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.