The David Gemmell Legend Awards 2012 and The Noble Art of the Sword Exhibition at The Wallace Collection – a sublime weekend
A while ago I emailed the Gemmells in the vain hope of winning a ticket, and lo and behold one appeared in the post, a full three days before the event. Cue much panicking about frocks mingled with excitement and anticipation. I would go to the ball.
With the kids just about sorted and left to grandparents I dashed off to London. After carefully teasing my hair into place I now found myself in a howling gale with mascara running down my cheeks and having to change into my heels, superman stylee, in a phonebox. Being a lonestar at events such as these is a bit daunting to say the least, but the first people I met outside were the lovely Michaela and Stephen Deas who were very warm and friendly, as well as Juliet McKenna and her son.
Once inside I was pleased to meet Anne Lyle, as well as Elspeth Cooper and Suzanne McLeod. Everyone was terrifically turned out, as you would expect, and after a round of bucks fizz we were summoned to the theatre for the awards ceremony.
It began with a reading from Waylander by David Gemmell. Now I will make a confession: I’ve only read Legend, and only skim-read the second half. In principle I appreciate the symbology of Dros Delnoch, the ancient warrior Druss, the flawed Regnak and the thirty warrior monks ready to die in battle, but the story didn’t seem to cut as deep as I expected it to. I think I appreciate books more when I discover them ‘blind’, without any expectation. And that is probably why I enjoyed this passage that was read out. It seemed to strike more chords than Legend did, be a little more grown up. And I will definitely be seeking it out.
There was then an auction, with some terrific lots up for grabs: original artworks, framed prints, rare editions and even 10,000 words worth of editing by Gillian Redfearn of Gollancz. Unfortunately there was a leakage online earlier in the day so that the winners were not a complete surprise to all when they were announced. I managed to avoid it and the results were:
Congratulations to all of the winners. I was pleased that I had read so many of the books in the shortlist, including the Legend Award winner!
I chatted with some awesome people. Some of whom I have met before at cons, others who I only know as an online presence. Lou Abercrombie, (a brilliant photographer, as well as Mrs Joe) and Sarah Pinborough were great fun, Simon Spanton of Gollancz, Marc Aplin of Fantasy Faction, and Del and Kim Laikin-Smith were lovely to talk to as well. Of course, being the Gemmell Awards, there were some sharp and pointy things to look at – an opportunity I didn’t miss. I got to touch, but not hold Snaga, Druss’s two-headed axe, but I did get to hold one of Raven Armoury’s (providers of the weapons and weapon-shaped awards) scimitars. This also gave me an opportunity to explain the bruises.
It all passed by too quickly, and before I knew it they were chucking us out. After much searching I found a bus that took me to the Hobgoblin in Islington, where I met some great friends from way back and partied like it was 1998. At three I managed to get to sleep at my buddy’s house, then at eight she was wafting bacon and coffee at me, reminding me I had to be at the Wallace Museum at ten. Luckily, four years of sleep deprivation have prepared me well for such situations.
This was my first time at the Wallace Museum and I have heard so much about it from all my HEMA buddies. We’d signed up for a study day exploring the new exhibition – The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe. Just the building itself was spectacular in its decor and scale, I was expecting a large house, but this was breathtakingly huge. I met Pim and a few friends from other fencing schools and after coffee and a good chat we had a glance at the exhibition.
It was stunning. The first thing that greets you is a period sword and buckler with the i.33 manuscript just below it (on loan from the Royal Armouries, Leeds), followed by sword after sword, each more impressive than the last, each one so perfect it looks as if it were forged only the day before, rather than centuries ago. And I have to say that Snaga and the like may be fun, but can’t quite compare to say . . . this.
There were plenty of manuals of the period in there too, which Pim was very interested in, of course. On the floor outside was a life-sized blow-up of Thibault’s circle, showing all the lines and angles of the sword, the placements of the feet. In the centre of this lies a man, similar to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, with his body divided up into layers and labeled – presumably all the places you can stab him.
After lunch we had a quick glance at the Armouries, a mere fraction of the Wallace Collection itself. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop (although the sweets are still in jars and can’t be touched), so many beautiful and fascinating objects, and not enough time to view them all. I encourage anyone to go there, even if swords and armour aren’t your thing, the place itself is a work of art, and it is crammed with antique furniture and paintings – the Laughing Cavalier to name but one.
The afternoon’s talks were an exploration of the differences between military and civilian weapons, a forensical look at the weapons and their manufacture and a metallurgical talk on blade construction throughout the centuries, where many myths were shattered. Intriguing subjects, and a staggering amount of information to think about. I took notes.
Everyone, including the museum staff, convened in a nearby pub. It was great to chat to friends I haven’t seen in a good long while and make new ones. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay out as we had to come back to the family, but it was a brilliant two days. A concentration of sheer awesomeness.