Joe Abercrombie reports on a night at the David Gemmell 2010 Legend Award

I failed to win the David Gemmell Legend Award the other night, which went to Graham McNeill for Empire. Curses. But on the upside, Best Served Cold did win for cover art, so congratulations to the artists Didier Graffet and Dave Senior and the designer Laura Brett. Talented people, and much deserved. The one criticism you could make of their covers for that book is that they are too far apart. A ha ha.

The award-winning cover, and the Ravenheart award itself. Photo: courtesy of Didier Graffet.

The event was a little less well-attended than last year due to an unfortunate scheduling convergence with the England-Algeria game, though judging on what I hear about that goalless shambles I’m glad I didn’t see it. Very good to see various people from the business: agents, critics, bloggers and enthusiasts, as well as editors like Orbit’s Darren Nash, Tor UK’s Julie Crisp, and my own slavemasters Simon Spanton and Gillian Redfearn (please, mistress, do not strike me again), plus other writers like Juliet McKenna, Stephen Deas, and James Barclay who made, as always, an effervescent display as Master of Ceremonies.

The Master of Ceremonies hard at work. Photo courtesy of Gillian Redfearn.

In particular it was good to meet the aforementioned McNeill whom I congratulated through gritted teeth while silently swearing an oath to dark gods for my terrible revenge, Pierre Pevel who won best newcomer for his book The Cardinal’s Blades (or Les Lames du Cardinal, for it is French), and particularly from my point of view Didier Graffet, the artist responsible for the sword on the UK cover of Best Served Cold, and for the equally beautiful yet dangerous axe which will grace the UK cover of The Heroes come January.

Looking at all these bright new voices being added to the fantasy firmament reminds me (somewhat unpleasantly, I will admit) that I am no longer an exciting novice but part of the furniture, a laconic, horny-handed, wrinkled grey-beard propping up the bar in the corner, willing to offer hope-crushing stories of caution if only anyone would listen. Five books in. When did it happen? It seems only yesterday I was eighteen, and the world was full of opportunities and birdsong.

Good to see a French book on the shortlist for the main award and winning for newcomer, given there was a Polish winner last year in Sapkowski – nice to feel there is some serious international involvement. Those of us who write in English have a vast and unfair advantage in the translation markets, so it’s easy to forget (and most English-oriented awards usually do) that there are a lot of talented writers working hard in other languages and fully deserving of wider attention.

Pierre Pevel accepting the Morningstar Award from Anne Nichols. Photo courtesy of Mark Stay.

McNeill was something of a surprise, given the presence of the commercial juggernaut that is Wheel of Time on the shortlist. For those unfamiliar, McNeill writes what might be called shared world or tie-in fiction, in his case in the Warhammer world, one which I used to gamesmaster roleplaying campaigns in back in the day (even before I was seventeen, which must have been around the turn of the last century) and have always been a big admirer of (it is grim, treacherous, cynical and bloody, just like me). No doubt those who are not great fans of the whole idea of the Gemmells will see this as further evidence of the prize’s critical worthlessness/damage to the genre/undiluted evil etc. but to that I can only shrug my shoulders. To me it just seems evidence of the importance of shared world fiction as a slice of the market (which is pretty self-evident from visiting the sf/f section of any bookshop), that McNeill’s publisher Black Library are very good at making such fiction and have developed a big and very committed audience, and for that matter that a lot of people must have bought and liked McNeill’s book(s) in particular.

Joe Abercrombie accepting his mini-snaga award for being shortlisted for the Legend Award. Photo courtesy of Gillian Redfearn.

No doubt the arguments about whether publicly voted awards are any use will continue, typically boiling down (as all arguments about awards tend to do) to, “the (type of) book(s) I like didn’t win/get recognised”, but I would note that for an award that was supposed to be pathetically predictable it has so far produced two winners out of two that no one really predicted. So my thanks and congratulations to Debbie Miller, Mark Yon, and the rest of the organizers, particularly Stan Nichols who couldn’t be there this time round due to illness. Get well soon, Stan. I’m interested to see how the award develops, and continue to support the project wholeheartedly, right up until the moment when I am no longer nominated, at which point I will decry it as a farce, sham, and danger to our beloved island that must be stamped out forthwith…