Today I am interviewing Mark Lawrence, winner of the 2014 and 2016 David Gemmell Legends Award, and author of the new epic fantasy novel, Red Sister, first book of the Book of the Ancestor trilogy.
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DJ: Hey Mark! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Mark Lawrence: Hey. Thanks for asking.
My first book Prince of Thorns was published in 2011 and I became a full-time writer in 2015, giving up my day job as a research scientist. I divide my time now between writing and caring for my youngest daughter (13) who is severely disabled. My latest book, Red Sister, hit the shops a few days ago.
DJ: What is Red Sister about?
Mark: It’s an entirely new story unconnected to my previous work and focuses on the experiences of a young girl who takes a rather unusual path into a convent where the nuns school the novices in faith but also the arts of war, magic and murder.
DJ: What were some of your influences for the Book of the Ancestor trilogy?
Mark: I always find that one a difficult question. I don’t have any clear (to me) influences, though I must admit that listening repeatedly to Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series (written in the 1940s about a posh girls’ boarding school) with my daughter may have steered me into the all-female “school” setting. It is very different from Malory Towers though. I guess it must owe something to The Name of the Wind, Blood Song, Ender’s Game, A Wizard of Earth Sea, and even Harry Potter!
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Mark: The whole book is told from the perspective of Nona Grey, who comes to the convent with blood on her hands and from a very poor background. She has problems connecting with others but once she calls you her friend she will die (and kill) for you. We learn about the world and about Nona just as she learns. We find out what she’s capable of and just how far she is prepared to go if crossed.
The convent and Nona’s class is full of (hopefully) interesting characters but I resist the temptation of describing them by quirks. Character-building that centers on defining quirks can be rather shallow and one-note.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the Book of the Ancestor trilogy like?
Mark: Abeth is a world whose sun is dying and where life is confined to an equatorial corridor between encroaching ice sheets that cover the rest of the planet. This constantly reducing living space maintains pressure on the nations that survive in the corridor and they are forever warring with their neighbors. Nona lives in a much-diminished empire and many of the glories of her distant ancestors are buried beneath the ice.
DJ: How does the Book of the Ancestor trilogy fit into your previous two trilogies?
Mark: Not at all! It’s a whole new thing. Jump on board here.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Red Sister?
Mark: I enjoyed some of the scenes where it was just a bunch of youngsters making friends and having fun. I’ve not written those sorts of interludes before. I also enjoyed writing the fight scenes where Nona uses her speed, effectively making the battle unfold in slow-motion for a rather different look at things.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Mark: Well, I’ve seen a lot of reviews mention “lesbian nuns” which really isn’t a big part of the book, and “that candle scene” which is one of the crescendos. The ending is also high octane and lots of people mention that.
One thing readers talk about and, that I am heartened by, is the prose. Lots of reviews quote particular lines, and I always like it when the language is noticed rather than just the plot and characters.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing the Book of the Ancestor trilogy? Red Sister is only the first book, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Mark: My main goal is always to entertain, to write a story people can lose themselves in, and that means something to them emotionally. There’s no message, but the themes are definitely about friendship, loyalty, and discovering who you are.
DJ: You books have been described as “grimdark”; you have been described as a “grimdark” author. I have read a number of “grimdark” stores and author – but I still have no idea what it is!
Do you consider yourself to be a “grimdark” author? Has your definition changed ((I will link to your blog post form years past about it) or do you even care if it is defined?
Mark: I also have no strong idea of what it is. When the term is used as a pejorative I don’t recognize any of the accusations made as being present in my work (or any of the other books so labelled).
All three of my trilogies are very different from each other. I think only the first one, The Broken Empire, has any of the elements sometimes cited as grimdark, i.e. lots of violence and a main character who could be the villain in another book. I think the label just sticks because readers tend to expect “more of the same” from authors. I like to make significant changes of style, tone, and focus between my stories though. I don’t think Red Sister is grimdark.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Red Sister that you can share with us?
Mark: I only tend to notice them when readers pick them out. Here are some from recent reviews:
“It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent, Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.”
“Thorn waited. Fearless as flowers, bright, fragile, open to the sky. Brave, as only those who’ve already lost can be.”
“Truth is an axe – without judgement it’s swung in great circles wounding everybody.”
“Some things must be done quickly or not at all. If someone asks you if you love them you cannot hesitate. Some paths must be taken at speed.”
DJ: Now that Red Sister is released, what is next for you?
Mark: I’ve finished the trilogy, written another book, and now I am working on three more, all different, at the same time. It’s all go!
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about the Red Sister and Book of the Ancestor trilogy that we haven’t talked about yet?
Mark: It’s a great place to start (or restart) reading my work.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Mark: Many thanks. It’s always nice to be asked!
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*** Red Sister is published by Ace and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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The international bestselling author of the Broken Empire and the Red Queen’s War trilogies begins a stunning epic fantasy series about a secretive order of holy warriors…
At the Convent of Sweet Mercy, young girls are raised to be killers. In some few children the old bloods show, gifting rare talents that can be honed to deadly or mystic effect. But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls.
A bloodstained child of nine falsely accused of murder, guilty of worse, Nona is stolen from the shadow of the noose. It takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist, but under Abbess Glass’s care there is much more to learn than the arts of death. Among her class Nona finds a new family—and new enemies.
Despite the security and isolation of the convent, Nona’s secret and violent past finds her out, drawing with it the tangled politics of a crumbling empire. Her arrival sparks old feuds to life, igniting vicious struggles within the church and even drawing the eye of the emperor himself.
Beneath a dying sun, Nona Grey must master her inner demons, then loose them on those who stand in her way.
Mark Lawrence is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. His day job is as a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say ‘this isn’t rocket science … oh wait, it actually is’.
Between work and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time writing, playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY.