Tuesday, 28 February 2012

A certain je ne sais quoi...

I never like to waste any writing, possibly because I don't have time to revise. I operate on a write-once - move on, principle. This may be why having answered these interview questions for my French publishers I'm posting them here before they get translated and I lose contact with them. (Not that consigning them to the care of 50 million Frenchmen is a waste - but I would like to share them with people I can talk to as well)
<Some of the interview questions seem to have lost a battle with Babelfish...>

- First of all, would you mind introduce yourself to french readers?
Hi French readers! I’m Mark, a fairly regular chap living in the UK. I’m in my mid forties, have four kids, and my day job is as a research scientist. Today I spent working with a French guy getting a computer to recognise objects in radar imagery using some rather advanced algorithms from our collaborators at Oxford university. All good fun. Most of my time out of work is spent looking after my very disabled youngest girl (seven years old). Late at night I write.

- What are your favourite books? The ones which inspired you?
Beyond Hobb and Martin there’s no fantasy author who I would seek out, I just follow recommendations on particular books. Outside fantasy I tend to jump around a lot, but William Golding, John Irving, and Solzhenitsyn I keep going back to. I’ve even been known to try French literature! I’ve read quite a few of Jean-Paul Sartre’s works and some Simone de Beauvoir. And of course I was raised on Goscinny and Uderzo!

- How did you come up with Jorg story?
I just started typing. I don’t plan. The inspiration was Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. I wanted to see if I could make a violent and amoral character but manage to attach the reader to his story through his charisma and through the story between the lines.

- Writing the novel from a first person point of view, you were truely in Jorg's mind. How did you manage to enter it? When out, how did you feel?
I don’t think first person is any different to third person. If third person is written well then it can be turned into good first person writing automatically by following the rules of grammar.

His fingers tightened on the old woman's throat, the flesh purpling around them. He felt her struggles weaken.
My fingers tightened on the old woman's throat, the flesh purpling around them. I felt her struggles weaken.
One is not harder to write than the other, but something about the first person makes people think the second is more disturbing.

If you play the trick backwards then what you find in Prince of Thorns is less disturbing that many scenes in George Martin’s work for example, and in very many crime thrillers where murderers are hunted down.
So, to answer the question: I guess I was as much in Jorg’s head as much as any writer is in their character’s head – no it didn’t bother me – and no I don’t think it makes me a bad person!

- Many people praised your novel whom are now your pair. How did you react?
I was pleased. I never wrote expecting to be published. Being an author hasn’t been my lifelong dream, and the whole experience has been as surreal as it has been surprising. To have someone like Robin Hobb, whose work I’ve very much enjoyed, praise my writing is obviously very gratifying. But past being pleased I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. I’m not the kind to run around the house flapping my arms...

- The Prince of Thorns" also set the cat among the pigeons of Anglo-SaxonFantasy. Did you foresee that fierce a debate when published? How did you live cope with it?

Well as much as I would be happy to set cats among pigeons I’m not really aware of any fierce debate. The vast majority of reaction has been very positive indeed. There are always some people who are unhappy about any work of fiction. I guess I just gave a Gallic shrug! Nothing I’ve encountered as an author has been one tenth as stressing as what I have to cope with every day as the father of a profoundly disabled and life-limited child. If the debate were a hundred times more fierce it wouldn’t bother me at all.

- Are you trying to deliver a message through this trilogy?

- What can you unveil about the other books of The Broken Empire?
I can unveil that I finished the last of the trilogy over a year ago and have moved on to new things. I can say that each book is very different as I’m not interested in repeating myself, and that we get to see Jorg’s progression through life plus a lot of the world he inhabits as he’s a bit of a traveller. And finally I can reveal [spoiler] that as the setting becomes more clear from one book to the next, even the least observant of readers will not fail to notice that technically Jorg is French [/spoiler].  

- What are you planning?
I have several projects on the go. The one I’m working on right now is a strange mix of gunslingers and fantasy – first conceived before I’d heard of King’s Dark Tower (which I’ve now read all of) and with only very distant similarities.

- Through and through, could you describe "The Prince of Thorns" in three words?
I could use three words on the title! *Deeper than anticipated* How’s that?


  1. I think it's funny that you are a fan of Hobbs. I really liked your book but I found the assasin books to be painfully whiny. Almost the exact opposite of POT.

    Actually after looking up the other authors you like I'm further amazed. The guy who wrote Lord of the Flies? The cider house rules? Ungh!

    Throw in Little Women, The Heart of Darkness, and Catcher in the Rye and you have the high school reading list from hell.

    You should try Neuropath. That's the book that's stuck with me the most over the last few years.

  2. Heh - I re-read Heart of Darkness last month & I love Catcher in the Rye :) Little Women... never read.

    In some ways it's a shame these books are forced on school kids because people don't like being pushed into reading choices and it may be too young an age to encounter those novels. Plus, what sucks the joy out of something more than an exam? Read the comments on say Catcher in the Rye and the 1*s are full of people saying they came to hate it in school. I was 37 when I first read it.

    It's true that Fitz in the Hobb books does sit on the whiny border. For me he fell on the right side of it - for others, the wrong side. It's the most common complaint you see about those books. But Hobb is a very insightful writer and I loved the series.

    Neuropath's a Bakker book? I was going to try the Prince of Nothing books one day...

  3. Ha, Catcher in the Rye and Crime and Punishment are my two most hated books of all time.

    Agree about the school thing. There are several stories I hated as a kid that I've changed my mind about. In particular I remember hating a short story called the cold equations. I haven't reread it sense my school days but the ideas still cross my mind sometimes. What a great story that I still ponder it.

  4. Spoiler: I had no idea! Am I unabservative or is it just not very obvious in the first book?

  5. Hey Mari, it's essentially invisible in the book, unless you look at the map. If you look at the map closely and you're familiar with Europe, it would probably dawn on you. The rivers particularly are a give-away.