Mark Lawrence’s debut novel, Prince of Thorns is a gritty, fantasy novel set in a chaotic, post-apocalyptic world. We follow Jorg, a young immoral boy as he leads a band of outlaws through a bleak and violent adventure to confront his childhood demons.
What led you to put pen to paper?
I’ve been putting pen to paper for thirty-five years since I started writing campaigns for Dungeons and Dragons aged ten. One form of storytelling changed into another until eventually I was writing books.
Have any other authors inspired you? Or have any other aspects in your life been of inspiration to you?
Hundreds of authors have inspired me from many genres – but my first love of fantasy came at age seven when my mother read Lord of the Rings to me. Personal tragedy has certainly influenced the writing in Prince of Thorns, but that’s not quite the same as inspiration. The quality of George Martin’s work in the genre has certainly inspired me to try harder. Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange directly influenced the choice ofcharacter.
Juggling a family and a job as a research scientist must be time-consuming. When do you find the time to write?
I tend to write when everyone else has gone to bed. During the day when I’m not at work I have to spend most of my time caring for my disabled daughter.
Do you think your job has influenced any aspect of your writing?
I can’t say that it has. More likely the creativity exercised in writing has been put to good use in my research.
Is Fantasy a particularly difficult genre to write or does being able to world-build make your task simpler?
Well I’d count myself as a fantasy writer with no regard for the boundaries. I’ve only ever written outside the genre in short stories and I imagine that to write well in any genre is equally difficult but requires different skill sets.
What was the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
To be honest I don’t find any of it difficult . . . so possibly I’m not doing it right. I find if I try hard to achieve something then it ends up feeling forced, so the best I can do is relax and enjoy the process.
So what was the easiest part of the writing process?
Ideas are the easiest, they just pop up. To translate those ideas into a story that someone enjoys reading generally requires a lot of practice. Many people who take up writing start out jealously guarding their ideas and worried that someone will steal them. Those people have not yet understood what writing is really about.
How long did it take you to finish writing your novel Prince of Thorns?
I wrote it in short bursts in probably one weekend in three over the course of three or four years. Writing isn’t something I could do nine-to-five even if I had the opportunity. Ideas and emotions need time to distil and take shape.
How do you feel finally seeing your book in shops and online?
It’s odd. Odd and gratifying. I didn’t expect to be published and it was never a dreamof mine, but it is a nice feeling to know that my daydreams have found a home with thousands of other people.
Most authors don’t get to choose the cover of their book (and of course your publisher did an excellent job) but if you had the chance what would you have put there?
If I could draw I would have offered a design with a warrior-Jorg hanging cruciform in the thorns, bleeding, head half lowered but fixing the reader with a fierce stare from beneath his brows and with the hint of a dangerous smile on this lips. Not a scene from the book but (like the actual cover) an abstraction that captures some of the character’s essence.
You originally wrote Prince of Thorns as a stand alone novel. Was there any specific challenge you faced when it came to turning it into a trilogy?
Yes. The first book can shock the reader in ways that a second can’t. Many aspects ofJorg’s character and world are ‘one use only’ in as much as they offer rapidly diminishing returns. The remaining books have to spend more time on what Jorg does rather than who he is.
Did you encounter any challenges writing the novel in the first person?
No. Apart from the simple mechanics that mean you can offer only one view on a situation and reside in only one head. Aside from that, the difference is just semantic. You can offer all the same insights with a sufficiently deep third person perspective. First person does tend to elicit a stronger emotional reaction from readers however.
Do you see your protagonist Jorg as a villain?
I’m trying to write a more grown-up book where my protagonist is a person, complex and built from contradiction just as real people are. Labels such as villain and hero are used in the genre but serve mainly to lower the expectations of potential readers who might be looking for a more challenging adult read. Clearly Jorg does some terrible things and in our world he would be in some form of age-appropriate detention.
What made you decide to make Jorg such a challenging character for your readers?
Well I didn’t anticipate a great number of readers when I was writing it. Jorg’s character was inspired by Alex from Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and I just thought it would be interesting to employ a similarly dark and troubled youth in a fantasy setting. The parallels end fairly early on though – I gave Jorg more (but not sufficient) excuses and didn’t use him for social commentary.
Jorg is only 13 when we meet him and his travels lead him to deal with some very adult situations. Why did you make your main character such a tender age?
Again the influence of A Clockwork Orange, combined with the fact I wanted him to be young enough that his age would muddy the waters of his guilt. I wanted him to be half-formed, in the process of growing up. Additionally I wanted him to be close enough to the events of his earlier years that we could properly believe their influence on him.
The theme of revenge is central to the novel. But will revenge ever really give Jorg the satisfaction he craves?
It’s very rare for any obsession to fulfil its promise, what’s more interesting to me is when and if the character anticipates this and how they deal with the aftermath.
With such a coloured past as Jorg’s is there any chance in hell of redemption?
Religious folk often tell us there’s always a chance at redemption, again though the interest (often insistence) that I see in redemption strikes me as one of the more unsophisticated demands of the genre and one that it’s outgrowing. I hope my writing is entertaining. If I just wanted it to be important rather than entertaining or commercial I might turn to literary fiction (and likely fail to do any of those things).
However, I do try to inject something of worth into what I write, and that comes in the form of my own poor effort to illuminate some corner of the human condition. The great writers (ofwhich I am not one) turn the spotlight on us, reveal truths, reframe them and offer them up without judgement. If fantasy insists on heroes and redemption then the genre will never have anything any more important to say than do bodice-ripping romances or slick thrillers sold in airports.
I’ve always felt that a genre in which there are no limits in terms of imagination should not find itself corralled by simplistic expectations regarding its characters. Other authors have led the way in expanding the fantasy genre toward its full potential and I’m hurrying along behind.
Without giving too much away, near the end of the novel some of Jorg’s thought processes are explained. Does this signal a change in his character or will he remain the blood-thirsty heathen we know him to be?
I hope it’s fairly clear that Jorg’s own claim is that the influence of others, while significant, has only ever been at the top level, guiding his path. How he chose to walk the path was entirely his choice. How true that is, and how Jorg’s character may change as he grows from boy to man remains unclear…
Another intriguing character in the novel is The Nuban. Out of all the brothers he seems to be the most morally grounded. Is this the reason Jorg appears to care for him despite how proud he may seem of his own flaws?
Well there’s more to a person than their morality or lack thereof, but it’s certainly true that Jorg likes and respects the Nuban (at least as far as he will allow himself to do so) and yes, it’s likely to be true that the fusion of the Nuban’s morality with his personality are behind that.
Do you have any advice that you would give to your character Jorg if you could?
Heh. The best answer I can think of comes from a documentary “Bowling for Columbine” on the Colombine massacre. The interviewer asked Marilyn Mason what advice he would have given the two boys who went on a shooting rampage. What would he have told them that might have changed events? Presumably they asked Mason because so many disaffected teens associate with his music. He said, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.” That is perhaps what the Nuban did for Jorg.