An interview with Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence

Earlier this year, debut author Mark Lawrence brought us a gripping new fantasy tale in the form of Prince of Thorns. Dark, detailed and thoroughly engrossing, Lawrence's penchant for writing has definitely paid off. Research scientist by day and writer, father and husband at every other time, Mark kindly took some time out to answer of couple of questions for FBR about his new release.

Your full time job is as a research scientist – what drew you to writing fantasy?My mother read me Lord of the Rings when I was seven, and I was hooked. I read John Masefield, C.S Lewis' Narnia, Alan Garner and the like as a child, moving on through Moorcock and Donaldson, playing D&D addictively in my teens, running a fantasy play-by-mail game in my 20s. In short, I don't bring my job home with me!

Prince of Thorns has been compared to Games of Thrones and the novel clearly cites it as a reference. Just how much of an influence was George R. R. Martin's saga in the creation of your novel?
I think the only comparisons made outside publishers' offices have been on the basis of quality rather than style or subject. For my part I would deny the quality comparisons also, GRRM is the best on offer, at least as far as my fantasy reading extends, and I'm happy to trail on his coattails. In the 80's every new fantasy book bore the legend 'as good as Tolkien at his best' – these days it's GRRM they cite. It shouldn't be taken seriously.

Whilst GRRM is my favourite fantasy author and brought me back into reading fantasy after a break of ten years or more, I would say his only influence on my writing was to encourage me to raise my game. Stylistically, both on the small scale and the large, we're almost opposites.

Your protagonist, Jorg, is a troubled boy scarred by horrific scenes he witnessed at a young age. The result would make for quite a scary figure in an adult but is truly terrifying in someone of thirteen. Was your decision to have such a violent young lead intended as a statement on parental responsibility and was the decision influenced by any personal experiences?
I was inspired to start typing Prince of Thorns by memories of Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. Jorg is 14 for all but the first day or two of the book, and that was around the age I recalled Burgess' protagonist (actually he was 15 as it turns out). Burgess' book certainly was a commentary on modern society, although set at some small remove into the future. Mine really isn't. If pushed to explain what's going on underneath the story, what the deeper themes are, then I'd have to go with anger, hurt, and those curious years where what we are starts to crystallise out of the chaotic murk of being young. Burgess held a mirror up to society, but also to the experience of youth, of how good and evil dance around depending on where you look from, and to the business of choices, guilt, and responsibility. If there's any depth to Prince of Thorns then it's those latter issues that are swimming in it – the ones concerning what being human is all about.

Death, its inevitability and its ultimate meaninglessness, is a prominent feature in the novel. Jesse Bullington recently examined these themes to great extent in The Enterprise of Death. What is it about death that you think makes it such a lucrative topic for discussion – particularly in genre writing?
I don't think the interest concentrates in the genre, excepting that we get to play with the other side of the equation, with the afterlife, ghosts, zombies, and the whole Halloween kitbag. Most great fiction, dealing with matters of people and their lives, will feature death in some form or other. Storytelling, where it concerns people, is generally about change, and a lifespan provides a timescale and a terminus for that process, injecting some form of meaning.

There's no mention of Jorg's most faithful (if that word can be used in the context of this novel!) comrade Makin in the final chapter – was this a strategic decision to keep readers guessing?
Heh – strategy? Me? The last chapter's only 900 words. I guess I just didn't find room for him!

It's a dark debut. Can we expect more of the same in the sequels?
I certainly haven't aimed for more of the same in general. Discovering Jorg and his world isn't something that can be repeated without losing a lot of its impact. I've tried to take the tale to new and interesting pastures. Does it remain dark? Well darkness was never an explicit aim, but it certainly seems to have been a side product and I'm sure the last two books in the trilogy can be called dark.

Who are your favourite three authors, what are your favourite three books and your favourite three films?
I'll have to name my favourite authors as the writers of my favourite books.

Right, this second the answers would be:

  • William Golding – Freefall
  • John Irving – Cider House Rules
  • JRR Tolkien – Lord of the Rings

Films:

  • The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont) – Love Stephen King, love Freeman & Robbins in this.
  • Thursday (Skip Woods) – twisted, bloody, stylish, under-appreciated gem.
  • The Lord of the Rings - Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson) – Thank you Mr Jackson for not ruining this, thank you for making possibly the first good fantasy movie ever.

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The sequel to Prince of Thorns – King of Thorns – will be out in 2012.

Alice Wybrew and Fantasy Book Review would like to thanks Mark Lawrence and Harper Collins for this interview.

Mark Lawrence books reviewed