David Gemmell

David Andrew Gemmell (/ˈɡɛməl/; 1 August 1948 – 28 July 2006) was a British author of heroic fantasy, best known for his debut novel, Legend. A former journalist and newspaper editor, Gemmell had his first work of fiction published in 1984. He went on to write over thirty novels. Gemmell's works display violence, yet also explore themes of honour, loyalty and redemption. There is always a strong heroic theme but nearly always the heroes are flawed in some way. With over one million copies sold, his work continues to sell worldwide.

In 2008, the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy were established, intended to "restore fantasy to its proper place in the literary pantheon"; a steering group of 18 authors is chaired by writer Stan Nicholls and the award is decided by a public vote.

David Gemmell
David Gemmell
Born1 August 1948
London, United Kingdom
Died28 July 2006 (aged 57)
Hastings, UK
Pen nameRoss Harding
GenreHeroic fantasy
Historical fantasy
SpouseValerie Gemmell, Stella Gemmell
Children2 (to Valerie)

Early life

"Some of the other children had no father, but their lack was honorable [sic]. [Their] Dad died in the war, you know. He was a hero. This boy's lack was the subject of sly whispers from the adults, and open jeering from his peers. This boy's mother was—the boy heard so many times —a whore… the word was less hurtful than the blows that would follow it. Most of the blows came from other children, but sometimes adults too would weigh in."

— David Gemmell [1]

David Gemmell was born in 1948 in west London. Raised alone by his mother until the age of six, he experienced a harsh upbringing in a tough urban area, suffering bullying and taunts from his peers, partly due to the absence of his father,[1] and often sustained serious injuries through fighting. Preferring reading books to fighting, he was compelled to take up boxing by his stepfather, who insisted he learn how to stand up for himself without "hiding behind walls or running away", this philosophy informing much of Gemmell's later writing.[2] As a child, he said he "would have given anything" to stand beside King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings. As a teenager, he wanted to stand with Marshal Will Kane in the film High Noon.[3] He was expelled from school at the age of sixteen for organizing a gambling syndicate and as a youth was arrested several times. He claimed that one psychologist's report at the time labelled him a psychopath.[4] Gemmell went on to work as a labourer, a lorry-driver's mate and a nightclub bouncer, before his mother set up a job interview with a local newspaper. Of 100 applicants, he was probably the least qualified for the position, but was hired owing to his display of arrogance during the interview, which was mistaken for self-confidence. He went on to work as a journalist for several local newspapers in East Sussex, eventually becoming editor-in-chief for five.[5] He also worked freelance as a stringer for the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, and Daily Express national newspapers.[4][6] Coming from a staunch socialist family, Gemmell carried banners and campaigned for eventual Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the 1960s, nevertheless admitting a grudging alignment with Thatcherite policies on issues of foreign policy, especially the Falklands Conflict,[2] and with Reaganite views on East-West relations.[3] Gemmell married twice; his first marriage to Valerie[7] produced two children, before he met his second wife, Stella.[8] The couple made their home in Hastings on the south-east coast of England until the author's death.[6]

Writing career

Gemmell first attempted writing a novel in the 1970s, but The Man from Miami failed to find a publisher. He later admitted that the book "was so bad it could curdle milk at 50 paces."[3][5] In 1976, after being diagnosed with a cancer he believed to be terminal, he wrote The Siege of Dros Delnoch in order to take his mind off his illness and to realise his ambition of having a novel published before he died.[6] Written in two weeks, the novel told of a siege resisted against overwhelming odds, at the time serving as a metaphor for his illness; the fortress at the center of the tale was Gemmell, the invaders were his cancer. Leaving the ending of the novel open, he planned to let the fortress stand or fall dependent upon his own prognosis.[2] When Gemmell later learned that he had suffered a misdiagnosis, he set The Siege of Dros Delnoch to one side until 1980, when a friend read the manuscript and convinced Gemmell to sharpen up the novel in order to make one last attempt at publication. It was accepted in 1982 and published in 1984 under the new title, Legend, going on to achieve considerable commercial success.[2][5] Gemmell said that while it had "all the flaws you expect in a first novel", the writing of Legend was "a golden time" in his life, citing it as the favourite of all his novels. He said that while he could "write it better" after becoming an established author, "[its heart] wouldn't be bettered by improving its style."[3] Gemmell's journalism career overlapped with his career writing novels until the publication of his third novel Waylander in 1986, when he was fired after using colleagues' names for characters in the book. Gemmell later said that his Managing Director had regarded it "a poisonous attack on his integrity."[9]

After the publication of Waylander, Gemmell became an author full-time, writing over thirty novels in total, some as part of long-running series, others as standalone works. Most of his novels were in the heroic fantasy genre; White Knight, Black Swan was a crime thriller, appearing under the pseudonym Ross Harding, and was Gemmell's only novel not to become a bestseller.[5] Two of Gemmell's novels have also been adapted into graphic novel format. Gemmell's books have sold more than one million copies.[5]

Death, posthumous publication and legacy

Gemmell preferring to go to bed late, with his wife favouring an early start, on 28 July 2006 she was surprised to wake up to discover the bed empty. "I thought, 'Oh good, he must be working', and went to take him a cup of tea in his study." Finding him slumped over his desk, she "hoped he was asleep but I knew, really, that he was dead."
— Gemmell's wife recalls his death[8]

In mid-2006, Gemmell was on a trip to Alaska when he became discomforted. Immediately travelling back to the UK, he underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery in a private London hospital. Within two days he was able to take physical exercise and returned home to resume work on his latest novel.[6] On the morning of 28 July 2006, four days before his 58th birthday, Gemmell was discovered by his wife, slumped over his computer, having died of coronary artery disease.[8]

At the time of his death, Gemmell was writing the final novel in an alternative-history trilogy based upon the legend of the siege of Troy, having completed 70,000 words.[10] Only hours after his death, Gemmell's wife Stella resolved to complete the second half of the novel based upon his chapter plan and notes, contacting Gemmell's publisher two weeks after his funeral in order to make the offer. As a former junior reporter, aspiring novelist and subeditor, and having been involved in Gemmell's writing process for a number of years, Stella Gemmell felt she was "the only one who could do it." Preparing for the task, she reread her husband's previous work, deconstructing the battle scenes in order to build her own. Troy: Fall of Kings was published in 2007 under the joint authorship of David and Stella Gemmell.[8]

Up until his death, Gemmell was also patron of the Hastings Writers' Group, following founder member Catherine Cookson. As patron, he was the main judge in the national literary competition run by the group, the Legend Writing Award, which was named after his breakthrough novel.[11][12] In 2008, the David Gemmell Legend Award was established, intended to "restore fantasy to its proper place in the literary pantheon"; a steering group of 18 authors is chaired by writer Stan Nicholls and the award is decided by a public vote. At the inaugural ceremony in June 2009, the first recipient was the Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, for his novel Blood of Elves. The youngest author to be nominated for this award was 17-year-old Liam Gillen.[13][14][15]

Military historian Ross Cowan dedicated his 2007 work For the Glory of Rome: A History of Warriors and Warfare to Gemmell: "This book is dedicated to the memory of David Gemmell. He wrote about warriors and heroes, many of them ancient Greeks and Romans. His novel Ghost King introduced me to the legend of the Ninth Legion and ignited my interest in the Roman army."[16]

Influences and themes

" The Alamo had a big effect on me when I first read about it. Unfortunately I now know the truth about the Alamo… The Alamo is a consistent story of cock-up after cock-up. Nobody there expected to die. I'm not saying they weren't very brave men. But the whole thing was mismanaged to the point of ineptness... I don't like to believe that, but it's the reality of life, so perhaps I shouldn't have studied the Alamo. Legend is the Alamo spirit - or what should have been that spirit."
— David Gemmell on the influence of The Alamo[2]

Originally intending to be a historical novelist, Gemmell was intrigued by events which ended badly for the protagonists. Citing the Battle of the Alamo and the grisly fate of William Wallace as influences, he said that had he written about the 13th century Scottish revolutionary, he would have found a way in which he was ultimately victorious despite the odds, eventually realising this kind of storytelling would be more palatable in a fantasy setting.[2] Gemmell's work typically deals with themes of honour and loyalty, advancing age, lost causes and the possibility of redemption for even the most corrupt (he was interested in the "true nature" of heroes, considering most to be unreliably so). The consistent presence of redemption in Gemmell's work reflected his Christian beliefs. He claimed that all of his novels have a religious basis, calling them "essentially Christian books" and saying that Christianity stopped him from "promoting the cause of evil" by writing "mindless savagery" in the vein of George G. Gilman's Edge westerns.[2] Often didactic, his work typically features a charismatic warrior tortured by loss and self-doubt, who bands together with a group of unlikely companions in order to defeat a dark enemy, usually aided by mystical forces. While all his novels are violent, successes are often Pyrrhic and the villains complex. Gemmell credited his time as a journalist for providing him with his pacey, succinct style, though critics labelled his work "macho" and would often cite his limited vocabulary and the repetitive nature of his stories. Violent events usually provide the sole impetus for plot development, and are resolved by physical violence or heroics. Known for his strong characterisation, he attributed this to his tendency to draw from real life; having been acquainted with violent men, he understood and enjoyed writing them.[5][6] Gemmell based the hero from his novel Legend on his stepfather Bill Woodford, calling men like him "…the havens, the safe harbours of childhood. They are the watch hounds who keep the wolves at bay." Bill reappeared in many of Gemmell's subsequent novels, in many different forms. When Bill died during the writing of Ravenheart, as a tribute Gemmell reworked the novel to give the "Bill" character centre stage.[1] David Gemmell has also been cited as saying that a major influence was classic western movies, which is evidenced at the end of Stormrider, the sequel to Ravenheart, when some of his characters enter a mystical world akin to the Native American (First Nation) spirit world. References to John Wayne movies are also found throughout the first two books in the Rigante series, Sword in the Storm and even more-so in Midnight Falcon, where his main character Bane, is a pugilist.


Fantasy fiction

Drenai Series

  1. Legend (1984) (Originally published in the United States by New Infinities Productions as Against the Horde in 1988,[17] re-released as Legend)
  2. The King Beyond the Gate (1985)
  3. Waylander (1986)
  4. Quest for Lost Heroes (1990)
  5. Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf (1992)
  6. The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend (1993)
  7. The Legend of Deathwalker (1996)
  8. Winter Warriors (1996)
  9. Hero in the Shadows (2000)
  10. White Wolf (2003) (The Damned Series Book 1)
  11. The Swords of Night and Day (2004) (The Damned Series Book 2)


  • Drenai Tales Volume I: contains; Waylander, Druss the Legend, Legend, The King Beyond the Gate
  • Drenai Tales Volume II: contains; Quest for Lost Heroes, Waylander II and The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend
  • Drenai Tales Volume III: contains; The Legend of the Deathwalker, Winter Warriors and Hero in the Shadows

Rigante series

  1. Sword in the Storm (1999)
  2. Midnight Falcon (2000)
  3. Ravenheart (2001)
  4. Stormrider (2002)

Stones of Power / Sipstrassi tales

This series is known by several names. The entire series deals with the Stones of Power, also known as the Sipstrassi. The first two books contain a re-imagining of the Arthurian legend. The last three novels involve the protagonist Jon Shannow. The first four novels were published in an omnibus edition as Stones of Power: A Sipstrassi Omnibus in 1992. Sipstrassi is also used in the Greek series by Aristotle to perform feats of magic

  1. Ghost King (1988)
  2. Last Sword of Power (1988)
  1. Wolf in Shadow (1987)
  2. The Last Guardian (1989)
  3. Bloodstone (1994)
  • Omnibus: The Complete Chronicles of the Jerusalem Man (1995)

Hawk Queen series

  1. Ironhand's Daughter (1995)
  2. The Hawk Eternal (1995)

Individual fantasy titles

Historical fiction

Troy series

  1. Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow (2005)
  2. Troy: Shield of Thunder (2006)
  3. Troy: Fall of Kings (2007)

Greek series

  1. Lion of Macedon (1990)
  2. Dark Prince (1991)

In official printings, these two books (Lion of Macedon, Dark Prince) are grouped with the "Stones of Power" series and contain some of the same characters and assumptions on how the world works.


  • White Knight, Black Swan (1993) (under the pseudonym Ross Harding, re-released 2017)

Published by Arrow Books.

  • Rhyming Rings (2017) (first published 11 years after his death)

Published by Victor Gollancz.

Graphic novels

  • Both Legend (1984) and Wolf in Shadow (1994) have also been released as graphic novels, with text by Stan Nicholls and artwork by Fangorn.


  1. ^ a b c "David Gemmell at Transworld". Transworld Publishers. Archived from the original on 15 December 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Stan Nicholls (1989). "David Gemmell Interview". deathwalker.co.uk (Gemmell fansite). Archived from the original on 19 May 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d "Interview with David Gemmell". Science Fiction and Fantasy News. 1 August 1998. Retrieved 6 February 2008.
  4. ^ a b Sandy Auden (2005). "Heroic Intentions: an interview with David Gemmell". SF Site (originally appearing on Sci-Fi Channel UK). Retrieved 24 November 2007.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "David Gemmell Obituary". London: The Times. 1 August 2006. Retrieved 24 November 2007.
  6. ^ a b c d e Christopher Priest (2 August 2006). "Obituary: David Gemmell". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2007.
  7. ^ Gemmell, David (1984). Legend. This book is dedicated with love to three very special people. ... And my wife, Valerie
  8. ^ a b c d Jane Wheatley (25 August 2007). "Last Writes". London: The Times. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  9. ^ "Fantasy writer Gemmell dies at 57". BBC News Online. 26 July 2006. Retrieved 23 November 2007.
  10. ^ Thomas M. Wagner (2007). "Troy: Shield of Thunder review". SFReviews.net. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  11. ^ "Legend Writing Award". Archived from the original on 14 May 2009. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  12. ^ "Hastings Writers' Group". Archived from the original on 23 May 2006. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  13. ^ Sam Jordison (22 June 2009). "Let's stop sneering at fantasy readers". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
  14. ^ Alison Flood (19 June 2009). "Gemmell prize for fantasy goes to Polish novel, Blood of Elves". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
  15. ^ Alison Flood (15 April 2009). "Fierce battle for Legend fantasy award narrows to field of five". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
  16. ^ Ross Cowan, For the Glory of Rome p. 9 (Google Books preview).
  17. ^ Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. p. 237. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7.

External links

David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy

The David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy were established in memory of David Gemmell and first awarded in 2009. In 2009, only the Legend Award for best fantasy novel was awarded by open voting. Beginning on 2010, the Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Newcomer and the Ravenheart Award for Best Fantasy Cover Art were added.

The awards are for fantasy novels in the traditional, heroic, epic or high genres, or in the spirit of Gemmell's own work.

David Gemmell McKinlay

Prof David Gemmell McKinlay FRSE FICE FGS (1924-1997) was a Scottish civil engineer. He specialised in hydraulics and soil mechanics.

Hero in the Shadows

Hero in the Shadows, published in 2000, is a novel by British fantasy writer David Gemmell. It is the third of three Waylander stories and was preceded by Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf.

Legend (Gemmell novel)

Legend is a fantasy novel by British writer David Gemmell, published in 1984. It established him as a major fantasy novelist and created the character of Druss, who would appear in several subsequent books. It was the first novel by Gemmell, and in The Drenai saga.

Gemmell got the idea for the book in 1976. He was being tested for cancer, and to take his mind off it he tried writing a book, which he called "Against the Hordes". The fortress and its attackers, the Nadir, were metaphors for him and the cancer. In the end, he was found not to have cancer after all and he forgot about the book, which he claims wasn't very good anyway. However, in 1980, a friend of Gemmell's read the manuscript and told him that the story had potential. Encouraged, Gemmell set to work rewriting the book that would become known as "Legend". It was accepted by Century Hutchinson late in 1982.

In 1984 Century Communications produced a game for the ZX Spectrum computer based on the novel also called Legend. The novel was included as part of the pack and acted as a form of copy protection for the game.

Lion of Macedon

Lion of Macedon is a historic fantasy novel by English author David Gemmell. First published in 1990, it and its 1991 sequel, Dark Prince, follow the career of a fictionalized version of the Macedonian general Parmenion.

The story is loosely based on historic events, but adds fantasy elements such as supernatural creatures and sorcery that become even more significant in the book's sequel, Dark Prince.

Mark Lawrence (author)

Mark Lawrence (born 1966) is an American-British novelist and scientist who wrote The Broken Empire trilogy of fantasy books. In 2014, Lawrence won the David Gemmell Legend Awards for best novel for Emperor of Thorns. He operates the annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off.

Quest for Lost Heroes

Quest for Lost Heroes, published in 1990, is a novel by British fantasy writer David Gemmell. It is the fourth entry in the Drenai series. The story is set several decades after and makes several references to the events in Gemmell's earlier title, The King Beyond the Gate. It also provides a conclusion to the story of Tenaka Khan, one of the main protagonists of The King Beyond the Gate.


Stormrider is a fantasy novel by British writer David Gemmell, published in 2002. It is the fourth and last novel in the Rigante series.

The Imager Portfolio

The Imager Portfolio is a series of fantasy novels written by American novelist L. E. Modesitt, Jr. The series is published by Tor Books. The first novel, Imager, was first published in 2009. The first three books in the series—Imager, Imager's Challenge, and Imager's Intrigue—follow the main character Rhennthyl, who discovers that he is an imager, one who can visualize objects into existence. The following five books are a prequel series to the first three, and center on Quaeryt, an imager and scholar.

Six of the first seven books were nominated for David Gemmell Awards; most recently, both Imager's Battalion and Antiagon Fire were longlisted for the 2014 David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel.Princeps and Imager's Battalion were both New York Times best sellers.

The King Beyond the Gate

The King Beyond The Gate is a fantasy novel by British writer David Gemmell. It was published in 1985. It was the second book published by Gemmell, after Legend, published a year earlier. The book is set in the same fictional world as Legend, that of the Drenai, but is not a sequel in the usual sense as the events of the two books take place around a century apart. Thus the main protagonists of Legend are long since dead and play little part in The King Beyond the Gate, other than passing mentions. This set a precedent for the entire Drenai series, in which very few characters appear in more than one novel, the gaps between novels sometimes running to centuries, giving a more epic, historical flavour to the series.

The Last Guardian (novel)

The Last Guardian is a 1989 British post-apocalyptic heroic fantasy novel written by bestselling British author David Gemmell.

The Legend of Deathwalker

The Legend of Deathwalker is a heroic fantasy novel written by British author David Gemmell, it was first published in 1996 and was reprinted in 1999. The book follows on from the novel The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend and was the 7th book to be released in the Drenai Series. It is also one of three stories compiled into a single collection in Drenai Tales Volume Three, along with Winter Warriors and Hero in the Shadows. The book details the life of the character Druss and is set chronologically after the main events in The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend but prior to events in Legend.

The Swords of Night and Day

The Swords of Night and Day (ISBN 0-345-45834-6) is a fantasy novel by David Gemmell, as well as a pair of legendary swords within the book. They also appear in Gemmell's book White Wolf. The book is set 1000 years following the death of Olek Skilgannon.

The novel is an exploration of the future of the Drenai world, focussing heavily on Jiamads (joinings of beast and men honed to fighting perfection). The story also contains a satisfactory ending to Skilganon's original life, including not only his first demise, but that of Jianna, the Witch Queen with whom he was deeply in love. The story, however, appears to deal broadly with the idea of resurrection and life-after-death, albeit in a living, breathing world. Questions of identity retention and one's place in the world are also raised, with Skilgannon continuously referring to the grief of losing his world, his anger at being returned to fight a battle that is not his and at those who brought him here. Finally, however, there is a strong theme of redemption, in keeping with Gemmell's usual plot lines; despite his having to return to blood and violence Skilgannon has in fact been offered a second chance.

Both swords are mirror polished and extremely sharp, both having been enchanted by the Old Woman. The Sword of Day is golden in colour while the Sword of Night is silver. Intended as inferior copies of the legendary Swords of Blood and Fire, they had become infamous in the hands of Skilgannon.

The swords are frequently mentioned throughout the books as curved blades, and on the two UK hardback covers, are depicted as katanas. The swords are described as being scabbarded in a single, curved sheath roughly five feet in length.

The swords, as with all weapons made by the Old Woman, are possessed to a degree, in a similar manner to Snaga, the axe of Druss the Legend. Rather than a tangible demon, however, the swords simply drive the wielder to blood lust.

The Swords of Blood and Fire are wielded by Decado in this novel. The character of Decado is a darkened mirror of Skilgannon himself, fulfilling Skilgannon's previous role as Jianna's right-hand man. He is the first evidence Skilgannon obtains of his bloodline continuing through Garianne and fulfills a variety of roles, enemy, rival, wayward son and saviour.

Waylander (novel)

Waylander is a fantasy novel by British writer David Gemmell, published in 1986. It is the first of three Waylander stories, followed by Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf and Waylander III: Hero In The Shadows.

White Wolf (novel)

White Wolf is a 2003 novel by British fantasy writer David Gemmell. It was the penultimate Drenai Series novel written but falls between The Legend of Deathwalker and Legend in terms of chronology.

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