Thursday, 4 August 2011

INTERVIEW: Mark Lawrence

Regular readers of Falcata Times will already be aware that we love it when we can bring a new author to the fore. We love their fire, we love their passion and we love their go get them attitude.

Here, we’re proud to introduce Mark Lawrence who’s debut, Prince of Thorns, is set to hit the market with a storm. So for your viewing pleasure, out interview where Mark talks about life, seat of the pants writing and his soft spot for a violent psychopath…

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Mark Lawrence: Well it's hard to know about other people, to know when things are said for effect and when they're true ... I've seen many times that profound and powerful pieces of mathematics can make mathematicians cry. I've got a Ph.D in mathematics and I'm bloody good at it, but I've never been moved one iota by an equation, whereas a good line of poetry will stay with me for a lifetime. Everyone's different I guess!

I like writing and I do it because I enjoy it. If I don't write then my creative urges will materialise in some other form, but I don't _have_ to write.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

ML: I have never wanted to be a writer, I just wanted to write. In the end I sent my work off to a few agents, but mostly so as not to ignore the people who kept encouraging me to do so. I didn't expect to get signed up and hadn't invested any emotional store on getting a good outcome. I still don't feel like a writer, just somebody who writes.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

ML: I learned to write by writing short stories. I prefer to read books than short stories, but I suspect I like best the books that are written by people who _can_ write short stories. A short story puts the writer under the gun, you need to put up or shut up!

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

ML: I don't think I'd try. The best reason to pick up a book is because a trusted friend, or a reliable independent source, has recommended it. If pressed to define it I would say it's uncompromising literate fantasy with a bloody edge.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

ML: If it sounds like it would interest you, go read the reviews and check out the extract on my webpage.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

ML: I'm an eclectic reader and more than half of what I read won't be fantasy. In addition I have almost zero spare time so I don't read an enormous number of books these days. The only 'latest release' that I will get as soon as I can is George Martin's 'A Dance With Dragons' and that's probably the only book I've every consciously waited for. I'm also a fan of Robin Hobb. Generally I pick things on a whim or recommendation or take a crack at whatever appears on our shelves due to my wife or kids.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your ideas develop as you write?

ML: I'm not a planner, I just start typing. Generally by the bottom of the page I've surprised myself. My characters and plots unfold as I go.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

ML: Relax? I'm not familiar with the word.

I became very good at Modern Warfare Call of Duty 2 and Command and Conquer, Tiberium Wars... many wasted hours which I wouldn't have spent any other way. I'm reading 'Engine Summer' by John Crowley, late 70's literary fiction disguised as sci-fi. Next on my list is 'The Skinner' by Neal Asher, and the last book I finished was 'Among Thieves' by Douglas Hulick. Before that I think it was 'A prayer for Owen Meany' by John Irving.

I also drink (and occasionally brew) beer - I guess we could call that relaxing!

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

ML: Googling myself.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

ML: Nope, can't say I've got any pets. A couple of cats share the house but they're my sons' pets and their main goal in life appears to be to spread chemical-resistant fleas. As key traits go, a preference for stolen food over given food, and the desire while away their existence sleeping in discarded boxes, don't seem to fit with my current tales. Perhaps in the next book...

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

ML: Well 'Prince of Thorns' is in the first person, and there's just the one point-of-view character. It's always more fun to write from point-of-view because you get deeper into your character, so the answer is 'Jorg' the eponymous prince.

FT: How similar to your principal protagonist are you?

ML: Well since he is often described as a violent psychopath I am happy to say 'not very'. He's also brave and charming, to which I will also have to say 'not very'.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

ML: We apart from intermittent addictions to computer games I don't have any hobbies. I guess the gaming encourages me to keep the adrenaline flowing!

I wouldn't count reading as a hobby - it's more of a necessity. People who don't read are strange beasts. And yes, what I read influences me very much.

In the past as a teen I played a lot of role-playing games (D&D) and later on I helped run a fantasy play-by-mail game (Saturnalia), and certainly ideas developed during those periods have been reflected in what I write.

FT: Where do you get your ideas from?

ML: Dunno. I breath them in, sweat them out. Ideas are ten a penny. It's turning them into a story that won't let the reader stop turning pages that is the difficult part.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

ML: I'm not sure. Occasionally I don't feel like writing, and on those occasions ... I don't.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

ML: I have a very disabled child and a wife with multiple sclerosis so I'm on duty pretty much all the time. The only times I get to write are when everyone else is asleep. I'm not sure if those times are uncivilised or not, but certainly they don't inconvenience anyone.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

ML: I don't play music when I write, but often some or other piece of music I hear during the day will evoke a feeling/emotion that I want to capture later when I do write.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

ML: I never really thought about it, so I don't think I had very many. I guess if you'd asked me I might have though the author gets to choose their cover. Which they don't. And I certainly thought getting published required an incredible degree of luck, married to the required skill that is possessed by more writers than the publishing world has 'need' of. That is probably not a misconception though. I'm sure I have been very lucky to get on the shelves.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

ML: Ah, well I think music is much more than the food of love and that both music and writing can serve as conduits for a host of ideas and emotions. Both are exercises in building something (out of notes or words) that is far more than the sum of its parts. In the hands of someone better than me writing could be love, hate, and all the fiddly bits in between.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

ML: 'Prince of Thorns' was written as a stand-alone. The next book 'King of Thorns' continues Jorg's story into new territory as he grows up. It's easier to say what it isn't. It isn't more of the same. Trying to repeat the shocks of the first book would just be an exercise in diminishing returns.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

ML: Falcata Times - checking out your blog
Google - I wanted to see if it's 'while away' or 'wile away' - turns out it's both.
Ezzulia - a Dutch Fantasy site with reports on 'Prins der Wrake'. And no, 'wrake' doesn't mean 'thorns', and no, I don't know why they changed it.
Facebook - I keep busy there.
The Signed Page - a site that deals in signed copies and wants me to do some signing.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

ML: In 1997 I took an evening class in 'creative writing' - it met once a week for several months over the winter in a port-a-cabin in the car park of a local college. We never took our coats off. It was run by a lady called Ann Palmer, who still has writing books on Amazon, and it was very useful in learning some of the basics. Nothing before or since.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

ML: I'm not sure I ever saw them as barriers. Criticism is very useful. You need skin of exactly the right thickness to remove the sting from it without removing any lesson therein. As to rejection ... well I guess I got a lot of rejections when I sent short stories out to magazines. I only ever sent to magazines that accepted email submissions so if they rejected a story I just sent it to the next 'zine on the list until I got a hit. Didn't feel like a problem.

When I finally got cajoled into applying to agents I wrote to one a month for four months and then gave up before getting any replies. The first one to reply accepted me (the 4th one on my list), another sent me a form rejection a while after that, and the other two have yet to reply. I like to think that they are still considering me.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

ML: Hmmm. Well I don't write for a living so I'm probably not qualified to say. I would be loathe to attempt to write for a living unless the people who employ me as a research scientist give me the boot or I reach a position of such financial security that I feel that if the opportunities for selling my work dry up as quickly as they appeared I would not be greatly inconvenienced.

I'm told there is far less money in writing than there used to be and that very few people make their living solely by writing.

My attitude is to treat it as a wonderful opportunity and a bit of an adventure, but to count each success as the likely pinnacle of my achievement and to be quite prepared for it to end there.


Anne Michaud said...

So Mr. Lawrence never planned becoming writer or never chased after the dream of being published?

Well, it brings a whole new perspective about the publishing industry, doesn't it?

Great interview, guys;)

Angela Addams said...

Excellent interview, as usual!