David Gemmell interview: Aug 2005

1) You’re very proud of the fact that you’ve never missed a deadline and work diligently in order to obtain this, now with the October Deadline that you’ve set yourself for the second novel in the Troy Trilogy, are you likely to be visiting any other countries to promote your work after this date and how far afield have you traveled in order to promote yourself? I know that recently there has been interest expressed in Poland as well as the States and how well do you think that you novels translate into other cultures? How do your non English speaking fans relate to your work?

I’m heading off for Italy, Greece and Turkey, but more as a break than a research trip. Which, in one way, is irritating because if I called it a research trip I could claim it back in tax. I do get fan letters from around the globe and the points they make pretty much mirror those from the English speaking countries. My work tends to appeal to people who have a strong sense of honour, morality, and basic decency. Nationality doesn’t come into it.

2) How do you feel the internet has affected your popularity and do you tend do keep an eye on any particular sites for updates? What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve uncovered about yourself? (Doesn’t have to be true but just something that surprised you when you heard about it.)

I’ve seen all sorts of nonsense about me on the Net. Apparently I am also a writer named Peter Morwood, which would surprise Peter. I am gay. I am an ex soldier with SAS experience. The Net is like the old American West, lawless, exciting, often ludicrously stupid, often remarkably wise. I tend not to visit sites based around my work, though I have in the past dipped in occasionally. I have been approached to have an official site, but I don’t have the time to help service it. Time management is my biggest problem.

3) A great many of your novels have hidden stories behind them when they were being created, what is, if any the tale relating to “Knights of dark renown”?

I’m not sure what you mean by hidden tales. You mean real life incidents, as with Legend and Waylander? Knights of Dark Renown has no secret history. One of the things that has fascinated me for years is the way heroes and villains are mostly interchangeable, depending on perspective. Crazy Horse, the Sioux chieftain who destroyed Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn was a villain to Americans and a hero to the Sioux. Napoleon was a villain to the British and a hero to the French. Knights of Dark Renown played with this theme. It has always been one of my favourites.

4) Future plans are something that you tend to keep quiet about, mentioning in regard to these your own mortality, however what are your plans after the Troy Trilogy? Is it likely to be a standalone to get away from a series for a while or is it going to be something completely different?

I am researching the life of a Byzantine hero, who has all the makings of a great character. The problem is that just because his life is interesting doesn’t mean I can make him work on the page. Often my biggest headaches are caused by the characters supposed to be the leading man. Sometimes they don’t work as well as some of the subsidiary characters. Time will tell, but my gut feeling is the next book with have a Byzantine flavour.

5) Tolkien found inspiration for his work from all round the world, how would you say that your surroundings have effected your writing and is there any particular landscape that has influenced you to create a tale, using it as centre stage?

My heritage is Scottish, and I first visited the highlands some twenty years ago. At around the same time I went to Iceland, and saw the fabled rainbow bridge. I like desolate landscapes, and I love mountains. I rock climbed in Wales when I was young, in the Triffyn range. I don’t think you can feel the land from within a city. Out in the open, at night, with a small fire and the wind rippling the tent, you can almost hear the old memories whispering to you.

6) To what degree were you influenced by Tolkien? Are names such as “Anduin” (a river in Middle-Earth) and “Harad” (a land in the Middle-Earth) occuring in your books a bow towards JRR Tolkien?

Pretty much. Tolkien’s work meant the world to me when I was young. I lived and breathed Lord of the Rings, desperate to be like Aragorn or Boromir. As a child I wasn’t naturally tough. Bigger kids terrorised me, and I spent a lot of time running away and hiding from them. But I learned about the gifts bravery can supply, by reading Tolkien, Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, L Sprague de Camp, and many more. One day, when I was around twelve, I stopped running. After that life got easier. More painful, but easier.

7) How would you say that your mood reflects in your writing, for example the first shannow novel was written at a personally hard time in your life?

All of my novels come from a deep and personal place. There is nothing cynical in my writing. I believe in heroes, and I believe in what the old tales teach us. Too often we just see the sword fights and the action, and don’t stop to look beyond, at the nature of heroism. Tolkien did. Think of it. The Ring is a symbol of the power of evil. The good guys are given a chance to use it against the enemy and win. They understand that to do that merely replaces one evil with another. The analogy went further. The closer the Ring got to Mordor, the more powerful its pull became. The more perilous the situation, the more likely we are to put aside thoughts of good and evil and just do what is deemed necessary. You think Blair would have butchered around 30,000 Iraqi civilians, if he’d understood that message? We need heroic role models now more than ever before. Someone once said that evil thrives when good men do nothing. Evil is thriving. We live in an age when 1000 murdered Iraqis a month gets barely a mention, while pages and pages of newsprint are devoted to a Swede managing a football team that loses a friendly.

8) How on earth do you manage to create these worlds with all their history?

Beats me! Maybe I should get a life.

9) With authors either producing or commissioning others to write companions for their worlds would you ever consider this as a project for your own works or is there ever likely to be a roleplay based on your novels or are there similar complexities such as the “movie contracts” which appear every so often? (George RR Martin has recently agreed to a roleplay based on his Fire and Ice series.)

Again it is a question of time. I get loads of offers for things like games and movies. All of them would require my time. In order to hit my deadlines I work pretty much non stop.

10) All your novels have the good guys eventually winning, usually at a high cost, is there ever likely to be a novel when a “bad guy” will succeed where others have previously fallen, defeating who the reader perceives as the good guy, either way, why do you feel this would be the case?

Not if I lived a thousand years. I’ve seen the bad guys win in real life, doing the moral equivalent of ripping the gold teeth from the mouths of the murdered. Why in heaven’s name would I want to bring that into my own working life? The sad fact is that the ruthless and the vile have far more chance of material success than the hard working and the decent. Nothing new in that. As the wonderful Bob Dylan once observed: Steal a little and they put you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king.

11) You’ve envisaged certain actors/actresses to play certain characters when you’ve been writing the novels but do you draw them or even sketch them? If not how do you tend to remember the attributes and physicality to each character?

Often I don’t. Proof readers pick up that people’s eyes change colour. Most of my characters are still based physically at least on people I know. Occasionally I might see an actor and think: He’d be good. But not often.

12) What do you think of the two current literary phenomenons that are Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code, and why do you think they are so popular?

I’ve not read Potter, but friends tell me they are fantastic. One friend is 65 and loves Rowling’s work. The child of another friend is nine, and loves the work. Anyone who can write novels that appeal across that kind of age range is a genius. The Da Vinci Code was published at a time when conspiracy theories were exploding all across the world. It is a great beach read, and one which I enjoyed immensely. Most of it I’d seen before in a non fiction book called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, so I guessed the ending. But its smartly paced, with a credible and sympathetic hero, and it carries the reader to a satisfying conclusion. Having said that most good thrillers do the same. So I guess I must have missed something.

13) With your only foray outside the fantasy world being White Knight, Black Swan have you ever considered writing other screenplays or scripts for film or TV? If so what can you tell us about this, if not what turned you off the idea?

Once again it is a question of time. I’d love to work on a tv or film script. Especially as my daughter just lent me a movie called Chronicles of Riddick. This could have been a five star movie had there been the slightest attention to the realities of human nature. As it was the movie was a leaden turkey, which totally wasted the talents of Vin Diesel, an actor of genuine screen presence and charisma. As I watched it I thought: ˜Why the Hell are you not making movies, G?

14) With Troy being mentioned in other novels by yourself (Ghost King, Last Sword of Power) and with the first novel having no sign of the Sipstrassi, are the Feragh likely to make an appearance to “meddle” with the affairs of man or are they something that you wish to be left well alone? How do you feel they would effect the way in which the tale is being told and why does it seem to be so important that magic is being largely ignored in the first novel, will this continued in the other two of the series?

I had to give a lot of thought to this. In essence all of my fantasy worlds are actually the same place at different historical times. I have thrown little clues into different stories to indicate this fact. When I was first considering Troy I thought I would hold to this. The more I researched it, though, the more I thought it needed to be without physical magic. In the end I decided to set it apart from the fantasies, and approach it as an historical novel.

15) When you wrote your other Greek Novels, you seemed to pick an obscure character from the past in Parmenion to create some freedom for yourself, how did you go about picking the lead character Heliakon for the Troy trilogy, and what do you think he will offer to the saga of Troy?

Easy answer is that in Homer, the only Trojan prince to escape the fall of Troy was Aeneas [who I’ve called Helikaon.] For me the end of the trilogy has to have an uplifting, feelgood aspect. Hard to do that when everyone’s dead.

16) Troy seems to be a tale that’s inspired man for millenia, how would you say that your take borrows from the traditions that encouraged others and what would you say makes it a tale worth the telling?

That question needs to be directed at someone independent who has read both works.

17) When the Troy trilogy has been completed, you’ll have accomplished something that you’ve yearned to do for years. What other Dreams do you have that you want to see fulfilled? (May all your dreams bar one come true, springs to mind for this.)

That’s a good question. I cant say that I have any dreams left. Which is one of the reasons I know how true that Arab blessing is. When I was young I was filled with dreams. One by one I achieved them all. [Well, except for the pure fantasy ones, you know, where Halle Berry rings and says how she’d like me to spend a weekend with her in a cabin in the mountains. And would I mind if she brought Jennifer Lopez as well?]

18) You’ve said that you don’t tend to read authors of the same genre as yourself, what do you tend to read and how do certain authors, manage to make it to your reading pile, Deborah Miller being a recent example of this?

Publishers send me manuscripts by new writers and ask whether I’d read them. Occasionally one will grab me. Deborah Miller’s was one like that. Hence the cover quote.

David Gemmell interview: March 2005

1) What novel or timeline (from your novels) would you most like to live in and why?

When I was young, and used to imagine myself in another time, I would tend towards those periods of history with great and tragic heroes. I wanted to stand beside Leonidas at Thermopylae, or at Harold’s side on the hills of Battle. Or on the walls of the Alamo. These are the dreams of a young man, full of thoughts of nobility, glory and fame. I still held to those in my twenties when I worked on the first draft of Legend. Now my thoughts are more prosaic. High blood pressure, thickening arteries, a couple of mini strokes, and a love of air conditioning in the summer and central heating in the winter, leave me feeling THIS time is the best for me. Quality cars, electronic gates, high speed air travel. Ah, what boring old farts we turn into….

2) What did you think of the Alexander/Troy/King Arthur films, and has anything that you’ve seen effected your decision on a film? And if a film is being considered would you have a prefered format ie Animation in the Manga style or straight celuloid?

Alexander I haven’t seen, though friends tell me it is pants. Troy I would like to see, but dont want my thoughts coloured while I’m working on the trilogy. King Arthur I have seen, and cannot describe how sorry I felt for Keira Knightley and Clive Owen. I cannot imagine a worse case of mis-casting. Perhaps Julian Clary as Druss the Legend would come close. Or Kermit the Frog as Waylander. Clive Owen is a fine actor in modern roles, but his laid back, low key flat voice was completely out of place as the charismatic Arthur, and Keira Knightley’s cut glass vowels were laughable, compared with the guttural speech of the other Picts. The fight scenes were splendid. It is a movie which would be brilliant if seen dubbed into French with English subtitles.

3) Anne McCaffrey has recently handed her Pern novels onto her son to continue, have you ever envisaged handing the mantle of your worlds onto someone else ie to sanction an official successor or is it something that you’ve ever thought about? Why do you think your answer to this?

Difficult question. I could, for example, be cut down by a stroke and be unable to write. There could be a point where the money ran out and a publisher came to my wife and said: ‘Hey, we’ll give you pots of cash to help with the medical bills.’ I would hope she would rip it out of their hands in an instant.

4) With the option of writing a novel on troy was there a concious decision to go with a less ‘classic fantasy’ style cover of Lord of the Silver Bow or was this to help sell the concept as a historical fantasy? In addition to that What finally decided you to sidestep genres to write a Historical Epic rather than a straight Fantasy take on the Troy tale?

The cover design is by John Bolton, who also does my fantasy covers. The thinking is that mainstream readers are put off by fantasy art, and so Silver Bow would have more chance in the main market if the cover looked ‘classy’. In fact I love it. As to the historical tag… well, you have to laugh, don’t you? Gemmell the fantasy writer moves into historicals. Really? By writing about a city that probably never existed – at least in the manner it was described by Homer -, and using characters from the greatest fantasy story ever written. There is almost no historical evidence about the customs, mores, thoughts and feelings of people in that period of the Bronze Age. We don’t even know what currencies they used, or what languages they spoke. So to call Lord of the Silver Bow a historical is stretching it a bit. But many publishers find the ‘fantasy’ tag a turn off. Look at Harry Potter. Is this marketed as fantasy? Is it Hell! Young adult is what they call it. Magic, wizards, spells, but not fantasy. Yeah, right!

5) Why retell the tale of Troy when so many have tackled it before?

Simply because no-one has told it this way. And because it is enormous fun to write. The publishers have really gotten behind it. They just had a conference in Barcelona, where they had notices on the hotel doors saying: Do Not Disturb – in bed with David Gemmell. Wish I’d been there!!!

6) Would you ever consider writing a story or two on the Chiatze people perhaps on focus on the rajnee order. For the Chiazte, did you use any information from specific eastern culture to help inspire the way you portrayed the culture, ie perhaps Japanese or Chinese myths etc.?

The character Kysumu in Hero in the Shadows was based entirely on a character in one of my favourite films. No-one has ever spotted this, but his name and description exactly match the Kysumu in the Seven Samurai. So only I knew [well, until now] that Kysumu passes through a gateway in time, and appears at the right time to defend that little village from the bandit hordes.

7) With the Troy tale taking up the next few years of your writing, have you had any idea’s for the following project or do you tend to ignore this sort of thing so that your current work isn’t effected, if so what can you tell us about this or are you worried about someone else stealing the idea for their own use?

I only ever concentrate on the project in hand. I have no idea whatever what I’ll do after Troy. Much depends on how the public reacts to the books. If, for example, the Troy novels sell enormously there will be a lot of pressure to produce another ‘historical’. If they flop then the pressure will be the opposite. It will be: ‘For Heavens sake, DG, turn out another Waylander as soon as you can.’

8) On your last tour you seemed a bit surprised at the sheer volume of fans that wanted to meet you, why was that, and has the success of the last tour made you consider adding additional dates for the next one?

That was scary. As you know my style is intimate and chatty at talks. I like to involve the audience and take questions. The ideal number for this is around fifty in the audience. On the last tour we had over 200 in places. This causes logistical problems. How much time can we allow for the Q&A, how much for the signing afterwards, and how much for the stock signings after everyone has gone. Before last year it was quite easy to manage. An hour for the chat, an hour for the signing and half an hour for the stock. Start at 6.30, finish at 9. Last year the signing queues alone were running at just under two hours, the stock signing at 90 minutes. This meant that the staff couldnt leave the store until after 10pm, and many of the people in the queue ended up worrying about buses and such like.

9) Its been supposed that Druss is related to Oshikai, with quotes like Shadak saying that these gifts are passed from Father to son, and with the two characters wielding the same weaponry with the same skill, as well as having other similarities such as the Poet, it all seems a bit too coincidental. Other factors for the assumption include that Druss is descended from Angel and Miriel son who married a Nadir Maiden from the Wolfshead, so can you confirm or deny this and did the thought ever occurred to you when you wrote the novel?

Yep, Druss is descended from Oshikai and Angel.

10) How do you relate the gaps in your timeline to fans that say that they should be filled in ie the war of the twins or how bane came back to lead the Rigante against Stone? or do you feel that the gaps add a greater dimension to the reality of the worlds?

It just comes down to what interests me. For example the Crimean War, Charge of the Light Brigade et al, is fascinating. The Second World War is also right up there for excitement, derring do, and charismatic generals like Patton, Montgomery, Alexander and Rommel. The First World War is mind numbingly vile from start to finish. Stupid generals, ludicrous tactics, and colossal waste of human life. Now, if these were part of the Gemmell universe I would write about the Light Brigade, and about Patton and Rommel, but only allude to the First World War. In short I’d skip a generation.

11) Fan fiction can be a writers bane especially in a law court, have you ever come across any that you thought has been half decent and was a great idea that you couldn’t tackle due to the legal implications?

I don’t read fan fiction, for just that reason.

12) With so many people enjoying your work, has this put a block around your neck to deliver something that you think that they want or do you just write what you want and hope that its received with the same success as your other work. How has this effected you as an author and how do you pick yourself up when one novel or two doesn’t get the same acclaim as the rest that you lovingly slaved over?

No, there’s no block. I write what I want, but I also consider what my readers will want. As to criticism… hey, no-one has ever written a book that got universal acclaim. Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal was rejected by one publisher as having no originality of plot and no chance of success. Wuthering Heights was reviewed as an appalling novel, which few people would read and would be forgotten about in months. Most of the best selling first novels you – or I – could mention were rejected by publishers. Stephen Donaldson’s ground breaking Thomas Covenant series in the Eighties was rejected by 40 publishers. Its the same with fans. Occasionally I glance at Amazon for reviews of my work. You’ll find someone giving a novel one star and saying its crap, or that I’ve lost my way, and the next reviewer saying its a five star book and one of the best they’ve ever read. So, I dont need to pick myself up. Water off a duck’s wossname.

13) Actors are always being suggested to play certain characters from your novels, have you ever written a novel and envisaged a certain actor/actress playing a part, if so, who, what book/role and when?

Legend, where I always pictured Brian Blessed as Druss. Jon Shannow was Clint Eastwood from Pale Rider. Sigourney Weaver as a blond Sigarni in Ironhands Daughter. Mel Gibson was the rat who ate through the roof in White Wolf. [Okay, the last one isnt true, but then I loathe the little git]

14) You’ve mentioned that you hate the idea of first person killer games for your novels, if a game was based on your novels such as Total War (one where you command armies to fight the war) was to be suggested what would you do? In the same vein as this have you considered entering programmes such as Time Commanders (currently on BBC2, Sunday Nights) where you can do just that?

Yeah, a Total War version would be cool. I love that series. In fact, just won as the Parthians in Rome Total War. No mean feat when you consider their infantry. Time Commanders is just silly. I watched one episode where they fought the Battle of Hastings and had Harold on a horse. Harold fought on foot with his huscarles. Even the battle formations were wrong. Laughable.

15) What goals have you set yourself to do before you hit the big 6-0 (a few years off but everyone has a dream or two to achieve before a certain age) or have you accomplished everything that you wanted to do so far?

My only goal right now IS to hit sixty. Almost all my dreams have already been achieved. All that can happen now is to get more of what I already have – or perhaps less.

16) Religious philosophy seems to be quite a big thing in your work, how do you reflect that in your own life and why do you think that it is or isn’t so significant?

We’ve tended to ditch codes in the modern world along with so much else of worth. Now we have bred a generation of young people who believe in little and who live in cynicism, pursuing materialistic goals. This leads inexorably to a government who can go to war on a lie, kill thousands of civilians, destroy the infra structure of a largely defenceless country, and see their popularity rise in the polls. That same government can set about destroying civil liberties our ancestors gave their lives for – trial by jury, innocent until proven guilty. All the principles of justice and fairness hurled out of the window. Why do they get away with it? Because there is no philosophy taught anymore in schools. We are not taught to think. We are taught to have opinions. Oh yes, and to know which designer brand of trainers give us the greatest street cred.

17) With your recent completion of your own personal library what do you feel is the pride of your collection and why?

I have a signed copy of Stephen Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, and 120 old Louis Lamour westerns, which I have been avidly re-reading these last few weeks.

18) With other writers sanctioning official merchandise of their own creations, what have you considered doing this with (excepting the weaponry made by Raven Armoury) or is it something that you hope is never tackled?

Raven Armoury produce beautifully crafted weapons, and I am happy for them to produce the Swords of Night and Day. Their Snaga is a thing of beauty.

David Gemmel interview: August 2004

1) You’ve mentioned that when you wrote Legend originally you foresaw yourself more as Regnak The Wander, Earl of Bronze, now your coming close to Druss’s age, how has the perception changed and are you worried about the portent surrounding the death of Druss (The one where he knew that he would die in his 60th year)?

Portents don’t worry me. Everybody dies sometimes, and death doesn’t scare me. I did think about all this recently when I bought my new house, and named it Dros Delnoch. It is a beautiful place, overlooking a valley, and has four oast towers and a central converted barn. It looks like a fortress, which is why I gave it the name. I said to my wife, Stella, that it might be tempting fate to call it Dros Delnoch, since I am closing on 60 at a rapid rate. She said: ‘Just stay away from the gates around your birthday.’ Good advice, I think.

2) Legend is often sited, by many fans, as their favourite Gemmell novel, why do you think that this is?

Hard to say. It is my favourite. It is certainly the most romantic of all my novels, both in central love story, and the high heroism of the contenders. I guess it was written by a young man, full of ideals and beliefs, who approached the craft of story telling with a wild, barbaric gusto. I look back on that young man with great fondness.

3) You’ve mentioned previously that you’ve wanted to see Waylander done as a Graphic novel, John Bolton has said that he is interested in the project so are we likely to see it happen (or am I going to have to adapt the novel first, lol), if so do you have a project date yet and why was this your particular choice?

No news yet on the graphic novel front. John is very busy, and he is the only British artist I would want to work with.

4) With some authors buying objects as a reminder of their novels (such as Stan Nichols) have you done that and what are you looking forward to getting for the first Troy novel?

Already got it. I bought a Bill Radford sculpted bronze helm. It is the most beautiful piece I ever saw, shaped from a single sheet of bronze. Just looking at it fills me with the need to complete the story.

5) What attracted you to the story of Troy seeing as its been recreated so many times in so many different formats?

I have always nursed a secret yen to write a novel about Troy. I loved the stories when my mother read them to me as a child. Troy was a natural for me when I decided to take a break from pure fantasy and immerse myself in a historical period. Sure it has been done a lot. Some of the tales have been magnificent, some tawdry. I have enjoyed them all. I wanted to find Hektor and Achilles for myself, and to sail the Great Green with Odysseus. I wanted to see a story unfold that offered me the chance to renew my love affair with ancient Greece.

7) With Troy being glossed over in Ghost King and the mention of the Feragh’s interaction, how are you going to be able to avoid the pitfalls such as Culain’s slaying of Achilles and how much tampering can we expect from them? Also with the Feragh possibly making an appearance can we expect the Sipstrassi (those magic gold stones) to also appear or are you trying to steer clear of them?

I am just finished the fifth draft of the first novel, so I don’t have to worry yet about whether Culain will make an appearance. I have always said that all of my novels were linked. That remains true of all the fantasies. Troy is not a fantasy. I may use Culain, or I may try something different. That’s the beauty of this job. It depends on what my creative instincts tell me as I move along.

8) Why write a trilogy around Troy and what are you doing to prevent a rework of a tale that already exists?

The story is way too big for a single novel. The first book deals with only a few of the heroes who will come together in the War at Troy. I wanted the story to have an epic feel, and for the readers to be able to identify with the people on all sides of the conflict. As to a reworking…I cant completely get away from that, since I am using characters created by Homer, and existent only in Homeric legend. There is no other source for Achilles, Odysseus, Priam, Paris and Helen. My version of it, though, will be very different. I hope that my story will talk to readers in the modern day. The attitudes and views expressed by my heroes are not intended to reflect bronze age life, but the problems we face here and now.

9) With so much history for you to delve into in not only the Drenai world but also the Rigante can we hope to see perhaps another Bane novel arrive such as crushing the might of Stone (mentioned in Ravenheart/Stormrider) to make an appearance or are their tales just “whispering” at the moment?

Bane was a favourite, and I may return to him one day. I loved the Rigante and all they stood for. One of the annoying aspects of constant editing and revision is that with Stormrider I lost a really important section, dealing with the nature of being Rigante. I had to cut it at the end and it broke my heart. Some time I’d like to write a story that reinstates it.

10) How have you approached writing Troy, did you approach it in the same way as you did with Lion of Macedon and Dark Prince basing a certain amount on facts or has that hatred of research made an appearance just making it easier to write a fantasy based on some truth?

Nope. All research. Times, places, distances, currents, weather patterns, methods of boatbuilding…. you name it. Despite the fact that I am writing a book about current attitudes I still wanted the basic research to be right. Therefore I needed to know about bronze weapons and armour, methods of transactions in the absence of coinage, and the geographical setups of the ancient kingdoms. The editing has been harder this time, knowing what to cut and what to expand to create a sense of narrative drive and pace.

12) With so many covers for Legend over the years, do you have a favourite and why is it?

My favourite is the black cover with the guy standing in front of a line of skulls. I love it because it replaced a truly dreadful cover with a giant armoured hamster, with an axe stuck in his leg, kneeling before two trick circus horses who could only stand up by leaning against one another.

13) A large number of authors are now exploring the Graphic novel world, (such as GRR Martin) you’ve already ventured into this with the Legend and Wolf in Shadow both appearing, have you had any other offers to serialise other novels, if so which ones and what do you think about the prospect of having a large number of characters making an appearance? Does this also through into the mix that dreaded standard contract clause that states the characters become the property of another “owner”?

No problems with copyright. Just time really. I want to work with John Bolton, who I think is the best around, and he is – as you would expect from the best around – up to his ears in work. I’d like to do either Waylander or Echoes of the Great Song.

14) With Raven Armoury currently designing the Swords of Night and Day, what influenced you to agree to the concept of this and why the change of them from katana’s (as portrayed by John Bolton) to Scimitars?

I agreed to the concept because I love Raven’s work. The original swords of Night and Day were not katanas, but that was the simplest way to portray them on the covers. If they are completed by Raven I think they will be exquisite.

David Gemmel interview: Jan 2004

1) After the completion of The Swords of Night and Day you mentioned in a previous interview that your next project was to be to “write a big story loosely based on the Siege of Troy.” How is this progressing and is it going to be something similar to the Lion of Macedon and Dark Prince?

No, this is a straight historical looking at the kind of events that might have led to a major war in the Myceanean period. I’m having a lot of fun with it, though the research does slow down the writing speed. In a fantasy, if you want, say, a storm at sea and a ship riding it, you just invent it as you go along. In the first major action scene for the new Troy book I wanted a storm at sea, during a journey from Cyprus to the coast of Lycia. I needed to know the prevailing winds in the area, the approximate journey times and the reason any ship would be sailing those waters in those times, ie what kind of trade goods did they carry? Its hard work, but, as I said earlier, a lot of fun.

2) What hints would you like to drop about what we can expect from the project?

I’m only 20,000 words into the first book, and working on a second draft following reports from test readers. Too early to give hints – except perhaps to say that I’m looking to tie in some famous ‘historical’ characters into the story.

3) How important would you say fan feed back it to you as an author?

It depends. Its always nice if someone tells you they enjoy your work. Its also good sometimes when people tell you they dont, and then supply a reason. Not enough atmosphere, for example, or too much violence and not enough detail about everyday lives. At other times it can be mildly dispiriting. ‘Dont like your work. Read half a chapter of one of your books and it was crap.’ The British, particularly, have made knocking fame a kind of art form. The more succesful you are commercially the more sniping and back biting you receive. Then there are the well meaning fans whose comments can cause a sinking of the spirits. Most authors pour blood into their work, struggling constantly to find a story that will engage, inspire, uplift and entertain. For a year or more they will sit in bleak offices staring at computer screens honing sentences, cutting, expanding, re-working, editing, until, emotionally exhausted, they finally finish the work. Then someone will say brightly: ‘So, how long does it take you to knock out a book then?’ Or…’Loved the latest, David. Read it in an afternoon. When’s the next one due.’ Mostly I enjoy fan feedback. I used to be able to respond to all the letters I received. Now there are too many. But I do read them all.

4) What is your view is on fan fiction? Is it something that you rather people didnt do or is it more a case of theyre welcome to it as long as you dont see it?

If by fan fiction you mean people taking an author’s characters and writing their own tales I dont like it at all. I understand why people do it, but in this compensation culture age we live in it does create nightmare scenarios. Someone writes a story about – say – Druss the Legend and a dragon. Some time later I write a tale of Druss and a dragon. The next thing that happens is a letter from a lawyer accusing me of stealing someone else’s idea and demanding a sum that would refloat Albania.

5) In previous interviews it has been mentioned that every so often offers are made to you to produce a film based upon one of your creations and you also mention that due to the loss of rights you could never allow this unless the right director came along. Has there been any recent developments along this line, if so which novel and why do you think that that novel was selected?

Following the immense success of Lord of the Rings I dont doubt there are fantasy authors all over the world listening to Hollywood offers. The two books of mine that receive the most are Legend and Wolf in Shadow.

6) Amongst your hobbies you also mentioned that you like playing computer games, what is your favourite type and has anyone approached you to create games using your characters or world ie Dynasty Warriors with the Drenai Heroes, Real Time Battle Strategy using Armies from your worlds, Stealth games using Waylander or perhaps even a first person shoot them up using Shannow? If so who and what, if not what would be your opinnion on these and would you play them yourself or what would you like to see?

There was some interest a few years back, but the problem is that the American market is the key to success in computer games and – though I sell well in the States – there are a large number of US authors whose work in computer game form would outsell me. A secondary problem is that I dont like the idea of one of my characters being used in the kind of kill-frenzy games currently in vogue. This is a savage enough world without geek arsholes designing and marketing ‘have fun as a serial killer’ games.

As to my own taste I am completely in love with Medieval Total War. It is the best strategy game I have ever seen, and I relax for an hour a day playing it. So far I have won as the Byzantines, using the Varangian Guard, the Egyptians, by bribing opposing armies, and the Spanish, using Crusades. I have lost as the Italians, the Sicilians, and – horror of horrors – the English. I also lost as the Germans, but that was because the Emperor was gay and had no heirs. Bit cheeky that, I thought.

7) With a number of fans enjoying the graphic novels of Legend and Wolf in Shadow are there likely to be any more graphic novels of any of your books, if so which ones and if not which would you like to see a graphic adaptation of?

I would only go for a another graphic novel if John Bolton was the artist. He does my UK covers and I think he’s just about the best in the business. Which one? Waylander.

8) More authors are starting to see the power of the internet and are creating, or have official sites, what is your opinnion of this and are we likely to see an official David Gemmell site?

There are a number of great sites dealing with my work. I dont have the time to keep a site up to speed, and my work/life motto is that old saw: ‘If you cant do it well, dont bloody do it.’

9) With a growing number of oversea readers are you likely to do a tour of places like the US or Australia in the near future or is it a case of your waiting to be invited by the publishers in those locations?

I get a lot of invites and I would love to do more touring. Last year I turned down all expenses paid trips to Spain, Holland, Portugal and several other fascinating countries. It is a question of time. One of my claims to fame is that I have never missed a publisher’s deadline. If I say a book will be in by October 10 next year then it will be in. In order to do this my work becomes time critical. I have to tour in the UK every April, and I attend one or two major conventions in the US. [I sneak a holiday in while there and chill out for two weeks] Apart from that I write almost every day. One of these days I will slow down to a book every two years. Then I’ll relax and have fun touring.

10) How does it feel to be hitting the 20th Anniversay of the publication of Legend and what are your views on a special print of this novel (which as far as I know is still being debated at Orbit so it is still unknown whether they will be printing this edition or not)?

It feels like I’m getting old. Which is kind of apt because I am getting old. As to the special edition, I think the publishers of my backlist have decided against the idea. Originally I was scheduled to write a new foreword for an anniversary hardback, but I havent heard anything about it for months now, and the 20th anniversary is only a couple of months away. I think I’ll open a bottle of champagne on April 13 2004 and toast Druss and the battle crew. Funny old chap, Johnny Life. When I wrote Legend I saw myself as Rek the Earl of Bronze. Now I am four years younger than Druss, and he just doesnt seem old to me any more.

11) Its also been mentioned previously that “Skilgannon made his name in the east, in the wars surrounding Naashan and the lands of the Angostin, far north near Kydor. Chroniclers of Drenai history would probably never have heard his name.” How did Skilgannons name manage to end up in Drenai Myth (or is this explained in the next novel)?

I’ll take a rain check on that one.

12) A number of your books make use of military rank and weaponry from certain time periods ie medievel for the Drenai for example and guns for Ravenheart and Shannow, did you research time lines for the availability of each weapon and military rankings or was it more a case of you added what felt right to you at the time? Please explain your answer.

One of the first tips I ever had when I went into management was ‘Never explain.’ I always write what feels good at the time. Ravenheart was my homage to my Scottish ancestors and was an alternate universe version of the horrors following the rebellion of ’45. It was also my tribute to my stepfather Bill, who died while I was writing it.

13) When can we expect the follow up to Quest for lost heroes and what cataclysmic events the twins caused?

The answer may be never. I am committed to the Troy series for the next four years, which will bring me to my sixtieth birthday, God willing. As a heavy smoker with high blood pressure and an appetite for vodka and chocolate there may not be too many years left to discover the secrets of the twins.

14) With a couple of forums having had a battle of the Gemmell heroes, who do you think out of all your characters would triumph and who do you think would be the definitive Gemmell Swordsmaster?

Impossible for me to say. Its like asking a father which one of his children does he like best. In a streetfight I’d want Druss standing alongside me. On a battlefield Tenaka Khan. Being hunted in a forest I’d opt for Waylander. Stuck in East LA I’d want to be walking alongside Jon Shannow.

15) How do you come up with the names for characters?

Damned if I know. It is so important, though. When I began Midnight Falcon I had an entirely different name for the main character. The book wasnt working, and the character was bland. So I changed it. Still didnt work. One day I got really pissed off and said to a friend. ‘This character’s the bane of my life at the moment.’ Then it hit me. What a name. Bane. From that moment the character came alive and the book flowed.

16) Its been commented on that when some people have read Stormrider there seems to be a similarity between Gaise Macon and General Custer. The similarities are quite numerous, are these similarities coincedence? If intended please explain your answer?

No, it is coincidence. He was actually a fantasy version of the Earl of Montrose. I gave a clue by having him use a line of poetry that Montrose wrote about being willing to risk it all.

David Gemmell interview: March 2003

1) At times all authors have trouble coming up with with new ideas how do you combat this problem?

The only time I suffer from lack of ideas is when I quit smoking. It is more than irritating. Recently I quit for a month, and not only could I not write I didn’t even know how to write. I would sit and look at the screen, reading what I had written before quitting, and think: ‘Coo, that’s clever. Wonder how he did that.’ By the time I went – reluctantly – back to the Bensons they tasted like shit and stank the house out. But I was writing again.

2) After an unsuccessful book or a book that many fans thought was a let down such as Ironhands Daughter how do you bounce back?

Stories are living things, like people. Some you like, some you don’t. I figure that if I do my fans the courtesy of giving a novel every ounce of energy, passion and belief that I possess then they’ll forgive me if an individual tale doesn’t appeal to them. In my experience readers tend to go off authors when the writers start churning out poorly written, cliche ridden novels. As long as the author cares enough about his readers to give them the best he can they’ll stick by him/her.

3) White Wolf is sited as Book One of the Damned, how is the next part of novel going to keep the reader enthralled and how many books will there be?

I haven’t a clue. I am 20,000 words into White Wolf 2 – provisionally titled The Swords of Night and Day – and I am having big fun. How the story will pan out, and whether there will be another Skilgannon I just don’t know. That’s part of the joy of this job.

4) With the successful completion of White Wolf whats the next project that your working on?

After White Wolf 2 I am intending to write a big story loosely based on the Siege of Troy.

5) If you were given the funding to make one of your books into a film, with total control in your hands, which would it be?

Legend. It will always be my favourite and it has great cinematic qualities, in that the plot is centred on a giant fortress and a handful of heroes. However I wouldn’t want total control. Giving an author total control would probably spell disaster at the box office. Hells Bells, does anyone remember what happened when Stephen King was given total control?

6) When you’ve spent hard months working on a novel have you ever gone back and read your work and have you ever been able to enjoy it?

I don’t go back and re-read. I once had to proof read the US version of Legend. All I wanted to do was edit and re-write. There are so many klunky moments and clumsy sentences. It holds its place in people’s hearts because of the sheer energy, passion and love that went into it. But as a piece of writing it appals me.

7) Over the years you’ve written tales in the Drenai world centred around the Drenai as the key people, White Wolf appears to be based entirely in another culture with a couple of Drenai as the featuring characters, are there going to be any based on some of the other peoples such as the Chiatze or the Sathuli? If so, Who and when will we see it?

Beats me! I never know too far ahead what I am going to write. I only wrote White Wolf because I had an email from someone in marketing at Transworld with the address S.Kilgannon. I looked at it and thought: Skilgannon – that’s a cool name for a hero.

8) Pagan/Kataskicana is a memorable character, have you ever thought about writing a novel based around Pagan or even just around the Opal Coast?

I originally wrote Pagan as a character after a young fan of Legend said to me: ‘I love your books, mate. You know where its at.’ I asked him what he meant. He looked at me and smiled and said: ‘No spades in Legend.’ That was a watershed for me. Not until then did I realise what a responsibility an author has. As well as entertaining readers we need to raise awareness and battle the idiocies and evils of prejudice in all its forms.

9) In talks that you’ve previously given you’ve mentioned that all your books are based in the same world at different times, using the biblical phrase of not one stone shall be left upon another as a quote (Shannow Books) how do you keep track on the timelines and also which order do they appear in ie Drenai, Rigante, Ghost King, Shannow)?

With enormous difficulty. Happily I have a team of great test readers and fans, and my partner, Stella, keeps track of such things.

10) From what has been released about white wolf, to many it would appear that Skilgannon would have been worthy of a note in the annals of Drenai History and mentioned in other novels, what drew you to creating a whole new character, previously unmentioned in any book and then not only add him to the Druss chronology but make Druss a part of the novel?

I think there’s a flaw in this argument. Most British readers would know about Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood, but how many British readers could name, say, five heroes from French history? Or Spanish history. Skilgannon made his name in the east, in the wars surrounding Naashan and the lands of the Angostin, far north near Kydor. Chroniclers of Drenai history would probably never have heard his name.

11) In the Rigante tales there is a very large portion of history missing, such as Bane’s return and the fall of Stone, in-between Midnight Falcon and Ravenheart. Why did you jump forward so far in the series history and do you think you will ever fill in these gaps with another book?

Maybe. I have a soft spot for Bane and it might be that in some future time I will get an idea for a story.

12) If you could re-write someone else’s novel in the same genre as yours, who’s would it be and why?

Oh yeah, does a free mine detector come with that question? You realise if I answered it it would come back to haunt me every time I attended a convention. However, I recently came across a section in a novel that I would love to have edited. I was re-reading Lord of the Rings – my all time favourite book as a child – and I came across the scene where Boromir is killed and Pippin and Merry are taken by the Orcs. With time of the essence and the Orcs disappearing over the horizon Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas take out a little quality time to prepare Boromir for burial. They then compose songs about him which they sing in a canoe. Only then do they take off to rescue their friends. Happily Peter Jackson cut this for the movie.

13) Where did you get your inspiration from for Legend?

Fear of death. I was being tested for cancer, and wrote the story to take my mind off the wait for tests.

14) When writing a book, do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you?

I just go with the flow. Sometimes it works beautifully, sometimes it has me tearing my hair out. I have no plan of action, no story boards. I jusy invent as I go until the story ends. Its more fun that way.

15) Does the theology in the novels represent your own views?

I believe in heroes, and the need for people to stand against evil. I don’t evangelise. I don’t want people saying: ‘Oh yeah, he’s coming from a Christian angle, or a Judaic angle. To use a line, though, from the Bible, I write for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Everyone needs to find their own route to spiritual enlightenment.

David Gemmell interview: Oct 2002

[This interview also appeared on lycos.co.uk/punchbag/]

1)Recently you had a quote appear on the debut novel of Ian Graham (Monument) How were you persuaded to review Ian’s work and why did you give this quote?

I first met Ian at a writer’s workshop in Norfolk. Having seen samples of his work I realised immediately he had a rare talent and I urged him to write a novel. The first draft of Monument had some magnificent sections, but was like a bag of pearls without a string. He reworked it. Some years later I was able to introduce him to Tim Holman, the sf/fantasy editor at Orbit. Tim also saw Ian’s potential and commissioned him to write Monument. When it was finished I asked for a copy of the galley proofs to be sent to me, so that I could offer an author quote.

2)What do you do to relax?

I write. I play computer games. I watch movies.

3)How have your hobbies assisted you in your work?

I’m not sure they have. But then its difficult to assess. There is no output without input, so I guess watching movies gives me a feel for what kind of storytelling appeals to modern audiences.

4)You’ve mentioned previously how you hate being interviewed by people who don’t know anything about your work, when you consider the wide range of things possible in the Science-Fiction/Fantasy genre. How would you personally define your work against other authors?

I don’t try to define it. My style was influenced by Louis Lamour, Tolkien, Henry Kuttner, Fritz Leiber and Robert E Howard. I like the spartan style of story telling, keeping descriptive prose to a minimum, and making the reader work a little. I rarely read now – though I’ve just started Dawnthief by James Barclay, which I’m enjoying immensely.

5)When you’re in a book shop do you ever have a peak to see who’s browsing your work and if so how often are you recognised?

The short answer is no. Occasionally I see someone pick up a book of mine. If they walk with it to the cash desk I usually ask them if they want me to sign it. I love the looks of surprise on their faces.

6)If someone was to enter a shop where you were, how would you persuade them to consider one of your novels over someone else (not assuming that the Doorman in you comes out) and how would you persuade them that your work is different to other authors?

I wouldn’t. Most authors work bloody hard to finish a novel. They deserve an even playing field when it comes to the shelves.

7)With White Wolf being rumoured to contain the first published map of the Drenai world did you initially have a rough design for your world or just make it up as you went along? In addition to this is there any truth in the rumour and have you based it upon any fan’s map that’s available?

I made it up as I went along. And yes, the map we are using for White Wolf was created by Dale Rippke, an American reader.

8)Out of the characters that appear in your work do you have a singular favourite and please explain your answer?

Druss the Legend. He was the first of my super heroes, if you like. I love the old man to pieces. Actually, having just written that, I now realise that Druss at his oldest is only five years older than me. Damn! When I created him I was just 27. He seemed ancient then. Before much longer he’s going to seem young and carefree. Where the Hell does the time go?

9)Upon completion of your debut novel what did you do, if anything, to celebrate?

Damned if I can remember. Probably got drunk on vodka. I did a lot of vodka back in the Eighties.

10)What, if anything, do you do to put yourself in the mood to write?

I switch on the computer. I am always in the mood to write.

11)How do you feel that people have responded to your work?

It’s a good feeling. I have always believed that story tellers have a duty to inspire people to be the best they can be. One of my fans wrote to me once telling me that he’d just finished a book of mine and was out walking his dog when he saw two men attacking a woman. Instinctively he charged in and the men ran away. He said he didn’t think he would have reacted in quite that way if he hadnt just finished reading a book about heroes.

12)How do you view feedback to your work and how do you react to negative input?

There’s always going to be negative input. There will always be people who think an author’s work is crap, or juvenile, or right/left wing. You just have to shrug and ignore it. People take great delight in knocking Jeffrey Archer’s work. I thought Kane and Abel was a great piece of story telling, fast paced, well characterised and utterly compelling. When Wuthering Heights was first published reviewers slammed it. In the end the only judgement worth a damn is whether a book appeals on a wide level. Because if it doesn’t it goes out of print. Then nobody reads it.

13)You mentioned in your last book tour (Stormrider) about being knocked back a few times with your work but kept plugging away until you finally made it. How did you go about dealing with not only the criticism but also go about getting yourself published in the first place?

Louis Lamour once said writing was like gold mining. You have to dig through a million tons of dirt before you hit the yellow stuff. That’s true. I quit quite a few times back in the early days. I wrote my first novel when I was 21. I didn’t publish until I was 35. Which shows the amount of dirt I had to dig through.

14)What advice would you give to debut novelists to encourage them?

Anyone who needs constant encouragement just isn’t going to make it. You need stamina, self belief, and a dogged obstinacy. It also helps to have a thick skin and an ego that makes Everest look like a pimple on a sheep’s bum.

David Gemmell interview: April 2002

[This was originally posted at lycos.co.uk/punchbag/, because Lycos was taken down]

1) During your career you have seen many diverse changes such as labouring, door management and journalism. How does it feel to be on the receiving end of an interview?

Depends on the skills of the interviewer. If I get someone with a knowledge of the genre, and, ideally, some knowledge of my work, then the interview is a joy. Roz Kaveney and Stan Nicholls are perfect examples of the professional journalist. However they are exceptions. The normal routine is for the interviewer to start by saying they know nothing about fantasy and ‘maybe you could explan it a little. Elves and fairies isnt it?’ These interviews are irritating. I do them because its part of the job.

2) Having been a successful journalist you’d be used to deadlines, what do you do to keep yourself calm as each deadline approaches?

Who said I keep calm? I need deadlines, but the deadlines are still a nightmare. I pride myself on never having missed one, either as a journalist or an author. On several occasions, though, I should have had the nerve to delay submission. I always felt I should have asked for an extension to complete Morningstar in the way I had originally planned. Instead I raced to a finish I now find unsatisfactory.

3) Which author do you read in order to relax and what have you read recently?

I don’t read much in the way of fiction. I’ve just finished reading a charming book by Nancy Reagan, based on the love leters her husband wrote to her over forty years. Extraordinarily touching. I occasionally read old Louis Lamour books – especially the Sackett series.

4) On Stormrider’s release (4th April 02) you’ve completed twenty seven novels, what if any rituals do you have after completion?

I take friends out to dinner to celebrate. Then I take a week or so break before beginning a new story. I love to write. It is a joy beyond description to find a new character and watch him breathe and grow.

5) With each novel having different artwork, what options do you get with the selection of the pieces and does the company present you with a number to choose from?

I get to choose the artist, but then I leave the artist alone to do the work. John Bolton has produced my latest covers. I think the man is a genius. The Midnight Falcon cover is a wonderful piece, full of light and movement. The Stormrider artwork is exceptional.

6) Raven Armoury has two versions of Druss’es Axe Snaga, were you approached by the company and have they presented you with one? Also are their any plans for any more Gemmell weaponry such as Connavar’s sword or Waylanders Crossbow?

Many years ago Raven armoury approached me and asked if they could make Snaga. They gave me the first – and I allowed them to recreate it for sale. There is no business deal between us. I liked the work, and I liked the passion they put into their craft. I would love to see Waylander’s crossbow produced – but so far no-one has had the skill to do it.

7) You’ve had a foray outside fantasy with White Knight Black Swan under the pseudonym Ross Harding, are there any plans to re-release it or are there plans for some others?

No plans yet. White Knight Black Swan was a work of love for me. I’d like to do another thriller, but now is not the time. When I do it will be under yet another pseudonym.

8) With a number of fans disappointed with the disappearance of Gaise Macon a third of the way into Ravenheart, (whom many thought was being built up into one of the main characters) do you as an author feel that with hindsight it would have been better to have delayed release until Stormrider was closer to completion or would you have preferred to release the two more as a compendium and why your answer?

The original idea for Ravenheart would have incorporated the story of Stormrider. It just got too long. In the end I had a choice. Write a 900 page single novel, or do two at around 400 pages. I thought long about the former, and then realised that the flow would be all wrong. The first novel centred around Jaim Grymauch. He was a very charismatic figure, and the climax of his story worked beautifully as a natural ending. To have merely continued the novel after that would have created a huge sense of anti climax. So I split the story. Unfortunately this did necessitate a somewhat abrupt departure for young Gaise Macon.

9) Your editor says that your next title is called “White Wolf.” Is it either a prequel/follow up to Winter Warriors in which there is a character named as such? What hints can you give about the novel?

No, the novel is a Drenai novel set in the years after the Battle of Skeln, but before the siege of Dros Delnoch. The hero is a man named Skilgannon, who carried the demon possessed Swords of Night and Day. Druss the Legend will feature in the story, but not as the lead. [Having said that Druss tends to be a man who creates his own agendas, so it will be hard to hold him back]

David Gemmell interview – 20 more questions

I found this Q&A originally posted here: http://derae.tripod.com/questions.html

1.Do you have any hobbies? (Nicholas Cole)

I used to have a hobby. I used to write fiction for fun, while working as journalist. By the end of my journalistic career I was running seven
local newspapers, organising budgets, overseeing sales drives, appointing editors. In the evenings I would set aside time to fool around with a
story or two. Now I still write for fun but I get paid for it.

2.Is there any particular film/s that have influenced your work? e.g.. “The Wild Bunch” (Steve Tennant)

I tend to write in a ‘filmic’ way, in that I see the story as a movie in my mind, so, yes, films have played an important part in my style. The
Wild Bunch is a classic and – as with so many of Peckinpah’s films – was criticised unfairly because of his violent images. For me Straw Dogs remains his great masterpiece for all sorts of reasons. First and foremost it illustrates beautifully what happens when society no longer has the balls to tackle evil. Modern history continues to show the truth of the message. When UN peacekeepers in Bosnia were not allowed to fight toprotect the people under their care we witnessed the result. Massacre.

Other films that touched a chord in me were The Outlaw Josey Wales, Zulu, Rocky, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Searchers, True Grit, The Shootist and Unforgiven.

3.What annoys you most about your profession? (Inderjeet Lalli)

This is a tough one, because there are any number of pet hates to choose from. Poor reviewers would be one. Most authors sweat blood to make a story work, rewriting, re-editing, worrying endlessly that the work will be the best they can produce. Then some prat with access to a newspaper or magazine will dismiss it in a few sentences, calling it ‘crap’. Anyone who finishes a novel – published or unpublished – should get a medal.

Another gripe is marketing. In many cases the amount put aside to promote a novel is based on a percentage of the advance. This means that a new author, who has received – say – £10,000 will get a publicity budget of around £1000. This supplies a few ads in local papers plus one small display in a genre magazine. An author who gets an advance of £500,000 will get a budget of £50,000, allowing for national advertising, cross-track posters at railway stations, and big BIG coverage. The question that should be asked is: Which author NEEDS the big budget?

But probably the main hate is the pressure on new authors to supply fantasy trilogies. It is unnatural. Most writers come up with stories that will make for one really strong book. Publishers see the opportunity to milk the market and coerce the writer into stretching the story out. Often it doesn’t work. This means that a few years down the line the author is unpublished and struggling.

4.What is your worst reaction to a book, chapter or paragraph you have written yourself? (James Jones)

Not quite sure what this means. If I write something bad I ditch it. For the last few months I have been struggling with the writing. I tried to quit smoking and found that the years of polluting my brain with nicotine meant that I couldn’t string a reasonable sentence together without filling my lungs with smoke. I went three months without a drag, took a good look at the crap I was writing and lit up.

5.Do you lose your rag like the rest of us mortals? Have you ever grabbed old Snaga from the wall and chopped up a crappy manuscript? (James Jones)

Yep. But I don’t tend to lose my rag in life as much as I used to. I’m over fifty now, and carrying a lot of old injuries from days when I boxed or
played rugby. My right shoulder is arthritic and I have two prolapsed discs in my neck from a car crash. A couple of years go I found myself the victim of road rage, which was pretty surprising. Some young men travelling on a coach made obscene gestures at me as I slowed my car to let the coach go by. Red mist descended. I followed the coach, pulled in front of it, got out of the car onto the coach and whacked one of them. Afterwards I felt the double hit of both shame and pride. The shame was the result of losing control and acting stupidly. The pride came from still being able to lose control and act stupidly.

6.What was your favourite cartoon/cartoon character from childhood? (Tony Evans)

Wily Coyote. Despite all the terrible setbacks the sucker never once gave up on his quest to eat the road runner.

7.What made you decide to write a third Waylander story? [Not that I’m not grateful, it’s one of the best books you’ve ever written, IMO]. (Tony Evans)

I felt Waylander’s story was somehow incomplete. And I loved meeting up with him again and following his latest adventure. I can’t say too much more as it would mean putting in bags of SPOILER space, which might look odd in a question and answer session.

8.What period of history would you most like to have lived through (even if it’s longer than a normal life span). (Tony Evans)

Many years ago, when I was a local journalist living in London, I was sent to the Acacia House Spiritualist Centre in Acton, West London. I was writing a feature about a clairvoyant who operated there. The clairvoyant told me incredible stuff about my own life that she couldn’t possibly have known and then told me that I was an ‘Old Soul’ and that I had lived in Ancient Rome. This, she said, was why I had such instinctive ‘knowledge’ about the period. I have always had a fascination for Greek and Roman history, so maybe she was right. There is still enough of the romantic in me to say that, given the choice, I would have lived in Sparta at the time of Leonidas.

9.Do you think your characters’ essentially violent response to injury to themeselves and loved ones, while something we can all identify with, is hard to reconcile with Jesus’ injunction in the Bible to turn the other cheek to injury? (Nora Bennett)

No. I do not see Jesus as a gentle pacifist. He was a rebel and a revolutionary. He took a whip and drove the money lenders from the temple. I think the ‘turn the other cheek’ injunction has more to do with arguments between friends. If a friend – in anger – strikes you, then you should turn the other cheek in order to defuse the situation. But if a stranger, seeking to rob or humiliate you, strikes you, then you should – as the Bible also exhorts ‘smite him hip and thigh.’ For me the Bible needs to be read as a WHOLE book. The laws laid down in it are very harsh. An eye for an eye, a life for a life. Jesus himself told his followers that he did not come to change one jot of the law. However, this isn’t the place to pound on about my view of Christianity. My views can be found in every novel I write.

10.Was the child of Miriel fathered by Angel that is referred to in LEGEND OF DEATHWALKER actually Druss’s grandfather (Bardan) or was Nosta Khan’s reference to Angel being Druss’s ancestor a figure of speech? (Dale Rippke)

It was not a figure of speech, but originally I intended the child to be Druss’s great grandfather, and, thus, the father of Bardan.

11.How do you think up the names for your characters and places? Not just important ones but also the ones you only mention once or twice.(Michael Whitehead)

Sometimes I take them from history [Prasamaccus, Ruathain, Victorinus] and at other times I create them from mixing the names of the friends I have based them on [ToNY GORing = Nygor].

12.How do you feel when you read the little compliments about you written by critics? eg “Probably the finest living writer of heroic fantasy” -Time Out (Michael Whitehead)

I get as much satisfaction when I receive letters from fans who have found the work to be either life changing or life enhancing. I’m lucky in that I don’t have a strong reaction to either flattery or criticism. There are people out there who probably consider me the worst living writer of heroic fantasy. They don’t bother me. I was looking at Amazon.co.uk the other day, ego-surfing the reviews for Hero in the Shadows. Several readers think its one of the best things I’ve done, but one reader thought it was terrible and boring. David Gemmell is no more, he writes. As long as I feel I’ve given a book the very best I can produce then I take the plaudits and the criticism about evenly.

13.David, you’ve declared your commitment to Christianity on a number of occasions. In addition, your books are full of references to “Sources”,
witches and warlocks, etc. Do you yourself really believe in supernatural phenomena, such as ghosts, horoscopes, an afterlife, Uri Geller…? (Nigel

I have never met Geller, so I have no view about his powers. But, yes, I’ve met spiritualists and clairvoyants, faith healers and mystics whose
powers were beyond question. I learned a lot about human nature when I dealt with these people in London. My boss at the Acton Gazette was a
man named Roy Summerhayes. He didn’t believe in what he called the Looney Tunes operating in Acacia House. It didn’t matter how many stories came out about people who were healed. They were all either deluded or fakes. One day I suffered a badly ricked neck. The hospital staff put me in a surgical collar and a specialist said it would take about three weeks for it to heal. Roy Summerhayes was in seventh heaven. ‘Get down to Looney Tunes,’he said. ‘Get him to heal that.’

Reluctantly I trudged down to Acacia House and saw a healer named Karl Francis. He removed the collar, laid his hand on my neck. No massage or
pressure of any kind. ‘Move your head,’ he said. I did so. All pain had vanished and my neck was completely cured. I went back to Roy Summerhayes who said: ‘Yeah, I knew you were faking it.’

Those with eyes to see will see. The others never will.

14.How restricted do you feel by what is expected from you? Do you wish to write different material from what you deliver to us, or are you happy with your tales of slaying and conflicting characters? (Inderjeet Lalli)

There is no pressure from publishers any more. At the moment what I write sells. That’s all they care about. The pressure from fans is great, and I do feel I owe them the best I can produce. However, essentially I write what I want to write, and explore themes that matter to me. I could make
more money by writing what Moorcock calls ‘Pixieshit books’ with a few singing elves and bearded dwarves. That doesn’t interest me. Tolkien did that better than anyone else alive. I would like to write more thrillers and I am planning a series based on a British policewoman. I have been working for some time with a working police detective building a series of stories. However I wont start these until I have finished Ravenheart.

15.You’ve often been asked about which characters most represent you, but which of ay characters in your books would you most wish to be like? (Kate Emery)

I don’t write cynically. When I create a hero and put him in difficult situations the first thing I think is: ‘What would I WANT to do in this
situation?’ ‘How would I WISH to behave faced with these dangers.’ Sometimes I find myself confused by life, and in those moments I feel like
Jon Shannow. At other times I feel a great ad cold rage building, and I know how Waylander felt. I have only ever based two characters on myself, Rek in Legend, and Gellan in Waylander. Who would I really like to be like? Ruathain from Sword in the Storm. Could I ever be like him? Not a

16.Have you ever had problems with am overeager fan? (Kate Emery)

No. One of the nicest things about my fans is that I have only met one I didn’t like. He came up to me at a convention in Liverpool when Legend
was first published. His first words to me were: ‘You really know where its at, Dave. Great book, mate. No niggers in Legend.’

17.Which book was the most pleasurable for you to write and which book was the hardest? (Andy Rixon)

Legend was the most pleasureable. Nothing will ever change that. The hardest is always the latest. With each book I write it gets harder to disguise what SFX magazine calls the ‘literary mechanics’ of the plots. In many ways writing is like comedy – the hit comes with surprise. Without surprise there is no punch line. Problem is the more we see a particular comic the more aware we become of his/her style of delivery. It is the same with writing.

18.What qualities do you look for, or rather like to find, in novels by other authors? (David Lees)

I don’t have time any more to read for pleasure, but in the past I always required passion and heart from an author. For me books need to have moral centres, and should inspire the reader as well as being entertaining.

19.Do you think the internet has made it easier or harder for new fantasy writers to get published? (Nigel Kersh)

If by published you mean posting a story on the Internet then it must have made it easier. As to regular publishing I don’t think its made a
difference yet.

20.Do you have a double crossbow like Waylander’s? (Nigel Witter)

No. I have a single crossbow, a longbow, two broadswords, five pistols, a gladius, three bowie knives, a beautiful copy of the Coppergate helm,
complete with neck guard of chain mail, and a Winchester .73 from the Wichita City Marshalls office at the time of Wyatt Earp. But I aint got
no double crossbow, dammit!

David Gemmell interview – 25 questions


A Gemmell onelist group posted the 25 Questions burning in our minds to David Gemmell following his offer to answer some such questions.

1. Have you any plans to write a book centering around ‘the two twins’

I rarely have set plans for future novels. I know that if I live long enough there’ll be one more Druss story, but I really don’t know whether the twins will surface. On the other hand I’ve probably had as much mail in the last five years about the twins as I have concerning Waylander or Druss, so perhaps its time to start the grey cells working on it.

2. Have you ever written a book, not been happy with it, but had it accepted and published anyway?

Every time. Authors always feel they could do better given more time, more money, more praise, more cuddles. The truth is that mostly we can’t. When we’re given too much time most of us over-edit the work, or make it too wordy. Mostly the author is the worst judge of his/her own work. I use a number of test readers, then a professional editor. I rely on them to give me honest criticism. HAve you ever noticed how many of your favourite authors start of with a cracker of a book and then slowly slide downhill.

Mostly this is because they become too ‘big’ to accept criticism. Now we’re even beginning to see the ‘Author’s Cut’ of some major works. One fantasy author recently published such a version of his biggest hit. In my opinion he should have remembered the useful adage ‘Less is more.’

3. Did you write when you were young?

Yes I did. I tried to copy my heroes, Tolkien, Louis Lamour, Peter Cheyney, Raymond Chandler and [shrinks in embarrassment] Mickey Spillane. The work was poor. But I persevered. Always strikes me as strange that would-be writers expect to hit the mother lode immediately. Louis Lamour once said:
‘Writing is like gold mining, you have to dig through a millions tons of dirt before you hit the yellow stuff.’

In 95% of cases this is true. It certainly was in mine.

4. Do you start a book with a complete story plan in mind, or just with a few ideas and develop it as you write and ocassionally get new ideas half way through and veer off?

I start with a character and follow him. The book then springs from the subconscious. I veer all the time. This means that I never know who is going to live or die, and I am just as surprised and excited as – hopefully – the reader will be.

5. What does your writing space look like?

Some days – and this is one of them – it looks a mess. Papers are scattered around, there are two swords, one on the floor another leaning on the wall. The study is small, ten feet by seven. As I look around I see several cuttings from newspapers, three CD covers – where the Hell the CDs are I have no idea – an over flowing ash tray [ this writing business is killing me] a stack of shelves groaning under the weight of foreign ditions that I cannot read, but cannot bring myself to throw away. Hanging from the wall beside the window is a holster containing one of the pistols I used for the Shannow series. Druss’ axe is leaning against the leather topped writing desk. It has scuffed the mahogany, I notice. Oh well….

6. Have you any plans to base a book on the Dragon? (i.e. fill in the gap between Legend and TKBTG.)

Not at the moment, but it’s a nice idea.

7. Will you be doing any book signing tours when Falcon is released? If so, where?

Been there, done that. I didn’t have a lot of time to tour this year so I did a week, London, Bath, Bradford, Portsmouth, Hull and Stoke. I also signed a mountain of stock in Birmingham and Manchester.

8.What really makes you laugh? Good TV? Good Radio? A good book?Good stand up comedians? People falling over on banana skins?

All of those – bar the banana skins. I like Frasier, Cybill, Cheers, Fawlty Towers, and Friends. Mostly though I get the most laughs from politicians when they talk of honour and integrity. Plankton understand more about honour than any politician I’ve ever met. I once spent an entertaining lunch hour chatting to Michael Howard, the former Home Secretary. He was just a junior minister then, and MP for Folkestone in Kent. At the time I was the editor of the local paper and had been running stories on the proposed Channel Tunnel. My paper printed a coupon so that readers could vote on whether they wanted the tunnel coming through their town. We had thousands of letters and had to draft people in to collate them. More than 85% of readers said they did NOT want the tunnel. I asked Mr Howard if he would raise their objections with the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. He responded by asking me if I was naive. He then told me that since Thatcher wanted the tunnel that was it. No arguments. Unsurprisingly Mrs Thatcher promoted him.

9. Which Fantasy Fiction cliche do you dislike the most and why?

I get tired of the constant Tolkien rip offs, singing elves, dwarves with broad belts and black beards. But then I dont read much fantasy these days so I dont expose myself to what Moorcock once described as ‘pixieshit novels.’

10. Do you listen to music ?

Not when I write, but I do use music to get into the mood for certain scenes. There’s a track at the end of the Titanic movie album which I used when writing the final scene in Sword in the Storm, where Ruathain is sitting watching his sons. Now whenever I hear that track there’s a tear in my eye.
11. Is criticism from fans in a forum like this, any different to that of literary critics when you release a book?

My work does not receive literary criticism. It never has. ‘Quality’ newspapers rarely review fantasy in any depth. I had a review once in the Daily Telegraph which read: ‘The only thing I liked about Waylander 2 – imitation Tolkien with no characterisation – was the butch girl on the cover.’ That was the full review. Did it help to know that the writer was a failed author? Not a lot. Criticism from fans is another matter entirely. I take that seriously. It is not easy to act on such criticism, because it is never universal. I have had many letters from fans who did not like Echoes of the Great Song, and several from readers who thought it was my best for years. I tried a more lyrical style for the story. It did not work for the majority of my fans and I probably wont try it again.

12. Is there any book you’ve written in which the main charcater began to appeal to you less and less until by the end you didn’t really like him/her and had to force yourself not to let your dislike transmit to the page?

Once. In the novel Ironhands Daughter I set out to write a ‘dislikeable woman’. I wanted her to be selfish, self centred and hedonistic, in order for the subsequent personality changes to be more contrasted. I did far too good a job. I disliked her throughout. Many readers utterly hated her. I learned a lot from that book.

13. I know you don’t read a lot of fiction nowadays but what are your favourite authors of the different genres?

Rob Holdstock is a wonderful writer. Lavondyss is one of my favourite books. Geoff Ryman is also magnificent. ‘WAS’ is one of the finest novels I’ve read. Thomas Harris, with ‘Silence of the Lambs’, had me sitting open mouthed in admiration. A master of narrative drive and characterisation. Stephen Pressfield’s ‘Gates of Fire’ is a fabulous work.
14. Has anyone ever been offended if you based a not-so-nice character on them? In partcular I’m thinking of the revieweer (is this right- I could have the story wrong) you based ‘Broome’ on in the Jon Shannow books, did he ever write to you about it?

The man who was the basis for Karnak in the Waylander novels once described it as a ‘poisonous and malicious attack on his integrity.’ Sadly he was also my boss. Curiously I was made redundant soon after. The reviewer named Broome never wrote to me. Using him taught me a great deal. It was my intention to make the Broome character an idiot. The reviewer, a man of pacifistic leanings, had hated my novel Wolf in Shadow. So I created the pacifist Broome, in order to show that in a world of violence such men are about as useful as rubber nails. But the more I wrote about him the more I realised that civilisation is born from the beliefs of such men. Yes the warriors have their place, but warriors do not create caring societies. Men like Broome do.

15. Do you read your books once they’re published?


16. The short bio of you circulating the internet says you were expelled from at 16 school for ‘organising a gambling syndicate.’ Is this true? if so, what was it all about?

Afriend and I organised a betting shop in the school. Other students could lay bets with us. Some of the larger bets we offloaded at a betting shop. It was a lucrative business. Doing the accounts one day I noticed that we were starting to suffer from a series of bad debts from students who had placed bets, but not paid up. So – always the businessman – I brought in a guy named Freddie. Freddie was – not to put too fine a point on it – a natural leg breaker. This was not surprising since he came from a family of leg breakers. Anyway, Freddie got to keep half of the money he collected. Within days a stream of angry parents arrived at the school complaining about ‘Jimmy’s black eye’ ‘John’s terrible bruises’ ‘Henry’s chipped tooth.’ The betting shop empire collapsed and within two weeks I was working as a labourer.

17. If you could give one piece of advice to want-to-be writers, what would it be?

Writing is an acquired skill. No-one walks in to a hospital and says: ‘I want to be a brain surgeon, so give me a saw and a sick patient.’ The skill has to be learned. So… never quit. Just keep writing.

18. Which series do you plan to do next? Do you think you’ll ever do another historic fantasy like Lion of Macedon?

I’ve hired a reviewer to research Constantine the Great. I’d love to do a big historical novel on him. But the research alone will take two years, so I wont be starting for at least another three years.

19. What- if anything- are the strangest rumours you’ve ever heard about yourself?

Back in 1984 when Legend was first published it followed a novel called the Horse Lords by Peter Morwood. Both books had the same cover artists, the same agent, and Morwood’s hero was called Gemmel. For about two years people were convinced that David Gemmell didn’t exist and was just a nom de plume used by Peter Morwood. A few years ago, while suffering from a particularly unpleasant illness, the rumour went around that I was dying, which I quite enjoyed because so many people started being nice to me. After that someone put out on the NET that I was gay, which caused embarrassment to those young men who approached me at conventions or signings.

20. What do you feel about your ‘star status’? Have you ever had fans find out where you live and just turn up?

Yes I have. I try to be polite, but I rarely ask people in who arrive unannounced. The star bit is at best annoying. I do what I do because I love it. I am also acutely aware that people pay for my books and I feel very strongly that they deserve the best I can give. But – when all’s said and done – it is a job. No more than that. It is certainly no more important that that of a dustman, or a cab driver, or a clerk, and far less important than that of a nurse or a doctor. I dont live like a ‘star’. live in a small house in Sussex, drive a normal family saloon and shop at Tescos. I like to work in my garden and chat to my neighbours. As a story teller I have an ego the size of Everest. As a man I try to hold to a sense of self mockery.

21. Have you ever contracted a fantasy artist to portray any of your creations? If not do you have any plans to do so, for say a book cover?

The one artist I have always wanted to see commissioned for a book cover is John Bolton. We finally got him for Midnight Falcon and the new Waylander novel.

22. Do you work with maps?

Mostly I have a rough map to work from. I’m thinking of commissioning someone to prepare a map of the Drenai world, because more and more fans are asking for maps to be included.

23. Are any more books about any of the Feragh in any sort of planning, or even in basic idea form?


24. Have you ever considered a Drenai,(or anyother of your creations) as a RPG game or Computer game?

Legend was produced as a game for the Sinclair Spectrum back in the Eighties. The first half of the game involved trying to recruit all the heroes to come to Dros Delnoch. I never got through the first half. Druss kept killing me. There may be other games soon. But I can’t say too much about that at the moment.

25. Do you think you’ll ever stop writing?

Sure. One day I’ll die.

David Gemmell Amazon Interview – Return of the Waylander

[NOTE: This interview is attributed to Amazon, but I’ve found it impossible to locate the original – Amazon may have removed it from their website]

Return of the Waylander

David Gemmell is one of the most popular writers of sword-and-sorcery fiction; his Legend and Waylander books are classics of the form. He talks to Roz Kaveney about the lessons of his mother, the perils of journalism and the nature of the heroic.

Amazon.co.uk: You have always written about heroes, the varieties of heroism and the dash and style that go with heroism.

David Gemmell: It goes back to my mother, who was an outrageous woman, a single mother in a period when that made you a pariah on the outside of society. She was a cockney who taught herself Revived Standard Pronunciation and went on the stage. She told me stories when I was a child; Horatius on the bridge was a great favourite and she was keen on stressing the importance of style. From her I got my love of history and myth; she also raised me to be something of a poser and told me never to rush into a room but to pause in the doorway for maximum effect. When I was 14, fat and knock-kneed, she called me for an audience in the bedroom where she was lounging and sent me off to a friend of hers. He showed me how Yul Brynner, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum walked, and asked me which walk I wanted to learn as a way of getting rid of the knock knees. I opted for a combination of Wayne and Brynner.

Growing up in West London, I knew my share of gravel-voiced hard men and later on, as a journalist, I interviewed mercenaries and members of the SAS. What they had in common was a sort of focus, a capacity to break a job or a crisis down into the immediate next thing to take care of with no thought about long-term risks. They also had in common a refusal ever to bluff. One of them tossed me a coin once and said to catch it, and I did; he then said to imagine he had a gun to my mother’s head and to catch it, and I said that would be harder. But it would not have been for him. I used that scene in Waylander, of course.

Jon Shannow, in The Jerusalem Man is largely based on a friend of mine who ended up in jail for armed robbery. When I was a young journalist, I wrote about a Rachman-style landlord who threatened me; just round the corner from a cafe he owned, I was jumped and beaten and hospitalized. My friend went to his cafe, which was full of his men, checked which one of them was him and then laid into him with a length of pipe, facing down the others. I knew people like that, so I write about them.

Amazon.co.uk: You grew up in the city and live in the country; there is a town/country opposition in your work

Gemmell: My mother had a friend, a man with waist-length hair in the 50s, who used to lie on the grass with his shirt off to abosrb the energies of the earth. He told me that stone blocks were magic,and I suppose that is what I think.

Amazon.co.uk: You write about the defense of traditional ways of life…

Gemmell: I want the work to speak for itself, implicitly. “He that has ears let him hear.” I don’t like to talk about the ideas of the work too much…

Amazon.co.uk: You have always written series and have tended to have more than one on the go at any one time.

Gemmell: It is all to do with marketing. I did not particularly intend to be a fantasy writer but after I wrote Legend, they asked me for another fantasy novel; and after I wrote King Beyond the Gate, it narrowed down further to another Drenai book. If readers and publishers like what I have done in a single book, then I will do it again. My books are always intended to have the capacity to stand alone–the Stones of Power books are only linked by the stones, the Rigante books by the Rigante people at various points.

Amazon.co.uk: Do you do much research?

Gemmell: Iused to write everything out of my own head and now I hire researchers to keep track of what I have already said. What I do research for myself is simple things, like how to steal a bull. I am not someone who does a year of research before writing–that would bore me to tears.

Amazon.co.uk: You write very good action sequences–do you visualize them in your head in advance?

Gemmell: Iused to box and fence and I have a strong sense of fighting as a series of moves. I collect weapons and I work out action sequences with them in my back garden, preferably when the neighbours are not watching.

Amazon.co.uk: Your books have a tremendous sense of the heft of weapons, of their physical feel.

Gemmell: That is what is important about them, as often as not. If you want to know how the Romans conquered the known world, the answer is the gladius, the short thrusting sword they used. An 18-inch blade that you push forward is different from a three-foot blade that you slash with–it means that you can stand shoulder to shoulder in a wall, where a slashing glaive keeps you six foot apart from your comrades in each direction. No matter how the Celtic armies outnumbered the Romans, at the point of contact of the lines of battle, it was three to one in the Romans’ favoour. You can’t learn to drive by being told about it; you have to get in the seat and have the wheel and the brake to hand: you have to hold a weapon to know how it felt. Collecting weapons has another advantage – I have a friendly rivalry with Terry Pratchett about sales and prestige. He rang me up to say that they were going to name a fossil turtle after him and asked what I had to say about that. And I could say that I had just bought a Winchester that Wyatt Earp probably used.

Amazon.co.uk: Your work has brought you money and a measure of fame…

Gemmell: Things that can change people for the worse. Since my books started selling, I have been able to buy an ordinary house in an ordinary neighbourhood – anything more would be bad for me. I had a taste of the good life when I was not well-known, and I learned my lesson. When I was editor of the local paper, I would get to book myself hotel rooms; then, when I was editor-in- chief, assistants would book me junior suites. Then I got to be managing editor, and would be booked larged suites – and once I got given a single room and made a terrible fuss and got compensated. I mentioned this to a friend, who pointed out that I had become the sort of pompous pratt I used to mock. Grace is one of those things you lose if you don’t use it. One day my books will stop selling and I will go out of print and be forgotten; people will be surprised that I used to be a writer. While it lasts you can enjoy it but keep your feet on the ground.
Amazon.co.uk: Do you plot your books in advance?

Gemmell:I never have much of a clue where my books are going. In the present one, I have two characters from the Rigante people and one of them is going to steal that bull, and that is all I know. I need the excitement of not knowing how a scene works out until I write it. The difference between now and my early books is that I rewrite and reshape more. I have to work at a craft that used to be spontaneous.

Amazon.co.uk: You have an interest in real history.

Gemmell: The one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing. We are not brighter and better than those who came before us; everything that Machiavelli said in the early Renaissance is true today. I tend to write about what ought to have been, rather than what was – alternate histories in which things worked differently. The Celts gave the Romans a bloody nose early on. nit tjeu were not interested in empire amd were doomed by that.

Amazon.co.uk: Are there cusp points in history, and how do they work? In the Indian Civil Wars of the early 17th Century, a crucial battle between a humane Sufi prince and his intolerant bigot brother was won because the Sufi fell off his elephant.

Gemmell: Machiavelli points out that love is a gift given the prince by the people and fear is something he can demand from them; and therefore it is better to be loved than feared. If a ruler who is loved falls off his battle elephant, his people may well painc; if a ruler who is feared falls off, he has probably given them contingency plans, and they will be terrified of what he might do if they do anything wrong. As a journalist, I saw nice guys finishing last; I like to construct histories in which that is not true, at least for a while–in most of my worlds, any triumph by good is going to be temporary.

Amazon.co.uk: You have had some very bad reviews.

Gemmell: Iwrite about love and honour and courage and the spiritual and I get dismised as a hack and slay writer. It would be annoying, if I let it be. As it is, I prefer to think of the readers who write in and tell me how my books help them endure life…

David Gemmell Interview – Motivation

Stan Nicholls looks at David Gemmell’s motivations during writing his first eight books.

If science fiction can be characterised as the literature of ideas – a genre essentially cerebral in nature – then fantasy (and to some extent horror) can be characterised as literature concerned with emotions.

This is gross simplification, of course, and a calumny on the many SF writers who have supplanted cardboard cut-outs with rounded characters, and defied the clichés of hardware and chauvinism that traditionally bedevilled the field. And admittedly it is a generalisation that only holds true when rigidly applying Sturgeon’s Law. But if the best science fiction inspires a sense of wonder, then the best fantasy inspires a genuine involvement with its protagonists.

At their finest, David Gemmell’s novels do just that. They also convey a curiously uplifting quality which transcends their subject matter, largely as a result of the presentation of characters with frailties, and occasionally less than courageous impulses. Typically, his heroes are ordinary people confronting extraordinary situations; a running theme is that of men and women of goodwill coming to the realisation that they can have an impact on the tide of events.

On one level his books are about the nature of friendship, love, growing up, and accepting responsibilities – topics not readily associated with sword-and-sorcery adventures, and usually guaranteed to have me reaching for something else to read. If I don’t, it is because these concerns are handled with an absence of the tweeness and tooth-rotting sentimentality that can plague novelists whose self-imposed brief is simply to entertain. More to the point, a great number of other people seem to feel the same way – with eight published novels to his credit at time of writing, Gemmell is among the top five best-selling fantasy authors in this country.

Born in 1948, in West London, David Gemmell worked for over twenty years as a journalist with provincial and national newspapers before turning to fiction. His transition to novelist came about as the result of a personal, potentially tragic, crisis.

In 1976, passing blood and losing weight, he was told he might have cancer. While waiting for test results, his wife persuaded him to distract himself by writing a piece of fiction, and in just two weeks he hammered out a novel, The Siege of Dros Delnoch. This had a diverse group of heroes, led by ageing fighter Druss, coming together to defend the last stronghold of the Drenai empire against an enemy called the Nadir.

Not immediately realising that what he had written basically symbolised his own situation (he was the fortress and the Nadir the point of greatest hopelessness represented by the cancer) he nevertheless left the ending open; if he had cancer Dros Delnoch would fall, if he didn’t it would survive. In the event, he turned out to be suffering from the recurrence of an old kidney injury, sustained some years earlier when he was badly beaten-up in the course of his work as a journalist.

The book was forgotten for some time. Then a friend read the manuscript, recognised its potential, and suggested Gemmell rewrite it. Following a year of revision, and retitled Legend, it was accepted by Century Hutchinson (now Random Century) in late 1982.

There were two main influences on Legend. The basic plot was based on the siege of the Alamo – reflecting Gemmell’s fascination with the American old West – or rather the Alamo story as it should have been. When he first read about it, he was impressed by the heroism of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis and the rest, but subsequent research revealed the story as largely myth. Most of the participants were self-seeking, if undoubtedly brave, and didn’t expect to die; the management of the defence was inept and shambolic. So Gemmell’s aim with Legend was to embody the perceived spirit of the Alamo.

The second influence centres around the patriarchal figure of Druss, to whom the book’s title partly refers. Druss is a legendary warrior fighting his greatest campaign; the battle against time and his own waning powers, which was to become a recurring theme in Gemmell’s later work. The interesting thing about the character, who comes over as fundamentally more likeable, and certainly more believable, than the average fantasy hero, is that he was modelled on the author’s stepfather.

Gemmell was brought up in a very violent part of London, and has around a hundred and twenty stitches on his body from fights as a child to prove it. When his stepfather (whom he describes as “a natural man of action”) came into his young world the only thing he insisted on was that the boy learn to box in order to defend himself. He did learn, but being up to then a rather bookish child, and a bit of a loner, he never came to really enjoy it. The important point is that this powerful man, whose attitude to problems was to meet them head-on, would seem to have had a profound and lasting effect on Gemmell’s subsequent career as a novelist. Legend has a pantheon of youthful heroes supporting Druss, but there is no doubt he is the principal player. To engage the reader’s empathy with him to the extent it does – to be audacious enough to present an old man as the central character in the first place – is a not inconsiderable achievement in itself.

Characterisation is arguably Gemmell’s greatest strength as a writer, and one thing Legend taught him was to take his characters from life; his upbringing among some tough people, and those years as a journalist, provided a good stock to draw from. And he also did something in Legend usually regarded as a common first-novel fault, but which actually worked quite well in this case: he based one of the characters, Rek, on himself.

Rek, a cautious individual bordering on timidity, starts out as someone more concerned with avoiding any sort of violence than indulging in heroics. Initially, he was also something of a poseur. In 1988, Gemmell commented, “He was more interested in whether his cloak was draped over his saddle correctly than getting involved in any problems. That was me.” Rek, like his creator, overcame his doubts about himself through being forced into violent confrontations, and because of the influence of his lover, Virae. Gemmell is on record as saying that the inspiration for Virae was his wife, Val.

Legend is a somewhat raw book, and suffers from first-novel crudities, not least a weakness of structure, and dialogue that occasionally looks mannered. But there is no denying its power, compulsive pace and mythic quality.

After Legend, he wrote a book called The Chaos Warrior, which was the life story of Druss. The publisher turned it down, saying Druss was interesting in Legend because he was old and fading, and therefore sympathetic; but when he was young, what was he but another Conan? 120,000 wasted words the wiser, he scrapped the novel and wrote another, The King Beyond The Gate. This was rejected too. Gemmell was experiencing the “second-novel syndrome,” a fairly common complaint for writers who can lose their way following the success of an initial effort; and his publishers expressed the fear that he might be a one-book author.

He asked them if there was anything at all they liked about the book, and they said, “The title.” To his credit, he took advice from them and wrote King Beyond The Gate Mark II. But by this time his deadline was looming, and he had to rush it, and subsequently came to consider it the least satisfying of his novels. I think this is a slightly harsh assessment. The book is less entertaining than Legend, but it has undeniable values. It also perpetuated and refined some of the themes established in the previous work.

The King Beyond The Gate is, loosely, a sequel to Legend, set a hundred years after the events in that book. The hero is Tenaka Khan, the Prince of Shadows, who is widely despised for his mixture of Drenai and Nadir blood. Like many of Gemmell’s heroes Khan is a loner. Pragmatic, even defeatist, about the part he can play in great historic events, he finally prevails after joining forces with other like-minded individuals. As before, we have the concept of strength in unity; but also an implication that fate – or a deity – is as much a motivating force as free will.

The menace directed at the Drenai people is represented by mad Emperor Ceska, a puppet despot manipulated by two evil groupings, the Joinings and the Dark Templars. The Joinings are werebeasts, the Templars a satanic sect of supposedly unbeatable warrior priests. Another group, the Dragon – officially disbanded fifteen years before and whose survivors are beyond their prime (the tyranny of Time again) – is the nexus for the forces of Order. These elements further develop two other motifs seeded in Legend – the complex nature of Gemmell’s villains, and elite groups.

The villain of Legend, Ulric, has a certain nobility, and is almost sympathetic; Ceska is a portrait of a weak man driven by demons. Gemmell’s intention is to avoid the tendency in fantasy to make the villains totally black. His feeling is that so many become caricatures of villainy and lose their credibility. He once explained this by citing the example of Herman Goering. While not questioning or denying the inherent evil of the Nazi leader, he pointed out that he ran great risks by obtaining exit visas for his second wife’s Jewish friends, and was one of the few in Hitler’s circle to confront him with complaints about the concentration camps. Gemmell’s point was that once you looked beyond superficialities, Goering was revealed as a human being, albeit a deeply flawed one. His belief is that no one is ever completely evil, and in giving his villains some redeeming features it not only throws their bad aspects into relief, but also makes them more credible.

The interest in elite groups, apart from their usefulness as plot devices in this branch of fiction, stemmed from a childhood in which Gemmell belonged to none of the gangs prevalent in his neighbourhood, and dreamed of having lots of friends. In addition to this, during his time as a journalist he interviewed men from elite regiments, like the SAS, and noted how in their 60s and 70s they still attended reunions and displayed pride at having been part of such exclusive cliques. This group psychology, the discipline and camaraderie, came to fascinate him.

If The King Beyond The Gate marked time to some extent, Waylander saw the author well into his stride. The third of the Drenai Saga (a somewhat arbitrary label as, like all of his novels, it can be read in isolation), Waylander is a classic quest story. Following the assassination of the Drenai king, an enemy army, the Vagrians, invade Drenai territory intent on total genocide. Waylander the Slayer, the archetypal lone hero by now a staple of Gemmell’s stories, is the only hope. To repel the invaders and redress the balance between Order and Chaos he has to travel into Nadir lands to find a legendary Armour of Bronze. The McGuffin is that Waylander, a skilled assassin, was the man who murdered the Drenai king.

Waylander was the point at which all the elements and themes originally touched upon in Legend started to come together in a totally coherent way. A series of climaxes are deftly spaced, dialogue rings truer, and the pace is well orchestrated. But it was his following book, Wolf In Shadow, that was to provide the first totally satisfying unity of content and style.

Wolf in Shadow (Jerusalem Man in the US), which in some ways resembles a conventional thriller in structure (a field Gemmell has expressed an interest in entering), is the first of another series, the Sipstrassi Tales, and the nearest he has come to writing science fiction. The setting is a post-catastrophe world three hundred years after a tilt in the Earth’s axis has wiped out civilization. Central character Jon Shannow, a tortured individual on a personal quest that could be termed spiritual, is peaceful in intent until his woman is taken for blood sacrifice by Abaddon, Lord of the Pit. Shannow becomes an avenger, facing black magic and an arsenal of weapons from the days before the Fall, wielded by Abaddon’s Hellborn army.

Considering the accomplishment of the result, it is interesting to discover that Gemmell felt deeply unhappy about the way Wolf in Shadow was going when he wrote it. At the time he had just lost his job – “axed in the back by people I trusted,” as he put it – and his mother was very ill, and subsequently died. Understandably, all this effected the tone of the book. The character of Jon Shannow became increasingly depressive, and Gemmell was too close to the novel to see that it was taking some spectacularly wrong turns. Always generous in acknowledging those who have helped him in his work, Gemmell credits Century editor Lisa Reeves with suggesting revisions which put it back on an even keel. Her main contribution was to suggest that he cut much of the science-fiction element and replace it with magic. “Suddenly everything channelled the right way,” he recalls; and he set to rewriting the second half. Subsequently it was the first of his books to be sold in the American market.

Ghost King, the second of the Sipstrassi Tales, published in 1988, takes place earlier than Wolf in Shadow; and while it contains magic and mysticism it is actually nearer to a straightforward historical romance (in the purest sense of the word) than fantasy. Indeed, by his own admission, Gemmell could have as easily been an historical novelist as a fabulist, and his books tend to contain more swords than sorcery. Legend originally had very little sorcery; when it came back for revisions the publisher asked for more magic, and the supernatural elements were grafted on at that stage.

The reason he does not write historical novels or biographies is because most of the things which intrigue him about history ended badly. An example is one of his great heroes, the 13th-century Scottish noble William Wallace, who raised a peasant army and drove the English out. The Scottish establishment of the time, realizing they were in danger of having a new order imposed which would erode their privileges, betrayed him. Wallace was taken to London and publicly executed. Fantasy allows Gemmell to create worlds where characters like Wallace are not betrayed, or survive and win if they are. An alternate-world version of the story of someone like Wallace is out because Gemmell recognizes science fiction isn’t his forte; and he is mindful that the amount of research needed to make such a setting credible could swamp the storytelling impetus.

While not pretending to historical accuracy, Ghost King nevertheless takes place against a background of cities and areas which actually existed in Roman Britain, and some of the characters are based on real people. He has gone back to the events which some historians believe may have been the origin for the Arthurian legends. One character, Cunobelin, was a warrior chieftain who reigned for forty years from his base at Camulodunum, and his exploits may well have come down to us as the story of King Arthur.

In a kind of reversal of Legend, the hero of Ghost King is a boy called Thurso, son of the High King Aurelius Maximus. (The suspicion is that Thurso, more interested in reading than fighting, is another incarnation of the author.) But he is aided in his battle against the machinations of the Witch Queen by Culain, elderly Lord of the Lance, a character whose mission becomes a race to impart wisdom to his young charge before death overtakes him. Obviously this is a variation on the story of Arthur and Merlin; confirmed when we learn of the existence of an Excalibur-like Sword of Power.

Ghost King is one of the more successful reworkings of a fairly well-mined area. It is a compelling and pacey action adventure with few pretensions beyond entertainment, and is no less impressive a piece of story-telling for that.

The third Sipstrassi Tale, Last Sword of Power, is set against the chaos following the Roman Empire’s decline. Free of occupation, Britannia faces a new threat from the Goths and their charismatic leader Wotan, an apparently unstoppable conqueror drawing his strength from the forces of evil. Roman-born Uther – the “Blood King” – and his alliance of British tribes may be the only one able to oppose Wotan. But Uther, despite his awesome reputation as a warrior chief and possession of a Sword of Power (we learn there is more than one) is, true to form, an old man, struggling to hold together the disparate elements of his kingdom.

The wild card is introduced in the figure of Revelation, who proves to be legendary man of arms Culain lach Feragh, who is said to be a survivor of the lost continent of Atlantis, and practitioner of a sorcery as potent as Wotan’s. Revelation befriends Cormac Daemonsson – a fourteen-year-old outcast found as a baby among a litter of black pups in a mountain cave – and blind sorceress Anduine, quarry of Wotan’s legions of men and demons.

An interesting counterpoint is that while Uther, like Druss in Legend, is desperate to hang on to life in order to achieve victory for his people, Revelation, an immortal, longs above all to drop the burden of longevity and meet his end as a human.

In my view, Last Sword of Power may be Gemmell’s best novel to date. The characters, as ever, are exemplary, the dilemmas they face are believable despite being fantastic, and there are some excellent action set-pieces. Which is not to take anything away from Knights of Dark Renown (1989) or his latest published book to date, The Last Guardian.

Knights of Dark Renown, a medieval fantasy unrelated to either the Drenai or Sipstrassi series, appears to be a one-off. A brotherhood of warriors, the Knights of the Gabala, whose duty is to protect the Nine Duchies, disappear through a portal into a kind of parallel world. But one, Manannan, obeys his instinct to stay behind. Inevitably, he becomes known as the Coward Knight for this apparently craven act, and is tortured by his conscience because of it. But when the Duchies are threatened by dark magic, Manannan is the only one to stand for them. The Last Guardian completes the saga of Jon Shannow, facing a reptilian army admitted to his present via a gateway to the past. Not the least of the appeal of these two novels lies in watching the continuing development of a fine gift for the telling of tales.

Gemmell’s plots may not be blindingly original, as I think he would be the first to agree, yet somehow the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. And there is that quality of uplift I mentioned at the start. if pushed to identify unifying factors in his work, beyond the purely thematic, I would say optimism and decency. These are moral tales, in the most acceptable sense of the word.

He contends his books have an essentially religious basis, although this is in no way intrusive, or particularly apparent on first reading. He is a Christian, with strong views on the subject, and would say, perhaps, that the qualities I have identified spring from that belief. (As a non-Christian, I might argue that the values put forward could as well be termed Humanistic, but that is beside the point.)

Whatever his source of inspiration, whatever light he may be following, I can only say that he has brought me to a renewed interest in a field – fantasy – which I have long considered moribund. But then that probably has more to do with Gemmell than the genre. What I do know is that he passes a fundamental test for successful fiction – almost always, the experience does not come to an end with the book.

(c) 1999 Stan Nicholls

David Gemmell SFX interview (1996)

Stan Nicholls Interviews David Gemmell. First published in SFX Magazine in 1996. In SFX it was titled “Hack (and Slash) Author”. This title was disliked by both Stan Nicholls and David Gemmell.

The Clute/Nicholls Encylopedia of Science Fiction calls David Gemmell – Britain’s current leading exponent of heroic fantasy – “tough minded.” After meeting him, we think simply “tough” will do… Stan Nicholls chats with the creator of Sigarni the Hawk Queen, the Jerusalem Man, and Druss the Axeman, shortly before the publication of his novel, The Legend Of Deathwalker

David Gemmell sits in the den of his Hastings home surrounded by an array of swords, shields, knives and firearms. For the UK’s best-selling author of heroic fantasy – a man who’s carved a niche at the muscular, action-driven end of the genre, with 19 novels and a million plus sales to date – the armoury seems somehow appropriate.

But Gemmell insists that people who tag his work “macho” have missed the point.

There’s no gratuitous violence in my books. It’s just that they’re set in medieval-style worlds, usually in the middle of a war and you can’t avoid violence in such settings.”

And violence has certainly played a part in his own life…

I grew up in a tough part of West London,” he explains. “Before I was 16 I’d had over 60 stitches in wounds caused from fights.

So what was the worst moment?

The worst was also the best. It was the night before a GCE exam, and I went with some friends to a club to see a band. A group of well known hard cases came in, and three of them went for me. My left arm was fractured in three places and my nose was broken. That was the worst bit. The best was that I sat up all night teaching myself to write with my right hand, and still passed the exam the following day. And, even better, I became a school hero. It was a watershed moment in my life, and everything since has stemmed from it.

But violence is just one component of my I fiction,” he adds. “I tend to concentrate on courage, loyalty, love and redemption. I believe in these things. I refuse to be cynical about the world, and I won’t join the sneerers or the defeatists. I can’t do much about John Major and his band of incompetents, but I can make sure that my own life isn’t corrupted by their sleazy vision of society.

He regards politicians as occupying the lower reaches of the food chain.

I positively loathe them. Any politician can convince you a shit sandwich is nutritious and tasty; and the best of them will talk you into believing you’re the only one who doesn’t like the taste. If these bastards are the reality, give me fantasy any time!

Which brings us to why he chose to write fantasy in the first place. With the exception of White Knight Black Swan a thriller published in 1993 under the pseudonym Ross Harding, all his work has been in fantasy of one sort or another. What’s the appeal?

I love the genre. Throughout history, societies have used it to teach the young about right and wrong, good and evil. Good fantasy answers a deep need in young people. They’re the ones with romantic dreams; a generation in search of ideals. The world’s cynicism hasn’t corrupted them yet. But as they grow older, some of them will get sucked into the sickness. They stop questioning why rape crises centres tell women to shout ‘Fire!’ when they’re attacked because if they shout ‘Rape!’ no-one’s going to help them. They start using phrases like, ‘It’s not my problem’ and ‘Don’t get involved.’ Fantasy’s not about passing the buck, or living for share options.

So what is it about?

It’s about heroes; people who do the right thing regardless of the cost to themselves. Fantasy heroes don’t say, ‘Well, it must he right to kick a guy out of the country because Saudi Arabia’s threatened to cancel a defence contract.’ Fantasy’s about absolutes. It’s the antithesis of compromise. If there’s anything I’d like my books to achieve, it would be to increase the desire of people to do good. What I’m saying in my books is that heroes don’t compromise. They just don’t, no matter how colossal the evil is.

Gemmell had a letter from a fan last year that neatly underlines the point.

This guy told me he was walking his dog when he saw two men attacking a woman. He waded in, and they ran off. He said he’d just finished reading one of my books, and thought that was the reason he’d acted so swiftly. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. But it was no surprise, really. I kind of expect Gemmell fans to be like that. And I honestly believe no woman would need to shout ‘Fire!’ if there was a Gemmell fan close by. People who don’t understand the nature of heroism don’t read my books, or, if they do, they don’t understand them, and therefore don’t like them. Then they label them macho or violent. But I don’t worry much about criticism. As a former journalist, I know my work will never be widely reviewed in the quality press.

Only once has he reacted to a bad review.

When I started out I decided I’d stay as far from Tolkien style fantasy as possible. I thought I’d concentrate on characterisation, basing the heroes on real people. Then I got a kicker in The Daily Telegraph which read, ‘The only thing I liked about Waylander 2 – imitation Tolkien with no characterisation – was the butch girl on the cover.’ I figured the reviewer either hadn’t read the book or was an idiot. He told me he’d read the book. Well, the world’s never been short of idiots.

The literary establishment’s attitude toward fantasy and related genres persuades most general readers to avoid the stuff. I wondered if Gemmell resented being disbarred from a potentially wider audience.

No. I suppose it would irritate me if I didn’t earn enough to take holidays in Palm Springs. Though I can see that for authors who have been commercially unsuccessful the fantasy label might be a problem. Sometimes I’m told, ‘But if more people read your books they’d really like them and -‘ And what? I’d have more money. It becomes a question of scale. My books come out, they sell in large numbers and I make a good living. That gives me the chance to do what I love, which is to write more books. My function as a writer is to entertain. Initially to entertain myself, and in a secondary way to entertain other people.

Has basing his characters on real people ever caused him problems?

When I was writing Waylander I decided to use all the people I worked with. Soon after it was published, in 1986, I was sacked. Apparently, the Managing Director regarded it as a poisonous attack on his integrity.

Presumably, using real people as models adds credibility, for both Gemmell and the fans.

You have to make yourself believe that what you’re writing is real. You have to believe the characters exist; that the situation they’re in is terrible and they’ve got to get out of it. You can’t sit there thinking, ‘These are just blips on a computer screen, nothing is really going to happen to them.’ To me, it’s real.

If I’m really flat when I turn my PC on, I’ll have one of the characters ask a question. It can be something as simple as, ‘What the hell are we doing?’ or ‘What’s the point of this?’ The question isn’t important, it can be edited out later. What matters is that it gets the characters into an argument, and through them I learn where the story’s going. In my early days as a fiction writer there were a lot of changes, until I learnt to trust my characters. Now I’m in the happy position where I don’t have massive amounts of revision or rewriting.

One of his most vivid creations, homicidal loner Jon Shannow, was inspired by someone he knew 30 years ago.

The real life model for Shannow is a man who later went to prison following an armed robbery. I wouldn’t want to name him. He was a very strange man, but I happened to like him an awful lot. This was a man who, in the ’60s, when everyone was getting very loose and all the rest of it, still wore suits ten years out of date. The guy was fantastically sort of controlled. Always. Yet if it came to a moment of violence he was lethal. And he really saw the world in black and white.

The two of them went to a party together…

It wasn’t my party,” Gemmell recalls, “and knowing his talent for violence I got him to promise he wouldn’t chin anybody. The party was not a good one and I left. He stayed on. The girl holding the party wanted to find out how tough her boyfriend was, so she said to him, ‘That man isn’t invited. Throw him out.’ The boyfriend went over and said, ‘Oi, you’re not invited. Piss off.’ My friend explained I’d invited him. The boyfriend came back with, ‘It’s not Dave’s party, so piss off.’

Now, this guy’s promised not to hit anybody, but he’s been insulted. So he throws his whisky straight in the boyfriend’s face. Then he holds his hand up and crushes the glass. He’s got bits of glass stuck in his hand and blood dripping out, and he’s just staring at the man. The boyfriend stands there terrified, as you would. Because he knew, in that moment, he was dealing with a loony…

Gemmell admits that Shannow is just about his favourite character. It’s tempting to ask if this is because he empathises with him.

Oh, yeah. Shannow’s the closest to me that I’ve ever written. Despite the fact I’ve been lucky enough to be well loved by my wife and close friends, I’ve remained essentially, because of my background, a lonely man and a loner I’ve certainly never experienced the camaraderie I write about. I learnt right through my life that if I’m in trouble, I’m on my own. And that’s the best place to be. You don’t have to worry about anybody else. You don’t have to worry about who’s going to help you. Because nobody is. That actually makes you stronger.

This hints at the kind of disposition often exhibited by his characters. Does it extend to his professional life as well? Which authors, for example, does he see as his main rivals?

I haven’t got rivals. I’m a storyteller, not a boxer. There are writers I admire and a good many others whose work I don’t much like. But at what point does rivalry come in? Some I outsell, some outsell me. Some are praised highly, others are held in contempt. You can’t get a definitive judgement on the quality of a novel, so there’s no starting point for rivalry.

After a 12 year career spent exclusively with Random House, David Gemmell recently switched publishers and joined Transworld’s Bantam Press imprint. This month they published his latest novel, The Legend of Deathwalker, a further outing for his popular character Druss, the warrior hero who debuted in Legend, the author’s first book. Gemmell reflects on the move…

The people at Random House are a great bunch, but it was time to move on. We’d grown a little stale with each other and that led to a few rows, mainly about marketing and covers. I’ve far more good memories than bad.

Why choose to go to Transworld?

Why not? I told my agent I wanted to meet the Transworld crew before signing a contract. When I turned up they asked me where I wanted to go for lunch. I asked for a pizza. We went round the corner to a Pizza Express, and it was full of Transworld people having lunch together. No elitism, bosses and workers side by side. I knew then that this was where I wanted to be.

So it wasn’t the reported £600,000 that lured you across?

No, it was the pizza. And the fact that it was obviously a happy place to work.

He contends that, in any event, money isn’t as important to him as it once was.

I had a holiday in Arizona recently and a friend asked me what the desert was like. I described it to him and he said, ‘Yeah, but I mean how did it feel when you walked out across it?’ I suddenly realised that I’d only seen the desert from an air-conditioned limousine while driving down to Phoenix. It was a sobering thought. 20 years ago I’d have backpacked and hitched across it. Money insulates you from reality.

THE BEST OF David Gemmell

David Gemmell’s genre work largely consists of Drenai novels and the Sipstrassi tales. There are others, however, including the Lion Of Macedon books and the Hawk Queen novels.

Here’s the pick of Gemmell, with notes by the author himself…

LEGEND (1984)

The first in The Drenai saga, focusing on axeman Druss, and the defence of the last stronghold of the Drenai Empire.

Gemmell: This will always be my favourite book. It has all the heart and contains just about everything I believe in. It also introduced Druss the Legend and the Thirty. Ever since, readers have clamoured for more stories about both.


The book that introduced the character of John Shannow, ‘the Jerusalem Man” – a lone warrior searching for a lost city in a post-apocalyptic 24th century world. His story continued in the novels The Last Guardian and Bloodstone, though other stories have taken place In the shared Sipstrassi universe.

Gemmell: Written at a very low point in my life, it has a hero I can really identify with. Jon Shannow is just about my favourite character. He’s both lonely and a loner. He doesn’t want to be a hero, but events always draw him to the heart of the storm.


Another of Gemmell’s many Drenai books, set in the usual milieu.

Gemmell: My very first attempt at a redemption novel. Even now I still wonder how I injected so much pace into it. Next to Legend, it’s still my best-selling book. And I get a lot of letters asking me to write more Waylander stories.


The first novel in a new series, The Hawk Queen, this pits warlike Highland tribes against the dominant Outlanders. The central figure a the Highland warrior princess, Sigarni, whose destiny is bound up in a prophecy. The story is continued in the more overtly science fiction second instalment, The Hawk Eternal.

Gemmell: Evil carries the seeds of its own downfall. I’ve always liked that idea, and this book let me develop the theme. Also, it gave me a chance to try a female lead. I’m pleased with it, but it hasn’t been out long enough to get a lot of feedback from the fans.


The latest Drenai story, once again starring Gemmell’s most popular character, Druss the Axeman. In a significant twist on Legend – which is set after the action outlined in Deathwalker, and has Druss fighting with the Drenai against the Nadir – our hero here fights with the Nadir to defend one of their ancient shrines from being sacked by the oppressive Gothir.

Gemmell: Writing stories about Druss is a real treat. He’s one of those characters the author never has to work on. Put him in a situation and he handles it. I love the old boy He’s a force of nature; indomitable and ultimately undefeatable.

(c) 1999 Stan Nicholls

David Gemmell DRIN interview 1997

DRIN = Del Rey internet newsletter

Jon Shannow, the dark protagonist from WOLF IN SHADOW, is one of those intensely compelling characters who, from the moment you meet him, lives and breathes. And as his raconteur, David Gemmell, once discovered, Shannow is a character who refuses to stop living and breathing, regardless of what Fate (or the author) may have planned for him. Here he explains:


There was no doubt in my mind about what happened to Jon Shannow when he rode into the mountains, wounded and alone. He was dying. And Jerusalem beckoned.

Yet once the novel was published, reader reaction was immediate. How long to the next Shannow story? The answer was simple: Thank you for your letter, and I am glad you enjoyed Jon Shannow’s tale, but he is dead. There will be no more adventures.

Isent just such a response to a fan in Liverpool. He knew better and wrote back immediately. “No he’s not! No way!”

It was a real shock–as if he knew something I didn’t. I showed the letter to one of my test readers. Her amused response was, “Hey, maybe he’s right. You don’t know everything, David: You’re only the author.”

From that moment I started wondering about Shannow. Could there have been some miracle on the mountain?

At around the same time I received a number of reviews for WOLF IN SHADOW. Some were very good, some were indifferent, but one was downright vile. One of the lines in it struck me particularly. “I dread to think of people who look up to men like Jon Shannow.” The writer was named Broome.

Twenty years of journalism had taught me not to overreact to criticism. A writer’s work is not his child. It is just a work. A work of love and of passion, but a work nonetheless.

Even so, I wanted to react in some way. All the characters in my novels are based on real people, and I thought it would be a neat response to use a character named Broome–a man passionately opposed to violence who would loathe the hero, but be drawn into his world. It was in my mind that he would be a cannon-fodder character, of little consequence, who would die early. But, as with so much in the magical world of creative writing, events did not–as you will see–turn out anything like I had planned.

It took only one more little nudge to push me into a second Shannow novel. I was driving home one night, listening to the radio, when the haunting lyric of a new song struck home like an arrow.

The singer was a brilliant new American artist named Tracy Chapman, and the song spoke of racism and riots, and the appalling violence that has sadly become commonplace in the impoverished inner cities of the USA. One line had immense power for me…
“Across the lines who would dare to go…”

I knew who would dare.

Igot home around 2 am and immediately switched on the word processor. I had no idea how to get around the apparent death of my hero in the first book, and did not wish to write a prequel novel. In the end I used the simplest device there is. I began with the words…

……..But he did not die…..

–Copyright 1997 by David Gemmell

David Gemmell interview – Riding out on a steady horse

An interview with IN THE REALM OF THE WOLF author David A. Gemmell, conducted by author Paul Witcover:

David Gemmell was born in London, England, in the summer of 1948. Expelled from school at sixteen for organizing a gambling syndicate, he became a laborer by day, and at night his six-foot-four-inch, 230-pound frame allowed him to earn extra money as a bouncer working nightclubs in Soho. He has also worked as a freelance journalist with the London Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, and Daily Express. His first novel, LEGEND, was published in 1984 and has remained in print ever since. He became a full-time writer in 1986. His most recent book for Del Rey is IN THE REALM OF THE WOLF.

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DR: There’s a Dickensian feel to your biography–expelled from school at sixteen for organizing a gambling syndicate, working as a nightclub bouncer, then as a self-taught journalist and ultimately becoming a successful writer.

DG: Idon’t know about Dickensian, but my background certainly helped me when I became an author. Running the book [the gambling syndicate] taught me about human frailties, and my stints as a nightclub “doorman” made me realize just how easy it is to intimidate people if you just take the time to learn the moves–step swiftly into the other person’s territorial space, then speak softly, etc. The journalism, and the consequent interviews with politicians, gangsters, film stars, scientists, and men from the armed forces, gave me a huge cast of characters to call upon.

DR: “Running the book”–I love that phrase! I guess you’ve gone from being a bookmaker to a book-maker…Why do you write fantasy rather than, say, science fiction or mysteries or westerns?

DG: We all need heroes. All the ancient civilizations understood this, the Greeks in particular. They were wise enough to realize that, as a race, we have an enormous capacity for violence and destruction, and they used fantasy to implant moral codes and safeguards in their young. Yes, the hero was a powerful and courageous man, ready to fight any enemy, but he never oppressed the weak, never bullied, never stole, and never lied.

Youngsters were encouraged to be like that mythical hero–to channel their energies into positive areas for the good of the city, the state, or the nation. All the great Greek myths carry warnings about destructive patterns of behavior. We still use myth in fiction, in TV, and in film–but we’ve lost the focus. Our message to the young is: Do whatever you can get away with.

Traditional westerns like Shane and High Noon created the fantasy hero of the early twentieth century, but these were overstamped with revisionist westerns which showed the West “as it really was,” portraying Wild Bill Hickok as a syphilitic braggart, Wyatt Earp as a crooked whoremaster, Custer as an incompetent glory hunter, and so on. This effectively killed the western as a fantasy outlet. With the death of the genre, people needed heroes who could not be corrupted by new “truths,” and sword and sorcery began to soar in popularity.

No revisionist could expose Conan, or Gandalf. No one could sully the deeds of Elric of Melnibone or Druss the Legend. In fantasy, the reader could expect good to combat evil, and to triumph. As to my own fantasy, I try to retain the purity of the Greek myth, with all its warnings and parables, while creating credible characters that speak to people in the late twentieth century. My ambition with every book is that it will not only entertain but increase the desire of the reader to do good, to be heroic.
DR: Heroic in what way? This is the late twentieth century–there aren’t any more dragons to fight, are there?

DG: One night, when I was fifteen, and had been rereading The Lord of the Rings yet again, I was on a subway train coming home. As the train reached the platform I saw three men beating up on a guy. Every instinct told me to stay out of it, but Tolkien was in my mind. Would Aragorn stay out of it, or Boromir, or even Sam Gamgee? The answer was no–so I pitched in and stopped the fight. In that moment I experienced a soaring sense of self-worth. That was a gift Tolkien gave me–and a gift I try to give to others.

DR: But doesn’t this raise questions of when and to what extent to become involved, to be a hero, as well as (forgive me) the dividing line between “fantasy” and “reality”? If I find myself in a similar situation on the New York City subway, for example, would I be less than heroic if I didn’t act?

DG: Quite simply, yes, you would. One of the greatest things my mother ever taught me was the value of self-worth. When you look in a mirror you must be proud of what you see. Every time we act in a cowardly, mean, or petty fashion we lessen ourselves. When people see an injustice being perpetrated and allow fear to prevent them from pitching in, they move from self-worth to self-loathing. And that is ultimately corrosive, and will affect every area of their lives. Whereas when they overcome their fear and leap in they will feel good about themselves, and more confident about their ability to take on life and all its problems.

A few years ago I received a letter from a fan. He told me he was walking his dog when he saw two men assaulting a woman. He had just finished reading one of my novels, and the thought of “heroes” was strong in him, so he ran to the woman’s aid. The two men fled. He said he felt ten feet tall when the woman thanked him, and he now wanted to thank me for supplying the inspiration. Some years ago I read that women under attack were being urged to shout “Fire,” because that would bring people running. If they shouted “Rape,” no one would come. I may be an old romantic, but I genuinely believe that if one of my fans was close by no woman would need to shout “Fire.”

DR: It’s plain that Tolkien influenced you in more than just a literary sense.

DG: Tolkien had a massive influence on me. When I was thirteen I wrote to him and he wrote back. That touched me in a way beyond description. The Lord of the Rings is a magnificent, inspiring work. I read it over and over again.

DR: Wow. Did you frame the letter? Can you share anything of what he wrote?

DG: It was a short letter thanking me for contacting him and telling me that he was working on another novel. It concluded: “I am afraid there are no hobbits in it, but I hope you will read it one day.” For some years afterwards his British publishers, Allen and Unwin, sent me copies of his books of poetry. Sadly, the letter was lost when I moved home in 1976.

DR: Yet your fantasies are far from Tolkienesque, at least on the surface. Characters like Druss and John Shannow are violent yet honorable men whose souls have been deeply scarred. There’s often the sense that a very thin line separates them from the evil they oppose–a fact which they themselves are the first to acknowledge.

DG: The point I am trying to make here is that no one is beyond redemption. Yes, Shannow, Druss, Waylander, and many other characters are borderline evil. They know it and they struggle to maintain a moral code. It is that code that makes them heroes.

DR: Or the struggle to maintain it. Rather than the hero of High Noon, they seem closer to, say, Sam Spade, Rick Blaine, even some of Clint Eastwood’s darker western incarnations.

DG: We live in a more cynical world, and I don’t think the modern reader would identify with saintly good guys wearing white hats and combating evil by shooting the guns out of the villains’ hands. My characters are real people, with real problems, constantly battling the dark sides of their natures. And I think you’re wrong about the Cooper character in High Noon. He was a man full of fear, desperately seeking allies because he didn’t want to die. In the end that’s what made him truly heroic. By nature of definition only the coward is capable of the highest heroism.

DR: Tolkien was a deeply religious man, and his religious beliefs pervade his writings, especially The Lord of the Rings. You mentioned the purity of Greek myth earlier, but isn’t there also an underlying religious sensibility in your work? I don’t mean in a preachy, didactic way, but as with Tolkien, I detect something that goes beyond moral judgment or instruction and into more ambiguous, and more interesting, spiritual territory. Perhaps you touched on it with the word “redemption.”

DG: Itry to ensure there is a spiritual core to all my work, but I want it to be there for “those with eyes to see and ears to hear.” I am delighted when people peel back the layers and discover what I am trying to say, and disappointed when others don’t. But I feel it best to leave it for the readers and not elaborate on it.

DR: Fantasy is often slammed for presenting simplistic and cliched dualistic portrayals of good and evil–do writers have an obligation to challenge their readers, or is their job simply to give the public what it’s already accustomed to?

DG: Ican’t speak for other writers. I knew at the start of my career that I could sell a lot more books by writing about singing elves and dwarves with wide belts, all rushing around collecting magic tokens to overthrow the great enemy. I chose a different route. I don’t criticize those that tread that well-worn path. I just don’t feel it’s the way I want to go. I believe I have an obligation to my readers, but I don’t press that view on other writers. I write from the heart. I always will. There is nothing cynical in the way I produce the books.

DR: That obligation being what?

DG: Many of my readers are young people on limited incomes. They are going to have to dig deep to buy my work. My obligation is to make sure that I have given them the very best I can give them. No shortcuts, no half measures, no easy, cliched story lines. Back in 1986 a young fan at a signing handed me a dog-eared copy of LEGEND and asked me to sign it. When he had walked away his girlfriend came walking back, leaned over, and said: “I just thought I’d tell you that whenever Simon is depressed or down he takes that book from the shelf and rereads his favorite sections. It really lifts him.” Even now when I write, and I’m getting tired, I’ll look at a scene and think: Is this something Simon would want to reread? If the answer is no, I’ll rework it.

DR: Your best-known works are the Drenai Saga and the Stones of Power series. Do you try to bring a different sensibility to each?

DG: Iget a lot of fan mail asking for stories involving particular heroes or settings. I particularly love writing Drenai tales–especially those featuring Druss or Waylander. The Stones of Power series was never intended as a series. I wrote GHOST KING as a one-off but then had an idea for a sequel. After that I wrote a futuristic western called WOLF IN SHADOW, but my editor, Liza Reeves, didn’t like the way I’d handled the science and suggested using magic instead, i.e., the Sipstrassi stones. I thought she made some very good points, so I rewrote it. They were not published in the UK under the Stones of Power heading–that was a marketing idea from the staff at Del Rey, in the belief that a series “look” would be more popular in the US.

DR: So the Drenai tales are closest to your heart–why?

DG:Iwas being tested for cancer in 1976, and while waiting for the results of the tests I wrote a short novella called “The Siege of Dros Delnoch.” I did it to help take my mind away from my fears of death. The story involved a fortress under siege by a terrible enemy, the Nadir. I peopled the fortress with a small group of heroes, led by Druss the Legend. The fortress was, in effect, me; the Nadir were the cancer. I poured everything into that novella. That was the beginning of the Drenai, the beginning of my career as a novelist. Every great moment I have enjoyed as an author began with that story, and with Druss.

DR: In the Stones of Power series, we gradually see a connection to the Earth we know as well as to various alternate realities. In BLOODSTONE, for example, the atomic bomb test at Los Alamos plays a large part, as do the fundamentalist Christian beliefs of certain characters. All the various realities are connected regardless of how ostensibly different and even mutually contradictory they seem–science, religion, magic. What goes around quite literally comes around. Can you address this aspect of your work?

DG:You already have. What goes round comes round. In one of my favorite Bible sections, Ecclesiastes, the prophet writes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Yet we spend so much time looking forward we forget that almost all the answers are already in the past. Small example: Hundreds of years before Christ was born, Philip of Macedon built an enormous army that his treasury couldn’t sustain. This left him no option but to invade his neighbors and steal their treasuries. In order to hold this new, enlarged empire, he had to increase the size of his army. His new treasuries couldn’t support it, so he invaded other neighbors. A few years ago, Saddam Hussein built an army so large that his treasury couldn’t support it. Why then were we so surprised when he invaded Kuwait? What goes around comes around. As for magic…What would a Victorian have made of a modern computer, or television screen? Forces we don’t yet fully understand, telepathy, telekinesis, spiritual healing, all come under the banner of magic.

DR: Your brooding, alienated characters who–almost despite themselves–retain a core of decency and honor; your use of multiple realities, our own included, none of which are privileged over or more “real” than another…all these things make me wonder if Michael Moorcock’s fiction had an influence on your work. I also think of Robert Howard, of course, and Fritz Lieber.

DG: Ihave always loved Moorcock’s fantasy fiction, especially the early Elric novels and the Hawkmoon cycle. Howard’s work has a gritty vitality that is magnificently raw. And Fritz Lieber was a magician beyond compare. “The Bazaar of the Bizarre” is one of the finest fantasy short stories I have ever read. So, yes, they all influenced the teenager who devoured fantasy, as did L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, John Jakes, E. C. Tubb, Talbot Munday, and C. L. Moore.

DR: Do you have a routine for writing?

DG: Every day–save Thursday–I switch on the machine and work. Thursday mornings are set aside for a meeting with another writer, Alan Fisher, whose thoughts on the craft are always both enlightening and uplifting. Thursday afternoons are left to the tender mercies of the chefs at Deep Pan Pizza, where I sit enjoying a cappuccino and a Regular American Pizza with extra bacon and pepperoni.

DR: Any chance of a Drenai or Stones of Power movie? Who would your choice be to play Druss? How about Shannow?

DG: I’ve turned down several offers for LEGEND, and one for WOLF IN SHADOW. Every time the contracts arrive there is a clause that gives the rights to the characters to the movie company. I won’t surrender rights to Druss, Shannow, or any of my characters. I remember reading years ago that Brian Garfield, who wrote the wonderful Deathwish novel, was almost suicidal when the producers churned out the awesomely bad Deathwish 2, 3, and 4. The thought of seeing my work prostituted in such a way is beyond bearing.

DR: A book is written by one person, with maybe some input from friends, editors, etc. But the final result, its success or failure as a work of art as opposed to a product in the marketplace, is purely the author’s. With movies, there’s so much input by so many people desperate to make a buck or advance their careers, whether screenwriters, directors, or lawyers, it’s a miracle anything good is made. When I think of the Tim Burton Batman and then the most recent travesty, I could cry. But what if someone like Tim Burton were interested?

DG: If a Spielberg or a Lucas offered to make Legend, the movie, and mentioned Sean Connery for the role of Druss, I’d be sorely tempted. By the way, as a boy I used to deliver Sean Connery’s beer when he was a struggling actor living in West London. I was disappointed every time he answered the door, and was constantly peeking past him to catch a glimpse of his wife, the beautiful British star Diane Cilento.

DR: What are you reading now?

DG: Ihave just read a preview copy of Stephen Pressfield’s GATES OF FIRE, a novel of the Battle of Thermopylae. It is a wonderful, triumphant, and heart-breaking read. I hope it is an enormous success.

DR: Will it be coming out in the States?

DG: Pressfield is an American writer, and I understand the book has already been sold to Hollywood as a kind of Braveheart-in-Greece epic.

DR: I’m asked quite frequently why your books come out in England before they appear on these shores, and why all your books haven’t yet made it across the pond.

DG: Ibegan my career in 1984, with the publication of LEGEND. By the time Del Rey picked up some of my titles, I had been published for around eight years, so they were way behind. But they’re catching up, and my new contract with them allows for simultaneous publication by the year 2000.

DR: What are you working on now?

DG: My new hardback novel SWORD IN THE STORM is being published in September, alongside the paperback of ECHOES OF THE GREAT SONG. I’m currently working on the sequel to SWORD called A FALCON AT MIDNIGHT, which should be ready for delivery around December 5 this year.

DR: Is that a September publication date in the U.S.?

DG: Sadly, no. The first simultaneous publication is likely to be for my third Waylander book, around 2000 AD.

DR: What advice would you give aspiring fantasy writers?

DG: Louis L’Amour once said writing was like gold mining: you have to dig through a million tons of crap to get to the yellow stuff. So don’t get discouraged if your first efforts are poorly received. We all need to write the crap out of our system before we strike gold.

–copyright 1998 by Del Rey Books and David A. Gemmell

David Gemmell DRIN interview 1995

DRIN = Del Rey internet newsletter

Reprinted with permission from DRIN Number 29 (June 1995)

Del Rey editor Steve W. Saffel interviews Gemmell for the DRIN:

David A. Gemmell was born in London, England, in the summer of 1948. Expelled from school at sixteen for organizing a gambling syndicate, he became a laborer by day, working on building sites, digging trenches and foundations. At night his six-foot four-inch, 230-pound frame allowed him to earn extra money as a bouncer working nightclubs in Soho. Born with a silver tongue, Gemmell rarely needed to “bounce” customers, relying on the what the Irish term “the gift of the gab” to talk his way out of trouble. At eighteen this gift led to a job as a trainee journalist, and he eventually worked as a freelancer for the London Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, and Daily Express.

His first novel, LEGEND, was published in 1984, and has remained in print in the U.K. ever since. He became a full time writer in 1986. He, his wife Valerie, and their two children live in Hastings, England. Del Rey editor Steve W. Saffel interviewed Gemmell recently for the DRIN:

SWS: What have been your major influences over the years?

GEMMELL: There have been three basic influences which have shaped the work. As a child I read The Lord of the Rings, and wrote to Tolkien. He sent me a letter which I treasured for years. Secondly, I became hooked on the works of Louis L’Amour. I found his storytelling to be compulsive and his characterizations–especially in the earlier novels– wholly compelling. He had a knack of introducing a character with, say, two sentences of description, which left you feeling you’d known the man all your life. A friend of mine calls such characters “men from Rick’s pub.” They walk out of the bar and on to the page, arriving complete. No real effort is needed by the author to flesh them out. L’Amour’s talent in this area was majestic. The third major influence was Stan Lee at Marvel Comics. I’ve never met him or spoken to him, but I love that man. The growth of Marvel in the sixties was a revelation. Heroes and villains became interchangeable. Both sets had faults, both had heroic qualities. The effect was mind-blowing.

SWS: How have your influences affected your approach to the craft of fantasy novels and to characterization?

GEMMELL: When I began to write my own stories, I realized they were being fueled by what I had gained from these three sources: Tolkien gave me a love of fantasy, L’Amour taught me that characterization was vital, and Stan Lee made me realize that the lines between heroes and villains should always be blurred.

I based all my characters on people I have known, and I have been lucky in my life to have met a great many interesting people. I was born in West London, in a violent area, and many of the people I grew up with were criminals. Some were merely thieves, others men of violence. I know the breed. But whatever else, they were also men of contrasts. Life is never simple. We take a young man and train him for war. We teach him to kill without mercy. When he comes home he is a hero. But if, once home, he uses the skills he has been taught, he is considered a villain and a danger to society. There is a grand nonsense here. I once interviewed a man who ran a protection racket. I asked him how he justified his occupation. He smiled at me and said, “I’m no different to the government, son. They tell you to give a percentage of your earnings to them, otherwise they’ll put you in prison. What’s that if it’s not a protection racket?”

A hero in a fantasy novel does not have to be nice, or kind, or caring, or–God forbid–politically correct. What he needs is courage and a willingness to fight evil regardless of the cost to himself. His own prejudices are largely irrelevant.

SWS: What are your current projects in the various media?

GEMMELL: Del Rey has acquired twelve of my books, and I am currently continuing the Drenai and Stones of Power series. I am also involved in scripting a television drama series, based on a thriller I wrote under the name Ross Harding. My agents are also negotiating film rights for my first novel, LEGEND.

SWS: What have you learned about the different media by virtue of working in more than one?

GEMMELL: Writing for television is a wholly different discipline. Ten pages of description can be encapsulated in a single scene, and twenty lines of dialogue can be put over by a good actor, virtually with the raising of an eyebrow. The other great thing about television work is that it is far more of a team effort. Writing novels is a solitary business. Television is about creative tensions merging together to create a dynamic story. It’s much more exciting, though ultimately less rewarding for the ego.
SWS: Given your diverse background, what areas do you still want to conquer?

GEMMELL: That is the most difficult question. I have always been highly competitive, and rarely satisfied with any achievement. I am a workaholic who produces around a quarter of a million words a year. I don’t really have an ultimate goal. I just want to be the best I can be. On the other side of the coin, I received a letter from a reader who told me that, after reading one of my stories, he was out walking his dog when he saw two men attacking a woman. He ran in and fought them off. He told me he was sure he wouldn’t have pitched in so readily if he had not just read a story of heroes. “By heavens,” I thought, “life can’t get much better than that.”

–copyright © 1995 by David Gemmell

David Gemmell interview – The Legend & On

This interview was included in marketing material provided by publisher Orbit in 1998:

David Gemmell’s classic Drenai series, which began with his first novel, LEGEND, was reissued in September with new covers. We took the opportunity to have a close encounter with Britain’s king of heroic fantasy.

Which book do you remember best from your childhood?

THE HOBBIT. I was around seven and the headmaster of my junior school, in a bid to encourage reading, came into the class every Thursday to read to us. I found myself looking forward to that hour more than any other. He had a great reading voice and I used to close my eyes and live the story.
What is the most outrageous thing you have ever done?

Drawing a veil over the criminal and the sexual…I once put my head in a lion’s mouth. I was a junior reporter and I had been ordered to write a feature about a circus that was in town. I asked the lion tamer if I could join him in a training session. The paper had to sign all sorts of insurance forms, but I did go in the big cage. For what it’s worth, I have never smelt anything so foul as the breath of a big cat. It was almost toxic.

What is your favourite film?

Rocky. Sylvester Stallone’s script is magnificent and the movie rightly won the Oscar for Best Film of 1976. The other Rocky films were entertaining but on the whole they devalued the original concept.

Which character from fiction would you most like to be?

I can think of no one from history or fiction that I would like to be. When I was a child I would have given anything to stand beside Harold at the Battle of Hastings. As a teenager I wanted to be the one man in High Noon who would back up Gary Cooper. I remember standing at Piccadilly station one day and looking across the platform at an enormous poster emblazoned with the name DAVID GEMMELL in four-foot-high letters. The first thought that came into my mind was, ‘Must be nice to be him.’

What is your greatest fear?

Alzheimer’s Disease.

Where’s your favourite place?

Tucson, Arizona, just as the sun goes down and the Catalina mountains turn gold.

If you were invited to a fancy-dress party, who would you go as?

Hercule Poirot’s taller brother.

What irritates you the most?

The English habit of building up heroes and then seeking to tear them down. I think we are in danger of becoming a mean-spirited people.

What is your favourite word?

Prat. It’s so wonderfully expressive.

How do you indulge yourself?

I play computer games. I just bought ‘Age of Empires’ and I play it constantly. Mind you, I can’t play it without the cheats. It’s so infuriating. I kept getting killed, so after a week of being massacred I nipped on to the Net and went into a Games chat room. A twelve year old was talking about how it took him an hour to figure out you can’t get very far without building several storage pits. An hour! I could have shot him!

Do you have a motto?

The louder he spoke of his honour, the faster we counted the spoons.

What was your first job?

Labourer, digging foundations. Then I moved to working for Pepsi Cola as a lorry-driver’s mate.

Who makes you laugh?

Any politician talking about honour, morality, decency or courage.

Which of your novels did you most enjoy writing?

LEGEND. It was a golden time in my life. I could write it better now – and yet it wouldn’t be as good. LEGEND has all the flaws you expect in a first novel, but it has a heart that wouldn’t be bettered by improving its style. I am as proud of that book as I am of anything I’ve done in my life.

How would you describe yourself?

Tall and flawed.

What was the first piece of fiction you wrote?

THE MAN FROM MIAMI, a novel about an assassin. It was so bad it could curdle milk at fifty paces.

What qualities do you most admire in others?

Loyalty, with courage coming a very close second.

What’s the best thing about being an author?

Being your own boss.

Who is your hero?

Currently, it’s Ronald Reagan. After years of politicians seeking to remove morality from the question of East-West relations he had the courage to set out to destroy communism, describing it as an evil empire, and setting in place all the elements that would later smash the Iron Curtain.

If you were a superhero, which powers would you like to have?

The Flash. I could write faster.

What are you doing at the weekend?

Desperately trying to meet the next deadline.

David Gemmell interview – Games Master Magazine

David Gemmell Interview from GM Magazine, Circa 1990

GM or Games Master magazine was a short-lived (arn’t they all) roleplaying magazine. Not the computer gaming magazine that is currently available in the UK.

David Gemmell’s five best selling fantasy novels have never been out of print. They have been translated into 12 different languages and they are about to be launched on the American market. With US success virtually assured, and with it confirmation of his growing status as of the world’s premier fantasy authors, GM’s unlikely team of Alan Crump and Wayne went to interview man behind the Legend…

David Gemmell has never played a role playing game in his life, hardly watches the TV, hasn’t read a contemporary fictional book for four years and in his spare time he helps one of his friends out by working in a video shop! So where does the author of such classic books as Legend, Waylander and King Beyond The Gate get his inspiration from?

Well, some of my friends say they can recognise themselves in my books and ask me “Was that me in your latest book?” Depending on how black the character has been painted, the answer is usually yes!”

David draws heavily from people he has worked with, as well as the people he knows. He bases his characters on the personalities, traits and mannerisms of almost anyone he knows. Even his family are not safe! A close relative is the role model for Druss, the hero behind David’s first best seller Legend. Basing his characters on real people can have its drawbacks. David’s wife was none too pleased when a character in one of his books, which was based on himself, ended up in bed with a female character, who was based on a woman he knew.

Ihad a lot of explaining to do to avoid divorce proceedings, I can tell you! In fact I have had problems in this area before with other characters. I make no secret about who I write about in fact I even acknowledge some of them in the dedications I make on the inside covers of the books – and I have created no end of controversy.” “In one book, two characters, who in real life are just good friends, have an affair. For weeks afterwards, I was plagued by people coming up to me asking whether I had based the affair on fact!”

David started work on his first book, Legend, while he was working as a sub-editor on a well known south-coast newspaper. During his lunch-break he would hammer away at the typewriter letting his imagination run riot. David recalls one particular day that made everyone sit up and listen; “One quiet afternoon in the office I was typing away, when I let out a very loud string of expletives. Naturally enough some of my colleagues came over and asked what was up to. I explained that I couldn’t kill Druss off no matter how I tried. Days, even weeks passed, and every lunch time the air at my desk turned blue, but only for an hour.”

Things got so bad that even when I got home, the expletives continued. My wife knew of my predicament and every time the language got out of hand she would bring me a nice cup of tea, pat me on the head and say ‘Still not killed him off yet dear?

David explained that the reason why Druss was so hard to kill off was his insistance on strict realism. This is a theme that is consistant throughout all his works to date. In fact his close attention to detail nearly got him arrested.

One evening I stayed late at work and was working on Druss’s death scene for the 1,000 time. I wrote a small piece on how an enemy warrior with a two handed sword hacked his way through a mellee on the ramparts and made a beeline for Druss, his mind set only on how to kill him.

Ithen thought to myself, ‘Could someone REALLY wave a two handed sword about in the limited space that he had, without a) injuring his colleagues and b) falling off the ramparts. To this end I got hold of a large broom in both hands and rushed around the office, sweeping it left and right like a Berserker. This continued for quite a while, until I made a full blooded sweep to my right, which barely missed the man in the blue uniform standing there in the doorway.

I spent the next half hour convincing him and his colleagues that the apparent madman in front of him was in fact an employee of the company, who meant no harm. They then had the unenviable task of explaining this to the little old lady in the building opposite, who reported the matter to them in the first place.

To prevent this unlikely event ever happening again, he has bought authentic copies of all of the major weapons that are used in his books and he enacts the fight sequences in the privacy of his own bedroom, with the curtains tightly drawn!

His dedication to realism appears again in the many mass battle scenes he has written, together with the attitudes of most of his characters. Here, once again, David draws on experience.

I must have read well over 2000 books on the art of warfare and it’s participants, ranging from the Wu-Tzu to Winston Churchill and beyond. I am interested in what really happened and spend a lot of time reading between the lines. It is not the actual violence of war that interests me, but the tactics, the strategy, the diplomacy and the thoughts of the people that fought it. I have found that time and time again, whatever the period or war, the act of one individual or a relatively small group of people are the difference between victory and defeat.

Also, people are deeply suspicious of people who want to be leaders or heroes. I certainly am. If someone said to me ‘Come on, let’s go into town and beat up all the muggers’, I would be very doubtful of their true motives. Heroes and heroines, in real life, are usually reluctant and act on impulse on the spur of the moment.” Anyone who has read any of David’s works will know that the reluctant hero is a common theme throughout all of his books. Be it the cowardly Rek in Legend, Decado, the retired fighter in The King Beyond The Gate, or the gun-toting Jon Shannow in Wolf In Shadow, the individual always makes the difference, even if they don’t set out to. This is not to say that they win the end.

Victories in my books are never much more than those of the hollow variety. As in life, victory costs an awful price and we all have to pay. At the end of the day, whatever the war, it is not just the people killed on the battlefield who are affected. That said, I would never let an evil person win the day. In real life the bad forces win 95 per cent of the time and I think that people don’t want to be reminded of it when they relax.” Talking of relaxing, David does very little. He has a regimented work schedule which he rarely strays from. He can write a book in 20 weeks and he feels that he must deliver it on the exact date agreed upon with his publisher, even if he has finished it four days before the appointed date. His actual daily work schedule is terrifying. In fact it made most of the GM staff go weak at the knees when they heard it and they made damn sure that it was kept well away from the publishers!

David has a four-day working week and it’s easy to see why. Each day starts at 9am sharp, writing straight through to 1pm, with only a short coffee break around 11am. After lunch, from 2 to 4pm he edits the material written in the morning session, then stops for dinner. At 6.45pm he reads his day’s work to his wife, Valerie, takes her comments into account, and then manually corrects the copy before printing it out and ending his day at around 9.30 to 9.45pm.

When he does get some time away from the keyboard – he uses the excellent Amstrad 8512 as his basic tool – he likes to watch videos. Like both of the interviewers present, he is a great fan of John Wayne and has most of his films.

In fact after he left his newspaper job, at which he served for a period of 15 years, he was given a framed momento, which contained a newspaper report on how John Wayne had licked the “Big C”. “I have always been interested in westerns, be they in book or film form. When I was younger I was an avid fan of Louis Lamour and still admire his style of prose today. For my money he has written some of the most descriptive fight scenes that I have ever read.

They fly along at breakneck speed and you are so involved in the action, that you don’t realise your speed of reading is also accelerating at a tremendous rate. I believe that one of the reasons Lamour was good at describing fight scenes was that he spent some time as a boxer himself.

If one doubted David’s liking for westerns, you would only have to take one look at his bookshelves, which include a complete set of all Louis Lamour’s works, plus about 20 biographies on Big John. After finishing the excellent Waylander, David informed his publisher that he wanted to write a Western. He was told in no uncertain terms that westerns were dead and buried and they wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole!! So what did David do?

Well, I wrote a sword and sorcery book, which had errr… distinct western overtones. It contained all the classic cliches of a great western, namely; A lone gunfighter, who was an anti hero dressed in black, that repents his ways, tries to settle down, but is drawn back into a gunslingers way of life when his wife is kidnapped and he tries to get her back. But it was based on a post holocaust sword and sorcery world.

The book David is talking about is Wolf In Shadow, which depicts the travels of a lone, almost evangelical, desperado called Jon Shannow, who is one of the few Christians left alive in a world torn apart by a nuclear war and dominated by Satanism.

This book fits very nicely in with the Gemmell galaxy, which is in the safest safe in the world – David’s head!

Idon’t like making notes on characters and situations, as after a while they just become events on paper. I like to keep them in my head where the characters can interact with each other and the events will change the shape of the things to come.

It is no secret that ALL my books are interlinked, but it is how they are interlinked that is the secret. All the clues are there and all it takes is some lateral thinking plus an active imagination to make the connection. There are some more clues given in my new book The Last Sword of Power, which is a follow up to Ghost King.

By the time you read this, David’s latest work should be in the shops. The Last Sword is set in a Roman Britain threatened by an undead god. A man called Revelation appears, seeking to save the realm from a new Dark Age and find the legendary Sword of the Lance.

When he’s not hard at work writing best-sellers, David enjoys playing computer war games – his current favourite is Annals of Rome, where he has kept the Empire going up to 3000AD.

– and assisting his wife to run half marathons. Of course, he also spends a lot of time with his two children, Kate and Luke.

Kate, despite her tender age, is already following in her father’s footsteps by acting as a very critical editor of one of David’s current projects.

After hearing that London’s Great Ormond St children’s hospital was to lose the copyright to Peter Pan, he inirnediately volunteered to write a children’s fantasy to replace it as a source of income for the hospital.

The book has the working title of The Lost Crown, and is scheduled for publication in August 1989. It is based around a young boys attempt to stop an evil character stealing children’s dreams and making dreamtime an unpleasant experience. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the hospital and it will be money well spent. David has found the book no easy thing to write with Kate at the editorial helm. I gave Kate C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe to read so that she would have some idea what fantasy is about. When she had read it, I asked her to compare it to some of the chapters of The Lost Crown and tell me what she thought was best. After a while she reluctantly told me that C. S. Lewis’s book was much better and that I would have to ‘do much better to improve my story.’ Oh well, back to the drawing board.” The drawing board he mentions must be well worn, as David has all his books up to 1990 either written or planned. At the moment the next book to be released after The Last Sword Of Power is The Knights Of Dark Renown, which is due out in May 1989. He is currently working on a new Jon Shannow sequel called The Armageddon Man, which is scheduled for publication in October 1989.

Fans of Waylander are not being neglected as David has plans to write another book in the Waylander series, that will be on the shelves around May 1990.

Finally he will be working on a trilogy of books which could prove controversial in that they will attempt to set certain historical records about an over-glorified commander straight.

David is a genuine all-round nice guy. He’s the kind of person who answers ALL of his fan mail personally, and will continue to do so until it interrupts his working timetable.

David has let us have an exclusive unpublished short story, which recounts part of the early life of David’s favourite character Druss. It came as no surprise to us therefore, when he asked us to donate any money he would have received to The Sudan Appeal. As we said, David is a nice guy.

Gemmell fans will not want to miss reading about this part of Druss’ early life, including his wedding day and the wrath of the mighty Harib Ka. You can read about it in the next issue of GM and we can tell you that it is well worth ordering your copy of GM. We know – we’ve read it!!

David Gemmell interview – Nobody Gets Out of This Alive

David Gemmell Interview from Fear Magazine, Nov/Dec 1988

Nobody Gets Out of this Life Alive

Fantasy writer David Gemmell tells Stan Nicholls of the life-and-death circumstances of his writing, a terrifying crisis which set him on the path from LEGEND to GHOST KING and beyond, to his latest book, THE KNIGHTS OF DARK RENOWN

Contradictions make for interesting characters, and David Gemmell is full of contrary emotions. He’s a man whose boyhood admiration for the famous story of Texan bravery -the Alamo – and its subsequent souring when he read the ‘real truth’ of it as an adult, spurred him to write a book (Legend) describing what the spirit of Alamo should have been about. A lifelong socialist, he backed Margaret Thatcher over the Falklands conflict and thinks Ronnie Reagan is probably America’s best man for the presidency.

It’s these conflicting facets that maketh most men – and too few fictional characters. Gemmell’s books are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and extraordinary heroes with more than their share of Achilles’s heels, overcoming through loneliness, or by association with other good men, impossible odds. Gemmell himself has had to face the inevitability of death – and yet lived to fight another day.

Born in 1948 in West London, he spent 22 years as a journalist, mostly with provincial newspapers, and as a stringer for the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail and The Daily Express, before turning to fiction. He has lived in Hastings since 1979 with his wife and two children.

STAN NICHOLLS: When did you start to write fiction?

DAVID GEMMELL: In 1976 I was being tested for cancer, and it was a particularly ghastly time. There I was, losing weight, pissing blood – I knew something had to be wrong. Believe me, the prospect of death really clarifies the mind.

My wife said to me, ‘Look, why don’t you do something to take your mind off it?’ So, I wrote – in two weeks – a book called The Siege Dros Delnoch. I just powered this book out, writing eight hours a day. I didn’t realise quite what it was at the time, but if you think of Legend, which it later became, you’ll know that the enemy were the Nadir. My conscious mind hadn’t told me that means the point of greatest hopelessness. The fortress was me and the Nadir were the cancer.

When I finished I left the ending open, so that if I went to hospital and they said ‘sorry, you’ve got cancer and there’s fuck all we can do about it’, the fortress would go. If it wasn’t cancer, or there was anything they could do about it, the fortress would survive. It gave me something to hook on to. Anyway, obviously I’m still here, because it turned out to be an old injury from when I was beaten up badly as a journalist years ago; it damaged one of my kidneys. An infection had caused blood to leak from the kidney. So I forgot the book for some time – because in fact it wasn’t that good.

In 1980, a friend read the manuscript and said ‘It’s full of clichés, but it’s very pacey, and if you spent time on it you could have a good book here’. I thought I’d start again. It took about a year, and that was Legend. It was accepted by Century Hutchinson late in ’82.

SN: Who, or what, influences your writing?

DG: Idon’t read fantasy. I used to, a long time ago. I read Tolkien, Howard’s Conan books; Lin Carter, all of Moorcock – those writers of the early Seventies.

Istopped reading them when I began writing. You get frightened of becoming some sort of sponge; I’m terrified I’ll write a scene and it’s in fact from someone else. I’ve got a problem now with my new book, which comes out next June. It’s called The Knights of Dark Renown, a title I’m very pleased with. Recently, someone asked me what I was working on, and I said The Knights of Dark Renown. He said ‘I’ve read that’. It turns out to be the name of an historical novel published around 1955. If I can get that from my mind thinking I’ve created it . . . I expect I saw the book a long time ago and it lodged in my mind. When I found out, I wanted to change it, but I think the publishers will stick with it.

SN: Why did you choose to write heroic fiction in particular?

DG: If someone had asked me ten years ago what kind of writer I was going to be I would have said historical novelist. I’m fascinated by history, but most of the things which intrigue me about it end badly.

One of my great heroes is William Wallace, who was Scottish. In the 13th century you had Norman rule in England and Scotland and the Scottish invading England. The Normans rarely got killed because they were all knights and were taken for ransom. The people who got butchered were the serfs. Along came Wallace – who was a sort of low-born knight-and he revolutionised warfare. He got a lot of peasants and transformed them into an infantry army, smashing the English all the way back to Stirling. The Scottish nobles, realising the English were about to take a thrashing and they would have a new order in Scotland, betrayed him. He was taken to London, hanged, boiled and quartered. End of story.

If I wrote about William Wallace he would exist in a world where he isn’t betrayed, or if he is he survives and wins. With that in mind, I thought the only thing to do was find a path with fantasy.

SN: Your characters have a life of their own?

DG: Legend is the only book where I knew the feel of the plot because I’d written it as The Siege of Dros Delnoch. Every other book I’ve written starts with a character – I don’t start with a plot. I say ‘he’s an interesting character, I’ll sit him on a horse and ride him out of a forest’. I’m very flexible.

The biggest secret I’ve found in writing is using real people. In Legend – and I have to be careful here – I wanted a character who was a nice guy, not very clever, who could always be relied upon to do the wrong thing. Someone a bit wet. So I pictured a particular friend. It was much more real, more credible.

It was the same with [the character] Druss. There’s a scene in Legend where I had a real problem. What I wanted was the traitor to do something despicable. So I thought – poison the well! I wondered how we find out about this, apart from everybody dying. So I hit on the idea of the [telepathic] Thirty broadcasting to Druss – ‘Hey, Druss, the well is poisoned’. No problem. They get through, and what does he do? Instead of saying, ‘Who’s there?’ he screams, ‘Get out of my head!’ – and starts smashing the place up. I’m typing it, thinking, ‘Listen, you stupid old sod, listen!’ It didn’t work and I had to find another way around it.

SN: When you finish a book do you put it aside to mature or does it go straight in the post?

DG: It goes straight out. I’ve got a superb editor- Liza Reeves – and I can totally rely on her when she gets the manuscript to tell me exactIy what needs doing. For instance, I was deeply unhappy Wolf in Shadow At the time I’d just lost my job my mother was very ill and subsequentIy died. Everything seemed to be going wrong. All this effected the writing of Wolf in Shadow.

The main character, Jon Shannow became increasingly depressive and the book took some spectacuIarly wrong turns, which I just couId not see. Liza returned it with a list of possible revisions. The book was originally sort of science fiction, and she suggested cutting the SF element and finding some magic. Suddenly everything channelled the right way. I rewrote the second half in three weeks. It was easy. That was the first of my books to be sold to the States, which it never wouId have had it not been for Lisa Reeves. I always put her name, and my copyeditoir in the acknowledgements. I think it’s nice that people realise something like Wolf in Shadow, Legend or Ghost King is a team effort.

SN: You make a distinction between writer and storyteller, describing yourself as a storyteller…

DG: Ithink that’s why I’ll never get writer’s block. People keep telling me about the great writers in the genre. Geoff Ryman. He will work and work, draft after draft. I asked him why he didn’t produce more? He tried to explain. He said he had a scene with a man going into a room, and what were the first impressions he had? Were there a lot of people in it? What about the size of it? He was going on about this room, and I thought ‘who gives a fuck?’

When it comes down to it, I couldn’t care less. Get in the room! Make something happen! I’m not knockiug Geoff. I’ve spoken to people who admire his stuff – and I can’t comment because I haven’t read it – and they say he’s a tremendous writer. But it’s not for me. I tell stories. There are probably only three or four stories in the world, but if I live to be 90, I’ll find variations on them. Geoff is essentially an actor. He gives a performance, there on the page. He knows when it’s right, when he’s given a great performance. I applaud that. But if he turns out four books in 12 years, he can’t make a career in writing. Maybe in two hundred years nobody will know David Gemmell and there will be university courses on Geoff Ryman. But then I don’t care about two hundred years time.

SN: Your characters are interesting because they are uncertain about themselves – ordinary people doing extraordinary things. where do they come from?

DG: They’re all from life. In Legend, Rek was based on me – frightened of the dark, not wanting to get involved in any sort of violence. I grew up in a very violent area. I’ve got something like a hundred-twenty stitches on my body from fighting as a kid. I’ve been hit with broken bottles, had knives run down my fingers, I’ve got wounds and scars. Rek was also a natural poseur. He was more interested in whether his cloak was draped over his saddle correctly than getting involved in any problems. That was me.

Alot of other characters were based on some tough men I knew where I grew up. My stepfather -and that’s who I mean when I refer to my father – is very much like Druss in Legend. He’s a natural man of action, and has a direct way of dealing with problems. He’s got hands like bananas, his signet ring could go over my thumb. A real West London strong man. All my characters are real people dealing with unusual situations – that’s where the drama lies. There’s nothing more boring than a character with massive muscles, a brilliant brain, and who never loses. You know from page one he’ll kill 75 wizards, a couple of armies, several dragons, a few werebeasts . . . and end up crowned king of Lemuria or somewhere.

SN: Like Conan?

DG: Conan’s a bit different. It was done rather well. There was a pace and vitality about Howard’s work that carried you through. Most of the imitators don’t have that. The finest fantasy I’ve read is Lord of The Rings. I very much like Fritz Leiber – Fafhd and the Gray Mouser are two of my favourite characters in fiction. If you write fantasy you have to establish credibility very early on. You do that by giving the hero – Druss for example – a bad knee and a bad back. Someone else has toothache, or doubts and fears. All the things a reader can identify with. Then, when you bring in your dragons, werebeasts, and sorcerers, they are more acceptable.We’ve already established their world is a very real place. Look at the Marvel Conan comics. Lovely comics. But Conan will ride through through artic blizzards with his arms bare. That’s not real.

SN: Rek overcame his doubts about himself. In that respect is he you, too?

DG: Like Rek, when I was young I was forced into violent situations. My father made me box. He took me to a club and said, ‘There you go. Train’. I learned to fight, but I never liked or enjoyed it. Although actually I was rather good because I’ve got ape arms – a reach two inches longer than Mohammed Ah. Like Rek, I loathe violence, would do anything to get away from it. I was brought up by my mother until the age of six, and was very much a bookish sort of lad; like Thuro in Ghost King.

Then a man came into my family who was very strong, powerful, direct. He didn’t force me into anything, except the boxing. All he said was ‘Son, you’ve got to learn that a fist in the mouth isn’t as bad as hiding behind walls or running away’.

The other thing about Rek is that he was changed by his lover, Virac, who was based on an Amazonian lady I used to work with. The essence of Virae is my wife. For me, Val’s a rock. There’s me floating around here, there and everywhere, but I’ve got that rock I can always come back to. That’s what got Rek through Legend. It’s what’s helped me though life till now.

SN: Problems tend to be resolved by direct action in your books. Does this reflect your personal philosophy?

DG: Yes, very much. Problems that come up I tend to headbutt, go straight at and kick out of the way. It’s the only way in which I’m political. I feel strongly that we are educated from day one to an attitude that says if a problem comes up there’s always somebody else there to sort it out. I’m very much against that. We’ve lost the concept of eviI. If somebody does something bad to somebody else, it’s not his fault. It’s hard to encapsulate this because I don’t want to come over as a right-winger.

SN: But it sounds a bit Thatcherite…

DG: May my tongue go black and fall out, but . . . yeah. I campaigned for Harold Wilson, I went around carrying banners. I’m from a socialist family, socialist all the way through, but on that point – the ‘dependence culture’ – I stick in the Thatcher camp. Exactly as with the Falklands. My view is that the task force had to be sent. It was direct action and it sorted things out. I get angry when I hear prats talking about sinking the Belgrano. Sinking it meant keeping the Argentine fleet in port and they didn’t come out and take us on.

SN: Is there any element of conscious political allegory in your books?

DG: I’ve had the most bizarre conversations about this. PeopIe say they see the hidden left-wing messages, and others detect right-wing thinking. It’s all things to all men. You could easily argue Legend is about the old, corrupt civilisation and the new fresh barbarians. Like us, slowly sinking in to decay. But it wasn’t written that way. As a journalist I dealt with politicians – now cabinet ministers some of them – and never met one you could sit down with and just know they were honest. You can watch their brains work. There is always something else going on behind everything they say, and it’s self-interest.

Actually, I love Reagan. I was delighted when he got elected. The one thing the president of the United States does not need is to be intelligent. It’s desperately dangerous. Jimmy Carter proved that. As soon as you get a president or Russian premier who tries to see both sides of a question there’s the danger of war. The world’s safe because the Russians know Reagan’s not very bright. They know he could press the button, aud that’s a man they can deal with. Vote for the dummy every time. I’ve had a great deal of fun watching Ronnie. Apart from John Wayne being president, I think Reagan’s probably it.

SN: Which seems a good point to ask you what you meant when you once said you wanted to be the John Wayne of fantasy.

DG: Well, it’s nothing to do with his politics. One of the things which made Wayne such an enduring force in movies was that he never considered himself to be a great actor. As far as he was concerned he was a journeyman and tried to learn from every part he played. He was always aiming to be something.

What I meant about wanting to be the John Wayne of fantasy was that as long as I can hold on to the idea that writing is a learning process, and I can improve, then the chances are when I’m 70 I’ll still be writing books people want to read. I’ve met authors who have disappointed me as human beings immensely . . . by being arrogant, pompous; and I think, my God, don’t let me become like this. And would I know? Because they obviously don’t. It’s not that I want to be Duke [as Wayne’s friends called him], wandering through a fantasy world. What I want is to maintain that ideal he had, to keep the learning process open, not to get too overblown.

SN: Would it be fair, then, to see Legend, on one level, as being based on the Alamo?

DG: Yes. The Alamo had a big effect on me when I first read about it. unfortunately I now know the truth about the Alamo. The Alamo was commanded by William Travis, a fairly self important individual, Jim Bowie was quite ill and had financial reasons for joining the rebellion he had a lot of money riding in Tcxas; and Davy Crockett was a failed politician hoping to revive his career. The Alamo is a consistent story of cock-up after cock-up. Nobody there expected to die. I’m not saying they weren’t very brave men. But the whole thing was mismanaged to the point of ineptness. There is even one version that says Davy Crockett was discovered hiding under a pile of women’s clothing, and tried to bribe his way out. They took him away and shot him. I don’t like to believe that, but it’s the reality of life, so perhaps I shouldn’t have studied the Alamo. Legend is the Alamo spirit – or what should have been that spirit.

SN:You are very into elite groups in your books, like The Thirty aud The Dragon. Are they just good plot devices?

DG:Idon’t want to get too psychological but, in my childhood, I belonged to no gangs and had no friends. Which made for some very lonely times; particularly if one of those gangs was looking for you. I dreamed of having lots of friends. So in some ways the elite groups stem from that.
I’ve interviewed SAS men, men from elite regiments, and you’ll find them at 60, 70 and 80 still attending reunions and dreaming of the days when they were part of that group. Just being invited to join is a big boost. I’m fascinated by that discipline and camaraderie.

SN: Some of your elites seem to have mythical basis. Is there a religious motif here?

DG: You’re absolutely right. All of my books have a religious basis. They’re essentially Christian books. I’m a Christian and have certain strong views about Christianity. For instance Serbitar, of The Thirty, says ‘Why was I made the leader?’ Of course he was made leader, because he had the biggest distance to travel. The Bible says ‘He who would be first shall be last’.

SN: Would you write different books if you weren’t a Christian?

DG: Yes I would. There is a writer – George G Gillman – who wrote the Edge westerns. Edge is a man who can roll a cigarette with one hand while raping a woman and cutting the throats of several Mexican soldiers. The books are mindless savagery. If I wasn’t a Christian, and thought there was some profit in it, I could write similar books. Christianity stops me doing that. I think I would be promoting the cause of evil.

SN: Do you always see yourself as writing fantasy?

DG: I’m writing thrillers at the moment, just to get back into what you might call the real world. But when I look at them I think I’m writing thrillers that are really fantasies. The heroes aren’t much different and what happens doesn’t bear too much relation to real life. I’m interested in the good guys winning, whatever the odds, and people seem to find that more acceptable in a fantasy setting. In the main I think I’ll stick with fantasy for the rest of my life.I really enjoy it.

(c) 1999 Stan Nicholls

David Gemmell interview – Passion And Heart


David Gemmell,Britain’s leading author of heroic fantasy, talks to Anne Gay

‘Sword in the Storm is a special book for me,’ says David Gemmell at the end of his most successful tour ever. ‘There are themes within it that I’ve wanted to explore more fully for a long time. It was a hard book to write, and very draining at times. I never keep notes, so I had to hold all the themes in my head, and all the characters and their motivations. And the story kept growing. It was not, at first, intended to be part of a series. It was to be a one-off, like Dark Moon or Morningstar. But the more I wrote the more I realised I couldn’t handle the themes within a conventional 130,000 word novel.’

With Sword in the Storm, Gemmell’s writing has moved on to a more reflective panoramic sweep-of-history level examining the currents that move both individuals and nations forwards. ‘I’m not comfortable with this,’ he says. ‘But I tend to be wary of the word ‘comfortable’. For the writing to work it has to be tackled with passion and heart, and if the author gets too comfortable within his or her style the writing can become bland. I hope the readers will like Sword in the Storm. But although I spend a great deal of time and energy focusing on delivering a good plot and fast-paced action for my readers I have to continue to push at the boundaries. There is no standing still in this business. You either get better, or you go backwards. In order to be the best I can be, I have to stretch myself, tackle new areas, explore new themes.’

And indeed this is turning out to be one of his most popular books so far. Signing queues have been longer than ever and his talks – witty and entertaining – have been incredibly well attended. So ….

how does he account for his appeal?

Igrew up with men of violence. I understand men of violence. It means that when I write actions scenes and when I have violent characters, I have a very strong feel for that. When you talk to the fans, it’s those action scenes that they like and they can relate to, because my characters act, within a fantastic scenario, like real men of violence. And that’s an advantage I have over almost everybody in the field.

‘And I think West London humour – you know, very sharp, very fast – was a good training. I grew up listening to it with some very interesting people. I loved some of their lines. You know, someone would say something stupid and someone would immediately come back and say, “Is that your brain or are you breaking it in for an idiot?”

‘The fans also read my stuff because the bad guys don’t win, and the good guys do win, despite the fact that the odds are overwhelming. You know, there’s too much nowadays, in my view, of the idea that you all sit down and say, “Such and such a thing is going on and it’s terrible” and the first response you get is, “Well there’s nothing you can do about it, is there? That’s the way the government is.”

“Big business? Well, there’s nothing you can do about it.” “Nah, it’s the council, there’s nothing you can do about it.” Which is utter b******s. There’s always something you can do about it and that’s what my books are about – people who do something about it, and so you read it and I hope you tend to think, “Something can be done.” I think that’s what tends to keep them popular.’ Gemmell smiles. ‘Everything I write is, in a sense, autobiographical, in that I have always believed in writing about what I know.’

Now a greater maturity is coming out in his work, a greater human depth. In Sword, the witch, Vorna, has to choose. She can either have her powers or she can have love and friendship. The two sides seem to be mutually exclusive. It reflects Gemmell’s view of real life. ‘We are all required to make sacrifices. Anyone who wanted to live a life of total freedom and independence would need to be utterly selfish.

‘My favourite character in Sword is Ruathain. The man is a well of love, and never shirks his duties or responsibilities. He marries a woman he knows does not love him, yet raises her child as his own, constantly helping the boy to achieve his full potential. And when that boy becomes a leader, Ruathain follows him without any ego loss. But he’s not the character I most identify with. That’s Connavar, keeping the “beast” chained as best he can.’

The “beast” is a compound of less than admirable human characteristics including lust and rage. Gemmell is aware that acts of individual anger have consequences that change the fate of nations. ‘Adolf Hitler had a brutish step-father who constantly beat and raped his mother, giving her syphilis. This changed his life, in that when the Allies made Germany suffer after the First World War Hitler saw the actions as those of ‘a great brute raping Germany.’ As a child he had been powerless to help his mother. As a man he devoted his life to protecting the Motherland. Who knows what he might have been had his childhood not been transformed by anger and resentment?

‘Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, but then so does Good. As to Fate, I think we all have any number of potential destinies. What Fate offers us in the end will always depend more on our flaws than our strengths. Bill Clinton is a case in point. His flaw has always been that he gives way constantly to sexual desires. Anyone looking back on his career in a hundred years time will know that he was destined to fall from grace.

‘The seeds of destruction for any civilisation in history have always started to sprout when their society lost touch with the spiritual, and yearned for material wealth.’ Like Jon Shannow, the hero of his Jerusalem Man series, Gemmell quotes the Bible. ‘”You can’t serve God and Mammon.”‘

Beyond spirituality there are other values which he extols. Some have seen violence as one of them since it features so prominently in his books. Is it the ultimate solution?

He shakes his head. “I don’t think that’s true. There are no ‘ultimate’ solutions. If a man comes at you with a knife, and there is nowhere to hide or run, then you have to fight for your life. That’s just plain common sense. If an army invades your homeland you fight to protect what is yours. I see nothing wrong with that. I don’t subscribe to the view that violence is always wrong. When a surgeon cuts into a human body to slice away a cancer he is committing an act of violence on that body. Sometimes violence is the only answer. But then I have an old-fashioned view on these matters. It sickens me every time I read that some killer, freed from prison, has killed again. Or when a man protecting his home from thieves is sentenced to seven years because he fired a shotgun at them, injuring one. In my view killers should hang, and men who shoot robbers should receive a medal.’

It sounds like a return to the legendary Old West. And legends certainly hold an attraction for him since he has created so many. In part Echoes of the Great Song, the concurrently released paperback of his last novel, is about the distortions between myth and historical fact. Yet Gemmell is not an escapist. He says, ‘I would always rather live in the reality. But like most romantics I believe in the values the legends teach. Love, courage, redemption and forgiveness are values to be cherished.’

Looking at him, broad in the shoulder and narrow at the hip like his heroic creations, few would have jumped first to the adjective ‘romantic’ to describe him. But it fits. Relaxed, he radiates warmth and has many friends. Nevertheless he is as fiercely self-reliant as any of his favourite author Louis L’Amour’s characters. Having written about the Morrigu, a spirit who can grant any wish, he says he wouldn’t request a gift from her.

‘Irarely ask anyone for anything. Another question I’m asked is whether I’d do the same as Shannow and reject eternal life. The answer is absolutely. I have enjoyed my life immensely. I’ve never been touched by greed or envy and I wouldn’t want to live my life again. When the last day comes I’ll just thank God for the time I’ve had and drift away.

‘All my books contain the same message, but I don’t preach about it. The message is for those with the “eyes to see and the ears to hear”. If any reader doesn’t understand the message no amount of lecturing from me will bring it home.’

Sword in the Storm and Echoes of the Great Song, are numbers 1 and 2 respectively in forbidden Planet’s top ten listings. All the same, his first book remains his personal favourite. Legend, written when he was erroneously told he was terminally ill and hadn’t long to live, is the story of a beleaguered man battling on against ferocious odds. ‘It was the first published novel, but it contained all that I wanted to say about life. It is full of passion and heart and I’m deeply proud of it. I’ve always liked telling stories so when it came to finding that Legend actually worked for me, it was like finding yourself. I thought, “This is it! This is what I was intended to do!” so I’ve written stories ever since. I love writing. Love it to pieces. Since I don’t know my stories – well, that’s not exactly true; I have a very, very bare skeleton of an idea – but I don’t really know what’s going to happen, so I long every day to get to the word-processor so I can get my hands on the keys and see what’s going to happen to these characters next.’

But Sword is special, an evolution in his writing that brings animation to Gemmell’s face when he speaks of it. ‘I’m currently working on the sequel, entitled Midnight Falcon, which should be in the publisher’s hands by the end of November. It’s a punishing deadline. I have 70,000 words to write in seven weeks. It’s set eighteen years later, and it’s about Connavar’s bastard son. After that I’ll be writing two Drenai novels, the last Druss adventure and possibly Waylander 3.’

Britain’s foremost author of heroic fantasy, Gemmell has achieved fame. He has only recently returned from a gruelling tour of Australia. He holidays in exotic places like Arizona or dazzling islands in the Mediterranean, stays in ritzy hotels. I say to him, ‘You don’t have to do the 9-5 daily schlepp and the wolf is a long way from your door. You have a life-style almost anybody would envy. So what’s your next ambition?’

He says, ‘I probably work harder now than I ever did on a 9-5 schlepp. As to ambitions…. There is an ancient blessing that says, ‘May all your dreams – but one – come true.’ When I was young I never understood that. Now I do. ‘And I wish I didn’t.’