An interview with David Gemmell
By Del Rey editor, Steve W. Saffel
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
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