David Gemmell biography

David Gemmell was born in 1948 in West London, England. His school life ended at the age of sixteen when he was expelled for his part in an organized gambling syndicate. After leaving school Gemmell became a labourer in the daytime and a bouncer at night in the pubs and clubs of London.

David Gemmell also became a freelance writer for publications such as The Daily Mail and The Daily Express. During this time he wrote his first novel, Legend in 1984, followed by The King beyond the Gate in 1985. It was with the publication of his third novel, Waylander in 1986, that Gemmell was finally able to stop working as a journalist and to become a full time writer.

Gemmell’s first three books were all part of his very popular Drenai Series. He branched out into writing other series during the late eighties, writing two Jon Shannow Novels (Wolf in Shadow and The Last Guardian) and completing the Stones of Power Series (Ghost King, Last Sword of Power). Knights of Dark Renown, a stand-alone title was written in 1989.

During the 1990’s, Gemmell became increasingly prolific, releasing Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf, The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, The Legend of Deathwalker and Winter Warriors to add to the already impressive Drenai Series. In 1994, Bloodstone was published, so completing the Jon Shannow Series and the new Hawk Queen Series (Ironhand’s daughter and The Hawk Eternal) were published in 1995 and 1996. Sword in the Storm (1999) saw the beginning of the Rigante Series and Morning Star and Dark Moon completed a very fruitful decade for David Gemmell.

Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, but then so does Good. As to Fate, I think we all have any number of potential destinies. What Fate offers us in the end will always depend more on our flaws than our strengths. Bill Clinton is a case in point. His flaw has always been that he gives way constantly to sexual desires. Anyone looking back on his career in a hundred years time will know that he was destined to fall from grace.
David Gemmell when interviewed by Anne Gay

The year 2000 came and David Gemmell continued to add to his impressive catalogue. White Wolf, The Swords of Night and Day and various anthologies added to the Drenai Series whilst Midnight Falcon, Ravenheart and Stormrider completed the Rigante Series. The book entitled Echoes of the Great Song was also published in 2002.

In 1993, Gemmell took a break from heroic fantasy and wrote a book called White Knight, Black Swan. He wrote this book under the name of Ross Harding so as not to upset his loyal fans.

Interestingly, when asked about the subject matter of his books, Gemmell says "I grew up with men of violence. I understand men of violence. It means that when I write actions scenes and when I have violent characters, I have a very strong feel for that." Violence certainly plays a large part in Gemmell's works, especially in terms of the weak against the strong. Gemmell brings realism to his fantasy work and he also added his very own special ingredient - West London humour.

In an interview on www.sffworld.com in 1998 David Gemmell mentioned that the book that he remembers best from his childhood is J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. His headmaster used to come into the classroom every Thursday and read from the book for half an hour and he used to close his eyes and live the story. He went on to describe himself as "tall and flawed" and places loyalty, then courage as the things that he admired most in other people. He praised Ronald Reagan as his modern-day hero.

On Friday 28th July 2006, two weeks after having a heart bypass, David Gemmell died of coronary artery disease. He was a heavy smoker but found that attempts to give up had negative affects on his writing. He died shortly after the second book from his new series Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow had been published. His widow, Stella, hopes to be able to complete the third book with the seventy thousand words that has already been written and with the plots and storylines that her husband had spoken to her before he died.

David Gemmell will be sadly missed but fortunately his books will always be there.

Koen Peters on David Gemmell
David Gemmell is a master of Heroic Fantasy. You won’t find any ‘Prince Charming’s in his works though! Well, you might, but not as a main character... People, after all, are not perfect. Far from it. Gemmells characters are always struggling with their inner demons. Past mistakes, hubris, greed, you name it. Yet in spite of these ‘flaws’, the protagonists fight for what they think is right. Or just because they like fighting…

The worlds Gemmell creates are dark, cruel and full of danger. Mainly because of the human inhabitants, since there is no creature that can match the cruelty of humanity. The civilizations brought to life by Gemmell are often similar to known empires, tribes, etc in a lot of ways. You’ll find disciplined armies fighting in formation, swarms of barbarians, howling horse-men, blade-dancers, shamans, and any other fighting style your heart could desire. Magic is a part of his worlds, but it’s not very common and the focus is on physical prowess. Gemmell is obviously an expert on anything medieval, from obvious things like sieges and vassals, to impressive details like the discovery of the leather strap…

In short, a book by David Gemmell is about morally grey heroes, who fight for what they believe in, and regularly get kicked in the nuts by fate. A Tavern brawler who selflessly stands up when faced with injustice. A Drunkard that, without a moment of hesitation, sacrifices his life in favor of an innocent family. A Burly woodcutter that travels to all corners of the world to rescue his captured crush. A pacifistic priest forced to slay numerous enemies. These tales tell of honor and glory, duty and loyalty, courage and resolve, all coated in a wonderful blend of action, black humor and suspense.

David Gemmell influences

  • Louis Lamour
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Stan Lee

David Gemmell met Stan Lee and was struck speechless, however soon the two were chatting away happily. Stan Lee's wife is British and she and Stan requested a signed copy of Legend.

The following is a tribute to David Gemmell by bestselling author, Conn Iggulden.

In my pantheon of literary greats, David Gemmell stands alone. I read his first book, Legend, when I was fourteen and knew even then that I had found the kind of writer I wanted to be. Like Julius Caesar himself, Gemmell wrote with a spare elegance, racing along with characters and events until I found it was dawn and I had to get up for work. Gemmell is the only writer who ever stole my nights in such a way.

I read Ghost King when I was at university. I was studying Arthurian literature at the time and somehow missed the references to Gian Avur and the Lancelord. It's difficult to recall a last line of any book that was more of a shock to me than that one. Gemmell was superb at endings. Some of them were so powerful that I could only stare at the ceiling with tears in my eyes.

As no one else, Gemmell could explore fear and courage in men and women under extreme stress. The bravery he describes is uplifting and made real because it is set against panic and despair. For someone like me, who grew up with his father's stories of Bomber Command in the Second World War, the grim humour and dark moments all ring true. When Beltzer gives his life to save others in Quest for Lost Heroes, it aches because he truly doesn't want to, but finds something in himself and stands.

I think that is why I've always loved these books. Gemmell could create intricate plots and he wrote dialogue with the simple force of poetry. When I think of the way Jon Shannow quoted the Old Testament, it sends a shiver through me even now.

Beyond that, though, Gemmell wrote the sort of stories that used to be told round fires right back to the caves. Humanity has a few instincts, but our culture has to passed on by stories. I grew up with classic myths and legends as well as inspiring tales of real courage. I still remember how moved I was when I first heard the tale of the Spartan Boy, who was forbidden to keep a fox cub and hid it in his chest. He showed no sign of his growing agony. As his father lectured him, the boy grew paler and paler until at last he fell dead.

It doesn't matter whether it really happened or not. Making the boy a hero shows how much the Spartans valued self-discipline. Some ancient storyteller knew that tales of courage help men to stand when they are frightened, or to let women and children go first into the Titanic's boats while the band played on. Stories are culture and Gemmell almost single-handedly brought back that sort of tale. If you've read Legend and known how afraid Regnak was, well it might just be a little easier to stand when you know you really, really should.

The thing about his best work is that it all rings true. When I've learned something in my own life about fear and courage, I hear it in his characters as they face impossible odds and know there will be no one to save them. How they act then can be inspiring or shameful, but in Gemmell's books, they rise up and meet their fate with their eyes open.

In King Beyond the Gate, there is a scene where Tenaka Khan is seeking to gather his people into one nation, very much as Genghis Khan once did. In the middle of a very tense sequence of chapters, with danger on every side, Tenaka comes across a man buried alive, left to die with only his head above ground. He squats next to the buried man and says, ‘We are seeking the tents of the Wolves.'

The man spits an ant from his mouth and replies, ‘Good for you! Why tell me? You think I have been left here as a signpost?'

Those words made me laugh until my stomach hurt. I'd grown up with that sort of resigned, grim humour from my father's memories of seeing his friends die around him. Gemmell captured it better than anyone else I've ever read. His warriors banter and laugh at the appalling situations in which they find themselves - yet there is never any cruelty in it. Gemmell's heroes are admirable, flawed and very, very human.

Most writers owe a debt to the authors they have read. We're all voracious readers first and we learn to recognize what hits us hard, what works. I'm sure I wouldn't have written historical fiction if I hadn't read Lion of Macedon - a retelling of the Alexander story more powerful than any history. Without characters like Parmenion, I'd never have known where to go with a young Julius Caesar. I probably wouldn't have chosen to write against Genghis Khan without Gemmell's Nadir. That's the debt I will always owe: he put me on the path I still walk today.

When I first heard he was beginning a series on Troy, I relished the news. I didn't know then that it would be the end of an era. There simply isn't anyone else who can write a scene like Helikaon standing on the rock, or the old pirate Sekundus giving his life to save Penelope.

Of his own work, Gemmell once said: ‘All my books contain the same message, but I don't preach about it. The message is for those with the "eyes to see and the ears to hear." If any reader doesn't understand the message, no amount of lecturing from me will bring it home.'

Though the author passed on too soon, his people - Jon Shannow, Helikaon, Waylander, Regnak, Bane, Tenaka Khan, Parmenion, Druss, Connavar and all the others - live and remain.

Gemmell wrote about real heroes and, in doing so, made we want to be one. That's good writing.

Legend by Conn Iggulden - October 2007

From: Fall of Kings Chapter: Legend

Gemmell is a fireside mythmonger; his characters and plots have the authentic feel of legends handed down through the ages

Probably the finest living writer of heroic fantasy
Time Out

Nobody writes fantasy better