Monday, 30 September 2013

David Gemmell and Legends

an article by Ian Whates, co-chairman of the NSFWG

I will always regret never having the opportunity to meet David Gemmell, who passed away while I was still finding my feet in the genre community.  I first discovered his writing while going on holiday (in 1990?), buying The Last Guardian at the airport on impulse.  The book stayed glued to my hand throughout the flight and was finished during my first day in the sun.

The thing is, I didn’t come away thinking ‘wow, that was fantastic’ but rather ‘that was an enjoyable read; I might try this author again’.  And I did, devouring all the Sipstrassi Tales and then the Drenai books in the following few months and reading each subsequent title as it was released.  Somehow, without my even noticing it, David Gemmell had become one of my favourite fantasy authors.

It was at the Novacon convention in Nottingham, November 2011, that Stan Nicholls casually dropped into a conversation the prospect of producing an anthology of original stories in honour of David.  He wondered if such a project might interest me… Really?  Naturally, I jumped at the idea.

The first author I approached was Joe Abercrombie, whom I knew to be incredibly busy, but he said ‘of course’ and duly delivered a typically cracking tale.  In fact, while there were inevitably a few authors who simply couldn’t accommodate any further commitment in their hectic schedules, the response from the writing community as a whole has been fantastic, and I’m grateful to everyone who submitted.  James Barclay, for example, has provided a story that finally details how his mercenary cadre The Raven first formed; Adrian Tchaikovsky has contributed a wonderful new story set in his Shadows of the Apt milieu, and Stan Nicholls has written a piece set in a universe he’s intending to expand on in a future novel sequence.  One author I avoided inviting because I knew her to be not in the best of health was Tanith Lee.  But when I mentioned the project to a recovering Tanith, she said, “And you didn’t invite me?” before delivering a story of the sort that only Tanith can.  Inevitably, Legends features more than one high-tempo heroic action story, but there are also some gentler counterpoints, such as Sandra Unerman’s delightfully delicate “Mountain Tea”.

I thought long and hard about whether or not to write something for the book myself.  As a Gemmell fan, I really wanted to be in this, but would it be narcissistic for the editor to include one of his own pieces?  Over the years I’ve produced three previous ‘Tales of the Fallen Hero’, stories featuring a cynical anti-hero with dubious moral values, and always thought him to be the most Gemmell-like character I was ever likely to write.  Two of those 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 in what way.  Primarily, because I hadn’t worked that out for myself as yet.  This seemed the perfect moment for the character to revisit Arden and confront his past.

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, where it was met very favourably (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, in it went (gulp).

At the end of the day, I’m delighted with Legends.  The book looks the part (thanks to Dominic Harman’s fabulous artwork and Andy Bigwood’s lettering) and the stories inside will, I believe, be appreciated by those who read it.  I’m not about to make any sweeping claims that “David Gemmel would be proud of this book” because I didn’t know the man and would certainly never dream of speaking for him; but I do hope that in some small way we’ve done justice to his legacy.

Legends will be launched at the reception immediately following this year’s David Gemmell Awards, which takes place on the opening night of World Fantasycon in Brighton, on Thursday October 31st.  The book will be available as a paperback, an e-book, and a numbered limited edition hardback signed by all the authors.

The full ToC is:

1. Introduction – Stan Nicholls
2. Or So Legend Has It – James Barclay
3. A Blade to the Heart – Gaie Sebold
4. Return to Arden Falls – Ian Whates
5. The Drake Lords of Kyla – Storm Constantine
6. A Tower of Arkrondurl – Tanith Lee
7. Who Walks With Death – Jonathan Green
8. Skipping Town – Joe Abercrombie
9. Land of the Eagle – Juliet E McKenna
10. All Hail to the Oak – Anne Nicholls
11. Swords and Circle – Adrian Tchaikovsky
12. Fairyland – Jan Siegel
13. Mountain Tea – Sandra Unerman
14. The League of Resolve – Stan Nicholls

This originally appeared on Ian's website here on August 28th 2013

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