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.