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An interview with 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:

Films:

--

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.

Our Mark Lawrence reviews

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence is a book steeped in controversy - a book that seems to have divided the Science Fiction and Fantasy community with regards to what is acceptable for people to like and enjoy. The book has been out for a couple of years already, the arguments for various perspectives have already been well established, but I hope I can still add something new to the conversation.Prince of Thorns is a confronting story, deliberately so, that follows a 13 year old boy named Jorg who leads a gang of marauders as they pillage their way across the countryside. Jorg is a s [...]

9.0/10

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Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

'Emperor of Thorns' is the third and final part of 'The Broken Empire' series, so my advice is to read the previous two books, 'Prince of Thorns' and 'King of Thorns', first. I find that when a new book in a series arrives I normally do not make the effort to re-read the preceding books first but this time, contrary to my usual ways, I did. And if I think a story is still great upon the second or third time of reading then it becomes one of my favourites.So to spoil the story would be terrible but please forgive me if I let slip a few details.Th [...]

9.8/10

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The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

The Wheel of Osheim was the only book I could have possibly read next following on from the ultimate cliffhanger at the conclusion of the previous story. So, apologies to other authors whose books I have still to review but I simply had to find out what events would follow the prior outing and also, to see how The Red Queen's war against a mirror floating mage lady concluded. In addition, to review how the two ladies movements of the pieces on the world's chess game would lead to a culmination and how the developments would affect The Broken Empire.I was surprised by how The [...]

9.9/10

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King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

‘King of Thorns’ is book two of ‘The Broken Empire’ and if you haven’t read ‘Prince of Thorns’ yet I advise you to skip this review and start reading the first book. It certainly is an experience you’ll not easily forget.Why? Because ‘Prince of Thorns’ blew my mind. Sometimes you get hooked into a story, like a fish on a hook.Think about this book as a cannibalistic butcher’s big bloody meat hook and then you’ll get my idea about the kind of story you can expect. Not everyone likes that kind of story, so y [...]

9.7/10

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Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence is a new story in a new world by an author who is trying (and succeeding in my opinion) to stand out as one of the premier fantasy storytellers of the last few years. It is a story set in a world of great challenge, where the environment itself works against the people who rely on it, about a bunch of gifted individuals who can do great things when they work together. This is, yet again, a supremely accomplished story by Mr Lawrence which I will have no problems recommending to any reader of fantasy novels.The story follows Nona, a young girl cast out by h [...]

9.5/10

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The Liar's Key by Mark Lawrence

** This review contains minor spoilers **The Liar's Key is the second book in Lawrence's The Red Queen's War trilogy. I adored Prince of Fools which followed Jalan's escapades across The Broken Empire and therefore picked up this book as soon as I could.The survivors from the quest to the Black Fort are Jalan, Snorri and their fat honorable Viking friend, Tuttugu. They have within their possession a magical key, known as Loki's Key and this can open any door, yet there is a lot more to this artifact than just that point.Snorri, the honourable Norse w [...]

9.5/10

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Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence

"The sound of a battle can be described as a roar, and sometimes it truly is. When a thousand warriors charge, a roar precedes them and swallows up all other noise. But in between charge and counter-charge there is the screaming of those too wounded to hold their peace and not yet close enough to crossing the Path that they fall silent. There is the clash of weapons, most often on shields, for tight-packed conflict is an ugly, graceless thing and there are few parries made. There are the desperate cries for aid and there is the sobbing of the lost."Well, goddamn: cries into [...]

9.6/10

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Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

This review contains minor spoilers."I'm a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery."Prince of Fools, the first story in The Red Queen's War trilogy is set in The Broken Empire and introduces readers to Prince Jalan. He is the Red Queen's grandson, just out of his teenage years and his main interests are gambling, lying, drinking, whoring and running away from any form of confrontation, at high speed.The start of the tale sees Jalan being [...]

9.4/10

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Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

I received an advance reading copy of Grey Sister in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Mark Lawrence and Ace Books for this opportunity. The second entry within the Book of the Ancestor trilogy picks up events approximately two years after the exceptional and breathtaking finale of Red Sister. Nona Grey: the black-eyed and shadowless novice is still studying potions, blade-path, kingdom histories, thread-weaving, and all the other dedicated and required lessons a potential religious assassin nun should be partaking in. Yet, she's no longer quite the same N [...]

9.5/10

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The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence

Abeth, a frozen ice planet. Many years ago, a home to Nona and the sisters of the Sweet Mercy convent. Now home to nothing but wandering ice tribes, struggling to survive in the harshest conditions imaginable.To survive is to sacrifice. Outliers must be culled. Whether you are weak and lag behind, or if you’re too big or strong and eat more than the average share, then you can no longer exist within the tribe. You are thrown away, torn from your home and family forever. Yaz, our teenage protagonist, finds herself in this position at the onset of the story, and we follow her jou [...]

9.5/10

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One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

"Ugliness multiplies, and hurt spills over into hurt, and sometimes good things are just the fuel for evil's fire"I received an uncorrected proof copy of One Word Kill in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Mark Lawrence and 47North for approaching me to read this early. On the 8th January 1986, Nick Hayes, a gangly 15-year-old who is extremely intelligent is diagnosed with leukaemia. The doctors advise that he may only have up to 5 years to live. In the local hospital, he goes through Chemotherapy and shares a children' [...]

9.2/10

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Dispel Illusion by Mark Lawrence

I told (her) that this had been the time I was going to allocate to catching up on all those great fantasy books I never managed to get round to reading. She told me that they were still publishing great fantasy books, with more coming out each week than I could read in a year. I told her to shut up.---“Every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part we call ‘the Prestige,” claims Christopher Nolan’s script in his 2006 film of the same name. This third act of an illusion must rely on the strength of its premise and the faith of its audience [...]

9.1/10

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Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence

Limited Wish, book two of the Impossible Times trilogy, is a highly-enjoyable and heady sci-fi adventure with heavy emotional beats. Although this book takes a bit longer than One Word Kill to have its full scope be revealed, the mind-bending paths that we’re being led through becomes a twisty and challenging puzzle that deepens as the story progresses. Exploring the implications of the characters' actions and their ripple effects through various timelines is as impressive as it is complex. Yet Lawrence does an admirable job interpreting these rule-brea [...]

8.3/10

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The Girl and the Mountain by Mark Lawrence

I originally gave this five stars after the immediate post-book glow, but after sitting on it for a while, I'm bumping it down to four. The reading experience alone is fun and exciting and certainly a page turner, but I don't think it works quite as well as a book on its own. There is a big shift in the story at exactly the halfway point, and it really divides the whole trilogy in half -- it makes me think that this entire trilogy would work better as a duology. While there are great cliffhangers at the ends of books one and two, it still feels like a more natural ending would be if [...]

8.0/10

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Bound by Mark Lawrence

I received a review copy of Bound in exchange for an honest review. I'd like to thank Mark Lawrence for the opportunity.Bound is set in between the events of Grey Sister and upcoming novel Holy Sister and clocks in at sixteen thousand words. It's an excellent bite-sized addition to the already brilliant Book of the Ancestor world that can be devoured in approximately an hour. As it's a short tale I will just compose a quick mini review. In some downtime between lessons, Nona, Ara, and a few others sneak into the winery to steal a barrel of the n [...]

8.0/10

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