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Mark Lawrence Interview – The Girl and the Stars

Mark LawrenceToday we are very happy to have back Mark Lawrence! Lawrence is the author of multiple bestselling series: The Broken Empire, The Red Queen’s War, The Book of the Ancestor, Impossible Times trilogy,and his new upcoming trilogy: Book of the Ice.

Again, thank you Mr. Lawrence for agreeing to another interview with Fantasy-Faction. What influenced you to write The Girl and the Stars, first installment of Book of Ice trilogy? The trilogy evoked the characterization of Jack London’s “wild vs. domestication” or “eat or be eaten” when I read the synopsis.

I’ve always been a bit of an interviewer’s nightmare when it comes to influences, as I am rarely aware of any, though I’m sure I have many unconscious ones. I influenced myself to write it, in as much as I had written—in The Book of the Ancestor—a trilogy based in the tiny fraction of Abeth that is not covered in ice, and it seemed natural to explore the ice after that.

Any chance you can provide us a small preview into The Girl and the Stars? Or tell us anything interesting about the new series protagonist, Yaz?

Well, I can give you the first paragraph!

The Girl and the Stars (cover)In the ice, east of Black Rock, there is a hole into which broken children are thrown. Yaz had always known about the hole. Her people called it the Pit of the Missing and she had carried the knowledge of it with her like a midnight eye watching from the back of her mind. It seemed that her entire life had been spent circling that pit in the ice and that now it was drawing her in as she had always known it would.

And I can tell you that Yaz is very different from Nona. I’m aware of the danger of simply rewriting a successful character into a new skin, and so I generally take steps to avoid that. Just as Jalan Kendeth was very different from Jorg Ancrath, Yaz is very different from Nona Grey.

Do you miss being a research scientist?

No. I was good at it because I’m clever and creative, but for some years before the advanced research centre I worked at suddenly closed down, it had been becoming more focused on practical systems and technical rather than research problems, which I was finding rather dull. Also, as scientists get older, they’re expected to go into management, which never appealed to me.

What was the first book you read as a child (that you can recall)?

I can’t say for sure. I guess it would have been a Peter and Jane reading book designed to teach kids how to read. “Peter sees the ball.” “Jane sees the ball.” Etc. My mother used to read to me a lot. I recall Where the Wild Things Are being a favourite. She read me Lord of the Rings when I was seven. My eldest daughter read it to herself at that age…but she’s ridiculously clever.

Any books you’re excited to read in 2020?

Not really. I don’t tend to follow series and the few that I do don’t seem likely to produce a new instalment in 2020. I would like to read The Winds of Winter and Doors of Stone in 2020, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Are there any fun activities that you and Celyn do? In another interview you mentioned you two love going to the park?

Heh. I suspect I said she loves going to the park. Me, I’m less keen on it but a necessary addition. Sadly, Celyn’s activities are very limited and basically consist of going out or staying in and being read to, listening to audiobooks, listening to music. Her autistic tendencies mean she likes repetition…a lot. So, I’ve listened to her favourite books (Malory Towers by Enid Blyton) hundreds of times.

Celyn Lawrence

If you could co-write a book or series with another fantasy author, who would it be and why?

Tough one. I have co-written books before and it turned out to be a much tougher process than writing alone. So, I have to say I’ve no great desire to co-write with anyone. That said, if I co-wrote with someone really famous it would probably sell lots of copies and make me rich! Instinct would make me pick someone like George RR Martin or Patrick Rothfuss, but they would get such a backlash for doing something other than the books we’re waiting on that my get rich plan would probably fail. So maybe I’d choose someone like Erin Morgenstern whose strengths might fit my weaknesses.

Any advice to an aspiring physics/mathematics major?

Prince of Fools (cover)Not really. Other than to make sure they were doing it out of love for the subject, because if you can stomach it, there are many more effective ways to make money and live well. In the UK in particular, scientists are not paid well at all.

This might be a tough question to answer: Do you have a favorite out of the trilogies you have written thus far (I read in another interview that you struggle to pick a favorite, sorry!)? If so, what do you love about it?

Well, since the true answer is boring, I will pick The Red Queen’s War as it is the least popular of my trilogies and I’m genuinely proud of it. It’s bad form to laugh at your own jokes but I think the books are funny, and that also they have deeper themes that say something serious about how we define ourselves and how we’re defined by expectations.

What’s your favorite poem?

“This Is the First Thing” by Philip Larkin.

This is the first thing
I have understood:
Time is the echo of an axe
Within a wood.

Alright, if you were deserted on a desert island and could only bring one book, what book would you bring and why (I’m going to guess The Catcher in the Rye or Clockwork Orange)?

Well, those are both good books. They’re also rather short. It occurs to me that it would be sensible to take a really long book, both for prolonged entertainment and to be used in fire lighting when necessary. The longest books I know are Tolstoy’s War and Peace and To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams, neither of which I’ve read though I should like to one day…

Did anything or event directly prompt you to release a series of trilogies with a female in the lead role?

Nope.

What do you love about physics or mathematics?

Well, they’re two very different things. Mathematics exists as a thought exercise. I imagine it would be recreated in essential the same fundamental form in any universe where thought was possible. It has an abstract beauty. It’s something I’m very good at by almost everyone’s standards, and really not very good at all by the standards that matter (breaking new ground—proving new things). Its mysteries are simultaneously fascinating and pointless, though the mechanics do prove surprisingly useful in physics, even many of the most abstract.

Physics I love because it seeks to answer fundamental questions about the universe we find ourselves in. It takes observations, makes questions, conducts experiments, and repeats, digging away in all directions. It’s amazing to me both how much we know and how much we don’t, and how even our most cherished theories can be undermined with one observation and need replacing with something even more profound.

Celyn and you collaborated/wrote The Wheel-Mouse vs All the Crazy Robots for charity. Does she ever plan on writing another book in the future?

Wheel-Mouse and All the Crazy Robots (cover)Like me, she’s not a planner. I asked her a few times about a sequel to Wheel-Mouse, and she wasn’t keen. Perhaps like Harper Lee she had one great book in her! But never say never.

As a writer myself, I am amazed at how many wonderful trilogies you released in such a short amount of time. In another interview you briefly mentioned that, due to carrying for your daughter Celyn, you write late at night into the early hours of the morning. Is there a method you use to get yourself mentally ready to tackle the page, or do you just dive into it?

Well, the truth now is that I write during the day as I’m a full-time author and we do get help caring for Celyn. But it was certainly true that the Broken Empire books were written late at night.

And no, I’m fortunate in just being able to sit down whenever and write. I don’t need peace and quiet, and I can do it in between breaking off for many other things (generally interneting). I’d like to think I could write some great opus if I were given silence and an ivory tower. But I think really, I’d just get bored.

Which one would you pick to send into a D&D battle: Jorg Ancrath, Nick Hayes, Nona Grey, Jalan Kendeth or Yaz,

One Word Kill (cover)There’s a tremendous advantage to knowing how the system works. So, Nick with his nerdy and encyclopaedic knowledge of the rule books would probably figure out a way to win despite his physical disadvantages.

Are you strictly sticking to standalones/trilogies, or will you ever release a 4+ book series?

I’m not a planner so I can’t say for sure, but my attention span, while not short, doesn’t seem to carry me past three books.

Publishers sometime compare books to popular, past releases in order to market a novel. How do you manage the frustrations of being compared to other literary authors, such as George R. R. Martin or Joe Abercrombie? Is there anything you wish you could change in the publishing world?

Well, I’m a big fan of GRRM so I’m happy with that comparison as a wildly inaccurate compliment. Our styles are very different. I’ve never read an Abercrombie book, so I have no opinion on that.

I think we’ve got the publishing world we deserve. It’s readers who create the waves and currents that publishers react to. If we were more diverse in our reading, and flocked less to the same thing, then maybe our shelves with be richer—but they’re hardly poor right now.

Do you have a favorite holiday?

Nope. I don’t get holidays. I work seven days a week and haven’t been on vacation for 17 years. Holidays are just times when it’s harder to get carers to help look after Celyn.

What’s a “fun fact” about yourself that many fans don’t know?

Despite being praised for my descriptive powers I don’t actually have a visual imagination at all. I have aphantasia. If you ask me to picture an apple…I can’t do it. I do see images when I dream—but not when awake.

I know you rarely extensively revise your novels. However, did you have any issues writing The Girl and the Stars or The Black Rock (if you finished it yet)?

Prince of Thorns (cover)I’ve never extensively revised a novel. I don’t think I’ve ever deleted an entire page for example. I have on occasion added a chapter when asked to by my editor. I know authors who of their own volition delete and rewrite hundreds of pages and go through 10+ drafts. I would find that too disheartening. If something I wrote wasn’t essentially what I wanted on the first draft, then I would abandon it and write something entirely new.

I’ve finished The Black Rock and I’m halfway through the final book. My editor has read The Black Rock and there’s one chapter that doesn’t work for her, so I may well end up rewriting most of that chapter—which will be the largest revision I’ve made in a book to date.

I’ve been fortunate in that everything I’ve written has worked for my publishers with only small requests to strengthen this motivation, or underline that reason etc.

Name a few titles on your bookshelf.

I have about ten bookshelves. My wife sent me to the charity shop with a bag of surplus books today. I rescued Cider House Rules by John Irving from the bag. “You’ll never re-read that,” she said. “But I really liked it,” I said. It’s not in me to give away books I liked, irrespective of whether I’ll ever realistically re-read them.

The bookshelf nearest to me is dedicated to fantasy and runs from H (Hamilton) to M (Martin).  Among the titles I can see in the middle shelf are The Red Wyvern by Katherine Kerr, The Broken Kingdoms by N K Jemisin, and Among Thieves by Doug Hulick.

What was the last movie you saw?

Ready Player One. It was OK. The book was much better.

If you could only describe your new series in one word, what would it be?

Icy.

Lastly, do you have a scientist you revere?

Nope, they’re just extremely clever people blessed by biology and circumstance. If they hadn’t done the work, then someone else would have come along soon enough and discovered exactly the same thing.

We would like to thank Mr. Lawrence again for taking the time to speak with us! To learn more about his many works you can visit his website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter!

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