Writing Journeys – Mark Lawrence
Well, what can I say? It’s incredible to have Mark Lawrence contribute to this series. To the four or five people out there who don’t know about Mark, he’s the only author other than Brandon Sanderson to win the Gemmell Legend award for best fantasy novel twice. Since 2011 he’s had two whole trilogies published and a third set to begin this year with Red Sister. But Mark doesn’t sit idle and bask in his success. There is a quote I saw recently from Kevin Spacey which struck a chord with me: “I feel it’s a responsibility for anyone who breaks through a certain ceiling to send the elevator back down and give others a helpful lift.” In setting up the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, Mark has repeatedly sent the lift back down. Many authors in this series have benefitted greatly from it and I hope others will in the future as the blog off grows. So thanks to Mark for everything and for writing this for me.
It’s interesting when it’s phrased like that. Journey. A journey has a beginning, and an end. It takes you somewhere you wanted to go, shows you things you wanted to see.
So where did I begin? Was it when I told the children at nursery school a story about a crocodile in the sewers and none of them would go into the bathroom? Was it the clumsy shaping of my letters over and over, trying to keep the pencil between the generously wide lines of my practice book? Or those first disjointed stories written for a teacher who would mark only one error in ten just to keep my morale up?
I discovered recently that I was writing “grimdark” in 1976 (http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/i-found-old-story-of-mine-very-old-story.html)
He slowly drew out his knife. Smith waited until the man had gone past. Then he crept up behind him and plunged his knife deep into the mans back. The man fell silently to the path, the only sign of his wound was a slit in his silk shirt and a large red patch around it.
The teacher demanded that an eight year old Mark read one of his stories out to the class because she was impressed with it. I refused and got punished. I guess I found out then that I was a writer rather than an actor. Also that I had “issues” with authority figures.
An eleven year old Mark discovered Dungeons and Dragons in the year Games Workshop first opened in the UK. Suddenly all that dreaming about Lord of the Rings could be shared, built upon, used to seed whole new worlds. Suddenly I wanted to entertain people other than myself with the fruits of my imagination.
In the last year of my first degree with the imminent break up of my gaming group I discovered play-by-mail (PBM) fantasy gaming. For the year before starting my Ph.D I helped run a sizeable commercial PBM game and was effectively writing a huge multi-part interactive fantasy story full time. I kept doing it in my spare time thereafter for a decade, only giving it up when I moved to America and my day job kept me too busy.
As PBM took over when life got in the way of D&D, writing took over when life got in the way of PBM. I wrote poetry, then short stories, then longer stories. I wrote three books. The third one was better than the first two. I put it away and wrote more short stories for a few years. Even when I was writing books I was never thinking in terms of getting published. I never expected it and it wasn’t an ambition. I didn’t think of myself as an author or writer, just someone who writes.
Finally someone persuaded to make an effort to get published.
Many successful authors (and many who are successful in other fields) suffer from impostor syndrome, and to some extent I had a sense of it before I was published. The reason Prince of Thorns sat for years on my hard drive was that I felt sure that even if it was of sufficient quality the chances of getting it through the lottery of agents and publishers were slim.
Then I tried to get published and met with almost instant success. But even though I had seen the system “work” I still couldn’t help feel that there had been a lot of luck involved. So, I set up the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off to try to offset all that to a small degree and give other authors another ticket in the lottery.
Anyway, Prince of Thorns sold well and I’ve had a book published each year since then. That’s the Broken Empire trilogy, The Red Queen’s War trilogy, and starting soon with Red Sister, The Book of the Ancestor trilogy.
Because of the forms in which I’ve written I have always had quick feedback from my audience and a small but interested readership. So being a published author hasn’t been that huge a change for me. It’s like what I was doing already but dialled up to 11.
My duties caring for my severely disabled youngest daughter mean that I can’t travel or go to conventions, and so I haven‘t really experienced much of the “lifestyle” that can accompany modest success in genre writing. I don’t know lots of authors. I haven’t met lots of my readers. And to be honest I am OK with that. I always thought of writing as an intimate thing. A cottage industry where you have close contact with a small number of those who appreciate what you’re doing. And I have that. And it’s more than enough to keep me writing.
Did I locate the beginning of this journey? Probably not. Do I know where it’s all heading? I have no clue. It could veer over a cliff tomorrow. But I don’t really care. I’m having fun and the scenery is great. And to anyone thinking of beginning their own journey … take that first step. It’s how they all start.
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.
Tomorrow we have Timandra Whitecastle, author of A Touch of Iron.
fantasy authors, Mark Lawrence, Red Sister, writing journeys