Last year, I featured an in-depth interview with Helen Lowe when The Gathering of The Lost, The Wall Of NightBook Two was released. A little later, Dark Matter-zine was delighted when Helen’s first novel, The Heir Of Night won the international David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Newcomer – the first antipodean author and the first woman to win any of the David Gemmell book awards since their inception.
Last week, the shortlist for this year’s David Gemmell Legend Award was announced — and “The Gathering of The Lost” and Helen Lowe made it through to the shortlist. Given all this excitement, I had to invite Helen here to talk a little more about “The Gathering of The Lost” and the Legend Award.
Helen: Hi Nalini. Thank you for having me back on DarkMatter-zine – and also for your congratulations!
Firstly, for those who may not know, the Gemmell Awards have been established to honour heroic fantasy author David Gemmell—and to celebrate excellence in the genre. The Legend Award is for the best novel, published in the preceding calendar year, in the epic, heroic, or high Fantasy genres.
Being shortlisted for the Legend Award is a tremendous thrill, both because the Gemmells are international awards, as well as being reader voted—so making the shortlist suggests that readers see “The Gathering Of The Lost” as having merit. As a new writer still, that’s tremendously encouraging.
Shortlisting is also a great honour for me because I regard David Gemmell’s style of epic—the grand sweep of story and adventure, difficult choices around right and wrong, sacrifice and duty—as an early influence on my own enthusiasm for this style.
Nalini: An important part of our interview last year covered “The Gathering of The Lost” having been completed during the eighteen months of earthquakes that wracked your home city of Christchurch between September 2010 and December 2011. Does that make this shortlisting more significant?
Helen: Thank you for asking about that, Nalini. And you’re absolutely right — completing the book during a period of so much adversity was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done, so having the story that has come out of that time recognized by readers internationally is very moving. As you know, I also dedicated the novel to the 185 people who lost their lives in the February 22nd earthquake, not only because “The Gathering of The Lost” was completed during that time, but because it was my way, however, small of honouring their memories and saying that their lives mattered. Making it to the Legend Award shortlist underlines that dedication for me.
Nalini: You’re also the only woman to have been shortlisted for either of the David Gemmell book awards this year, the Legend or the Morningstar. How do you feel about that?
Helen: To be honest, I was disappointed to be the only one, because there were a large number of women authors on the longlist and I would like to have seen a higher percentage make it through. I’m very glad though, that there is at least one female author on the list! So I shall do my best to hold the standard high for women writers of epic fantasy – and hope that the outcome supports a truth I would like to believe is self-evident, which is that it is possible to be a woman writing epic-heroic fantasy and still have your work read, and taken seriously, by genre readers.
Nalini: We hear a lot about “gritty” and “grimdark” fantasy these days. How would you describe “The Gathering Of The Lost”?
Helen: I mentioned “epic-heroic” just now and although broad, I think that is probably the best descriptor. But you know, I really write the kind of fantasy story I love reading – big, sweeping, adventurous stories where there is a lot at stake and what’s at stake matters. I love stories of heroism, and friendships that endure in the face of darkness and despair — but sometimes fail, too. I love sword fights, and glorious charges, and forlorn hopes, and “bands of brothers” holding together through the “thick and thin.” I love magic, too, and if comes with a thread of darkness, danger, and the surreal, then all the better. World building is also really important to me, and not just landscapes but cultures as well: I want the world and the societies to be real for me when I’m reading, and that’s what I strive for in my own writing. I like a bit of romance, too — not big R romance which has its own genre, but what I call “little r” romance, which is integral to all our lives and definitely has its place in big book epic. The Gathering of the Lost may be about magic and danger, roof top pursuits and forced marches by night, tourneys and battles, bands of brothers — and definitely sisters — but it’s also about love.
For me, as well, a good film or a good book is always about the emotional power in the storytelling, and the depth and subtlety of the characters. Do they feel real and believable, do I lose myself in what is happening in their lives — because those are the characters I want to meet in my reading and bring to life through my writing. Much as I love heroism (and I really do), for me “The Gathering of the Lost” is about human characters.
Nalini: And thoroughly deserves, from the sound of that to be on the “Legend” Award shortlist! Thanks for dropping in on Dark Matter again, Helen, and sharing some of the David Gemmell Award excitement.