of howe I consumed a sandwiche.

Once more I found myself in the library, doing battle with readings upon readings. They fell before me like wheat before the scythe and other appropriate metaphors.

A grumbling noise intruded upon my epic conflict. A headache thudded into being behind my eyes, my focus drifted away. The readings gained ground, sensing my weakness.

I cried out. People stared in the library. I had forgotten one of the cardinal rules of this place. There is no noise allowed, only the hallowed silence.

I stumbled to my feet as the readings crowded closer. ‘No. No. No,’ I muttered under my breath, backing away from my computer screen, from my desk, from the dastardly readings.

The grumbling noise returned, insistent. I raised my pen into the air, brandishing it about with heroic aplomb. White coated librarians stalked out from the shadows, gathering to remove this threat to their domain. Eyes dashing back and forth, feet splayed, I elected to make good my escape.

The computer screen slammed down, the readings defeated, hidden, out of sight and now, out of mind.

I ran down the stairs as the librarians howl in mute silence, in frustration, and in triumph.

White marble surrounded me now, cold, gleaming. The grumble reverberated again, shaking my being.

I gasped. I knew this grumble. It was hunger.

There was only one solution.


My mind raced trying to find a solution suitable to the occasion.

The clatter of plates and dishware intruded upon my considerations.

Then the notion hit me.

There was a café in this place.

I bounded down the stairs, heroic monologues streaming from my mouth.

I saw my goal, but a line stood between me and victory.

I gathered the tools I would need to defeat this dread threat. A packet of chips, a bottle of green tea, good, but not entirely the solution.

In the cold climes of the refrigerator I spied the greatest weapon. Wrapped in cellophane, gleaming in preparation.

The sandwiche.

Printed on a label upon its plastic covering, said the words: turkey, brie and cranberry.


This would do.

Twice was I almost defeated in this task. Once by the dread prospect of technology run rampant, the other, by unyielding plastic covering.

And then, before my eyes, triumph flashing, hands shaking, lay my prize.

This was the Rite of the Eating of the Sandwich and all would look away.

Minutes later, sated, I returned to my reading, returned to dread dreariness.


It began with a question. A question half made in jest, half made in hope.

It was a question to which there was only one answer, given without consideration, without reservation.

Four there were who set out from the Court of Old Archers. Only three completed the journey.

The snow fell silent last night, blanketing the city in a thousand clichés made for more clever tongues. Some welcomed it with open arms, others, I am sure, were not so sanguine.

We set forth, feet clomping through snow-covered streets, not towards the castle, not towards the realms of man. No, our goal that evening was something other. We sought the heights. Some impulse drove us there, some ineffable desire to conquer the wild places filled us.

Snowballs flew through the air, a means of making light the arduous task to come. The wind tugged and pulled, drawing heat away.

Cars rattled past in the night, their tires making a mockery of that which our footwear could not grip. We left them behind, turning onto a road unmarked by tire or feet. The only hint that something else had come before were the marks of foxes and rabbits.

The silence became absolute. Three stolid shapes trudged through the half-light of the snowfield. Steps curled up before us, their presence only tangible on the face, the tops lost in snow.

A hill, wild and majestic, graced with mist and fog and falling snow rose ahead. The path before us wound its way zigging and zagging up its sheer sides.

The smiles have slipped our faces. There is only labour now. We climb. Through slips and slides, pumping hearts and muffled breath, we dare the heights.

We are soaked through to the bone but once this journey has begun there is no turning back. Silence greets us as the wind slips away. The path grows narrow. My heart beats faster. I have never been comfortable with heights and I am reminded of this as I make the climb.

We reach the tops of the steps and step from step and grass to wind and snow swept rocks. The path broadens, but becomes more treacherous.

The city gleams all around us, save for one direction. We pause for a moment and admire the glorious tableau around us, a shining jewel in the night.

There is only one direction that blocks the city lights, one direction in which our destination lies. Fog and mist whip their way across its scarred face.

The mist opens, just for a moment and the peak pierces the night sky. Two towers, the only hint of humanity’s presence on this weather scourged hill, stand proud from the bare rock. At an unspoken word we continue our journey, our tracks swiftly fading behind us.

The wind picks up, no longer blocked by the bulk of rock and earth. It howls and pulls at our ears. It steals breath and sound, insistent and jealous in its cries.

The pathway, unmarked and noticeable only as a thread of white through the pockmarked surface, straightens out, pointing arrowlike towards a cleft in the rocky peak.

We brace hands and feet, hauling, climbing our way through the cleft. The cleft ends and we stand. The city extends all around us, veiled one moment by snow and fog, the next clear as any other day.

Triumph fills us. We seem the first to have climbed this hill. The only to have dared its heights this night.

A muffled voice puts paid to that notion. A fellow explorer joins us at the top. He has ascended another path. We feel diminished until one among our number notes that we were the first and we took the harder path.

We gaze upon this new world as the wind howls. Unbidden a tune emerges from between lips, a conjuring of a remembered movie.

We linger there, for minutes, secure in the knowledge of what we have done, of what we have accomplished. Victory tastes sweet, pure, and it sounds of silence.

Our pathway up was filled with stony silence, of private wrestling with inner demons. The way down is different.

We descend in jubilation. Snowballs fly afresh, laughter fills the silence.

Weariness fills our limbs as we make our way back home, but it feels righteous.

We dared. We dared and won.

The hill lies conquered.

Day Eight

The beast continues to elude me. I have tracked it down to a single room.

I can hear it’s ink-maddened screams, but still it hides.

The sunlight shines outside. The rumble of a car reminds me of the freedom almost within my grasp.

They fill me with hope. I will enjoy them soon.

Until it begins to rain. Which it will because this is Washington and this is winter.

The beast roars with the clickety-clack of keyboard keys.

I toss words at it, roping it ever closer into submission.

This hunt is nearly done.

It breaks free with a moment’s distraction by the internet.

The room is filled with my cursing and laughter as I watch a video about hedgehogs.

I hate this hunt, and the necessity for it, but those who hold my fate (for the moment) have decreed its necessity and so hunt away I will.

The beast has slipped away for the moment. Hidden behind a jumble of meaningless pixels and conversations with friends.

But I will find it. I will find it and write it into oblivion.

This I swear.

For Love of Music and Family

Today’s blog post will be short. This is an excerpt from the first commission I was ever given. Fittingly enough it came from my dad and tells a story about my great-great grandfather.


The strings scratched. A grating, ear-aching sound. The less-than-dulcet tones of a little kid earnestly loving music.

The kitchen, billowy and thick with tobacco smoke, made for a makeshift concert hall. Only two people lingered in the house, the kid with violin in hand and his grandfather. Everyone else fled the house, if only to preserve their ears.

To the grandfather, the scratchy strings, and the little hand that sawed back and forth with bow, were sweeter than anything from Mozart or Vivaldi.

The boy faltered, a hopeful tremble of little lips. The grandfather clapped his hands, ash falling from his cigar.

“Again,” he said, his voice a pleasant rumble, the lightest trace of the Bronx upbringing he never spoke about.

A smile spread across the little one’s face, encouraged as only a grandson can be, flush with the love and appreciation of his father’s father.

Mead in the Rain

It is raining. Cold, wet, damp, my jacket is soaked, my shirt, my shoes, my socks.

A smile scrawls its way across my face. The weather has turned. The sun has retreated behind clouds of iron. The weather has turned and with it my mood.

Not everyone is satisfied with this turn of events. No, some grumble and groan, the water too much for their delicate sensibilities. I scoff. I am a true son of the Pacific Northwest. Rain is my friend, my state of being and my life.

The streets of Edinburgh seem made for rain. The water gurgles between slick cobbles in its march down to the sea. For a time we battle against it, like salmon swimming upstream. We have a goal in mind.

Like the pagan Vikings of old, our search is for mead, the honeyed nectar of the gods. It lies in one place that I know of, and so, through the rain and the wind and the howling ghosts of ages gone by we set off for a marketplace.

Floods of tourists trickle down the hillsides that define this city’s skyline. A dozen languages struggle against the gentle hiss of falling rain.

My companions grumble, voices stridently complaining. They are fast approaching mutiny. They are ignored.

The only consolation I make for the rain is a certain hunch to the shoulders, a dogged refusal to be cowed by the weather.

Before us glint the warm and inviting glow of the marketplace, a thousand thousand lights glinting in the gloom of Edinburgh’s night. Music wails up from below, a clashing mix of inappropriate Eighties love songs and the Christmas crooning of traditional tunes.

We arrive at the steps, bedraggled and soaked. A swift descent, made perilous by the damp, on steps worn into bowls by generations of feet and generations of rain.

We join the crowd and weave through. For a time we are distracted by food and by sights of fireworks gracing the night sky. The castle rumbles as if under siege. Fire flashes on its ramparts, smoke curls from its courtyards. It is Saint Andrew’s Day.

We linger and watch, eyes locked on the heavens, but our true goal is not forgotten.

But that, as they say, is a tale for another time.

So stay tuned for the next thrilling installment.

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