The author of new fantasy novel Emperor Of Thorns , the conclusion of the Broken Empire trilogy, talks to SFX about his writing, his inspirations and his characters
With Emperor Of Thorns hitting shelves this week, we caught up with fantasy author Mark Lawrence to talk about the series' conclusion as well as his plans for future books in the Broken Empire world.
SFX : Fans have really found the world you’ve created to be immersive, and are anxious to see you explore it more. You have said that you don’t plan to write any more Broken Empire books, but might we see " Dunk and Egg " style stories of the Empire in the future?
Mark Lawrence: I don't plan to write any more stories about Jorg, the main character from the Broken Empire trilogy but I do plan to use new characters to explore the world those stories are set in. Whilst I've never been one to overburden the reader with world building and history I do like the idea of an organically expanding world and the way in which a shared history can give a sense of underlying continuity to a set of inter-related books.
SFX : First book Prince Of Thorns was started as a fantasy homage to Clockwork Orange ; would you say that Emperor Of Thorns is a homage or has been inspired by any works in particular?
Lawrence: Jorg's character was started as an homage to Alex from A Clockwork Orange , and since both characters are the defining ingredients of the two books they appear in it's fair to extend the notion of homage to the books - though the plots have no similarities at all.
There's no conscious inspiration for the rest of the trilogy but King Of Thorns with its theme of how memories define us and ideas about choosing not to keep the recollection of some events could perhaps have taken some inspiration from the film Memento .
SFX : One occasional criticism of Prince Of Thorns was about a lack of female characters. The second book saw the prominence of Katherine and Miana. Are they going to have an even greater presence in this novel?
Lawrence: No, and I've never seen the writing of a book as an act of balancing representation. Prince Of Thorns is a short and focused story, about a specific thing. I would never feel the need to pull in some female characters into a story just to even out the headcount. The story takes me where it goes - that's the whole of the process.
SFX : This series is notable for the tight plotting, yet you have said that you prefer a looser, less formal style of writing. Is it difficult balancing how you like to write with what you need to write?
Lawrence: I'm not sure I know what a formal style of writing is or if mine qualifies or not. I make up the story as I go along - there's no plotting involved, events just unfold, I never feel I have a need to write anything specific... if it looks like tight plotting that's well and good, but there's no conflict between writing and plot, they're the same thing. And there's no pre-planning taking place.
SFX : Jorg began the series as a 14-year-old. The development his character receives is remarkable. What might readers expect for the conclusion of his character arc?
Lawrence: Phrases like "character arc" make me nervous. Mostly because I don't know what they mean. It implies some form of over-arching planning... which I don't do. A static character sounds boring - if significant things happen to a person it will have an impact and they will likely be shaped by it. The biggest change going on with Jorg is the simple fact that we see him at age six, age 20, and many ages in between. Even without upheaval a person is going to be changed beyond recognition by the passage of all those critical years. All I've tried to do is write about a person and the changes wrought in them by both experience and by the business of growing up. There was never any plan for redemption or for any particular change in Jorg - I just tried to adapt him in the light of his experiences and of growing older. That feels more natural and honest to me.
SFX : Recent trends in fantasy have been leaning towards more neutral protagonists, something Jorg could never be described as. Readers have described his perspective as being "sympathy for the devil". Is it a challenge to write from Jorg’s perspective?
Lawrence: The challenge is always to write well. To write from Jorg's perspective has never added to that challenge for me. I was interested by the power of a first person point of view and of a charismatic character to make for a compelling read (as in A Clockwork Orange ) irrespective of that character's reprehensible deeds. I didn't work to win the reader over to Jorg's side - I just worked to create a strong first person view and make the character intelligent and witty. It wasn't my goal to make the reader like or approve of Jorg, just to put those pieces in place and see what happened. I anticipated and got a wide variety of reactions.
I never found it any harder to write about Jorg doing "bad deeds" than I have writing about any villain doing evil in a more traditional book. Just because Jorg is the protagonist doesn't alter the experience of writing the story for me.
SFX : What attracted to you to mixing traditional fantasy themes with a more modern apocalyptic tone?
Lawrence: The story just rolled out that way. When the setting solidified as I wrote it I was taken by surprise, but it unfolded nicely and offers all manner of interesting possibilities so I'll call it serendipity. The first hint about the setting as you read the book was the first hint about the setting I got as I wrote it. At the top of that page I had no idea of the twist coming.
SFX : In Emperor Of Thorns , Jorg and his fellow kings are voting for an Emperor. After the challenges to his kingship Jorg has weathered, what problems are Jorg and his queen going to face in his designs to be Emperor?
Lawrence: Many and varied. Diplomacy isn't something that comes naturally to Jorg, nor is democracy. As important to me as the "how" is the "why" - I'm interested in the questions of why Jorg wants to be emperor and the changing significance to both himself and others of whether he succeeds or fails.
SFX : The fantasy genre has seen a recent resurgence, especially in the wake of the phenomenal popularity to the television adaptation of George RR Martin’s work. Do you have any hopes that the Broken Empire series might be adapted for television or film, and any aspirations about how it might be done?
Lawrence: The books, like very many others, have had their film and TV rights optioned. There are of course a huge number of far more famous and successful fantasy books/series ahead of mine in the queue and the vast majority of them will not make it to a screen of any sort. I very much hope Prince Of Thorns gets a deal. I'd like the money for one thing, and it would be an interesting experience. On the other hand I never expected to be published and if I hadn't been I wouldn't have counted my efforts wasted or myself a failure. In the same vein I have no expectation that my books will ever inspire a film and I won't be disappointed if that turns out to be true.
The large majority of fantasy films and TV adaptations I've seen have been very poor - with Lord Of The Rings and Game Of Thrones being notable exceptions - so, money aside, I'd rather it not happen at all unless it were done seriously by someone who understood the books.
SFX : Will Emperor Of Thorns see any more exploding sheep?
Lawrence: No, but Jorg does fall out with a camel and threaten to eat its liver.
SFX : So what will you be working on next?
Lawrence: I've a new trilogy called The Red Queen's War . The first book, Prince Of Fools , is due for publication in June 2014. These books are set in the Broken Empire and cover the same two decades that we dipped into during Jorg's tale. In them we follow the fortunes of Jalan Kendeth, an arrogant and cowardly womaniser, a bully and a cheat. Our "hero" has lived his life in luxury and plans to continue doing so. Things start to go wrong when poor judgement entangles him in the adventures of an axe-wielding barbarian from the frozen north...
Prince Of Fools shows us the world of the Broken Empire with a thicker vein of humour than Jorg's tale, but it's the same bloodstained place and from time to time we catch a glimpse of Jorg and his friends in the background. I'm halfway through the second of the three books now and having fun with it!
SFX : Thanks Mark!
Emperor Of Thorns will be available from Thursday 1 August from Harper Voyager.
Interview by Jess Collett.