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An interview with Mark Lawrence

Interview by Timy Takacs and James Tivendale

What is your favorite fantasy creature and why?
I’m far from sure I have a favourite fantasy creature. I’m not really a creature kind of guy. I’ll say lizardman, because they had a cool picture in the first D&D Monster Manual and I used to have lots of them in my dungeons just because of it.

When and why did you decide to become an author? With your background in science this didn’t seem like a natural career progression.
I don’t think ”author” is a career progression for anyone. It’s not like you can opt to stop doing one thing and make your living as an author instead. And honestly, I never decided to become an author. I just took up writing as a hobby. I had been writing in various forms (such as writing D&D campaigns to play with my friends) most of my life. Against all my expectations I was offered a book deal. Being an author had never been a real ambition of mine. I was just writing stories for the fun of it. I don’t think being a scientist had any bearing on it. The same could have happened to a bus driver or a school teacher.

As a scientist, do you find science-fiction easier to write instead of fantasy? 
I don’t. The hard bit of writing is the shape of each sentence, the pace and twistiness of the story, the depth and emotion of the characters, the dialogue, the story arc. Whether it’s ray guns and spaceships or swords and dragons is very secondary.

Which author would you say is your greatest influence as a writer?
I generally have difficulty in identifying influences. I am sure I’m influenced by other authors but it is very rarely at the conscious level. I guess the easy answer is JRR Tolkein who my mother read to me at age 7. I think those books coloured my imagination right from the start, making D&D seem like a godsend when it arrived in my life a few years later. My fascinaton with swords and sorcery, dragons and adventure, meant that if I was going to write then there was never any doubt about what genre it would be in.

After writing six books from a male POV (The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War trilogies) was it hard to switch to a female POV (Book of the Ancestor trilogy)? Did you find any difficulties when writing about a female protagonist?
I didn’t find any difficulties no. I try to write people rather than genders, and as such Nona was no more or less difficult to write than Jorg or Jalan.

How would you personally describe Nona's transition throughout the Book of the Ancestor trilogy?
Heh, personally I would describe it as a spoiler because my books are primarily about the main character, by which I mean that the character is as much or more the story than whether this kingdom falls or that mage is defeated. For me the plot is there to exercise the character and allow growth. So talking about what Nona is like and how she changes as she grows would be giving too much away.

What’s the true story of SPFBO’s birth? Did you wake up one day and decided to run this competition? In your opinion what makes it so different and successful?
You pretty much told the tale in your question. I bounced the idea off a few folk, Sarah Chorn from Bookworm Blues was the first one. And finding willing helpers, I did it. There wasn’t a lot of forethought or any agonising. It seemed a simple and fun thing to do.

I’m not sure what you’re asking me to differentiate it from. I guess the thought came to me because there was nothing (that I knew of) even close to it.

I guess it’s successful because why the hell wouldn’t someone, who has already written a book that qualifies, enter it? All it takes is an email. Authors want to be read and get reviews, and there’s a good chance you’ll get that if you take part.

The fact that we have discovered some really excellent books and done some good in bringing them wider attention is a big bonus.

SPFBO has had a huge impact on certain authors' careers and I'd personally say you are the Godfather of indie fantasy... which of the books from the contest that you've read (of which I know you've read many and supported) did you prefer the most?
Well, the truth is that I am a really slow reader with very limited time, so in fact I really haven’t read that many of the books, just a collection of the higher scoring finalists, and one or two others. I think it will be no surprise to anyone who follows me to hear that my favourite is Senlin Ascends. That statement is also true when you widen the field to include all the traditionally published books I’ve read in quite a few years.

One of the aims of the contest was to help readers pick up a self-published book with confidence that they will get a good read. I’ve taken advantage of that myself and allowed the contest to select great books for me to try. That’s not to say that the books that don’t make the final might not also be magnificent, just that the concentration of excellence among the ten finalists is higher than in a random selection of ten entries.

Mechanisms like this that give the reader confidence when selecting a self published read ultimately help all self published authors whether they are involved in the contest or not.

What inspires your writing? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil?
I find ideas are most often uncovered in an empty mind. If I do something laborious that requires little thinking, like digging the vegetable patch, cycling to work, or pushing my daughter around the park in her wheelchair, then ideas just bubble up. And where most folk just let that sort of idea drift away, a writer plays with it and lets it grow.

What are you working on now? I understand Holy Sister will be released next year, as well as your new trilogy, Impossible Times starting with One Word Kill. How is this series any different from your previous ones, which were mostly labelled as grimdark? 
My polls indicate that the significant majority of my readers haven’t considered any of my work grimdark since my first trilogy, The Broken Empire. There can be a reluctance among the genre to admit how varied a writer can be. It’s easier to define someone by the first book they put out, but I have never been one to stick to a role.

I think One Word Kill is different from my other books in nearly every way you can imagine. It would be much easier to list the similarities, which I think boil down to: it’s written in the first person and has a young protagonist.

One Word Kill is a book with some sci-fi themes, set in 1980’s London, and focuses on a D&D group.

Which of your characters do you identify with the most and why? Jorg, Jalan and Nona are three incredible characters. If you had to choose one of these darlings that you have written, which do you prefer the most? Who would you want to spend a day in the Asylum with out of these three?
I’m not really like any of my characters, but I guess the one I am closest to would be Jalan Kendeth. I would run away from the same dangers he runs away from. And he would be my choice to spend a day with too. He would be entertaining and not a threat ... I mean, he might get me into trouble but he wouldn’t be dangerous himself. 

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the good or the bad ones?
Well, I get a lot of those, so I don’t read them all, though I am very grateful that people make the effort. I read the blog reviews that I’m tagged in, and netiquette dictates that you don’t tag the author in a bad review, so no problem there! And I try to ”like” a 5* Goodreads review of one of my books every day, so obviously I read that too. It’s a ”thankyou” and also it puts the review in my timestream and reminds some fraction of my 40,000 followers on the platform that the book exists.

So basically I only read good reviews, and those are easy to deal with!

Are there any books that have been/ are being released in 2019 that you are excited to read?
Not that I know of. I would have said, The Hod King, by Josiah Bancroft. But I was lucky enough to read that one early. I’m looking forward to the book that follows Robert VS Redick’s Master Assassin, but I don’t think we will see it next year. And Winds of Winter plus Doors of Stone would be great but seem unlikely.

Howard Andrew Jones’ For The Killing Of Kings is out in 2019 but that was another early read of mine.

I very rarely read past book 1 in a series, simply because there are so many books and I can read so few of them. I like to try a new author as often as I can. So generally it has to be a really special writer to get me to pick up book 2.

This interview originally appeared on RockStarlit BookAsylum

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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