Mark Lawrence is best known for his fantasy novels, particularly The Broken Empire series. His latest work, One Word Kill, is science fiction fantasy novel inspired by gaming trends of the 1980s. We caught up with him to find out more... STARBURST: What’s the elevator pitch for One Word Kill? Mark Lawrence: I’ve managed nearly a decade as a published author without ever making an elevator pitch. The closest I can get is reading the headline off the back of the book. ‘Ready Player One meets Stranger Things.’ The next few floors of the ride are just going to be a comfortable silence.
And how would you pitch that to someone who isn’t into games? Heh, “Ready Player One meets Stranger Things.” Neither of those was really about games, not even Ready Player One, which was set inside one. They were about people and about the trouble and adventure they fall into. Good Will Hunting wasn’t about mathematics. Good stories don’t require you to like the thing that they are ostensibly about - and One Word Kill isn’t about gaming in any event.
What character is the most fun to write? Well, if we’re talking about the Impossible Times trilogy of which One Word Kill is the first book… then I would have to note that it’s written in the first person, which really makes it a no contest. But more generally, even on the rare occasions where I write multiple point of view stories, it is the story that is the fun thing to write, and it really doesn’t matter what character I happen to be seeing it through at any given time. If any of the characters wasn’t lots of fun to write then I would know something had gone wrong and would need to rethink.
How long did it take to write? About 4 months. It’s a relatively short book. The whole trilogy will be released in 2019.
Why the Dungeons and Dragons references? A D&D group seemed a nice nucleus to have, and the game itself offers an extra strand in the storytelling. It also fitted in with the setting: ‘80s London. I grew up in London, and my teenage years were in the ‘80s. And I played a lot of D&D back then! It’s the first book I’ve written in a real world setting and I wanted to do it in a setting I knew a lot about.
Is D&D cool again? I don’t recall it ever being cool. I think it’s always attracted people who aren’t bothered about whether they’re cool or not.
What’s your favourite gaming story? For my favourite book with a gaming theme, it would have to be Ready Player One, it’s basically the only one I’ve ever read. If we’re talking about literally my favourite story about gaming, then I would have to say that I don’t have one. Games don’t make good stories. It’s a bit like dreams. Having someone tell you about their dream is boring. Don’t do it to anyone. Dreams are good at the time. They do not make good stories. Similarly, don’t be a gaming bore. Games are fun at the time. They don’t make good stories. The D&D game in One Word Kill is not a recollection of an actual game – it’s crafted to be interesting after the event, while games exist to be interest as you play them.
What has been the most interesting shift in genre writing in recent years? That’s a bit like asking a fish about the ocean. The only thing I can think of, which may just be a local current, is that self-published fantasy seems to be gaining more acceptance and taking a larger share of the sales. Readers have often been put off by the sheer amount of choice when it comes to self-published work, not knowing what books are good - or at least popular. Efforts like the SPFBO contest I run have helped highlight some of the best work out there.
What’s next for you? I’m writing a follow up trilogy to my Book of the Ancestor trilogy that starts with Red Sister. The new trilogy will probably be called Book of the Ice, and opens with The Girl and the Stars.
If you could take one piece of art/music/movie/book/etc, and ensure it would last until the sun dies out, what would it be? A big responsibility! Is it terrible to say that I don’t really care what happens after everyone I know is dead, much less until the sun dies?
If you could give the 16-year-old version of yourself any advice, what would it be? Would you listen? Buy Apple shares. Lots of them. And yes.
One Word Kill comes out on May 1st, with its sequels following hot on its heels through out 2019.