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Monday, May 20, 2013
Have you ever met a legend? I have. I've stood on the walls of a doomed-to-fall fortress with men too old, too young, and women who fight like lionesses; I've been chased across enemy territory by wild beasts, but rescued by a deformed cripple who was turned on by everyone he has ever known yet he still cared; I've gone behind enemy lines to cut the head from the snake’s body; I've met killers who would turn on country and kin, who have committed the most violent of acts, yet they would sacrifice themselves for the sake of children; and I have fought and fallen besides heroes. I am a soldier, and I have ‘been there, done that’, but these are legends. And the first legend that I met was not a soldier. He was a writer and his name was David Gemmell.
David Gemmell was a fantasy writer. That’s the truth of it. He was and still is regarded as the British ‘King’ or ‘Father of modern heroic-fantasy’, a title worthy of his legendary status. To eleven year old me the big-daddy-of-heroic-fantasy was a fireside mythmonger. But behind every legend there is a human being, and you couldn't get more human than David. For all his renown, David was simply known as ‘the big man’ to his fans and readers.
I picked up my first Gemmell novel when I was eleven, back in 2001. At the time I hated reading, so much so that I was classed under ‘special measures’ at school. So when my mother gave me £5 pocket money in a book shop as a last attempt at kindling an interest in reading, she fully expected me to pick-up a pack of stickers or a Pokémon magazine at best. Needless to say she was shocked when I chose a novel, let alone something from the adult ‘Fantasy’ section. Thinking back on it, I’m surprised that my mother didn't tell me not to waste the money – me being me, at first sight I honestly only wanted the book for the cool picture of the axe on the front. I’m eternally grateful that mum didn't talk me out of it.
That novel was ‘Legend’.
An eleven year old with an adult fantasy novel? Spotty pre-teen vs. violence, cursing, death, sorrow, tragedy…and courage, love, friendship, too. Above all else David Gemmell wrote passion. I laughed and I cried. I discovered a world where men stood against death – and in many ways life – not because they had to, but because it was the right thing to do. I wanted to be like one of these men. (Or women for that matter! Gemmell also catered to the strong female archetype. The character Virae from Legend will always have a place in my heart. As a boy, when I’d rather wipe a bogey on a girl’s back than play kiss chase, to have strong female role models was a real eye-opener. Though I still didn't play kiss chase.)
Gemmell wrote ‘lightly’. Don’t take this the wrong way. He doesn't skim on detail nor does he info-dump pages of history in a single go. His voice is light as it’s easy to read, so easy in fact that eleven year old me who didn't EVER-want-to-read finished ‘Legend’ in a single night. My mum wasn't impressed with the bags under my eyes, but she was speechless that I had actually read a book, let alone in a few hours.
I was young and impressionable, and Gemmell’s stories cast a spell over me. Where most teens my age had sports stars or pop sensations for idols, I had the heroes and heroines of Gemmell’s books. I was not alone in my fascination. One reader reportedly saved a woman from being attacked by two men, all because of Gemmell’s influence. If there’s one thing that has stayed with me over the years, it’s a code. A code of warriors, ‘The Iron Code’, something that Druss the Legend said. Something that Gemmell wrote.
“Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These things are for lesser men."
"Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil."
"Never back away from an enemy. Either fight or surrender. It is not enough to say I will not be evil. Evil must be fought wherever it is found.”
When asked by one of my fellow soldiers how we should act in Afghanistan, I showed him this quote. Need I say any more?
In 2006 two men, whose words I valued the most, both passed away. My father and David Gemmell. Sounds odd to put both of them side-by-side like that, and please don’t mistake me for being cold-hearted towards my father for comparing him to a writer I never met, but when you’re a sixteen year old boy going from school to college to real life, you sometimes need a steer.
My father was an engineer, but he was also a fighter. He fought mental illness for much of his life. Writing this is already making me a little…well, you know. My father battled the worst bout of his illness in 2006. I do not condone nor condemn what he did, but in November of that year he took his own life. In his eyes, rather than let the illness take what little he had left, he went down fighting. My father always did right by my sister and I. Whenever I read a Gemmell novel the Iron code would come to mind, and I would immediately think of my father. That was how he lived. I wanted to be a fighter. Like my father and like the characters that Gemmell created. So I joined the army. This is when fantasy became reality.
Gemmell’s stories are real as real can be. He knew what he was writing about. Gemmell’s characters aren't knights in shining armour that ride in at the last minute to save the day. They’re normal everyday people like you and I. They had heart. Gemmell might never have stood on the front lines of a battlefield, but somehow he encompassed even the minute details of conflict. That’s because he wrote with heart. He didn't just write about the implications of two countries, kingdoms, or even empires going to war with each other, he wrote about the human element of each individual in the press of humanity. Armies weren't faceless ranks of soldiers, they were men and women with dreams, hopes, fears and problems of their own.
It’s a testament to Gemmell that people like me want to write about him. Though my scant few words will never do the justice that the big man deserves, when you think about it, if a soldier-reader-writer wants to spin up an article over someone he’s never met, it’s something special. Gemmell left a legacy behind him.
This legacy is something that if you are a fantasy reader you've almost definitely encountered, even if you didn't realize it. Renowned writers such as James Barclay, Conn Iggulden and John Gwynne credit Gemmell as an influence. There’s a whole generation of writers who at one point have read a Gemmell book, and now write with a semblance of his influence. And now David’s wife Stella, who also finished Gemmell’s last book 'Fall of Kings’ after his passing, has released her debut novel ‘The City’.
Stella’s dedication in ‘The City’ simply says:
‘For Dave, of course.’
That sums it up really, doesn't it?
And I can’t forget, The David Gemmell Legend Award. Divided into three categories: Ravenheart (best book jacket/cover), MorningStar (best newcomer to the fantasy genre), and Legend (best release of the year), the DGLA is an annual award that celebrates fantasy literature in the name of Gemmell. It’s highlighted the successes of writers like Helen Lowe, Joe Abercrombie, Elspeth Cooper, Peter V Brett, Trudi Canavan, Glen Cook, Kate Elliott, the list goes on and on. And the best part about it? It’s done by votes from you and me, the readers, because as many who knew Gemmell will testify, the readers are the ones that mattered most to him. After all we’re the little guys that made it into his stories.
David Gemmell wasn't just a writer. Nor was he just the British Father of Heroic Fantasy, or a figurehead for the genre’s popularity. David Gemmell inspired me to write. Me, a little guy. A dumb soldier who didn't want to read as a child. Talk about a square peg and a round hole! We've all got dreams of our own, and it’s safe to say that though I’m only a self-published author now, one day I aspire to reach the nominations of the DGLA. Heck, all this because I read a book when I was a child.
I’d like to thank Mihir for inviting me to sum up my thoughts on David Gemmell on this esteemed blog. I could have rambled on all day (as you can see) about the big man, but if there’s any single way to put it all into words (without stealing Stella’s – which I thought were perfect!) it’s this:
David Gemmell. Legend.
Lastly here are a few thoughts/comments from some authors who label the big man as an important influence and my thanks to them for their time and contributions:
Marc Lawrence, ‘Prince of Thorns’, DGLA Morningstar nominee 2012:
"Gemmell captured what I loved about fantasy in the 80s and felt I’d outgrown, but somehow repackaged it in a way that still appealed. That’s something I owe him considerable thanks for. There’s a fire in Gemmell’s work that keeps me reading, keeps me involved. He is in fact the only author I've ever taken the trouble to find out more about."
John Gwynne, ‘Malice’:
"David Gemmell set a new bar in fantasy. When most fantasy was full of shining hero's and black and white causes, David smashed an axe into the genre and chopped down that wall. His flawed characters, gritty worlds and fast-paced plotting were fresh and exciting, and a re-read of them today proves that they still are. My personal favourite is 'Sword in the Storm,' but he was so prolific with never a slip in quality that it is almost impossible to choose a 'best of.' He is, beyond all doubt, a legend, and 'Malice' would have turned out a very different book without him."
Helen Lowe, ‘Heir of Night’, winner of the DGLA Morningstar award 2012:
"Growing up, so many aspects of David Gemmell's novels “spoke” to me: the grand sweep of the stories and their sense of contending light and dark, the way the characters’ choices are so often around sacrifice and duty, yet friendship and love are always the heart of the story. And yes, I then wanted to write stories 'just like that' myself."
Stan Nicholls, ‘Orcs’, chair of the DGLA:
"Dave Gemmell’s greatest influence on me was as a man, and as a friend. You have to understand that his fiction wasn't some kind of artifice; it was a genuine expression of his personality and beliefs. He really did lay great emphasis on honour, loyalty and the desire of decent people to try to do decent things, while acknowledging that none of us our perfect beings. It was how he tried to live his life, and he imbued his characters with those qualities."
James Barclay, ‘Dawnthief’ and Chronicles/Legends of the Raven, DGLA nominee:
"The greatest inspiration was the man himself, not his work. To sit with Dave Gemmell for an evening was to realize that every word he spoke was laced with the passion and belief that filled his novels. He didn't imagine it, he lived it."
Growing up with the heroic tales written by authors such as David Gemmell and James Barclay, D was inspired to write stories of his own. After joining the army D used his free time to focus on his dream of sharing shelf-space with his idols.
D lives where the army send him, but home is in Chelmsford with his fiancé. They say that behind every great man there is a woman pulling the strings, but she lets him dance to his own song whilst being the perfect partner in step. D claims that his books would not have been written without her.
David Emrys is not his real name. Nor is D.
Official Author Website
Read my review of From Man To Man by D.E.M. Emrys
Read David's review of The Grim Company by Luke Scull
NOTE: David Gemmell cover montage courtesy of Alaa_Mk_2020. David Gemmell picture courtesy of WFC 25 and Patricia McKillip. All author pictures courtesy of the authors themselves.
12:00 AM | Posted by The Reader | | Edit Post