Building A Broken Empire: An Interview with Mark Lawrence

In just a few short years, Mark Lawrence has gone from being a debut author to a dominant name in fantasy fiction. His latest book Emperor of Thorns, which released in the US earlier this week, is the breathtaking conclusion to The Broken Empire trilogy, a series of books that has taken the genre by storm (see our review of Emperor of Thorns here!)

One of the things we really admire about Mark is his openness and constant connection with his fans. In turn, we as readers have enjoyed the emotional journey on which his books have taken us. It is thus a great pleasure and honor that we were able to talk a little with Mark about himself and his writing, and share our questions and his answers with you here at The BiblioSanctum.

“There’s something brittle
in me that will break
before it bends.”
– Jorg Ancrath

The BiblioSanctum: In the trilogy, Jorg grows from a young boy to become a 20-year-old in EMPEROR OF THORNS, very formative years for a character. Fantasy features a lot of main characters who age and mature throughout a series, but Jorg’s brutal history certainly sets him apart in making growing up a much different and more difficult process for him. Were there any challenges or highlights for you as you were writing Jorg’s journey from boy to man?

Mark Lawrence: We see Jorg at age six, age twenty and quite a few ages in between. I didn’t find any difficulty in maturing him – I just had a vision/model of him in my head and wrote that. It helped that he was always intelligent and confident beyond his years so the only real growth he had to make was emotional.

The challenges and highlights are the same thing for me and are always whether I can make the strong emotion that certain sections of the books generate in me come through the page. I don’t plan my story so I’m taken by surprise and shocked as often as the reader is. If the turn of events hits me hard, I want it to hit the reader hard too. That’s the writing challenge. It’s difficult to arrange letters on a page so that someone years later and far away both in geography and background will find their heart beating faster or punch the air or blink away a tear.   

The BiblioSanctum: The world of The Broken Empire has a medieval fantasy feel, but there’s also an intriguing twist to its history that introduces some genre-bending elements into the series. Without getting too spoilery for readers new to these books, was this aspect of the setting intentional or was it something that worked its way into the storytelling as you went along?

Mark Lawrence: The setting, like everything else, grew with the story. The first hint of the twist that I got was when I typed out the first hint of a twist. I don’t sit down knowing what I’m going to write.

“A dark time comes.
My time.
If it offends you.
Stop me.”
– Jorg Ancrath

The BiblioSanctum: In your EMPEROR OF THORNS afterword, you were very firm in informing readers that the character’s story ends with this book. What are some of the factors that led to that decision and how does it feel to be wrapping up Jorg’s story? What are your future writing plans now?

Mark Lawrence: The main reason is simply that the best story I could find to write ended on the last page of book 3.

Secondary reasons include the fact I signed up for a trilogy. I told the readers it was a trilogy. And I didn’t want to be the guy who started stringing it out once it looked like being successful.

I’m happy with the decision (at least now!). I think there’s a power in knowing when to end things. It’s a bit like knowing when enough is enough, when the joke stops being funny, when it’s time to leave, when to stop speaking etc. As I said in the afterword, I would very much rather people remember wanting more when Jorg’s tale ended, rather than just remembering which of the dozen books they finally gave up on as Jorg became a caricature retreading old ground for the umpteenth time. 

The BiblioSanctum: With EMPEROR OF THORNS completing The Broken Empire trilogy, you’ve gone from new author to seasoned writer in the last few years. What has the journey been like for you? How has life changed?

Mark Lawrence: It’s been swift. I’ve gone from having no books out to having a completed trilogy out in a touch under two years. Life hasn’t changed very much at all really, excepting that I spend more time writing now, and because my very limited spare time has not increased that means I spend almost no time doing the stuff I listed on my author bio when I started. My life is still dominated by caring for my very disabled youngest daughter. My day job is still the next biggest call on my time, and my writing still gets slotted in around those things. The big change I guess is that I now spend a lot (too much probably) of time on twitter and facebook etc keeping in touch with readers.

“Every man has his thorns,
not of him, but in
him, deep as bones.”
– Jorg Ancrath

The BiblioSanctum: What kind of things fuel your creative fires? Where or when do your best ideas come to you? On the flip side, do you ever have moments when you just need a break from writing, and in those cases, what do you do to zone out?

Mark Lawrence: I think the biggest source of fuel for my creative engine is boredom, or at least a vacant mind. I tend to get my best ideas when I’m cycling to work, or digging the garden, or sawing logs, or staring into space. When my mind empties then ideas bubble up to fill it. The more interesting and fun my life is the less I have to say.

I never really find I need a break, but I do manage to fit in the odd film or book. PC/console gaming sadly is something I just haven’t been able to make time for recently.

The BiblioSanctum: We loved your recent blog post about what THE BROKEN EMPIRE means to you, and your hope that it meant something to your readers. We also appreciate your constant interaction with fans through Twitter and your blog, with fun contests, advice on writing, sharing fanart and more. What’s the best part about interacting with your fans?

Mark Lawrence: That’s hard to say. I’ve ‘met’ some great people over the past two years. With my caring duties I can’t go to conventions or signings, but chatting on the internet is a good substitute. I love reading reviews where people have really connected with my work, and one of the best things has been the competitions where I get to see so much creativity and skill on display, often in areas where I’m lacking myself. It’s also been rewarding to have been able to raise so much money for the charity that runs children’s hospices (including one that my daughter uses). But I guess in the end the best part is that some of those fans have become friends.

Thank you for your time, Mark!
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