Acclaimed author MARK LAWRENCE talks PRINCE OF FOOLS, his BROKEN EMPIRE trilogy, his writing methods and more...
STARBURST: Prince of Fools is lighter in tone than the Broken Empire trilogy. Did you deliberately set out to create a character less controversial than Jorg, and if so was this decision made to make the book more accessible?
Mark Lawrence: I deliberately set out to make a character very different from Jorg. It certainly wasn’t an attempt to be less or more controversial. That’s really not something I consider. I try to write an interesting character, I really don’t care who that offends.
How difficult was it to break into the market with a character as dark as Jorg?
Not very. I wrote to four agents, one a month until I got bored and stopped. The fourth one wrote back a few months after I had got bored and stopped. He told me not to expect to hear from him any time soon – publishing is a very slow business. Six weeks later all the major fantasy publishers had bid on Prince on Thorns and a deal had been struck. This is not normal. Lightning struck.
The Broken Empire trilogy felt like an ‘overnight success’, with the three books coming out within a year of each other. How much preparation had been done before the first book was released?
If you mean preparation learning to write... well that’s hard to define. I’d been ‘writing’ in some form or other for nearly 30 years – D&D campaigns from age 11 to 21, play-by-mail turns (as a games master) from 21 to 34, short stories from age 30 to present, and the two ‘less good’ books I wrote before Prince of Thorns between 1997 and 2003, books I never sent anywhere.
If you mean for the trilogy – I wrote Prince of Thorns over the course of 3 years. After I got the three-book deal I wrote King and Emperor of Thorns, taking 6 months on each. I make my stories up as I type, so there’s no preparation in a planning sense.
Has the success of the first trilogy put you under any pressure with this one? Any feelings that it was going to be a tough act to follow?
The typical career trajectory for any author is to open with a bang (of varying degrees) and then to fade away (I shall diminish and go into the west). I expected nothing different – I’m not special – I still don’t. I didn’t feel any great pressure in following the Broken Empire trilogy. I thought: I’ll do what I can and it will be ‘good enough’ or it won’t.
I was certainly aware that I could turn the handle and do more of the same, another dark and troubled youth agonizing about the business of living. I thought I’d try something different.
Prince of Fools is your fourth book to feature a narrator, yet you don’t seem to be constrained by the restrictions of the first-person point of view; in fact, you make it seem effortless, as if you manipulate it to serve your purpose. Is it as simple as it seems?
I narrate my own life to myself – that’s existence to me. Perhaps it’s different inside other skulls but I only have a sample of one. So yes, once I have a character I can feel then it’s as effortless as breathing. None of my writing is planned or the product of decisions – I don’t weigh up pros and cons or try to appeal to demographics... it’s more like dreaming with my eyes open. I just type, the words roll out.
Sometimes a story needs to bounce around the world and times it’s unrolling for the reader. With multiple character points of view that’s easy. With a first person book you need to be a bit more creative, but it’s not hard, it’s good fun.
The quote on the cover draws comparison with George RR Martin, but I’ve always found your work to be more along the lines of David Gemmell. I have to ask – did you have Druss in mind when you created Snorri ver Snagason? If so, he’s unique enough that he never feels like an imitation, more of a warm tribute. Were you conscious that this was, potentially, a fine line to cross?
I’m a big Gemmell fan and certainly the ‘Snagason’ was a hat-tip to Druss (or to his axe at least), but no, Snorri wasn’t inspired by Druss and I was never worried that he wasn’t his own man.
I don’t think my cover quote is intended to imply my work is like GRRM’s, just that the person who made it (Conn Iggulden) enjoyed it as much as he enjoyed GRRM’s.
As a teenager in the 1980’s, I grew up watching buddy movies (usually cops) and, while the relationship between Jalan and Snorri is entertaining , it’s also deeply moving at times, putting the reader through a real range of emotions. Again, it all feels so natural; is any of it planned, or does it simply flow?
Nope, no planning – I just start typing and see what happens. I think the strength of portrayal of a friendship is in the little things, the off the cuff incidents, remarks, and reactions. Those, by their nature, probably wouldn’t benefit from planning. If they were engineered rather than natural they would probably come off as stilted or forced.
Do you have a set routine for writing (for example, so many hours or words per day)?
Not at all. I can only write when I have time free from my day job and caring for my very disabled youngest child, and that tends to be a haphazard occurrence. And even when I do have free time I only write if I feel like writing. Days, weeks and even whole months can pass without me writing anything. On other days I might write several thousand words.
Finally, you have a knack of ending your books with a simple turn of phrase, yet those few words are packed with implications for both characters and plot. Do you rub your hands together with glee and laugh like a James Bond villain after you’ve done this?
Not really, though it is a nice image. Actually it’s more the case that poor prose offends my eye, so when I write a nice line that does its job in an economical and elegant way I’m satisfied rather than triumphant. I expect the words to behave that way, it’s a failure if they don’t rather than a triumph if they do. Sentences that don’t have the ‘right stuff’ are like looking at a pattern where part of it has gone wrong – it grates on me and I want to set it right.
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