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Mark Lawrence Interview – Red Sister (2017)

One could argue that the phrase, “Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself,” perfectly suits Mark Lawrence.

Mark Lawrence

I’m pretty sure no one in this community can say they haven’t heard of him. I would say let’s just skip the introductions and head to the interview, which is more about Red Sister than Mark himself, but his bio is a story in and of itself.

Mark Lawrence was born in 1966, in the United States. While he was still young, his parents moved to the United Kingdom. He is married and has four children, one of whom is severely disabled. He works as a novelist and was a research scientist in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments, and at one point he was qualified to say “this isn’t rocket science . . . oh wait, it actually is.”

Hey Mark, thank you for agreeing to this interview. As is customary, let’s start with an easy one – Your seventh published novel, Red Sister, is released on April 4th 2017. Can you tell us a few things about it that we don’t already know from the blurb, but without spoiling anything?

I’m not sure I can! In fact, if it were left to me, the blurb would probably say, “Just read it.” I guess it’s a good thing it isn’t left to me. One thing I have seen front and centre in a lot of recent reviews is LESBIAN NUNS!!! And whilst it’s true that two of the nuns in the book are in a relationship I do think this is a misleading characterisation. It’s certainly not a main feature, and the rest of the nuns (of whom there are many) show no signs of any particular orientation, straight or otherwise.

(Note to self: don’t mention the lesbian nuns.) Mark, you have already mentioned on numerous occasions about the original inspiration behind RS. What I don’t ever recall hearing is why you chose to write it in 3rd person, as opposed to your other trilogies. Did you think that it would add something extra, was it necessary for the story, or did you simply want to try something new?

Most books are written in the 3rd person. The first two books I wrote (which I didn’t try to get published) were written in the 3rd person as are most of the short stories I’ve ever written. So it wasn’t a big deal for me. I knew that Nona, unlike Jorg and Jalan from my other two trilogies, wasn’t self-centred, and would have a number of important friendships. I think it’s easier to bring all of that to life with 3rd person. It lets you pull the camera back a bit.

Red Sister (UK cover)Speaking of cameras: In a casting for a TV series, who would you pick to play Nona, Arabella, Apple, and Kettle?

I don’t think I can name any actor under twenty. Let me try . . . uh . . . no. I’ve even forgotten the name of that Home Alone kid . . . and he’s probably thirty-five now.

Interesting that you mention him no longer being a kid; RS is branded as adult fantasy as opposed to YA. Why? As someone mentioned the other day, it’s not that violent – at least no more than other popular YA books like The Hunger Games or Divergent.

I think it’s branded as “fantasy” and that there is a subsection of fantasy where titles are described as YA. I’ve never been clear what moves a book into that zone, but since I wrote this trilogy with no effort to shape it toward any audience (I write the books I want to read) I would just describe it as “fantasy”.

Fantasy it is, then! Mark, you say you write the books you want to read. As is the case with all popular book series, though, some people love them and others hate them. A fair number of people hate/dislike your other two trilogies, The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War. Why should they try the Book of the Ancestor? What did you do differently, aside from the protagonist being female (and the aforementioned third-person POV)?

I’ve never been one for selling my own work. I just don’t have it in me to pitch stories or characters. I guess the main thing to say is that most authors are capable of a great range of storytelling, and the only reason readers may suspect otherwise is because it can be commercially preferable for writers to stick with something that has sold well. Also publishers like it because they perceive it as lower risk.

I’ve never done that. My first two trilogies (and the two lead characters) were very different from each other. This new one is very different from both of those.

It certainly is, in setting as well as style and character. I couldn’t help noticing that specific aspects of the book regarding the sun and temperature (I can’t say more in fear of spoilers) obviously required some technical knowledge. Did you have to do some research about it?

Red Sister (US cover)Not really. First off, very few people know enough to argue this stuff with any firm foundation. And secondly, I took the astrophysics option in my physics degree, so I have the basics covered.

Now you’re just showing off. Alright, forget science. Your books are full of philosophical and existential quotes. What’s your favourite?

I never consider them to be quotes, just lines. And I rarely notice them as I’m writing them. Once someone else picks them out then they are quotes. I saw one today that author Josiah Bancroft put in his Goodreads feed as he was reading Red Sister. I have no memory of writing it but I quite like it:

“There are some things that must be done quickly or not at all. If someone asks you if you love them you cannot hesitate. There are some paths that must be taken at speed.”

It’s funny what readers pick up on, isn’t it? Oh, and while we’re on the subject: most of your fans, or at least the ones you are connected with via all internet platforms, know that Agnes is your only beta reader (or is it that there are others as well, and Agnes is the chief? That just came to me). Agnes started beta reading for you since and after the Wheel of Osheim, if I recall correctly. Why did you choose her (as opposed to someone else), why do you think that you need her (or a beta reader in the first place), and would you ever pick a new one?

Well, first off “chief” here is not meant in the in charge or organising way. For Red Sister, because it was very new for me and I wasn’t hugely confident, I asked a few people to read it once it was finished. They were kind enough to give me some lines or paragraphs of feedback. Agnes’s beta reading is a whole different beast. She reads the books as I write them, often chapter by chapter. She picks up on typos, detailed inconsistencies, wording choices, and the general flow of the story, often making very useful suggestions that can impact future chapters. I can’t really remember the details of how it came about. I think I asked if I could run a short story by her for feedback, and that proved so helpful I did it again, and later moved to getting her feedback on book chapters.

Some writers have many beta readers, and some, none at all. One suits me. A large element is having immediate reaction. It can be a long lonely wait before a story hits the shelves and you see what people think of it. Having someone enthusiastic and involved react the very next day, or even that evening, and tell you what they thought of the last chapter, is a great motivation to write the next one.

Red Sister (US detail)In that case, I guess we should all be thanking Agnes for cheering you on, even those of us who are a bit jealous of the fact that she’s already read the entire Ancestor trilogy. I reckon it’s a little bit early to ask about that, but a lot of people have already finished the first book (some of us as far as six months ago). So . . . what can we expect from the next book in the series?

Nona will continue her education, grow older, and put some of her skills to use in earnest. More I can’t say. Well, I can, because it’s finished. But I won’t.

Alright, alright, last question. I just said it’s early to ask about the second book, but hell, a while ago, you mentioned that you were writing two different books, one being a new Broken Empire story and the other was named Power Word Kill. If I recall correctly, you said that you would stick with one of them. Which one did you pick? Can you tell us a few things about it?

I chose both of them, but focused on Power Word Kill, which I finished ages ago. Then I started a third book which is a modern day thriller. So currently I have about 30,000 words of both the thriller and the Broken Empire book written, which is probably about half the thriller and a quarter to a third of the fantasy.

Power Word Kill is an odd one. It’s about a group of teenagers playing D&D in London in the 80s, but there’s also psychotic drug dealers, terminal illness, and science fiction in the mix!

Not going to lie – that sounds amazing! Thanks for chatting, Mark, and remember: if ever you decide to recruit a second beta reader, I’ll be there at the very front of the queue. Go on. You know you want to . . .

Red Sister is due out April 4th. You can learn more about it and Mark’s other works on his website or you can follow him on Twitter @Mark__Lawrence.


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