In defence of Mark Lawrence

Last week, on 26th June 2020 author Victoria (V.E.) Schwab tweeted:

“Forgot, when I was 26 or so, I criticised the relentless sexual assault and portrayal of female characters in a book (without tagging author) and he tracked me down, and set his followers after me, encouraging them as they called me b*tch and c*nt.”

“This was Mark Lawrence.”

Picking up on this there was a discussion thread around this topic in the Fantasy Faction Facebook group, where somebody tagged Mark Lawrence in a comment, and he responded: “What happened was that many years ago when I was new to Twitter I retweeted Schwab’s negative comment about Prince of Thorns. I shouldn’t have done that. As I recall three or four people replied to say that they disagreed – I don’t think any of them were insulting. But one of them had called someone else a cunt in a tweet posted an hour before mine and Schwab saw that and believed it was directed at her. That’s the full extent of it. I shouldn’t have retweeted her and I should have made more effort to ensure she knew the “cunt” tweet was unrelated – but I believe she had blocked me almost immediately.”

So first of all, and most importantly, the incident happened on 23rd August 2014. Here is the tweet that was retweeted: https://twitter.com/veschwab/status/503191409999228928 (you can see the one retweet on it to be Mark’s, without comment on it from him.)

If you read through that thread, or taking it to the next level, do an advanced search on everyone that tweeted at her on that day https://twitter.com/search?q=(to%3Aveschwab)%20until%3A2014-08-24%20since%3A2014-08-23&src=typed_query&f=live and on everything she herself tweeted https://twitter.com/search?q=(from%3Aveschwab)%20until%3A2014-08-24%20since%3A2014-08-23&src=typed_query&f=live, it becomes clear that nobody was calling her bitch or cunt, let alone encouraging it. (Yes, I checked the next day, too.) In fact, the truth is, that actually very few Mark Lawrence fans even bothered interacting with it.

 

On 26th June 2020 I was out, only arriving home in the evening. Upon seeing the huge storm the accusation stirred on social media I suggested to Mark that he should do a proper apology post on his blog and tweet it at VE Schwab. The next day Mark had written this apology (I read it), but he was advised by more experienced people to delay posting it. In the meantime, I saw more and more anger on Twitter and while I don’t doubt the feelings of those who came forward and added their voices to the complaint, or the truth of what they had to say, I’ve undoubtedly also seen a lot of half-true statements, exaggerations and even completely false accusations. Prior to this, a few different authors were accused of sexual harassment on social media, and I’ve seen lists including Mark under these accusations, too, simply because some Twitter users couldn’t be bothered getting their claims detailed. I’ve been Mark’s beta reader for years, I know him personally and I know that he’s a good person with a good heart. He is also very respectful of women. He has always been very supportive of me, along with many other female writers and reviewers. Yes, he has made mistakes in the past, of which I will talk below, but to generalise from those is also wrong. As it was, seeing what unfolded on Twitter hurt me like hell. I was asked not to engage, not to speak up. Between just watching the hate that spread and waiting and hoping that Mark would post that apology, or something will happen, I was going mad. I felt that by letting things just fester, like they festered six years ago, everything will just get much worse. In my desperation, I went to VE Schwab, herself. I added her as a Facebook friend and messaged her, BEGGED her, to accept an apology from Mark, to work with me on this, to bring things to a peaceful ending between them. Unfortunately, she completely ignored me.

Following this, I found out that Mark was advised not to post the apology blogpost. This was something I first disagreed with, but later had to agree with. I will explain both. Retweeting criticism and drawing fans’ attention to it is wrong. He shouldn’t have done that and for that reason VE Schwab deserves an apology. But beyond that, I was also concerned for Mark’s fans out there. Some weeks ago, when JK Rowling was under fire, I happened to be following her. I first started seeing tweets from bloggers in my timeline, warning that they will unfollow everyone who follows JK Rowling. However, instead of acting on those “threats”, I wanted to take the time to research what exactly had happened and understand both sides of the argument. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and events in my personal life, I didn’t have the time to investigate. Soon I found myself being tagged in tweets from people I didn’t even know, shaming me for following her, until they practically bullied me into unfollowing her. This made me very angry, because I felt I wasn’t allowed to take my time and make my own conclusion regarding the matter. And I’m only mentioning this here to show that tribe mentality that is now unfortunately so commonplace on Twitter. Even now, I started seeing people “jumping” on bloggers praising Mark’s books: ‘But have you seen what he’s done? Just look at VE Schwab’s tweets.’ Even if the poor reviewer had thought they would like to take the time and investigate these claims, few would dare to disagree with those so vocal about Mark’s wrongdoings. For this reason I felt, that had Mark apologised, that apology post could have served as a shield to those who needed it. They could point at it and say, he acknowledged his mistake, he apologised, said this will never happen again. We all make mistakes and learn from them. This is how life works. This is something that shouldn’t be discouraged. Only encouraged.

So why did I later agree with the decision not to post it? Breaking the rule of not interfering, I asked someone who posted a screenshot of Mark’s truly awful comments at her, whether she forgot how profusely Mark apologised to her straight away on that day, linking the thread, or had she decided to exclude that part of the story on purpose? I’m such a naive creature, always trying to find the best in people and deep down I was hoping that she might have just simply missed that part somehow at the time. Turned out, that what to me seemed like profuse apologising across multiple tweets, that to the lady in question didn’t feel “heartfelt” enough to accept it. And that’s when I finally understood that it didn’t matter how profusely Mark apologised, it will never be good enough if it didn’t serve the narrative.

Mark’s first trilogy, the Broken Empire, is a very controversial series. While some people, (myself included) love it and praise it, others hate it and are outraged by it. While some of us go around spreading our love about it, others also get around, spreading their hate. I experienced this myself, even in person. And I have no problem with anyone who doesn’t like the books. They have their own reasons. I have mine. We can still respect each other for who we are and not try to force our views and opinions on each other.

However, what I have a problem with is something that followed in the wake of these negative reviews. In 2014 I started seeing tweets from users, who either couldn’t or didn’t want to separate Jorg’s, the protagonist’s character (who is a villain and a psychopath) from the author’s. I started seeing vicious accusations, basically claiming that the view Jorg held of women was Mark’s view, as a person. These suggestions reached certain feminist circles on Twitter, who without having read the books and simply based on what they understood from other tweets and blogposts roared with outrage. Soon the accusations spread like wildfire, Mark was painted as the number one enemy of womankind, an unspeakable evil who had to be clearly branded as such for the entire world to see. To date I remember following that Twitter storm, completely traumatised and shaking with nerves. I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t. I was completely powerless. I just watched and hurt.

The situation wasn’t helped by how Mark proceeded to deal with some of these accusations, as well as the negative reviews. It’s easy to look back at some of his tweets from back then, taken out of context and only see the wrongness in them. It’s more difficult to imagine ourselves in his place and honestly say that we would have done the right thing. We would have done it differently. And some people might have. He didn’t. I watched him become bitter, at times passive aggressive, sarcastic and occasionally, very angry. He retweeted some of these negative tweets as well as the criticisms for his followers to see. He never verbally encouraged anyone to attack the person or call them names. If that was anyone’s impression, I’m sure that was just a misinterpretation in the midst of all that followed. But by retweeting them he drew attention to them, attention from people who loved his books and that’s something that he since learned he shouldn’t have done. From what I’ve seen, such engagements were still mostly civilised and not malicious. But, it is easy to see it that way when you’re watching what enfolds from a safe distance, and you are not the one “under attack”. I certainly don’t mean to imply that it couldn’t have been very traumatic to the person.

I saw people pointing out, mainly in the Reddit community, that he often had problems with handling criticism. I know this. Remember, I’m his beta-reader. I saw the way he sometimes reacted in threads and fought with him over it privately many times. And you know what? With time, he started to slowly change. To let that side of him go. The incidents became less and less frequent. And he’s now simply avoiding negative reviews, altogether.

Nobody’s perfect. We all have our faults. This is his. Yes, he had made mistakes. We all have. We learn from it. I certainly think he has. Regardless, if despite all this, you can’t find it in your heart to forgive him and you never want to read another Mark Lawrence book again, I accept and respect your decision. I run this fanpage (although haven’t had much time for it lately), the related Instagram account and a Mark Lawrence Facebook group. I know Mark Lawrence fans to be intelligent, respectful and good-hearted. If you see any otherwise, please point me at their comment, I will do my best to sort out the situation. If you have a problem with Mark Lawrence himself, moving on, please let me know. I will sort him out, too.

 

Thank you for your time,

Agnes

14 comments

  1. I’m a fan of both authors and would say that Mark Lawrence has done nothing wrong. I’d also add (quite strongly) that it’s a bad idea to apologise in this situation. Apologies to the mob rarely do anything other than making them worse. And, if anything, Schwab should have done her due diligence before accusing another author and engaging in cancel culture. That was not cool of her.

    I also fundamentally disagree with Schwab’s take on literature- a character in a book should not be mistaken for an extension of the author themselves. It’s not logical to read a book from first person pov and assume that what *the character* sees is what the author themselves sees when they go out into the world. And, dare I say it, writers should know this! (especially if you’ve written murderer characters!)

    I also wish, on a more personal level, that people could have some maturity and recognise this is question of taste, not morality. I really, really don’t want to get personal, but it’s kind of relevant that I’m a woman (with bad experiences) and am tired of people talking for me.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’ve read him since the broken Empire first came out and watched in horror at this exact behavior by other people on Twitter it’s one of the reasons I’m so glad I deleted it years ago, he doesn’t need to apologize and to do so will only fuel the mob. I really hope this doesn’t have lasting damage to his career and life. People making the accusations probably hope that it will.

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  3. I don’t think he should apologize for this particular incident- mostly because I don’t think he’s done anything wrong. What Schwabb sounds like she’s calling for is censorship in books. <— this is unequivocally a bad idea. Where does it stop after that? Where do you draw the line?

    If you don’t like a book don’t read it. If you don’t like an author, don’t read them. Go on about your business. Does she deserve to be harassed for her opinions? No. But to lump Lawrence in there with the likes of Cole and others is outrageous.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I realize she isn’t calling for it outright, but if I understood correctly part of the reason she called Lawrence out in the first place is for the amount of rape depicted in Prince of Thorns. To me, this feels a lot like censorship. If she doesn’t like it she doesn’t have to read it. It doesn’t mean Lawrence is wrong for including it.

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  4. I feel very sorry that Mark has been pulled into this storm that this other author has chosen to whip up.

    Maybe Miss Schwab has chosen to air all her past grievances at once in order to encourage other people to speak up when they feel they have been wronged for whatever reason. And if that was her purpose then fair play to her… BUT I believe in taking your grievance if it is related to an individual TO that individual and giving them the right to reply. That way if there were any misunderstandings, they can be ironed out, or if there are any apologies forthcoming that can happen without needing to involve others.

    Sadly it seems this lady is not prepared to enter into dialogue or seek any sort of resolution. This then makes me question the intent behind all the twitter posts…and alternative possible reasons behind her actions paint Miss Schwab in a very questionable light to my mind.

    I have only met Mark twice at book signings and each time I found him to be quiet but friendly and very tolerant of this bumbling, shy fan who so wanted to tell him how much I appreciate his work, but could only mumble “Can you make it out to Claire, please”.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. From my Instagram response:

    I read the statement. Thank you for doing so. One of the reasons these social media posts keep getting out of hand is because everyone’s fans tend to react in their own way and in the “name of the (insert).” This happens all the time with sports fans. And, when other fans demand that others support this person and unfollow another because they don’t agree with what happened makes them fascists. The authors have to find a way to work things out amongst themselves so that the fandom doesn’t keep getting sucked into the drama. That’s not to say that fans shouldn’t be kept in the dark about serious allegations, but there’s a difference between being supportive and being toxic.

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    1. Funny part is She is guilty of the same thing, and if I’m not mistaken the person she retweeted that got harassed ended up deleting her account. She then gives a non apology apology, and references Mark’s tweet instead of owning up to it.

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  6. I am saddened to see two authors I enjoy in conflict. I think most importantly that 1) the character POV is not automatically the authors 2) mistakes can be made and acknowledged, and people should attempt to move on, and 3) we fail as a society when having a disagreement or difference of opinion is seen as having carte blanche to mobilize and attack another person or idea. Thank you Mark for having the bravery to write a character like Jorg who I’m sure that you know would not be likable or relatable. Reading it is hard too but doesn’t mean there is no value in trying to process a very different worldview or perspective. There is always a place for this and we have to be courageous enough sometimes to do what is unpopular or uncomfortable in order to grow. Much love.

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  7. The thing is, it’s not your job to sort him out. He’s responsible for his behavior.

    As a Twitter followe of his, I’ve seen the way he handles criticism online, which is to say, badly. Actions speak louder than words.

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  8. I have been a fan of Marks for years and interacted with him many times on-line and he has always been a great guy. He has my respect as a human being more than most just from the challenges he has dealt with.I have met in person V.E. many times and can’t say I am a fan of her books but she is pretty nice in person. I have never dealt with her on line but I have to say cutting out the whole rest of the problems the original complaint is just so stupid. If an author writes a book it is written as it is should be. To complain about the portrayal of women and sexual assault is just so stupid. I never got passed the first few chapters of her first book but I know she is not a magician that goes back and forth between realities or whatever. She should know an author writes what the character would do not how they would act in a situation. And if I wrote a story of a Mexican Trans person born in France that moved to the south pacific when they were 12 and now identifies as a fish but the story is just about them killing all other pretenders to the under sea empire. It wouldn’t be written to marginalize all non fish or just regular male and females. it was written as a book the way it was because that’s the way it was written like it or dont but f**k off with this other bulls*** I don’t know that’s just my 2 cents

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  9. So this is an interesting one and I have a few points I’d like to make. Long time fan of Mark’s books (though Broken Empire/Red Queen trilogies are a lot better IMO than Ancestor/Impossible times).

    1) One of these things is not like the others. Including this incident with a list of far more unpleasant and sexist experiences isn’t really fair.

    2) Brigading is bad, and actually encouraging people to hassle others on Twitter is not cool, though it doesn’t sound like her description of what happened was fair either. Apologising seems a reasonable thing to do.

    3) With this in mind, I thought I would read one of VE Schwab’s books, so I bought “A Darker Shade of Magic”, which contains an attempted rape scene in the first act. So this is pretty confusing to me – if this is actually a pushback against the perception of gratuitous sexual violence (as some of the twitter comments seem to be suggesting) why does it not apply to her writing? :
    “Doesn’t have to be coin,” he whispered, dragging his eyes down her shirtfront. “Must be a girl’s body under there somewhere.” His hands began to roam, and Lila drive her knee into his stomach and sent him staggering backward.

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  10. So many things bothered me about this controversy.

    1. The negative review issue was raised during the height of accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior. As a result–whether deliberate, out of laziness, or restricted by Twitter’s character limit–Mr. Lawrence’s name was unfairly associated with that unrelated issue.

    2. The incident happened years ago, the accuser saying she’s no longer afraid. But I think it’s because she’s now a famous author with a huge following and looking for some payback, much like a geek-turned-millionaire attending a high school reunion.

    3. Many authors QT/link to negative reviews. Many authors I follow have done it. Yes, it makes me cringe a little, but I do wonder why Mr. Lawrence was singled out, publicly and with such animosity.

    4. A few years ago, a blogger and an author did mention Mr. Lawrence’s habit of pointing out negative reviews. My response was this: It may not be prudent but he’s entitled to defend his work. It’s a reflex to defend one’s work. Also, whenever making any statement in public, on social media, a poster must be prepared for all responses, positive or negative.

    5. Then there’s the accusations of misogyny/dismissal of women. It seems the mere accusation is taken as fact. Yes, misogyny is widespread, but mere disagreement with a woman should not always lead to a conclusion of misogyny. Men and women can have substantive debate and disagreement unrelated or unprovoked by gender.

    5. This seems like a matter which could have been settled in private, rather than magnified and aired in public, allowing everyone with no involvement or knowledge to chime in.

    Like

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