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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:

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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.

Our Mark Lawrence reviews

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence was a book steeped in controversy - a book that seemed to have divided the Science Fiction and Fantasy community with regards to what is acceptable for people to like and enjoy. 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 sociopath, a willing participant, and readers get to experience the world through his damaged viewpoint. Readers get to see, through Jorg's eyes, the cold apathy with which he dispatches his enemies. It is discomforting. But Prince of Thorns is a fantastic tale of one boy’s fight for control in a world threatening to engulf him.

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Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

The path to the throne is broken – only the broken can walk it. The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne no matter who stands against me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending. This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don't look to me to save you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don't follow me. Follow me, and I will break your heart.

"Simply said, The Broken Empire is a brilliantly written series. Every sentence is just a pure joy to read and carefully crafted. Numerous words like wordsmith and modern fantasy poet spring to mind but you should just find it out for yourself. A perfect ending to a brilliant trilogy and an unpredictable, ruthless and poetic literary masterwork of a great mind."

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The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan Kendeth getting back out alive and with Loki's Key is all that matters. Loki's creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jal's fortune back in the living world. Jal plans to return to the three Ws that have been the core of his idle and debauched life: wine, women, and wagering. Fate however has other, larger, plans... The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster and it will crack the world unless it's stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there's nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers. Jal and Snorri face many dangers - from the corpse-hordes of the Dead King to the many mirrors of the Lady Blue; but in the end, fast or slow, the Wheel of Osheim will exert its power. In the end it's win or die.

"This book has everything - magic and sci-fi, humour and horror, truths and lies, and then some more lies. There is no unnecessary obfuscation of secrets within secrets behind secrets - the Red Queen's war is a rather transparent war that creates drama by putting characters in situations with many viable solutions, and not knowing which one the characters are going to pick. This trilogy is essential reading for all fantasy readers."

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King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I’ve walked from pawn to player and I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood... The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them. A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg's gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king. Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan.

"Sometimes it is hard for a sequel to meet its expectations. ‘King of Thorns’ met mine and convinced me again of Lawrence’s brilliance. Not by doing more of the same stuff, which I would have loved anyway, but by evolving the story into something with even more depth."

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Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

The finale of this story was utterly breathtaking. Nona is one of my favourite characters in fiction. Lawrence has created one of the most engaging fantasy worlds that my mind has allowed me to visit.

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The Liar's Key by Mark Lawrence

The Red Queen has set her players on the board… Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave. For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hel to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key - now all he needs is to find the door. As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his - the key into the world - so that the dead can rise and rule.

"The Liar's Key does everything a good sequel should do - it moves the story forward whilst improving on every facet of the previous book. Lawrence is getting better with every book, and I can't wait to see how he concludes this story with The Wheel of Osheim."

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Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence always slays, page after glorious page. He could write a grocery list and I would be like YES! OMFG THIS IS GENIUS! THE WAY HE OUTLINES THE FOOD REQUIRED IS UTTER PERFECTION! WE ARE TRULY IN THE MIDST OF A MASTERMIND! Holy Sister was such a powerful ending to an inspiring series, which is, without a doubt, Lawrence's magnum opus.

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Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other. Her grandson Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north. In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the time seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.

"Just go ahead and read Prince of Fools. It is a fantastic book that does so many things right, and that I have really struggled to find fault with. The Liar's Key cannot come fast enough." Ryan Lawler

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Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

I can say with confidence that Grey Sister is the best story about magical murder nuns I’ve ever read. With greater focus on fewer characters, Lawrence has graced us with deep characterizations, complex relationships, and world-spanning events that sets the overarching story up for a thrilling finale. Any fan of Lawrence, or of dark and violent coming-of-age fantasy, would do well to spend a little time with Nona Grey. Highly recommended.

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The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence

The Girl and the Stars is more than the start of a new series. It’s the culmination of some of the best ideas of Lawrence’s previous works while promising that amazing things are still to come. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next Icepunk book in the Yaz-mere.

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One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

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Dispel Illusion by Mark Lawrence

Sometimes being wrong is the right answer.

Nick Hayes’s genius is in wringing out the universe’s secrets. It’s a talent that’s allowed him to carve paths through time. But the worst part is that he knows how his story will end. He’s seen it with his own eyes. And every year that passes, every breakthrough he makes, brings him a step closer. Mia’s accident is waiting for them both in 2011. If it happens then he’s out of choices.

Then a chance 1992 discovery reveals that this seeker of truth has been lying to himself. But why? It’s a question that haunts him for years. A straw he clings to as his long-awaited fate draws near.

Time travel turns out not to be the biggest problem Nick has to work on. He needs to find out how he can stay on his path but change the destination. Failure has never been an option, and neither has survival. But Nick’s hoping to roll the dice one more time. And this new truth begins with a lie.

"I could ramble on about all the brainy twists, the tenderness, love, sacrifice, adventure, and exceedingly intelligent ‘what if’ ideas that were followed through to the end of this novella. Perhaps I already did and decided to jump back for a re-do. If I did it right, you’ll never know. What you should know is that Dispel Illusion is a brilliant finish to the Impossible Times trilogy, rife with unpredictability, nostalgia, and ceaseless imagination."

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Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence

One choice. Two possible timelines. And a world hanging in the balance.

It’s the summer of 1986 and reluctant prodigy Nick Hayes is a student at Cambridge University, working with world-renowned mathematician Professor Halligan. He just wants to be a regular student, but regular isn’t really an option for a boy-genius cancer survivor who’s already dabbled in time travel.

When he crosses paths with a mysterious yet curiously familiar girl, Nick discovers that creases have appeared in the fabric of time, and that he is at the centre of the disruption. Only Nick can resolve this time paradox before the damage becomes catastrophic for both him and the future of the world. Time is running out—literally.

Wrapped up with him in this potentially apocalyptic scenario are his ex-girlfriend, Mia, and fellow student Helen. Facing the world-ending chaos of a split in time, Nick must act fast and make the choice of a lifetime—or lifetimes.

Game on.

"Limited Wish might not quite measure up to One Word Kill, but it’s still a wonderful sci-fi read with fun characters and a plot that keeps you thinking long after you’ve put the book down for the last time. Highly recommended."

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The Girl and the Mountain by Mark Lawrence

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Bound by Mark Lawrence

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