Mark Lawrence was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. Thanks to those of you who submitted questions:
11.) In your bio it mentions you were surprised after a half hearted attempt to find an agent turned into a publishing deal. What was your reaction at the time to that offer so suddenly? How did that change your perspective?
Well, I was very pleased. It was a lot of money!
As far as changing perspective … well, I suddenly had 2 more books to write in a much shorter time than it had taken me to write the first. So, I thought I should spend more of my time writing once I’d got home from work and finished looking after my very disabled daughter. I didn’t really believe the book would do well though.
22.) You have a PhD in mathematics, has that education (mathematics specifically) helped your writing process?
I would say no, not at all.
33.) What is your creative process?
I don’t have a process. I just sit down, start typing, and hope a story happens. I’m not sure I even understand the question.
44.) Your trilogies can be read in any order, but if a reader isn't sure where best to start with your work, which would you recommend?
It depends what the reader is looking for. I’ve written a short guide so that potential readers can choose based on their reading preferences.
55.) What makes a good story?
In 1964 supreme court justice Potter Stewart said in a discussion of what pornography was, “I know it when I see it.”
Good stories are the same.
66.) How did SPFBO come to be? Was it what you originally planned, how did it evolve?
I get bored easily. So, the SPFBO was just something to entertain myself, born of my love of competitions and a degree of survivor guilt, i.e. the understanding that great writing and a fine story are by no means a guarantee of getting picked for traditional publication, a large degree of luck is also required.
And it hasn’t really evolved at all. We still have the same rules, format etc. I think the consistency is a good thing.
77.) Something I always am fascinated by is the different definitions of the term "grimdark". What does that word mean to you?
The English language is full of words with vague and flexible definitions. New words in particular are prone to thrash around between many different definitions depending on who is using them.
I’ve run an exercise to define grimdark by usage using the opinions of thousands of voters:
I wrote this … take … on it a while ago:
Grimdark found an audience among people who could always see that the emperor wore no clothes but were ignored when they said it out loud. People who had started to wonder if nobody else saw the darkness all around them. Who started to wonder if, rather than a willful blindness among the many, there might in fact be something wrong with them.
Grimdark readers aren't in love with the horror of the world, but they see it stalking in the spaces between "I'm fine." and the picture-perfect insta lives. They see it in the news every day, in the histories. But somehow, in our lives, it's papered over with the fiction that it will always stay behind the ink, walled beyond a screen, and the conceit that as long as it remains on the far side it need never bother us.
For those readers, the revelation of grimdark is the acknowledgement of such terrors on the pages of their favourite genre. It's that discovery that the real awfulness we know is out there hasn't been replaced by a tentacled slime-coated proxy or a fire-breathing sword-toothed stand in, and that our response to them hasn't been represented by a golden knight in unstained armour - a man (or woman) of irreproachable virtue whose purity will win the day and whose sword arm is secondary.
Grimdark isn't reality. Wholesome epic fantasy isn't more fake. But they overlap different elements of reality, and after too much of one, many readers find themselves ready for some of the other. In the case of grimdark: a place where more prosaic horrors often dominate, heroes are scarce and often fail, and hope can seem futile - but still a world where the human spirit at least tries to defy the odds, where some choose the hard path and fight for goals that if not lofty are at least understandable. Grimdark embraces the awful and offers defiance. Success is not guaranteed. The methods will not be clean. But it has heart.
88.) Do you enjoy reading grimdark, or do you read other genres and write grimdark?
I’ve read very few books at the top end of the grimdark table I linked in the previous question and I didn’t rate them among my favourites reads of the years in which I read them. I enjoy good stories, genres are less important to me, subgenres even less so.
I don’t feel I’ve written a particularly grimdark book in almost 10 years. Again, referring to the table in question 7, only The Broken Empire trilogy features near the top of that. My other trilogies rub elbows with books that are not considered grimdark.
99.) Was there ever a hobby you wanted to try, but when you had the chance to try it you did not enjoy it?
This rather paints a picture of getting all the gear for some complicated hobby, fishing say, and setting up by the riverbank with all your rods and tackle only to discover you’re not having fun.
In real life we tend to brush up against things more gently and be turned away from the ones we’re not well suited to without any particular drama. So, I’m afraid the answer is a rather boring ‘no’. I guess the closest I come to it is going on holidays, when I’m generally quite enthusiastic before I go, and often ready to come home again after a much shorter time than the holiday is booked for. But since my last vacation was in 2003 it’s really not been an issue of late.
110.) What was your first job?
My first ‘proper’ job was as a research scientist for the UK government, working on issues of image processing for radar applications.
My first ever ‘job’ was as a paperboy, going out before school on my bike.