From the archive: an interview with Mark Lawrence

This interview was first published in
Wyrd Daze Lvl.2 issue 2, May 2015.

The second book of the Red Queen’s War trilogy was about to be released, and Mark had already begun writing Red Sister, the first of The Book of the Ancestor trilogy.

Mark Lawrence was born in Champagne-Urbanan, Illinois, to British parents but moved to the UK at the age of one. He went back to the US after taking a PhD in mathematics at Imperial College to work on a variety of research projects including the ‘Star Wars’ missile defence programme. Returning to the UK, he has worked mainly on image processing and decision/reasoning theory. He says he never had any ambition to be a writer so was very surprised when a half-hearted attempt to find an agent turned into a global publishing deal overnight. His first trilogy, The Broken Empire, has been universally acclaimed as a ground-breaking work of fantasy. Following The Broken Empire came the bestselling Red Queen’s War trilogy.

The Book of the Ancestor trilogy has an entirely new world and setting, with the third book Holy Sister released in April this year.

Also released in its entirety in 2019 from Mark is a sci-fi trilogy Impossible Times, which has been described as “Ready Player One meets Stranger Things.”

One Word Kill was released in May, with Limited Wish coming in June, and Dispel Illusion to follow. (Great titles, great covers!)
Here’s a little bit about the story:

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange–yet curiously familiar–man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help–now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

Mark is married, with four children, and lives in Bristol.

An interview with Mark Lawrence

You’ve said that when writing you don’t need much more than a first draft before you have a finished manuscript, and also that you don’t really plan your books but let the story unfold as it will. Did you manage to sustain these methods throughout the whole of The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War trilogies?

I did through the first five books. For the last book of The Red Queen’s War I sketched out a rough plan and largely stuck to it. It was less nerve-wracking knowing the book was heading toward an ending – even if the ending was the part that veered away from the plan to the greatest degree.

Cover art for Prince of Thorns by Jason Chan

I understand you wrote the entirety of The Broken Empire before the first book was released? Did your subsequent interaction with readers and the way The Broken Empire was received in any way affect your telling of the story in The Red Queen’s War?

I don’t think so. I was writing a very different story, so there wasn’t anything of relevance to pay attention to, even if I had been minded to.

You are a welcome and genuine presence on social media (By this I mean that you’re not just there to sell your wares, but seem to genuinely enjoy interacting with people). To what extent do you think this has aided the popularity of your books, and do you have any advice for other creators who might want to use their social media accounts to mix business and pleasure?

I really don’t know. How does one measure such things? Many authors have been far more successful than me with minimal use of social media. Others have a far bigger footprint on social media than I do, and sell considerably fewer books than I do.

It can’t hurt to have a presence on social media, but it’s also easy to over-estimate its impact. The really important thing is that you write a book that gets each reader, on average, to get more than one of their friends/acquaintances to read it. Do that and you have a hit.

What comes first for you: plot, character or setting?

A character comes first. After that plot and setting materialise while I write, along with other characters.

Do you have any tips for creating believable characters?

Not really. I’m not even sure what ‘believable’ means in this context. The important thing seems to be to create a character that’s so interesting people don’t want to stop reading about them. It helps if that character is charismatic, and that often involves having a sense of humour… If by ‘believable’ you mean ‘real’ … well, even that’s hard to pin down in a fantasy setting. In literary fiction you often have to capture an attitude and poise and set of habits to convincingly depict a person of a certain age in a society with which the reader is very familiar. That requires a particular skill set. In fantasy the task is somewhat different – there’s overlap, but also new freedoms, and also new constraints.

The core of real in both cases though is that the character be consistent. Not consistent in their behaviour necessarily, because real people are often inconsistent – but consistently the same person.

Although you’re known principally as a fantasy writer, your short stories seem to delve into the realms of wider speculative fiction. Have you had any thoughts towards writing a novel somewhere within this broader category?

Maybe. I never thought I would, or could, be a published fantasy author. I feel confident I could write all sorts of speculative fiction in alternative world settings – my strengths are prose and imagination and those will take you a long way in SFF. I don’t know if I could write a real world novel, or at least a subtle, literary one. I’m not sure I’m a sufficiently keen observer of the people and world around me to do a good job of that.

Cover art for The Liar’s Key by Jason Chan

For anyone who hasn’t read your books yet, would you recommend they start with The Broken Empire or The Red Queen’s War?

Yes. Which one? Depends on your tastes. The Red Queen’s War has a thicker vein of humour and less darkness in it. The Broken Empire perhaps has stronger themes and more emotion.

Has there been anything in your books that you found difficult or uncomfortable to write, or that gave you pause whether or not to include it at all?

Certainly there have been sections that were difficult and uncomfortable to write, but no, nothing that gave me pause about whether or not to include it.

Did you read Steven Erikson’s two-part essay about ‘Authorial Intent’ on /r/fantasy, and have you any thoughts/comments about it?

I didn’t. I did start it but I have to admit that my eyes glazed over and I … stopped.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, and a word count target?

No. Many days I write nothing. Some days I write a lot.

What’s your writing environment like? Do you allow yourself the internet/music/a window?

I write in short bursts normally, allowing myself to be constantly distracted by the internet. I’ll only play music to drown out other noise, usually a piece I’m so familiar with that I don’t hear it. I’ll sit in any one of four rooms to write, on a sofa in three of them, or a bed in the other.

Do you immerse yourself in fantasy fiction or avoid it when working on a novel?

Neither. I read almost exclusively fantasy at the moment (that hasn’t always been the case) and I read it slowly and patchily. Since I’m always working on a novel if I avoided reading while writing … I wouldn’t read.

Can you tell us more about your Gunlaw project?

I wrote a book called Gunlaw. The end.

It’s a weird science-fiction / fantasy mix … with gunslingers and minotaurs and such. It may be additionally unusual in that one of the point-of-view characters is very severely disabled. In any case it proved to be a bit too much of a left turn for my publisher, so I wrote The Red Queen’s War instead.

How good a book it is I’m not sure. I hope to get back to it one day, possibly to re-write it, possibly to drum up interest in it.

Would you consider writing for a different medium, for example comics or a screenplay?

I wouldn’t mind writing for comics (specifically 2000AD) or graphic novels as an adventure. I was asked by the head of a Hollywood studio to write the screenplay for Prince of Thorns, but I didn’t want to. Basically books are where it’s at for me.

Is there anything about your world, characters, or story: a perspective that someone has pointed out or commented upon, that has surprised you?

I guess I’ve been surprised that some people are so politicised about fiction and project their politics onto books and attempted to reverse the process too. I have certainly been surprised by the rather naïve assumptions that some people have made in thinking they can somehow deduce (and then criticise) my personal politics from the actions or attitudes of characters in my books. Or their demographics, come to that. In all such cases, and with a remarkable level of vehement surety, they have been laughably wide of the mark (pun intended).

Now the Red Queen’s War is done, have you any inkling of what your next book might be?

I do. I’ve written 40,000 words of it. It’s fantasy again – the protagonist is a young girl when we first meet her and she spends much of the book in a convent! It’s called Red Sister.

If you could live in any literary fantasy world, which would it be, and why?

I would want to live in a comfortable and enlightened one in which beer is free and doesn’t make you fat… sadly such utopias are boring to write about and I don’t know of any books featuring one. I honestly can’t think of any I would want to live in.

You’ve written a number of Broken Empire short stories. Do you hope for these to be eventually be published as a collection?

I not only hope it, I know it for fact. I will publish them myself in due course. I just need to wait for some of them to appear in various anthologies and for the rights to return to me. Hopefully this time next year!

You can find Mark:
Twitter / Blog / Wattpad

From the archives: Arthur Chance and the Lacuna Breeze

A short story by Leigh Wright originally published in the very first issue of Wyrd Daze, a one-off print version limited to 50 copies, released on The Ephemeral Man‘s 1st Birthday: 6.6.2013.

Inspired by Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius stories.

Intrepid flâneur Arthur Chance has been summoned by King Tarquin Spurious to rescue his daughter, Lucretia, who has been possessed by one of four chaotic invading entities, the Chymos.

Contains a Beefeater, proboscis sex and atonal avant-garde choir drone.

Arthur drove the Silver Ghost up to the golden gates of the palace and honked the horn.
A humourless Beefeater in the indigo regalia of House Spurious approached the car, expertly twirling his short staff with a practiced nonchalance. “State your business” he commanded.

“Tarquin requested an audience. The name’s Arthur Chance. Don’t be a bore now, let me in, there’s a good chap.”

The Beefeater clicked a button on his staff and it began to glow “If His Majesty has requested your presence, your appointment will be logged and it’ll only take a moment to check. Keep your hands on the wheel while I call it in.”

Arthur sighed, but complied. The Beefeater spoke into his comm unit, eyes flickering disappointment as Arthur’s legitimacy was confirmed. He pointed with his staff toward the golden gates as they swung open.

“Keep calm and carry on,” said Arthur. He drove into the palace grounds, past a green lawn distastefully scattered with statues and flowers beds. The western wing of the palace complex was overshadowed by the immense baroque Cathedral of the Third-Eye that pierced the low grey sky authoritatively. To the East, the gardens continued around and behind the palace. Beyond all that the City loomed: abysmal, vibrant and teeming.

The palace itself was impressive enough, with a grand central rotunda and four floors of rooms in the main building. It was not the only palace in the City, and Tarquin Spurious was not the only king; Arthur was at least vaguely acquainted with several of them, though he made no particular effort toward socialising with royalty.

A pompous butler led Arthur into a grand receiving chamber garishly festooned, tapestried and furnished. Arthur made a beeline for the decanter and poured himself a large stiff one while he waited. It was almost consumed by the time the King entered.

“Arthur, thank you for answering my call so swiftly…”

“You threatened to have me proclaimed heretic by your supercilious Sisterhood of the Third-Eye.”

“Not my Sisterhood, Arthur. I am effectively subservient to them. Without their patronage my territorial sovereignty would soon lose its legitimacy. Why else do you think I insist my subjects are subjugated by that foolish creed? Fifteen years of twice weekly musique concrete and atonal avant-garde choir drone services has quite taken its toll. But the abstinence from sex is intolerable and has directly resulted in my daughter’s heinous possession by the dread Chymos! So please forgive my crude method of summoning you, I was desperate for your help and couldn’t risk delay!”

Arthur raised an eyebrow and poured himself another. “I do not take kindly to threats, Tarquin, but will let it slide for now. Forgive me for asking, but do you know for a fact that your daughter is possessed and not just acting as daughters are wont to do?”

“What I would give that it was just a princess’ tantrum giving me grief! No – my poor Lucretia has been taken. Possessed, she taunted me, telling me how damagingly suppressive her life has been, that she had finally taken to masturbation despite the law of abstinence, but guilt and shame overwhelmed her and allowed the glorious revelation of Chymos intervention – not my words, obviously! Then she flipped me the finger and told me she was off to live a short life of vice. I tried to stop her, but she shot six of my guard with my own Uzi micro and rode off in a jeep. You have to help me, Arthur!”


King Tarquin had begun to lament about not confessing the truth to his daughter about the clandestine flexibility of the abstinence from sex creed of the Order of the Third-Eye. Indeed, his own sexual exploits with Sister Murphy of the Order apparently included bondage, flagellation and cross-dressing roleplay.  He sobbed quite pathetically into a silk handkerchief, whining that if he had only let Lucretia in on the secret, she wouldn’t have had to feel such guilt and shame whilst exploring her own desires, and so would not have left herself open to possession. Quite true, of course.

Arthur excused himself as quickly as he could, promising to make every effort to find the princess, but being sure to carefully articulate that a successful outcome could not be guaranteed, no matter what rumours of Arthur’s abilities the King might have chosen to believe. And there would be reward no matter the outcome. Tarquin agreed.

There are four strains of Chymos; some call them Gods and worship them as such: Sanguina, Chole, Melancholy and Phlegma. Arthur knew that it must be an aspect of Sanguina that had possessed princess Lucretia, for its motivations are principally experiential and amorous. There had yet been no indication of any Chymos agenda other than expression of their inherent nature in manifest form, since the first outbreak of possession six years ago. Arthur was the only person to have crossed into the Chymos realm and returned.     

The Silver Ghost glided into a lift lane and braked in the appropriate zone. That segment of road then descended four levels, and the Ghost continued on its way. Arthur had some idea as to what kind of places the possessed princess might visit, but The City was vast and intense. A single body could get well lost with ease. He rolled down the window and deployed a hundred thousand spymites, then made a few calls.

He eventually tracked the princess down to an establishment called Dreams of absent-minded Transgression. Face recognition software infiltrated the entrance surveillance cameras and confirmed that the princess was inside, spymites locating her within a pleasure dome on the second floor of the building. Arthur made his way inside, the security scan registering his Modulator as exotic tech, but not recognising its potential application as a weapon.

The ground floor was the main club area, pulsating beats with psych-haunt undertones thrilling the crowds on the hologramatic dance floor, spectral hard-light formations enticing flesh. Ramps led down to subterranean levels, spiral staircases seemingly the only way to ascend. Arthur took one of these, squeezed past the loiterers who craved random bodily contact, casually snapped the finger of a rube who tried to pick his pocket, then paused at the top to look over the balcony. From above, the throng on the dance floor looked like a writhing pool of primordial alien matter striving for sentience. Arthur felt a pang of desire to join in the blissful oblivion, then turned and made his way down the neon corridors, turning left into Noviol Gold. He accessed the real-time feed from the spymites of the princess indulging herself with four other people, two of them quite heavily modded with proboscises and other stimulation implants.

A right into Seacrest, then left into Coral Pink – manic neon grins from the roisterers tripping to or from pleasure domes, sensorium-tanks, anti-grav zones, pleasure/pain pods, whatever. Arthur reached his destination and overrode the lock. Ethereal orchestral drone emanated from rows of speakers set into the floor, mingling with sounds of sex. Kaleidoscopic psychedelic images were projected onto the domed walls, whilst hard-light fireworks burst sporadically into the air.

Arthur drew his Modulator and approached the bedded centre of the dome, where five bodies intertwined: proboscises, cocks, caruncles, fingers, lips, and tongues all engaged in princess Lucretia’s pleasure. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to cease and desist of your possession of the princess, Sanguina.”

Lucretia gazed coquettishly at Arthur, her body moving rhythmically. She removed something from her mouth and said, “There’s no need to be afraid, Arthur. Why don’t you join in?”

Arthur smiled. “We engaged at our last meeting. I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong impression; I’m not looking for a relationship right now.”

Lucretia’s eyes rolled, her body shuddering orgasmically as the ambient projections and music crescendoed sympathetically. It took her a few moments to reply. “I was a thirty-two year old man then. Now I’m a peachy nineteen year old young woman. Are you quite sure you won’t indulge? You can have me to yourself, if you prefer…”

Arthur brandished his Modulator. “If you refuse, I’ll use this.”

A proboscis lashed out in an attempt to swat the Modulator from Arthur’s hand, but he evaded and squeezed the trigger. The modded individual fell to the floor, spasming. The three other mods decided it was time to leave. Lucretia’s glistening skin shimmered, her form becoming indistinct. “Oh no you don’t,” said Arthur, adjusting the Modulator and pulling the trigger again.

The princess re-materialized and screamed, her hands clutching her head as if it might explode. “You’ll kill her!” she wailed.

Arthur took his finger off the trigger. “Sacrificing one life in order to cause you inconvenience doesn’t seem too bad a trade. Either way, you’re not taking her.”

The last remaining mod recovered from their spasming enough to stagger out of the dome. Arthur sighed. “Looks like it’s just you and me, Sanguina. Leave the girl, come to me, and let’s get you home.”

Lucretia raised herself up on her elbows and pouted. “I was so enjoying this body. It really is lusciously vernal…”

Arthur had to admit that it was.

Lucretia’s face became vacant and a haze emanated from her pores, drifting towards Arthur. He tucked the Modulator into his jacket pocket and mentally prepared himself. Possession felt quite odd indeed, his inner being expanding as Sanguina merged with him. He could only imagine the terrible suffocation suffered by people who couldn’t retain their sense of self whilst being possessed, which was everyone else, as far as Arthur knew. His ability gave him a unique relationship with the Chymos that was regrettably no longer secret, hence his current predicament.

When he felt Sanguina’s sentience awaken within him, Arthur said, “Right then, shall we go?” Lucretia, slowly regaining awareness, stared aghast as Arthur shimmered and vanished, leaving her naked and confused in the psychedelic dome.


Arthur/Sanguina manifest on a chunk of barren rock with a diameter of about forty metres, floating within a lacuna in the Chymos expanse. Sanguina hazed out of Arthur and coalesced into a Scylla: long undulating serpentine body with humanoid female torso and bestial head. “My siblings and I find you fascinating,” it hissed. “We were wondering when we’d see you again. They’ll be so jealous that it was I who brought you here.”

Arthur tried to will himself back to his own reality, but nothing happened.

“We believe we’ve found a way to keep you from escaping; our little lacuna. I hope you can appreciate all the effort we’ve gone to. You must feel quite special.”

A lightning-streaked maelstrom swirled into being in the void above them. The rock cracked open and an obsidian three-headed dog leapt out and barked once, volcanically. A giant materialised before them and stared down at Arthur despondently with its one rheumy eye.

Sanguina gave a razor-tooth grin. “Ah, here they are!”

Arthur was perturbed. He had grown presumptuous of his ability to escape the Chymos expanse and would pay the consequences. Melancholy grabbed him with its giant hand, and Chole secreted three small granite boxes from within its maelstrom, which fell to the rock below. Phlegma bit off Arthur’s hands with a snarl, then his feet, then his cock and balls. Sanguina filled each of the granite boxes with parts, then manifested a pike and a sword, piercing the rock with the pike so it stood upright. Finally, she grabbed Arthur’s hair with her left hand, chopped off his head with three swings of the sword, and impaled it on the pike. Melancholy threw what was left of Arthur’s body into Chole’s maelstrom. Satisfied, the Chymos divvied up the boxes (Sanguina taking cock and balls) and returned to the expanse, leaving the barren rock spinning gently in the lacuna breeze.

“Bollocks,” Arthur gurgled glumly.