It’s been a year since my last interview with you and a lot has happened during this year. I can think of several good things as far as your work is concerned. What were your highlights?
It’s been a busy year. My first complete calendar year as a full-time writer. Let me make a list!
– Released The Wheel of Osheim to a great reception. The whole Red Queen’s War trilogy now being in print.
– Finished writing Grey Sister.
– Started and finished writing Holy Sister, thereby completing the Book of the Ancestor trilogy.
– Started and finished writing a new stand-alone book called Power Word Kill.
– Started a new Broken Empire book with an old character. I won’t identify them for fear of spoiling earlier books by naming survivor/s.
– Started writing for a multiplayer Xbox game. A bit of variety!
– Won the Gemmell Legend Award for a second time. This one for The Liar’s Key.
– Getting great early reviews for Red Sister.
– I sold my millionth book in 2016. That was a milestone I never expected to reach!
– It was also my tenth year in print since getting $31 from a magazine for a short story in 2006. (You can see the cheque received for it behind me on the photo. I’ve never cashed it.)
– I also made it to Bristolcon again. Or at least the bar outside it. The best gathering yet with lots of friendly faces, old and new.
– And on a personal level this was the year my youngest daughter had the very major surgery to fuse her whole spine. A worrying time but it seems to have been successful and to have improved her quality of life. So it was worth the month we spent together in hospital and hospice.
– Also we finally moved house after a year of trying. A stressful business, but it’s great to have it done.
Looking at the list it seems pretty crowded. And the year slipped by pretty fast. I turned 50 in 2016 and resolved to try to hold onto it for a while, but in the blink of an eye it was gone.
So, lots of highlights, and a great year all told. It’s a strange business being an author, and since I never really thought about it before I was one I can’t really say that it is not how I imagined it … but it’s wonderful in many strange ways and a privilege to be able to do it. I would resolve to enjoy it while it lasts and to squeeze the juice out of each day. But I know that in a twinkle I will be looking back on it and wondering where it all went.
They say seize the day but, like a dog trying to catch its tail, I’m not sure it can be done. I think maybe we just have to thrill at the rollercoaster rush as it all speeds past.
turning into a monster cat!
How has Wobble settled into the household? What are his favourite pastime activities?
Wobble joined right in. As soon as he was let out of his carry box he started walking around the house as if he owned it. His relationships with the three other cats seem independent of size. He is still scared of the oldest though he dwarfs her, and still wrestles with the other young male, and sometimes cuddles up when there is warmth to share.
His main ambition seems to be depositing enough fur on the hall carpet to make another Maine Coon. He’s about 14 months now, and I’m told the breed don’t entirely stop growing until they are about 4 years old. So he may take over the house yet!
I see he also serves as an excellent foot-warmer / leg rest. Does he have other duties in and around the house? Supervising that you’re writing enough? Catching mice and spiders? Guarding the fish in your pond from birds of prey? Christmas tree dressing and undressing?
His main duty is growing. He had one attempt at spider-catching which is, after all, the main reason for having a cat, and he failed miserably. A huge specimen charged at me from across the room and Wobble followed it, patting the spider gently with his paw until it vanished under my sofa. He did once bring in a headless pigeon but what his role in its demise was remains unclear and since I have no beef with pigeons he found me unenthusiastic about his achievement.
He left the Christmas tree almost untouched. Aside from ten minutes spent swiping a particular bauble that caught his eye he has much preferred to extract bits of screwed up paper from the bin to then chase around the house.
In the Book of the Ancestor series (I believe for the first time in your books?) there’s finally a cat that appears in the story. Would Wobble approve of this cat?
Wobble approves of all cats. They are entertainment to him. As a (enormous) kitten he is never cross and always backs down if the other cat hisses, but he does find them very interesting and wants to join in with what they do.
The elderly cat, Malkin, in Red Sister would undoubtedly hate Wobble with a passion, while Wobble would learn bad habits from Malkin who likes to urinate on unattended clothing.
The First Book of the Ancestor, Red Sister, is coming out in about 10 weeks’ time. Are you excited yet? Do you feel anxious about how the new series will be received?
It seems, certainly on social media, we do things like excitement and worry to extremes. You’re not excited unless you’re doing the official dance and pinging off walls. You’re not anxious unless you give up eating and need to breathe into a paper bag. Well … I’m excited and anxious in my own patented Lawrence Way ™. I.e. not so’s you’d notice, but it’s there. I’m always excited about sharing new writing with a large audience. You get a feeling for how it will be received from the first couple of readers, then the first dozen, but it isn’t until that first week and month that you really know how it will go down. And I’m always anxious of course. It would be smug and unreasonable to assume that readers will love everything you do. With Red Sister there are a number of differences that mean whilst I hope the work will find new readers as well as bringing through old readers, I can’t take that for granted. There are differences in writing style – it’s written in the third person, not the first – and there are differences in character – a female lead very different from Jorg or Jalan – and there are differences in story – we’re not rambling over the map and Nona is a more likeable character. So all in all there are a lot of reasons to wonder how readers who have followed the tales of my two princes will react to the story of my peasant. In fact I probably should be more anxious!
As it is a frequently appearing question from readers I should ask here: Any news of the audiobooks yet?
I’m told that both Voyager and Ace are doing an audiobook. I don’t have any information about when they might come out but I got the feeling that Ace will get their first and that Voyager’s might lag behind the paper publication. I’ve also been told that the highly popular narrator Tim Gerard Reynolds who did such an excellent job on The Red Queen’s War trilogy will be voicing the audiobook for Ace (through Recorded Books). I was a touch surprised not to get a female narrator since 95% of the dialogue is by female characters, some of them quite young, but clearly Tim is very versatile!
It is certainly very different to your previous books. I remember just as when I was reading Prince of Fools after the Broken Empire trilogy, with Red Sister I needed a little time to adjust. Like I said to someone recently on social media you never give us what we expect. I certainly didn’t expect to read about and come to love a character like Jorg, and lucky I didn’t know at the time what I was getting into. I didn’t want The Red Queen’s War to be different, but once I accepted that it was I started to love it for what it was. Red Sister, again, didn’t quite turn out to be what I anticipated. But sometimes we just need to put aside what we want to really see what you’re giving us. And God, how I learned to love these characters, clinging on to every chapter for the better part of the last two years, dreading the hole they would leave once the series came to an end. Is it easy for you to finish a trilogy and start a new one so soon? Don’t you miss your characters? Do you get bored of them, or new ideas and challenges simply take over your imagination?
I don’t get bored of my characters but I understand when to stop, sometimes for a while, sometimes forever. It’s like that instinct for when something that was funny stops being funny and you need to move on.
I guess part of it is that I tend to focus on character as much as story. Half the story is how the character grows and changes. If you have a static character, say like the traditional TV detective, then you can go through endless adventures because the character stays exactly the same and newness is in the situations that they find themselves in. But if you have a character who develops then there becomes a time to stop because they get where they are going.
It’s still hard to start something new, for several reasons. At first the new character and situation don’t feel “real”, they’re just an idea held up on a wire frame. As a writer you don’t feel wholly invested in them. But as you add word after word to the page you start to chip away at them and reveal who they are. And then it gets exciting.
Another reason that beginnings are difficult is that you are potentially going to be writing about this character, world, and situation for three or more books. In fantasy because you put so much work into building the stage (world building, magic systems, histories etc) it seems a waste only to perform a single act play upon it, and so we get many series and few standalones. And so at the start of a book an author (at least this one) is always thinking … I haven’t invested too much time yet … I could drop this and start something different … is this really good enough to carry me through three books?
So yes, starting book 1 is a tough time. A third of the way in and it starts to flow. Hopefully books 2 and 3 write themselves!
You were about half-way through writing the book (and I was half-way through beta-reading it) when you started calling me “special effects junkie”. To my delight, mostly due to the special abilities of certain characters, there were some thrilling scenes throughout the series. I was hoping to ask you if I could share a bit of these here, but due to the spoilery nature of them I will wait till next year. Could I please share a less spoilery sneak peak from one of the classes in the convent instead?
““I will repeat myself for the new girls,” Sister Tallow said when she had them in two rows once more, sweating and labouring over their breath. “It’s a message many of you could do with hearing again. Perhaps you’ll take more meaning from it after so many lessons in this hall.
“We are not built for war. We are not fast – most every animal can outrun or evade us, be it hound, cat, rat, or sparrow. We are not strong – a mule, a hoola, a bear, all of them are pound for pound three, maybe five times as strong as man. And you are not men.
“All we are is clever and precise. These are our tools. Wit and precision. I am teaching you to fight without weapons for two reasons. First because there are times when you will be without a weapon. Second because in training for such conflict you will learn about pain without getting broken, and you will learn about rage without killing.” She held up her hands. “These are poor weapons. When we fight we fight to win. This-” And from nowhere six inches of gleaming steel appeared in her hand. “This is a better weapon. However – I can punch you with my fist and you will learn a lesson. The knife’s lesson is short and terminal.”
Sister Tallow flexed her wrist and the blade vanished into her sleeve. “The stories tell us that battles are about right and wrong. That winning requires heart and passion. That the Ancestor will reach out to those who believe and lend strength to their arm.
“The truth is that Ancestor will gather your essence to the whole when you die. I’m sure you’re told more about that in Spirit, but in Blade just know that until you die … the Ancestor will only watch. “
HarperVoyager has taken on to publish Road Brothers in print. Do you have any information on when it will come out yet? Will the edition have the same short stories as the kindle edition or will there be anything else in addition?
I understand the plan is to bring out a hardback version in the summer of this year. There will be three additional stories, one of which is the new one that is currently only available in the omnibus special edition. I don’t know if it will have a different cover but I guess it might in order to make it clear the contents are “enhanced”. I think the new stories up the word count by 50%.
I did! It was fun to write. It’s coming out in a Grim Oak anthology. I guess that’s going to be Unbound II.
One of the books you’re currently working on is set in the Broken Empire and features a character /(s) we already know from previous books. I know you’re not keen to reveal too much about it as its possible publishing is so far ahead in the future and it’s difficult to ask anything without identifying the main character(s), but since many readers in the birthday give-away asked for more sneak peaks could I please share a non-spoilery snippet from it?
“Four brief months is all it took from abasing myself before Pope Gomst III in Roma to being turfed from my bed at an ungodly hour to shuffle out onto a blustery Marsails dockside. My motley entourage awaited me in front of the Hesperus. She jostled against her ropes, a beast at bay, ready to tackle an ocean. By the time I finally parted company with that ship I would be able to name every part of her with nautical eloquence. That morning however, I barely noticed how many masts she sported, seeing instead a collection of ill-matched timbers held together with tar and optimism, ready to carry me far from everything I cared about. Well, from the few things I cared about that weren’t me at least.
I had thrown myself on the new pope’s mercy. It turned out that in the place where one might hope for compassion for his fellow man Pope Gomst III instead kept a cruel sense of humour. He declared that since I was so keen on exploring virgin territory I could do it for the church on a full time basis.
To this end the pope assigned four Vatican church guards to escort me on my journey. He described the quartet as being for my protection, but both of us knew they were there to make sure I didn’t just take a three year vacation on a peaceful little island in the Middle Sea. For additional company I had Bishop Hamish who was also being pushed to the edges of the map for reasons of scandal. Monks in his case. And to keep us both holy, Monsignor Augusta, a woman who couldn’t be closer to thirty than to twenty but who had managed in that short span to acquire the icy disdain that others work on for whole lifetimes.”
Could you take a photo of your study? It would be interesting to see it in the interview. 🙂
but … then I would have to tidy it!
would that take long?
how could you be so cruel!
What is all that paper on your printer? Do you print what you write?
nope, that’s just the RS manuscript and some spare printer paper
and that old black trunk?
that’s not an old black trunk!
that’s a treasure chest!
oh, sorry! 😀
that I made in woodwork class in 1981!
so what’s in it?
papers, lead D&D figures, old photos, and gold coins!
gold coins! Wow!
And that leather notebook? Is that where you keep your story ideas and pretty lines?
it used to be, I don’t use it anymore
So tell me who the artist of this drawing is and when it’s from?
It’s by my son Rhodri. I guess it’s from around 1999. I suspect he isn’t much better at drawing today
Or handwriting, since nobody writes any more
Nice work. I couldn’t draw much better myself.
And it’s nice to see where you write! Thanks for taking the pictures!
You can still win a copy of Red Sister if you enter the giveaway today (25/01/16)!!!
All links Red:
Link to the Red Sister Acquisition Announcement from the London Book Fair on Mark’s blog
My blog post on beta-reading the trilogy (spoiler-free)
First reviews of Red Sister