This is a set of 25 questions that David Gemmell answered, set by the readers of the Gemmell Fantasy mailing list.
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 editions 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 don’t expose myself to what Moorcock once described as ‘pixieshit novels. ‘
10. Do you listen to music when you write (i.e. specifically listen to it, rather than just have it on in the background), or do you prefer silence?
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 when ever 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.
1 2. 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 reviewer (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 school at 16 for ‘organising a gambling syndicate.’ Is this true? If so, what was it all about?
A friend 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 won’t 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 don’t live like a ‘star’. I 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