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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 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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