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Interview with Mark Lawrence

By / August 22, 2015 / no comments

Mark Lawrence declined to put up with me (wakarimasen) babbling rubbish to him in person. Instead, he opted to answer the bestfantasybooks.com questions in a written interview. This is that. But Mark is not aloof, oh no, he’s got so many damn good reasons for doing interviews on paper it would be insane for him to do anything else. We’ll get to all that though.

 First off, let’s ask about other authors. @fantam, @ofer , @tomtb and others all want to know about your influences and tastes.

 Is there any particular writer (fantasy or otherwise) who you would say has influenced your work?

 I’m never very good at answering this question because I’m not conscious of any influences – though I’m sure I have them.

The other day I looked back at some short stories I wrote years ago when I was reading a lot of Stephen King. I could see a lot of his influence in the prose. But that was something I needed a distance of quite a few years to see.

George RR Martin certainly re-interested me in fantasy and opened my eyes to many possibilities. But my writing is nothing like GRRM’s, so I’m not sure you could call him an influence in the traditional sense.

Influence is a funny thing anyway. Last week I happened across this passage in a forum post concerning the Broken Empire trilogy:

> The author also must be a fan of the sci-fi series Firefly, as the sarcasm and linguistic patterns of the main character seem to mirror that used in the show.

But I’ve never seen an episode of Firefly.

So even influences that are ‘obvious’ and stated with conviction are often wholly incorrect.

I’ve also seen many claims that I’m influenced by Joe Abercrombie … but I’ve not read any of Joe’s fiction.

So in the end instead of listing my influences I’ve told you two things I’m not influenced by!


In terms of particular works @Boreas wanted to know what three books have truly resonated with you (affected you at a core level) and why?

 This sort of question always produces fairly random answers from me. I’ve no idea how to choose my top 5 books for example, and I don’t have a favourite colour, or food … once something reaches the ‘great’ level I lose the power to distinguish one great as being greater than the next.

So today my choices are:

Freefall by William Golding – because he’s able to articulate things I knew about myself and about the way the world works but was never able to crystalize into coherent thought.

Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – a book I encountered at age 7 and which has been prominent in the landscape of my imagination ever since. It was the first book that really showed me another world with a scope, scale, history, and grandeur that swallowed me up.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide by Gary Gygax – a bit of a cheat here, and it stands in place of all the D&D rulebooks. In my youth I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons and rolled the polyhedral dice many times. The UK’s first Games Workshop opened next to my school and I was hooked. This was before I had a computer, video recorder, more than 3 TV channels, or indeed colour TV. If Lord of the Rings woke my imagination up then D&D set it on fire. I don’t write books based on D&D adventures or ‘like D&D’ so I won’t count it an influence in that way – but it was my first taste of the combination of fantasy and having an input to it, being a creator rather than a consumer.


We’ve been following your fortunes on bfb since your debut and a few board members have question about your writing process (albeit some pretty loosely connected)…

 @Danica would like you to describe your writing space… how about it?

 I don’t really have a writing space. I write where I am, and that can be in any room of the house with a power socket for my laptop. I wrote a lot of Prince of Thorns in hospital while staying in with my youngest daughter when she was a baby. I’ve always been able to write on the go.

I used to help run a play by mail fantasy game called Saturnalia, where I wrote turns describing the events based on my world design and the players’ reactions/instructions based on their last turn. Here’s a photo of me writing one twenty years ago with a baby under one arm.




@tomTb wants to know to know if you have any bad habits when writing?

 No bad writing habits that I’m aware of. If I was aware of them then I’d try to fix them!

I do have a bad habit when writing though – and that’s breaking off to check the internet too often!


@Griffin asks if you listen to music when you write, if so, what?

 I only listen to music while writing if there is annoying extraneous noise I want to block out. In that case I play something very familiar which I won’t notice. Often it’s the album Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield.


 Do you get excited when you see your books out on the shelves? Are you ever tempted to sign them and put them back?

 I don’t really get excited by it, no. I feel that I should, as it’s an enormous privilege … but I don’t. I guess part of it is that I never harboured an ambition to be an author, so the idea of my books on shelves never occupied my thoughts. Another part is perhaps that it never seems quite real. I suspect that’s true for anyone who finds themselves in unusual situations.


You have a severely disabled daughter, a wife with M.S. and three other children. Between those commitments and the fact that you’re pretty good with the written word, it’s no surprise that you prefer a written interview. The surprise is that you have time to do it at all.

 Is there much time in your life for other media? Are there films/T.V. or music that you have particularly liked over the last year?

 I do have very little spare time and in consequence I read far less than I want to. I do watch a fair few movies late at night. I have Netflix and Amazon Prime so I’ve started to mainline some TV series recently, like Breaking Bad, Spartacus, Fargo and Better Call Saul. I tend to like adrenaline-filled films, more subtle ones will draw me in but I usually start watching them by accident. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the recent superhero films. I watch Warrior this year and that’s a fine film. Shawshank Redemption is the one I point at when asked for a favourite.

I don’t listen to a huge amount of music. I think the last two albums I bought were by Florence and the Machine and by London Grammar.


On the subject of films. How do you feel about T.V./film adaptations of fantasy books?

 I’m all for it, though I wish so many of them weren’t terrible. It’s only recently that Hollywood/TV have discovered that fantasy doesn’t have to be kitsch, tongue-in-cheek, populated with muscular barbarians, and aimed at fourteen year olds.


Which format do you think the Broken Empire books would be better suited to, film or series?

 I would think film. They’re not sprawling doorstop books with many points of view and complex plots, so I’m not sure they would support a long series.


Who, in your mind, would play Jorg in an adaptation?

 Given Jorg’s age (14/15 for much of the book, 10 for much of the flashback sections) a young actor is clearly required. However, young actors haven’t had much time to make an impression on me and their names rarely stick. As such I suggest since this is an exercise in imagination (I doubt one in ten thousand fantasy books is made into a film) that we merely imagine which older actor now known to us would have made a good Jorg in their younger days. Three names suggest themselves to me. Firstly Jack Nicholson for his intensity and raw crazy. Secondly Johnny Depp for his combination of depth and humour, the potential in him for threat, and the fact he has the right kind of looks. Thirdly the late lamented Heath Ledger who demonstrated many of Jack Nicholson’s talents when out-doing him in the role of the Joker, and who could also bring to the part a kind of goodness and loss that is buried very deeply in our ‘hero’.


You’ve written in the past about the portrayal of disability in Fantasy.

Do you think that the role of the carer is something that has been explored? Should it be? (I could only think of Hodor, and I’m pretty sure that doesn’t counts)

What one thing would you like to change most about people’s perception of disability?

 I’m uncomfortable in the role of campaigner. I share my experiences but I don’t often move past that. The idea that things ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be in stories doesn’t sit well with me. Let the story take the author where it’s going and we readers either will or won’t choose to come along for the ride.

I can’t recall any fantasy books featuring carers heavily, no.

I don’t think there’s a unified perception of disability to change, and it probably varies from country to country. Right now in the UK the right-wing press are busy demonising disability by portraying it as fakers scrounging money or the tax-payer supporting morbidly obese people who could solve their own problems by eating fewer pies. This all being to help the government save money by cutting the financial support to disabled people. I guess that’s a perception I’d like to change.

On a more personal level the thing I get time and again from friends, family, and strangers is a complete incomprehension of how total my disabled daughter’s demands on my time are. I am on duty literally every second of the day that she’s not at school. I can’t nip out to town, go to a film, come to dinner, go sign books, attend a convention … none of it. People tend to think that a disabled child is like an able bodied child who perhaps can’t walk. Well, some of them are, but a severely disabled child is a thousand times more work than that.


Some board member have specific questions about the books. I can safely say they don’t raise any massive spoilers…

 We’ll start with @Afa Who wants to know how is Jorg able to quote Plato and Aristotle? The apocalypse of a millennium ago wiped out virtually all technical knowledge of the world before, but Plato’s philosophical ponderings survived?

 This relates to the relative value that is placed upon books. The second hand value of a book about quantum mechanics or on the basics of the process for making sulphuric acid is rather low. So those things tend to live on bookshelves and get destroyed in huge nuclear wars or the century-long devastating winter that follows. Whereas the earliest copies of great works, scrolls from ancient Greece, and the like, have a high financial value and are often stored in museum vaults or the subterranean collections of wealthy individuals. As such these are more likely to be dug out intact centuries later at a time that people are hungry for wisdom that they can understand.


On that, @Kenubrion asked if people like @Afa who ask questions on what they perceive as plot holes annoy you? ;>)

 No, though people who make disdainful assertions about things they perceive as plot holes (and which are not) are more irksome.


Your current series is taking place at the same time as your previous trilogy. What made you go this way, rather then choosing a different time frame? (from @YordanZh)

Many choices, especially in writing, don’t have strong reasons behind them. I don’t (in general) plan books, I just start writing. The story is what comes off my fingertips and often surprises me. So when people ask me why I did X rather than Y I’m often stumped for an answer – just as I would have been when colouring in a picture as a kid if asked why I coloured someone’s shirt green rather than blue.

That said, I guess there seemed more opportunities for fun this way.


You use the word Fecks (much to @ofer’s annoyance bless him), given that the content of the books probably won’t get them displayed on the children’s shelves anyway, why is that? (Are you just a big Father Ted fan?)

 I’ve charted the feck and fuck content of the books:


From which it will be clear that the use of 15 fecks would be rather redundant as a form of censorship in a book that also contains 8 fucks.

The usage is part of the difference between how the brothers speak on the road (roadspeak) and how Jorg speaks when returning to his more ‘upmarket’ roots.


There’s space in the Broken Empire world for sci-fi to be added (according to @YordanZh) is that something you would consider doing?

 This one confuses me a bit as the Broken Empire trilogy contains all manner of sci-fi… There isn’t (as one rather confused review on Barnes and Noble wrote) a space-ship in it, but there are [spoilers here] artificial intelligences, time distortion, etc, and all the ‘magic’ is in fact sci-fi being the result of changing the quantum role of the observer. [spoiler ends]


We’ll wrap this up with a few quick questions we’ve been in the habit of asking authors lately.

 What’s your favourite breakfast?


Do you own any swords?

 No. Though I do have four literary awards that are: a dagger, two small axes, and a medium-sized axe.

 Do you have any plans to release a d20 RPG based on you books?

 I don’t.

 Is there anything you’d like to know from our board members?

 Apart from all their internet banking details … not en masse, no.


As a final word, it’s worth mentioning that Mark will be putting out a special edition omnibus of the Broken Empire books which, when it sells out, will raise funds for the excellent Children’s Hospice charity http://www.chsw.org.uk/ so if anyone is interested they can find out more on Mark’s blog http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/the-big-book-of-thorns-is-on-its-way.html

 Do it!


Mark Lawrence, thank you very much for your time.



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