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.