Mark Lawrence writes like a punch to the gut: he doesn’t hold back! His writing is bold and impactful, and yet also evocative and subtle. Well, each of his books must have been so well received for a reason! And his 2017 release is set to follow this trend. With each of his high fantasy adventures guaranteed to give you feels and get you talking, Lawrence really does prove the quote, “fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”
We got chatting to the fantasy veteran about what we can expect from his newest release, ‘Red Siste’ and how his latest protagonist, Nona Grey, will live up to her high fantasy predecessors.
You’ve written extensively in the fantasy genre. What is it that attracts you to this genre?
I guess it’s the freedom. The possibilities are entirely unlimited. “All” you have to do is make your reader believe in the world you’ve created and care about the characters. Imagination can run riot. But of course, you need discipline and internal consistency too so that it’s a story that others can become emotionally invested in.
In your most recent release, ‘Red Sister’ Nona is a lovable protagonist, yet one who feels very different from your previous cast of characters. Why and how does she differ?
Change is good! I’ve written two trilogies where the main character was a young man, both times a prince. Jorg who is dark, dangerous and amoral, and Jalan who is cowardly, self-centered, and over-sexed. We see parts of both Jorg and Jalan’s childhood in flashback. With Nona, we spend more time with her as she grows and discovers what she can do. Jorg was too focused on revenge and ambition to see friends as anything other than pawns. Jalan was always about Jalan, his comfort and safety. Friends were good as long as they gave rather than took. Nona is very different. If she calls you her friend then that’s it. She’ll fight your corner no matter what the odds are. She’s taken into a convent and given a faith, but it’s friendship that is really sacred to her even though she never really understands quite how people work and always feels outside the process.
All of my protagonists are strong in some ways and broken in others. With Nona, it just takes less time to see her redeeming qualities.
Nona has a troubled past and the truth of this emerges slowly throughout tale. What made you choose this method to tell Nona’s history?
I’ve always been interested in how our memories define us. How in many senses we are the stories we tell to ourselves about ourselves. So it was interesting to have Nona tell her story to others and see how the story changed and how the interpretation of the story changed. And alongside that to have Nona grow up and change herself. Sometimes when people have a low opinion of themselves we wish we could show them how we see them. Being able to do that is an important part of friendship, and I enjoyed that aspect of Nona’s development through the book.
The darker elements of ‘Red Sister’ were often made more shocking when compared to the young age of the characters. Why did you choose to centre the story around young, teenage females? How do you think this affected the dynamic of the tale?
I don’t want to put youth or violence on a pedestal, and some of the most impressive feats in the book are accomplished by an older woman with no talent for combat or magic, just a sharp mind and great resolve. However, it is certainly true that the years in which we grow from child to young adult burn with their own fire. Ask anyone over fifty and the chances are that they will have far more vivid and personally important memories from their teens than from their twenties/thirties/forties combined. When you have young protagonists there is the added fascination that not only are they shaping the story but the story is shaping them. You are seeing how the adults they will become emerge from the lives they live.
Which of the novices would you back in a fight?
Zole is pretty hardcore.
Magical abilities start to emerge in some of your characters. If it was possible, what ability would you choose to possess?
If I had to pick from the range in the book then I would pick threadwork. The idea of being able to see the connections between everything, and to effect change by manipulating those threads is pretty cool.
If I had a freer hand and was thinking in more personal terms then the ability to heal others would be the one. It would be hard to pick something fun like flying when you could have been able to cure cancer with a touch.
What made you choose to set the story primarily in a convent?
Ideas tend to just come to me without much premeditation. It sounds lame but … it seemed like a good idea. I would be similarly stumped if you asked me what made me call Nona Nona or to give her dark hair.
When not writing, what else occupies your time?
On my bio, there’s a list of hobbies but to be honest they’re basically not true anymore. Now that I’m a full-time writer it’s writing that fills my time and leaves no room for anything else. Except of course endless faffing about on the internet when I should be writing.
I am making an effort to get back into computer games. I bought a PS4 two years ago and managed to play one game on it before work pushed it into a cupboard. I read as well, of course, though far less than I want to. And I have a very disabled daughter to look after.
And are there any secrets you can spill about Nona’s future?
All three books of the trilogy are written, so there are plenty of secrets I could spill. But I’m not going to! Suffice it to say that her journey kept surprising me as I wrote it.
And if that doesn’t get you excited for Lawrence’s latest book, then nothing will.