An interview with Mark Lawrence


Black Dawn:
Prince of Thorns (which is my favorite American fantasy novel) was your very first novel, am I right? Since it was published the first time (in 2011), it’s been translated into (at least) twelve other languages. Have you ever thought that it would achieve so great success?

Mark Lawrence:
It was my first published novel. I wrote two others before it but never tried to get them into print.
Prince of Thorns has been translated into nearly thirty languages, and by itself has sold over half a million copies. I remember seeing in the contract that the royalties got very slightly better if it sold more than 100,000 copies and laughing at the idea it ever would. I would have been very happy to have sold 10,000.

– Jorg Ancrath in Prince of Thorns isn’t the most typical protagonist. He’s quite cruel, maybe even a bit evil too. 🙂 He doesn’t seem to care about other people’s rules, because he makes his own. 🙂 Didn’t you feel it risky to put a protagonist like that into your novel? Didn’t you worry about that the readers might not feel for him, or would find hard to like him? However, the great success of the trilogy proves that it was definitely a good decision, but how did you know?

You say “risky” but what was I risking? I wasn’t writing for publication, just to entertain myself and a very small handful of readers in a critique group. So no, I had no worries at all. I knew that a similarly violent and amoral character had been fun to read about in Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange, and wanted to see how it would be to write someone like that in a fantasy book.

– How would you describe Jorg? Is he a cruel bandit? A fearless heir to the throne, who always does what needs to be done? Or is he just a victim, and his dark side was only created by the shocking events of his childhood?

Jorg is amoral, violent, charming, brave, intelligent, and cruel. He has had a terrible childhood and is still a child when we first meet him. Jorg is a question for the readers. Is he the product of what has happened to him or would he always have been this way … or does the truth lie somewhere in between?

– This trilogy is also not typical from the aspect of literary genre. The (computer) technology left by the Builders sometimes turns the story almost into science fiction. What genre would you categorize this story into, if you need to? Would you call this a new genre, or rather a mix of existing ones?

The book wears the clothes of the fantasy genre and it is easiest to think of it as fantasy.

– Almost every chapter in the trilogy ends with a fact / character description of one of the members of Jorg’s band. These wisdom quotes give a very unique touch to the books. When did you come up with the idea of putting something like that into these books? Right at the beginning? Or did you only realize it later, that this concept would fit the mood of the story very well?

The character lines in between chapters were a later addition. Jorg is very focused on his goals and doesn’t spare much of his attention for those who follow him. Since the book is all from his point of view this makes his companions hard to know for the reader. These extra lines help add colour to them.

– Which of your novels is the most successful, best-selling one? And which one would you personally call the best? Are the two of those the same book?

Well, the longer a book has been out the more it sells. And the first book in a series always sells more than the second (and so on) so unsurprisingly Prince of Thorns is my bestselling book. But Red Sister, the first book in my latest trilogy, is selling more than Prince of Thorns right now, so one day it might catch up and over take it.
I couldn’t say which of my books is the best.

– I’ve seen horror short stories from you. Are you planning to write novels in that genre too? What about other genres?

I wrote a horror book and a thriller last year! I like to try new things.

– What book are you currently working on?

Currently I am working on the third book in a science fiction trilogy that comes out next year. It’s set in 1980s London and centers on a group of friends who meet regularly to play Dungeons & Dragons.