This is shaping up to be a very strong year for fantasy, with books I am highly anticipating like City of Miracles, Oathbringer, and Tyrant’s Throne coming out. One such book that I have been incredibly impressed with is Mark Lawrence’s debut of a new series, Red Sister. A take on my favorite trope, magic schools, it was a amazing read from start to finish and I can’t wait for the sequel. While I wait patiently for the next book, I got a chance to talk with Lawrence a little bit about his newest work. While he is infuriatingly, and understandably, tight lipped about the second book – he answered a number of my questions about his writing process and Red Sister. Enjoy!
Why nuns? Not that there is anything wrong with nuns, but they were never a fantasy character I thought of much before Red Sister – something that the book has definitely changed about me.
I’m no good with “why?” questions. Because! I guess at some point I decided it would feature a “school” of some sort, then that it would be an all-girls institution. I’ve know people who were taught by nuns at girls’ schools. So nuns.
Something I would love to know more of is what determines if someone is full blooded or not? I initially thought it had to do with being a “pure” blooded hunska or marjal, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as there are people who are multi blooded. Can you elaborate on this?
I tend only to offer what’s in the books in answer to questions. It’s noted in the text that it’s possible to be more than a half-blood in two or more of the races, so clearly it’s not a description of the percentage of whatever blood you carry as >0.5 + >0.5 = >1. It’s simply a description of how much of the power/ability/potential of that race you have. And I guess if it were easy to know what determines that then they wouldn’t need child-takers testing random peasants, they would know from the parents, heritage etc. In our own genetics many regressive traits such as ginger hair will crop up seemingly at random.
What inspired you to make this new world instead of continuing with your Prince of Thorn’s and Fools universe? What made you choose to start something new instead of build out more of that world?
I grow bored. Not easily, but after a while. I very rarely get to the end of any long series I read. I don’t want to write one. It can be commercially sensible to stick to a winning formula, but I don’t have the heart for it. And any series is always an exercise in diminishing returns, if not creatively then in terms of readers. Book 9 will always have fewer readers than book 8.
What have you learned from your previous two trilogies that you applied to Red Sister?
Nothing? With the exception of some basic elements learned long before I wrote any of my published work I’ve never experienced writing as the kind of thing where you learn new skills. When I ice skated I used to go forward, and then I learned to skate backwards and I had a demonstrable new trick. Writing doesn’t feel like that to me. I can’t cite a single writing-thing that I have learned in the last decade.
One area I really felt you stepped up your writing in Red Sister was in the combat. Was there anything you did differently to write, or prepare to write, these sequences?
I never prepare to write. I just write. And no. To me the only difference is that most of the combat described is weaponless, and much of it involves one or more people who can move with extraordinary speed. The physics remains constant and so fights, from the point of view of someone who can move and think much faster than we’re used to seeing, have their own flavour. There are a number of what I call slow-mo descriptions which were fun to write.
Red Sister has a unique take on the emotion of anger. In so many fantasy books, it is always regarded as something that will get you killed. What made you decide to take rage in a different direction in this book?
I don’t think the book has a particular take on it, but certainly Nona is at odds with the idea that fighting is most effective when you are serene and in total control. I guess that just came out of her character. And it’s anger that starts most fights … you’d think it would at least be useful during them.
I know you are a big proponent of Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft, (we have it coming up in our workflow thanks to your recommendation). Are there any other books, recent or past, that you would recommend?
I really liked The Girl With All The Gifts, but it hardly needs my patronage with huge sales and a film out. The Vagrant by Peter Newman has a lot of originality and I really liked it. It may break rather too many conventions for some readers, but it’s certainly worth a look.
How do we get you to do a signing tour in the US? Do you have any recommendations for bribes or should we just start mailing you miscellaneous things until you come to NYC?
I don’t travel. It wouldn’t take any bribes, just the opportunity. I was asked to an event in London with Robin Hobb this month. I would have loved to go. But I have a very disabled child to look after and carers are incredibly hard to arrange.