Another year flew past, rather faster than we would have liked. Yet, what a year it was. You had not one, but two books published. You visited two local events, meeting the attendees of BristolCon and being on the panel at the Grim Gathering which took place in Bath. You have been burgled and as I understand as a consequence you now own a dog. You conquered the picturesque fields of Instagram and wrote a short story for George R.R. Martin which as I heard he called terrific work and a wonderful story. You even won two Stabbies, one of them for best novel of 2017 on Reddit Fantasy. It was for Red Sister. Which is quite a journey considering that a year ago here we were, wondering how your readers might take something so different to your previous series. Red Sister hit the shelves in April in the midst of huge anticipation. Was there a point where you let out a breath you were holding? Did you have any concerns about how the book might be received?
I’m still holding the breath I took for Prince of Thorns! There’s no single reception for a book, but, yes, Red Sister is certainly selling and has a high average score on Goodreads, so by those important commercial measures the book is well received and many of my fears are allayed.
I try to be laid back about the whole ‘how a book will do’ thing. I never had great ambition to be an author and I’ve met with far more success than I expected. It’s too easy to let your sense of identity and self-worth become bound up with what you do, and since writing success is a fragile and temporary thing, that’s a dangerous game to play. At some point I will write a book that fails to sell well, that the critics don’t like, that old readers shake their heads at. It happens to everyone. And when it happens to me I want to be able to purse my lips and move on.
This attitude of course makes me more muted about my successes too as I have to acknowledge that they are also blown on the winds of chance.
And to actually answer the question. Yes, I wondered if I had written young girls interacting in a school setting well enough for young women to believe in them and root for them. And it was great to see that for most I seem to have done that. And I wondered if the readers who had bought my books and read about nihilistic and violent young men or self-absorbed hedonistic young men, would take to what is in many ways a girl’s school story, albeit with added violence and magic. The answer there seems to have been that 95% of them moved on happily and 5% choked on it.
Grey Sister is coming out in the US in April. And for annoying reasons wholly beyond my control … not for a month after that in the UK.
Holy Sister will be out around the same period in 2019, though as you can see, handing in the manuscript years early is no guarantee that the release schedule will go smoothly.
Although you finished writing the series in 2016, you haven’t completely left the world of Abeth behind. What can you tell us about the new book you started writing and is set in the same world?
I’m working on a trilogy set around the same time out on the ice that covers more than 99% of Abeth. I’m about half way through the first book, though I have put it on hold recently in order to work on a different project with a more immanent deadline.
The main character is a young woman belonging to one of the ice tribes. Things go very wrong for her very quickly, and the rest will be history … once I’ve written it.
The story’s plot is already a lot stronger and more complex than the plot of Red Sister. Not to mention that the first paragraph of the prologue is my most favourite opening of any book ever. I can’t wait for readers to be able to see it for themselves. Any chance, that as you did for Red Sister, you might share this prologue or at least part of it on your blog prior to publication, too? When is the book likely to come out?
I imagine that the book will hit ‘a good bookshop near you’ some time in 2020. Which still sounds like a sci-fi distant future date to me even though we are barrelling towards it.
I probably will share something from the book as it gets nearer to the time, but after Holy Sister is out.
That is a long wait again. How about this other project you mentioned? Can you tell us anything about that?
I can! After years of being asked in interviews “You’re a scientist, so why aren’t you writing science fiction instead trampling our fantasy lawn with your big ugly science boots?” I actually had my first ever go at science fiction!
It’s not exactly spaceships and laser cannons in a distant future though. In fact it’s set in the 1980s and centres on a D&D group. It does, however, contain some fictional science.
The book is called Power Word Kill and has sold to a well known publisher in a three book deal! So now I’m busy working on book 2, Limited Wish. The plan is to release the trilogy in fairly swift order. I think all three might come out in 2019, certainly the first two.
One of the characters in Power World Kill also has to face a potentially terminal illness, while in The Visitor, the story you wrote for George R. R. Martin’s Wild Card series, the main character has severe disabilities. Neither of these are overly common in fantasy or science fiction works. How difficult do you find to write about such topics? Does it make a difference knowing that unlike being struck by a spell or having to fight monsters these things frequently happen to people around you in the real world?
I guess this is similar to the issue with sexual violence in books. Very few people have experienced being hit with a sword or arrow whereas, sadly, a significant fraction of readers will have either experienced sexual violence or know someone who has. On the face of it being the victim of a curse or invidious poison might be quite similar to suffering an illness like cancer, but should a story treat the latter differently because it may be something that has directly affected the reader or their loved ones? One difference there is, of course, that disease is random and without malice. Nobody did it to you.
It’s definitely something I thought about given that the illness is central to the main character’s experience. The story focus is certainly occupied by the topic at several points during the book and since we’re seeing this thing from the inside I had to take the effort to make it authentic.
That said, I make an effort to have all my characters’ experiences seem as real as possible. To do otherwise would be poor writing. The thing is though that we are all so different that the way we react to such situations varies wildly, both physically and mentally. How one person reacts to winning the lottery will often be completely at odds with how the next person would react. So in the end, after the research and consultation, it really is a feat of imagination.
George emailed me out of the blue after a recommendation from my editor, Jane Johnson, who is his UK editor. He has a series of collaborative books called Wild Cards that has been running for thirty years. They concern superheroes who get their powers from an alien virus, and they are set in the real world, moving forward through a similar but diverging history. George wanted to set the newest book in the UK and Ireland and to have British and Irish authors write the stories. Did I want to take part, he asked? Yes, I said.
Each of us had to invent a new superhero, and I use the term in a loose sense. Not all the powers gained are useful or spectacular, indeed most who contract the virus die and the great majority of survivors are horribly disfigured with no powers gained. In order to make sure that the character I invented would fit into the series I had to spit-ball ideas with George and then refine the best one.
I wrote a story I’m quite proud of and GRRM liked it. He did ask that I add a food scene, which made me smile given how he likes to detail feasts in his books. But there was an excellent reason why the story needed one and it was a good editorial suggestion that I acted on.
So yes, great experience, and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished book on the shelves next year.
Unfortunately, severe disabilities are of course something you yourself have first-hand experience with, too. Many of your readers know that you are full-time carer for your youngest daughter, Celyn. Others only find it out when they ask you when you might do a signing or visit a convention local to them, or notice that unlike other authors you never seem to have a book launch party. For those readers that don’t know, could you please tell us about Celyn and how her condition affects your life?
Celyn was starved of oxygen during or before her birth causing massive brain damage that destroyed her motor cortex. As a result she suffers from cerebral palsy. In practical terms this means Celyn has no use of her limbs, she’s doubly incontinent, registered blind, she can’t speak or eat or drink, she has epilepsy, she suffers from scoliosis, her hips are displaced and her wrists and one ankle turned in. She has no emotional filters, and she suffers multiple sources of pain. She wakes between 5 and 10 times a night and needs turning over, or changing, or settling, or all three. She also has titanium rods running the length of her spine, held in place with 32 screws, and a pump embedded in her abdomen that delivers drugs into her spinal cord.
On the plus side: Celyn is clever, interactive (once you learn her signals), enthusiastic about life, loves stories, and likes to laugh.
My wife, who suffers her own significant health problems, can’t lift her, or turn Celyn. So all of that means I’m required to look after Celyn whenever she isn’t in school. We have carers come to the house for respite care but I need to be around even then to help lift Celyn when she needs changing.
So. I don’t travel. I would very much like to attend fantasy conventions, go to events, have a holiday, even do book tours. But it’s not possible. And this is why.
It has to be said that I am not the most gregarious or sociable person. I’d much rather attend someone else’s book launch than be under the spotlight at my own. I like going to the bar outside Bristolcon. It’s relaxed. People haven’t come there for me but are always pleased to see me and have a chat. I guess if it was really small and informal then it could be fun. My problem is that that the times I am generally available (week days during the school day in term time) are usually the opposite of everyone else.
You acquired a puppy in November. How is she settling in?
She’s a monster! Like all puppies. Her hobbies include chewing things, biting things, gnawing wood, eating bark, and leaping on the cats.
She’s fun and growing at a hundred miles an hour. I’m looking forward to when she’s a bit calmer and can be let off the lead to chase things.
Did her arrival change your daily life much? Tell us about some of her favourite things!
I now spend much of my day working in the conservatory on puppy watch rather than retreating to my office to write. We live opposite a park and I must have answered the question “how old is she?” two hundred times now … she’s almost four months.
As I mentioned before, she likes biting things. Hands, sleeves, logs, shoes, carrots … doesn’t really matter what. Her favourite toys are things that aren’t meant to be. She has a special fondness for the brush from the dustpan, also anything she can steal from Celyn’s room. Particularly teddy bears or fluffy socks.
I don’t know how I would characterise it… Ruby launches herself at Wobble every chance she gets. He doesn’t seem to enjoy it but doesn’t retreat to high ground when she’s around. They wrestle for a while, and I guess they aren’t really fighting since neither of them has drawn blood. Wobble is still larger than Ruby but Ruby is more sturdy and powerful. After a time Wobble has enough and starts clawing or biting, and depending on the dynamic either he retreats to a table or she develops an interest in another toy &/or cat.
Instagram certainly loves them! Which reminds me. It’s been about two months now that you started using Instagram. How are you finding it? What do you enjoy there?
I like Instagram, people put a lot of effort into their photos and there are plenty of really nice ones. I freely admit that I take a bit of time each day to search on the MarkLawrence hashtag and comment on stuff relating to my work. It’s nice to see all the foreign editions and the creativity users put into showing the books.
There are also a lot of great artists and reviewers on Instagram, so well worth a visit.
I posted about working on this interview on Facebook and a friend, Dawn McQueen Mortimer, asked me to ask this question: What upcoming release by another author are you looking forward to?
Well, the obvious, Winds of Winter and Doors of Stone, but also, on equal footing, The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft. I’m very excited about that. And of course there are a bunch of other authors whose work I like to keep an eye out for. I’m interested to know what Robin Hobb will do now she has finished off her epic Assassin tale.
Josiah Bancroft and his Books of Babel series was of course a wonderful discovery made possible by the SPFBO you organise annually, without which, as we know, there’s a very good chance that we would have never heard of this amazing series. Which leads me to another question suggested by T.O Munro on my post: What are your reflections on three years of the competition and how do you feel it’s changing your/other people’s perception of self-publishing? You and the participating bloggers certainly spend a lot of your own time and energy on this annual contest, supporting other authors and eventually the whole genre. What makes you sacrifice so much of your time for this work and what do you enjoy most about it?
The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) is the ultimate in crowd sourcing. I sent a call out for submissions, and we’ve had ~1000 books through the doors now. I sent a call out for fantasy bloggers to read and judge them, and was able to select ten great volunteers each year. The rest largely takes care of itself. The authors and the bloggers do the real work, writing the books and reading/reviewing them. I just curate the process and read some of the most highly praised titles.
I enjoy the whole thing from a competition point of view, a narrowing list of contestants, lots of reviews, a score table. And of course there is the fulfilling of the founding intention – to find great books that otherwise might have been missed amid the vast number of self-published titles out there.
I think we’ve certainly done that. And it’s a great feeling. We’ve shone a spotlight on books that very few readers had ever heard of. Many have benefited to a modest degree from a little more publicity, and some few have benefited significantly, getting a lot more attention. There have been a number of contestants who’ve been offered publishing deals with big publishers as a result of doing well in the SPFBO, but that was never the goal of the contest. It’s not about asking if any of the entrants are “good enough” for traditional publishing – it’s about showcasing great self-published work to help the readers discover formerly hidden gems.
he’s a good boy
I can’t believe how he stays like that. Are you sure it’s not photoshopped? 😀
I am sure, yes.
sooo… if we weren’t celebrating the site’s birthday, but let’s say yours…. What present would you like if you could wish for anything? Let’s say you can ask for three!
Firstly I would like the support family placement that we have been trying and failing to get for Celyn for the last 8 years and that has now turned into a request for a day and a night at a care home once a week to actually happen. Then I would get the first night in many years when I didn’t have to sleep in the same room as her and tend to her needs. Secondly I’d like to go on the first holiday I’ve had since visiting the Grand Canyon in 2003. And lastly … um … some nice chocolate. Really nice.
I think those are very reasonable wishes. Where would you like to go on holiday?
Not sure. I’m torn between something adventurous and something comfortable. It could be beach walking and nice restaurants around Lyme Regis… Or … I would love to see Dubai and go up the world’s tallest building. And I would like to go back to Rio de Janeiro, or back to India but not get sick this time. Too many choices.
I notice no snowy Viking villages or icy lands with corridor wind. Are cold places special treats only for your characters? 😀
I do like skiing. I would have put skiing on my list but I have a feeling that the twenty years since I last went might weigh heavily on my body and I could just end up with a twisted knee drinking hugely overpriced hot chocolates in the ski village.
Talking about hot chocolate. Let’s revisit your third present request. Some really nice chocolate. What is really nice chocolate like? Dark or milk chocolate? Any special brand or flavour? Alcoholic or not?
Nice chocolate comes in many guises. It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Liqueur chocolates are great, though if they use too much sugar to encase the alcohol it can be over-sweet. I’m not a chocolate snob, just an appreciative consumer of the product. Milk chocolate can be nice. I even used to buy huge chunks of white chocolate from Fresh & Wild in America. I think the theory was that if it came unpackaged in broken pieces they considered it rustic … and rustic is almost … health food. So they sold it in their health food shop. I would get some of that and some huge jalapeno olives. Anyway … chocolate … yes, Lindt is nice, but variety is good too. I had some great coffee and walnut dark chocolate a while back.
I hope it happens for you! 🙂
Special thanks to Bryn for taking the photos for this interview!
You can still win a copy of Grey Sister if you enter the giveaway (by 31/01/18)!!!
Or by winning this art contest here
But really, best is to pre-order, by which you also greatly support the author and the series. Pre-order links for Amazon US and UK
My spoiler-free post on Grey Sister and what to expect
My live video of Grim Gathering 2017 (took it on my phone, so don’t expect amazing quality, but it’s watchable and many have enjoyed it, do expect Mark Lawrence, Peter Newman, Anna Stephens, Peter V. Brett, Joe Abercrombie and Marc Aplin)
Related Sister – art and photos reminiscent of the world of Red Sister
That Thorn Guy First Birthday Interview with Mark Lawrence (2016 – childhood pictures!)
That’s all, peeps! 🙂