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,