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Thursday, December 5, 2013

GUEST POST: Malice, Its Influences And The David Gemmell Awards by John Gwynne

It’s been a crazy year. Last December my debut novel Malice was published by Tor in the UK, and in this December it is published in the US by Orbit. Plenty of crazy-cool things have happened in between, but the top of the cake has to be winning the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for best fantasy debut of 2012. Being awarded the Morningstar came as an absolute shock, and has kept me grinning pretty much permanently.

A bit of background information is probably helpful here. The story of me writing Malice started about 11 years ago - at the time I had recently finished a master’s degree and was teaching at Brighton University. Due to family health issues I stepped out of teaching to help my wife in caring for our daughter, Harriett. She is profoundly disabled and needs round-the-clock care. Life can be pretty intense, when you care for someone full-time, so I thought a hobby might be a good thing, if I could find the time. I've always told stories - to my kids and my wife (if I have them backed into a corner with no routes of escape) and they've often encouraged me to write some of them down (possibly to make me stop talking). So I started to do that, a hobby that restored a bit of ‘me’ in the juggling act that is the parenting of three boys, working from home and also caring for my daughter. It was also a place to indulge my passion for general all-round geekery. Malice and The Faithful and The Fallen just naturally evolved out of this. Somewhere along the way it grew into something more than just a hobby.

I finished Malice in 2010 and gave it to my wife and kids to read, plus a few mates, and then put it away for a while. Feedback was good - but hey, what did I expect from family and friends. Nevertheless most encouraged me to take it further, and though some of my mates do like to humiliate me whenever possible, I got the feeling this was not one of those times. I started looking into how to get a novel published, and the short version of what came next is that I approached an agent - John Jarrold. He had worked in the business for over three decades, running fantasy imprints in the U. K. such as Orbit and Simon and Schuster, editing authors such as Guy Gavriel Kay, as well as representing contemporary writers like Mark Charan Newton, Adam Neville and Stephen Deas. He became my ‘dream agent,’ the man always at the top of my list, so it was no shock that John was the first agent that I approached.

To my surprise and very great pleasure John loved Malice and agreed to represent me. That was a good day. Drinking mead and dancing a jig was involved. John worked with me editorially for a while, then Malice went out to publishers, and within a short time there was a pre-emptive offer from Julie Crisp, acquiring editor of Tor UK. This was just before Christmas 2010. Needless to say, there was much celebrating in the Gwynne household that Christmas, involving more mead drinking and jig-dancing, with extra mulled-wine. So that’s the condensed version of how Malice came to be published.

As to the influences on the actual story, well, there are a few major culprits there. I fell in love with fantasy at a early age - 8, in fact, when a school teacher read The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander to my class - lots of mythological epicness and I was instantly hooked. After that it was The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and it is fair to say that Tolkien consumed my pre-teen reading years.

Other writers have crept into the mix along the way, of course. I tend to read mostly fantasy - all types: urban, steampunk, gritty but my first-love is epic - alongside a lot of historical fiction, authors such as Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and Steven Pressfield, to name a few. If I had to narrow down the major influences on Malice, which is pretty hard, as a lot went into the pot, I’d have to say these are the important ones:
 - Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
 - Bernard Cornwell’s Arthur trilogy, and The Warlord Chronicles
 - John Milton’s Paradise Lost
 - And pretty much anything by David Gemmell.

Those four really capture the essence of what I aspired to write. Something epic, with a big landscape (Tolkien). Something that felt almost historical, with a foot in ancient history (Bernard Cornwell). Something intimate, personal and character driven (David Gemmell). And something supernatural, with a sinister edge (Paradise Lost).

I discovered David Gemmell in my late teens, back in the mists of time when I still had hair. I've been a huge fan of his since I discovered Legend in my local Waterstones and hurried home to devour it in one sitting. I remember feeling both elated and disappointed when I finished it in the early hours of the next morning - disappointed because I’d finished. Since then David Gemmell has been responsible for a distinct lack of sleep in my life, as his books always had me gripped from page one and reading through the night into the small hours of the morning. Up until then fantasy had consisted largely of whiter-than-white hero’s in black and white worlds - Gemmell chopped a snaga-shaped axe through that, bringing flawed characters and moral ambiguity to the table, whilst still managing to be uplifting and give you a feeling of hope about human nature. I loved his style, his balance of detailed action with wonderful character beats and roller-coaster plotting. ‘Sword in the Storm’ is one of my all time favourite reads. Malice would have been a very different book without the influence of David Gemmell.

It feels pretty surreal to even see Malice in a bookshop at all - I can still vividly remember it being scattered notes on my desk, and I feel exceptionally fortunate to see it in print. There have been lots of great, memorable moments along the path to publication and beyond. Seeing Malice on the same shelf as David Gemmell in my local Waterstones - the same shop that I bought my original copy of Legend from - was one such moment. Finding out I had made the shortlist for the David Gemmell Morningstar Award was awesome, both because of the company I was in, such great writers, and also, well, because DAVID GEMMELL.

To actually win the Morningstar Award really is almost indescribable - first complete and utter shock (I began to clap for the winner before it sank in that my name had just been read out) and followed quickly by very deep joy and a grin as wide as Druss’ axe. I so did not expect to win, and was just over the moon to be enjoying the experience of being shortlisted and being at the awards ceremony - James Barclay’s Druss speech as the opener was quite brilliant and had myself and my two younger sons enraptured.

Being such a massive Gemmell fan made winning a award with the great man’s name attached to it, quite incredibly special, and the moment was made all the better because my family were at the award ceremony - there were a lot of hugs, and a few tears. And red wine. So as you can see, it’s been quite a year. Never thought any of it would have happened - I might have imagined it once or twice back when Malice was just a few scattered notes on my desk, like when you imagine winning the lottery - but it just goes to show, sometimes dreams do come true.

Official Author Website
Order “MaliceHERE (UK) & HERE (US) 
Read An Extract HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Malice 
Read The Truth Behind a Legend by D.E.M. Emrys w/ thoughts by John Gwynne (Guest Post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Gwynne studied and lectured at Brighton University. He’s been in a rock ‘n’ roll band, playing the double bass, travelled the USA and lived in Canada for a time. He is married with four children and lives in Eastbourne running a small family business rejuvenating vintage furniture. Malice is his debut.

NOTE: John Gwynne picture courtesy of himself. John Jarrold picture courtesy of himself. John receiving his award from Michael Marshall Smith (picture courtesy of Stan Nicholls).



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