Interview: Mark Lawrence
Special Feature: Interview with Mark Lawrence
Mark Lawrence is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. His day job is as a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say 'this isn't rocket science ... oh wait, it actually is'.
Between work and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time writing, playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY. The Prince of Thorns was his first published novel, followed by King of Thorns, and Emperor of Thorns.
I've seen readers and reviewers refer to Jorg, the protagonist of the Broken Empire Trilogy, described as a "evil" or at least "bad." Do you agree with that characterization of him, and, if so, did you think about him that way when you were writing him?
Well it would be pretty hard for someone who kills the innocent for personal gain not to qualify as at least 'bad'. The inspiration for Jorg came from Anthony Burgess' 1962 classic, A Clockwork Orange, which features a charming, intelligent, but amoral and highly violent main character, who like Jorg is very young.
Like Burgess' book the Broken Empire trilogy asks questions about nature vs nurture and wonders just how much crimes committed by a child stick to them as they grow. If I pick an arbitrarily young age and imagine myself guilty of some terrible deed then ... would I feel guilty now? I'm certainly a different person from the 7 year old Mark, or the 11 year old ... how much of the 13 or 15 year old is in me? These aren't questions that are answered - it's not a lecture, but they are held up for inspection for anyone with the wit to read past the plot.
I like Jorg despite his various acts of depravity, and, given the great success of the series, it appears that lots of readers like him. Why to you think he remains a sympathetic protagonist that readers are willing to follow through three books?
I observed in A Clockwork Orange that there's a great power in first person writing (or indeed films from a single point of view). You find yourself identifying with the protagonist, pretty much whatever they do. Before you know it you're willing the shot to hit the assassin's innocent victim . . .
There's more to it of course and a truly unsympathetic protagonist will alienate most readers whatever way you frame the writing. Jorg attracts readers because he's witty, charming, intelligent ... he shocks them for the same reason because we're less used to seeing brutality from such a person.
On top of that, and most importantly, he's human. He doesn't admit to doubts and fears but they're there for all to see. He's damaged and conflicted. These are things that echo to some degree in almost every reader.
He's also fun.
When I think about the setting of Broken Empire, I keep coming back to the idea that it is "post-apocalyptic fantasy" (if there is such a thing). Post-apocalyptic settings have been popular on the sci-fi side of things for the past several years, and yet the setting fits in nicely with the larger theme in the series of the past having a profound influence on the future. Did the sci-fi trend or the thematic element influence your setting, or was it something else?
I don't think there was any sci-fi influence - though influences are hard to pin down. I certainly recognise the Planet of the Apes iconic scene with the Statue of Liberty. Was that in my mind? Who knows? The setting wasn't something I decided on up front - it just came to me as I wrote, slipping in by degrees.
You've published several short stories in addition to your novels. Did you start writing short stories before you took on writing novels? What do you like/dislike about short stories?
I learned to write by writing short stories. They're good because you can write one in a short space of time and get your feedback quickly. Because they're short other people will read them even if they're not great. You can afford to fail in a short story and you've not lost much by doing so.
I have to admit I'm not a great reader of short stories. This seems to be something I have in common with the general public. Short fiction is not commercial. People seem to prefer something longer where there's time to develop and build, both character and plot. Short stories tend to be more about an idea, and good prose.
I do like good prose ... but I prefer to read it in a book. I'm not a great fan of idea/twist fiction which seems prevalent in the short form, and I'm definitely not a fan of message fiction, which seems to be all that a lot of magazines that publish short stories are interested in. I really don't want to read stories that are just a vehicle for some socio-political message. I don't feel I need or want to be 'educated' like that.
I hear you're working on a new series. Can you tell us anything about it yet? Do you have an expected release date?
Prince of Fools is the first book in The Red Queen's War trilogy. It's out at the start of June. The story is set in the same place and time as the Broken Empire trilogy and Jorg is glimpsed in the background on occasion. The main character is Jalan Kendeth, a cowardly womaniser who lies and cheats his way through life, trading off his title. Jalan's fate becomes entangled with that of a very dangerous Viking warrior and ... hilarity ensues. Well ... it's certainly not a comedy, but the vein of humour that proved very popular in Jorg's tale runs through the Red Queen's War and is rather thicker this time.