Interview with Mark Lawrence
Today I welcome Mark Lawrence, author of ‘The Broken Empire’ trilogy at Fantastical Imaginations for a fun interview with a lot more nonsense questions than I usually ask. But while doing the interview it gradually became an interview with also some serious questions about, among other things, his upcoming novel ‘Emperor of Thorns’ and his new trilogy ‘The Red Queen’s War’.
F.I.: Welcome, Mark, at Fantastical Imaginations. Let’s start with some fun questions. Which author, or other famous person, would you like to be locked up with in a dark room with a lot of sharp things at your disposal?
A dark room and lots of sharp things sounds like a recipe for disaster… so whichever author or famous person (and generally these are very distinct groups so your ‘other’ was largely redundant) has a light and a way out.
F.I.: Smart answer. In which author’s head would you like to mess around a little bit?
Turns out I’m a bad candidate for questions regarding authors, famous people, and genre, as I have little interest in any of them. I like reading. The author behind the words has never really been a factor for me. Until I actually had a book on the shelf I was largely unaware of authors as people and the only one I’d ever looked up anything about (thanks to the ease of typing a name into Google) was David Gemmell. Even now, though I may trade ‘witty’ one liners with various writers on twitter, I really don’t think about the author before, during, or after reading a book.
F.I.: Let’s talk about some of your colleagues for a bit, shall we? You and Joe Abercrombie are what I like to call the two grandmasters of the gritty, dark fantasy of today. What is your opinion on Joe’s writings and personality?
God I’m boring… I’ve never read an Abercrombie book, never met him, and until he turned up on twitter a few weeks back I’d no window at all onto his personality. I guess the fact that my caring duties don’t allow me to go to conventions etc. means I’m rather outside the old boy’s (and girls) authors’ circle. I’m never going to be in the in-crowd.
To your question though – from observing some small fraction of the one thousand 140-character tweets Applecrumble has made I am fairly sure he’s evil.
F.I.: Mazarkis Williams told in an interview I’ve had with her that someone thought that she was your sister. Which of your female colleagues would you like to be the older brother of?
Every possible answer to that sounds either creepy or condescending or both. Anyhow, I’d rather be the annoying younger brother with no implied responsibilities – I’m tired of being old. Also, Maz is about the only author I know who is older than me. Hurrah!
F.I.: I couldn’t resist asking this question: since Sam Sykes is always such a nice guy on Twitter, how is he in real life? (F.I. – this is a slightly different version of the question that I asked Mark in the first e-mail I’ve send him).
Ah, this is the replacement for the ‘what do you think of Sam Sykes’ books’ question that I warned you off (I read stupidly few books these days). The spiraling nosedive continues as I fail to entertain. I’ve never met Sam. I’ve never met anyone that has met Sam. He may not even exist. It is true that a dash of Sykes would probably brighten these proceedings up but that would require me to invent that time me and Sam shared a bucket of tequila and ended up robbing a patisserie dressed as raccoons.
F.I.: Very interesting answers. I love them. Now let us switch to some fun questions about your own writings: how do people react when you tell them that you write fantasy instead of ‘real books’ (at least that’s how a lot of people look at fantasy)? What’s the funniest reaction you’ve had?
Being a hermit I have few opportunities to tell people what I do. However, on those rare occasions that I have done so, you’re correct in anticipating that there is a certain stiffening of features when they ask what kind and I reply ‘fantasy’. It’s odd, because I’m pretty sure that a good proportion of the people I’ve had this with don’t read books, period. And so why it requires an effort not to sneer on their part I’m not sure. Possibly it’s because the nascent sneer implies ‘oh, I only read highbrow works of great literary quality’ and might reflect well on them… though these days the truth is that ‘Hello Magazine’ is the apex of many people’s reading experience.
A fair number of these people go on to say “…you mean… like Harry Potter?” To which I have ill-advisedly said, “No, adult fantasy.” Thereby conjuring entirely the wrong image. And once ‘adult fantasy’ is out in the room everything you say from then on is just digging yourself a deeper hole.
F.I.: I can imagine that, yes . What’s your funniest review you’ve had during your writing career?
There was one that said the story was fine until they reached the spaceship. I can only assume at that point the reader was abducted by aliens because they weren’t reading my book, that’s for sure.
And I guess I get a degree of amusement from people who (sometimes after reading two whole books) are still berating me for my obvious error of including real world references into what is clearly a medieval fantasy world.
F.I.: Let’s suppose there’s going to be a television show with fictional gladiators and Jorg is the reigning champion. Against which fictional character of world literature would you like to see him fight?
All the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood, starting with Piglet to warm up and saving Pooh Bear for last.
F.I.: Thank you for the great answers so far, Mark. I want to ask you also a few serious questions: which is your favorite book of all time?
I imagine the vast majority of people opt for something they read early. The books that first open our minds to a particular type of imagery, emotion, or situation are the ones that stick with us. Like your first kiss. I’m no different. I’ll opt for Lord of the Rings as my favourite fantasy because it did those things for me and it’s shielded by the years from any criticisms I might have if I came to it cold.
Freefall by William Golding is my favourite work of literary fiction.
F.I.: What’s your opinion on the ‘Gender Issues’ discussions that we see appear a lot last months?
I must have missed them. There’s a gender issue? What is it?
F.I.: Yes, there’s talk of Gender Issues lately. Apparently some female authors are concerned about the fact that readers read more books from male fantasy authors than books written by women (I think they have a point). What’s your opinion on this?
As someone who might be unkindly described as a glorified statistician I am naturally skeptical about statistics! The most common faults in analysis being claiming statistical significance where there is none, and in the selection of samples. Where does fantasy being and end? A couple of weeks ago I did a blog post ‘Always a bigger fish’ with a short video to show the relative sizes of book sales for different authors (through the loose correlation of sales with number of Goodreads ratings). The last three authors on that list, utterly dwarfing all the usual fantasy suspects and even making GRRM’s A Game of Thrones look small, are women. Suzanne Collins, JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer have sold in truly extra-ordinary numbers.
As a child I read Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, and Katherine Kurtz until I ran out of their books. Later on it was Katherine Kerr. The bazillion selling Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis seem to have single handedly floated gaming fiction and kept my kids entertained from age 8 to 15… It seems self-evident that if as a woman you write the fantasy people want to read you can sell millions.
My books have been purchased by three English language publishers, each headed by a woman. Each of these women has female second and third in commands. Their subsidiaries are female headed. The publicity people are female. I don’t think I have ever, out of the score of people I’ve interacted with in publishing on a professional level, communicated with a man. So… the gatekeepers don’t appear to be skewed in the male direction… My book was even blurbed by a woman – the excellent Robin Hobb who has sold many millions of fantasy books.
Are the female authors with the aforementioned concerns also concerned about the apparent reading of more books from female fantasy authors in the area of paranormal fantasy, or in romance of any stripe?
Is the perceived imbalance in this case statistically significant or an artifact of small samples and the choice of where the boundaries were drawn?
I don’t know. I do suspect however that very few people care who wrote their fantasy books – they just care if it’s good reading.
F.I.: That’s a very interesting point of view, something to think about. About the concluding book of your first trilogy: what can we expect of ‘Emperor of Thorns’?
Well, not more of the same for one thing. I was quite clear (at least with myself), once I knew the publishers wanted a trilogy, that King of Thorns was not going to be a longer version of Prince of Thorns – and think most people will agree that it isn’t. Similarly I hope that Emperor of Thorns will provide something fresh and bring the story to a satisfying yet unpredictable end.
I have a body of readers worried that Jorg won’t change, and a body of readers worried that he will. Others hope he’ll settle down with Miana or consummate with Katherine… Let’s see shall we! It’s a good job books aren’t written by committee.
F.I.: Can you tell us something about your new book deal that you’ve signed? What will those books be about?
With the Broken Empire trilogy the initial spark of inspiration was for the character and came from Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, leavened perhaps with a little of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
With the next trilogy (working title: The Red Queen’s War) the character was again the start point, and this time the spark came from the Flashman books by George MacDonald Frasier. I wanted to stay in the same world that Jorg inhabited but see it through very different eyes – and so I dropped a privileged cowardly womanizing bully into the Broken Empire. Also I turned up the Viking dial several notches. There’s considerably more humor in these books but they aren’t a comedy.
F.I.: Will we see Jorg or other characters from the ‘Broken Empire’ trilogy reappear in ‘The Red Queen’s War’?
There will be brief appearances by quite a few characters from the Broken Empire trilogy, yes.
F.I.: How far is your progress on this new trilogy? Do you have a release date set for the first book?
I’m about 20% of the way into the second book and the first is due for publication some time in June 2014.
F.I.: A date to remember, for sure. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Do not give up the day job.
F.I.: Great advice. One fun question to end this interview with: when your wife found out that you write fantasy, what was her reaction?
Well – when I met her I didn’t write fantasy. I met her when she was 19 and I was 21 at a pub-meet for the players of a play-by-mail fantasy role-playing game called Saturnalia. It turned out that we had both signed up to go and live where the game was run and join the small team of games masters running it. Which meant we spent the next year full time writing turns for the game. This basically consisted of reading what the characters (run by the 1000 or so players) intended to do given their last turn, and writing out the story of what happens next. So we were both fantasy writers of a kind at that point. I didn’t start writing ‘proper’ fiction for another ten years, and it took twenty years before I got a book published. So she had plenty of time to get used to the idea.
F.I.: Thank you for doing this interview, Mark. I’ve had a lot of fun doing this.
Marks’ Bio (in his own words): I’m married with four children. My youngest, Celyn, is severely disabled. Caring for her takes up most of my spare time and dominates our lives in a way that people who haven’t experienced it really won’t understand. My day job is as a research scientist focused on topics that the layman might call artificial intelligence. I came late to writing and without any great plan, ambition, or expectation of success.
I used to have a list of other things I did beside working and writing and caring for my daughter – but all of that has pretty much gone away these days, replaced with too much time on twitter and more writing/writing related things than before.
Posted on 05/05/2013, in Books, Interview and tagged Dark Fantasy, emperor of thorns, Gritty, jorg ancrath, king of thorns, Mark Lawrence, Prince of Thorns, The Broken Empire, the red queen's war. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.