This Interview has been provided by Orbit, and is printed with their permission.
David Gemmell’s classic Drenai series, which began with his first novel, LEGEND, was reissued in September with new covers. We took the opportunity to have a close encounter with Britain’s king of heroic fantasy.
Which book do you remember best from your childhood?
THE HOBBIT. I was around seven and the headmaster of my junior school, in a bid to encourage reading, came into the class every Thursday to read to us. I found myself looking forward to that hour more than any other. He had a great reading voice and I used to close my eyes and live the story.
What is the most outrageous thing you have ever done?
Drawing a veil over the criminal and the sexual…I once put my head in a lion’s mouth. I was a junior reporter and I had been ordered to write a feature about a circus that was in town. I asked the lion tamer if I could join him in a training session. The paper had to sign all sorts of insurance forms, but I did go in the big cage. For what it’s worth, I have never smelt anything so foul as the breath of a big cat. It was almost toxic.
What is your favourite film?
Rocky. Sylvester Stallone’s script is magnificent and the movie rightly won the Oscar for Best Film of 1976. The other Rocky films were entertaining but on the whole they devalued the original concept.
Which character from fiction would you most like to be?
I can think of no one from history or fiction that I would like to be. When I was a child I would have given anything to stand beside Harold at the Battle of Hastings. As a teenager I wanted to be the one man in High Noon who would back up Gary Cooper. I remember standing at Piccadilly station one day and looking across the platform at an enormous poster emblazoned with the name DAVID GEMMELL in four-foot-high letters. The first thought that came into my mind was, ‘Must be nice to be him.’
What is your greatest fear?
Where’s your favourite place?
Tucson, Arizona, just as the sun goes down and the Catalina mountains turn gold.
If you were invited to a fancy-dress party, who would you go as?
Hercule Poirot’s taller brother.
What irritates you the most?
The English habit of building up heroes and then seeking to tear them down. I think we are in danger of becoming a mean-spirited people.
What is your favourite word?
Prat. It’s so wonderfully expressive.
How do you indulge yourself?
I play computer games. I just bought ‘Age of Empires’ and I play it constantly. Mind you, I can’t play it without the cheats. It’s so infuriating. I kept getting killed, so after a week of being massacred I nipped on to the Net and went into a Games chat room. A twelve year old was talking about how it took him an hour to figure out you can’t get very far without building several storage pits. An hour! I could have shot him!
Do you have a motto?
The louder he spoke of his honour, the faster we counted the spoons.
What was your first job?
Labourer, digging foundations. Then I moved to working for Pepsi Cola as a lorry-driver’s mate.
Who makes you laugh?
Any politician talking about honour, morality, decency or courage.
Which of your novels did you most enjoy writing?
LEGEND. It was a golden time in my life. I could write it better now – and yet it wouldn’t be as good. LEGEND has all the flaws you expect in a first novel, but it has a heart that wouldn’t be bettered by improving its style. I am as proud of that book as I am of anything I’ve done in my life.
How would you describe yourself?
Tall and flawed.
What was the first piece of fiction you wrote?
THE MAN FROM MIAMI, a novel about an assassin. It was so bad it could curdle milk at fifty paces.
What qualities do you most admire in others?
Loyalty, with courage coming a very close second.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
Being your own boss.
What’s the worst thing about being an author?
Being your own boss.
Who is your hero?
Currently, it’s Ronald Reagan. After years of politicians seeking to remove morality from the question of East-West relations he had the courage to set out to destroy communism, describing it as an evil empire, and setting in place all the elements that would later smash the Iron Curtain.
If you were a superhero, which powers would you like to have?
The Flash. I could write faster.
What are you doing at the weekend?
Desperately trying to meet the next deadline.