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Friday, August 30, 2013

Interview with Ian Whates (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

The Trojan War - A Reinterpretation: The Troy trilogy by David and Stella Gemmell
Read The Truth Behind A Legend (Guest post by D. E. M. Emrys)
Read A Birth Of A Legend: A David Gemmell short story (exclusive on Fantasy Book Critic)

Since I first heard about a David Gemmell anthology was in the works, I was giddy with anticipation in regards to who all were involved with it and what was it going to be about. James Barclay pointed me in the right direction and I got in touch with Ian Whates who informed me about the anthology. Yesterday I posted about the table of contents for the anthology and today here's a Q&A with the main editorial mind behind it. So go ahead and find out more about LEGENDS and what Ian Whates has planned for all David Gemmell fans...

Q] Thank you for this opportunity and welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. Could you tell us about the inception of this anthology and who all were involved with it?

IW: My pleasure, and thank you for inviting me. The main instigator of the project was Stan Nicholls, who first broached the subject during a conversation we had at the convention Novacon, in Nottingham, in November 2011. Stan had been a good friend of David Gemmell’s (who was Best Man at his wedding) and is Chair of the annual David Gemmell Awards – Stan helped establish the awards in tandem with the wonderful and much-missed writer Deborah J Miller (Miller Lau), who passed away so tragically earlier this year. Stan knew that I had compiled and edited a book, Fables from the Fountain, which paid homage to Arthur C Clarke’s classic Tales from the White Hart and acted as a fundraiser for the Clarke Award. 

His idea was similarly to pay tribute to David and, hopefully, raise some funds for the DGLAs. We subsequently had a meeting in Northampton in the spring of 2012 where we discussed the idea in earnest, and this was really the point at which the notion became a reality. I had originally assumed that Stan wanted to co-edit the book with me, but it emerged that he was quite happy to let me have my head and run with this, which demonstrated a faith that I greatly appreciate.

Q] For any David Gemmell, 2006 was a horrible year and after that it’s always been a difficult time searching for the next author who can match DG. With this anthology, what are you folks aiming for?

IW: Yes, I remember hearing of David’s passing with great shock (and a very selfish “damn, now I’ll never get to meet him!”). I would never dream of trying to commission stories that emulate David Gemmell; I’m not sure that anyone can. I remember chatting to Joe Abercrombie early in his career and commenting that his work had some of the same qualities as Gemmell’s, and I still believe that holds true, though the emphasis is very much on the ‘some’; despite similarities, Joe and DG are very different writers. The idea of this book is simply to pay tribute, which, by my reckoning, is as much as anyone can ever hope to do.

Q] Can you tell us about the lineup of stories assembled in this anthology? How did you go about parsing through the stories for the collection?

IW: I’m delighted that so many very busy people have taken the time to write something for the book. A lot of the contributors were already known to me but various publishers were also helpful in putting me in touch with those I didn’t have contact details for, and I must thank the folks at Gollancz and Orbit in particular in that regard. Inevitably, several authors declined very graciously at outset due to having too many existing commitments, and another couple had to drop out as the project progressed – one in particular was struggling with some very difficult personal circumstances and ultimately ran out of time – but that still left me with sufficient high quality stories that I had some difficult decisions to make when compiling the final contents list.

There are all sorts of things to take into account when choosing stories for an anthology like this – the audience you’re aiming for, whether there is significant overlap or similarity with a story already accepted, whether a given piece brings anything new to the party, etc… but ultimately, for me, it often comes down to one very basic consideration: would I be happy to hand across my own hard-earned dosh to read this? If the answer is ‘yes’, then hopefully the readers will be as well.

Q] Will this anthology be a one-time thing or is there a possibility for it becoming a series?

IW: The initial idea was very much to have this as a one off, but… As you’re doubtless aware, next year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Gemmell’s classic debut novel Legend, and the response to news of this anthology has been so positive that… Well, watch this space.

Q] I noticed that you have a story in this fascinating collection. Now I know you went through severe pangs about whether even to submit your story for the collection. Can you recount for the reader’s satisfaction the journey this story took before its eventual selection?

IW: From a personal perspective, this was one of the most difficult decisions I had to face when compiling the book. As a Gemmell fan, I really wanted to be in this, but I was afraid it might look narcissistic for the editor to include one of his own pieces, so, if I was going to include something of mine, I’d have to be convinced it was good enough. I've produced three previous ‘Tales of the Fallen Hero’, stories that feature a cynical anti-hero with dubious moral values and a successful past that he’s trying to escape. I always thought him to be the most Gemmell-like character I was ever likely to write, and he seemed the ideal protagonist if I were to write something for Legends. Two of the previous stories made passing reference to events at the Battle of Arden Falls, which had clearly been a traumatic experience for my ‘hero’ but I’d never specified what had happened there; primarily because I hadn't worked that out for myself as yet. This struck me as the perfect moment for my character to revisit Arden and confront his past.

While this story would be very much mine, I also wanted to include an element that could be directly attributable to David Gemmell, and drew inspiration from ‘The Thirty’: the idea of a spiritual, almost other-worldly force that that intervenes in and influences the mortal world when necessary. Having completed the story, I was still undecided about its fate, so submitted “Return to Arden Falls” for ritual disembowelment… I mean ‘critique’, by the Northampton SF Writers Group, which I’m co-chair of and have been attending since 2004. With the likes of Ian Watson, Andy West, and Rod Rees in their ranks, the group don’t hold back. Fortunately, the piece was very favourably received (by no means a given, trust me).

I then sent the story out to three readers, stripped of any identifiers, and asked for their opinions. Two were highly enthusiastic, one lukewarm. Finally, I sent it to Stan Nicholls and asked what he thought. His response was the most positive of all, and he wondered why I had any reservations whatsoever, insisting that the story was perfect for the anthology… So, not without some lingering concerns, I've included it in the anthology.

Q] Were any of the writers (involved) tempted to write stories among any of the worlds created by DG? If yes then why and if not then why not?

IW: No. Or at least if any were tempted, they never mentioned the fact to me. This was something I was determined about from outset. David Gemmell was a very special writer. He created some of the most memorable characters and settings in the history of fantasy. My fear would be that anyone attempting to write in his worlds or with his characters would only detract from the canon rather than adding anything. I’m not including here, incidentally, Stella Gemmell’s completion of an unfinished novel – no one could question that this was a welcome and worthwhile endeavour. But to go in fresh and attempt to emulate the great man…? No. Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but, if so, I certainly don’t consider myself qualified to judge. So, the idea with this volume is very much to pay tribute to the spirit of Gemmell’s writing without any risk of besmirching his fabulous legacy.

Q] Stella Gemmell debuted with her epic fantasy book The City, a few months earlier. I’m curious to know if she was involved in this anthology and its build-up?

IW: Stella was one of the first people I approached regarding the anthology. As you say, she has just debuted as an author in her own right, and I know from experience what a hectic time the period leading up to that can be. Regrettably she had to decline the invite to submit for Legends, feeling that she simply wouldn't have the time to do so.

Q] While we are on the subject of David Gemmell, it’s interesting to know that he had a certain take on his beloved characters. He labeled them as "Rick's Bar characters" and described them in the following way:

"When authors talk of great characters, what they really mean is easy. Some characters are tough to write. The author has to constantly stop and work out what they will say or do. With the great characters, this problem disappears. Their dialogue flows instantly, their actions likewise. A friend of mine calls them "Rick's Bar characters," from the film Casablanca. Some characters you have to build, like a sculptor carving them from rock. Others just walk out of Rick's bar fully formed and needing no work at all."

What is your opinion about it & was this the case for you with any of your character/s?

IW: I think that’s very apt and very true. I also believe that the distinction often has a foundation in how closely a writer can relate to and inhabit his/her protagonist. Often you might craft a character who is important to the plot and that you know has a vital role to play, without fully relating to them or even ‘liking’ them. These can prove to be the characters that are most difficult to portray credibly, the ones that require that extra bit of care to convince both the reader and yourself.

My protagonist in “Return to Arden Falls” is very much the opposite. I've written him, on and off, for many years and feel very comfortable with him. He is a conflicted individual who has done some truly despicable things in his time but is also capable of great heroism. I see no contradiction in this and nor would he. He has his own moral compass, often dictated by expediency, and acts accordingly. Hopefully, this comes across to the reader.

Q] As a longtime David Gemmell fan, I have to ask which is your favorite title of his and why?

IW: Ooh, that’s a difficult one, and I’m afraid that I’m going to duck the issue to a certain extent, in that I genuinely don’t have a single favourite. The very first Gemmell I read was The Last Guardian, which I enjoyed a great deal at the time and have grown even fonder of with the passing years; primarily, I think, because it introduced me to Jon Shannow. I loved the whole interweaving of SF and fantasy with a character reminiscent of High Plains Drifter who could have been lifted straight from a western.

Then, of course, there is Legend, which introduces us to Druss and has its epic staging, fabulous battles and poignant finale; and Waylander, with a protagonist formidable enough to rival Druss, Dakreyas, a man tortured by his own heinous actions despite the mitigating circumstances… Oh, and I love both the ‘Macedon’ novels as well, particularly the first, Lion of Macedon. And now I’m feeling guilty about all the others I haven’t mentioned. Select a single favourite? How?

Q] In closing, any last words for our readers and what can/should they expect from LEGENDS?

IW: What they shouldn't expect is a collection of stories that are pale imitations of David Gemmell. What they can expect is a book crammed full of diverse, high quality fantasy tales, all of which owe a debt to David Gemmell; some very clearly and others more subtly. He created a number of memorable characters in vividly crafted settings, and his stories tend to include a spiritual element that is applied deftly enough to enhance the narrative rather than smothering it: a hint of magic sprinkled over gritty realism. Within Legends a reader will find stories possessing facets that reflect and draw inspiration from different aspects of the great man’s work, without ever attempting to duplicate it. Above all, the reader can, hopefully, expect one hell of a good read.

NOTE: LEGENDS cover art provided by Dominic Harman and title graphics are by Andy Bigwood. LEGENDS cover picture and author picture provided by Ian Whates. Stella Gemmell picture courtesy of Amazon UK.


Unknown said...

This book is filled with charismatic people of the most amazing variety. I felt so many emotions reading this book and often found myself laughing hysterically out aloud gaining the attention of those in the cafe around me! You may find yourself becoming very unproductive once you begin reading this, you won't want to put it down!
If you enjoy reading about the following topics then you can anticipate loving this book:
- History
- Love
- Family
- Travel/Culture
- Humour
I have never come across a book where I have felt so intriguant whilst being able to relate at the same time. Being one of first people to read this book, the only disappointing fact is that I now have to wait for author to write him next one!


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