I’d been wanting to talk with the talented Mark Lawrence about his writing process for a long time and the occasion of his release of Prince of Fools (not to mention the wining of a certain prestigious award) seemed like as good a justification as any. Mark kindly answered all of my questions in detail. I hope you’ll find them as interesting as I did.
Howard Andrew Jones: Congratulations on winning the David Gemmell Legend Award. What was the ceremony like?
Mark Lawrence: Thanks, it was the only award I’ve ever been interested in winning, so it was very gratifying to do so!
I couldn’t tell you what the ceremony was like. I’ve only been further than ten miles from my hometown once in the last ten years. My youngest daughter (10) is very disabled and I’m needed to look after her. Even when we have carers in I still need to be around to lift her. So getting away is very difficult indeed. Add to that the fact that I was sure I had zero chance of winning!
I do know the event was held at the headquarters of the Magic Circle in London which is a very nice venue and it was well attended. My agent received the award on my behalf. I would loved to have been there.
How long had you been planning your newest book, Prince of Fools? Is it something you had always wanted to write, or did it come to you as you wrapped up the Broken Empire trilogy?
I haven’t planned any of the books I have published. I make them up as I go, each chapter, often each page, a surprise. I wrapped up the Broken Empire trilogy before the first book hit the shelves. I started Prince of Fools about 2 years later and, just like the first three books, it came to me as I wrote it.
As with the previous trilogy this one started with the idea for a character, and then I let him loose and followed. With the Broken Empire books the inspiration for Jorg came from the lead in Burgess’ 1962 classic, A Clockwork Orange. The inspiration for Jalan in Prince of Fools came from the eponymous lead in McDonald Fraser’s less literary but more fun 1969 classic Flashman.
If you could somehow step back in time and offer yourself writerly advice ten years ago, what would you say?
My advice to myself wouldn’t be sensible except with the benefit of hindsight. With hindsight I know there’s a sizeable readership for my work so I would have said to myself in 2005 when Prince of Thorns was 90% finished, “Finish the goddam book already!” And then again a year later in 2006, “Send the goddam book to an agent now, don’t sit on it for 3 years like you’re going to.”
Apart from those two things, there’s nothing really. Ten years ago I was busy writing and the things I was writing seemed well received. Perhaps I really need to go back twenty years when the only writing I did (and I did lots of it) was to write turns for the fantasy Play-by-mail game I was running. Then I could have told myself to start writing stories for a wider market rather than tailored to the individual adventurers in my game-world.
What’s your writing process like? (Do you work from detailed outlines, use notecards, write everything in order, etc?)
To the distraction of many writers all I do is start typing. I make it up as I go. I write everything in the order it appears in the book. I don’t keep notes and I don’t revise unless prompted to do so by my editor.
Were there any moments in writing Prince of Fools that surprised you?
Because I don’t plan, my writing constantly surprises me. I write my characters into bad places and part of the fun is seeing just how (or if) they’ll survive. It’s the excitement that keeps me interested. When I finish a section and feel ‘hell yeah!’ I hope it’s the same experience the reader will have, because we’re both fresh to it.
Well, in many ways a trilogy is one big novel, so any “trademark” style I have has been set by one example. This new book is set in the same place and time, and it’s written in the first person like the previous trilogy, so there are plenty of elements to make it feel familiar. The main character is very different from the lead in the Broken Empire books though, and since we see the world through his eyes that colours the experience. Prince of Fools has a much thicker vein of humor and is in many ways a less serious work than my other books. But it isn’t a comedy, there is darkness in it, and it does have heart.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you have a daily word count goal, a weekly one, or use some other sort of method?
I don’t have writing days as such. I go out to my day job (research scientist), come back and immediately start looking after my disabled daughter. If we have a carer then I might write, otherwise I might write after nine when Celyn goes to bed. Many days I don’t write anything. I hadn’t written anything for several weeks but a couple of days ago I started writing a short story that I finished today.
Basically I only write if I want to write and don’t even go so far as to notice what my word count is, let alone use it as a goal.
When I don’t write I find that ideas build up in my head. Not plans for stories, but moments, lines, images. That pressure grows and needs some sort of creative outlet. Writing it down into a story is a good way to release it. Once upon a time it was poems, or play-by-mail turns, or further back, designing Dungeons and Dragons adventures… now it’s stories.
How do you celebrate when you turn over a book to your publisher?
Well, I turn my manuscript over to my agent and if he’s happy then it goes to the publisher. Strangely it’s never felt like a thing to celebrate… just a thing that happens. The release of a book seems a more exciting thing, when the wider world gets to read the story for the first time and feedback starts coming in.
Maybe I’ve been living in the UK too long and my reserved British half has started taking over, but the only celebrating I’ve done was recently when Emperor of Thorns won the Gemmell Legend Award. My publishers had sent me a bottle of posh champagne to mark the release of Prince of Fools and it seemed like the best excuse for opening it I was likely to get … so we did. And then because my wife and sons had to admit that they didn’t really like champagne when it came down to it … I got to drink a lot!