Thursday 27 December 2012

Entries for the graphic novel contest

Read about the competition and FABULOUS PRIZES (tm) here.

This is the first entry. It will win the prize unless

a) you think you can do better
b) you have a go
c) you send it in.


1) by Bryn aged 19 and a half.

2) Heather

3) Edit (Lego version)

4) Edit (non-Lego)

5) Elsabe

6) Dimitar

7) Hilary's 4 year old nephew (3 items = Church, Raven & Jorg)

8) Tom (the dimensions compress this one somewhat - even more impressive in full resolution!)

 9) Clara

10) Michael

11) Tom Brown

Monday 24 December 2012

Wanna draw a graphic novel?

OK - so 1st and most important thing:  This is a competition for a mug and a book, not an offer of employment.
 2nd thing: I don't have a deal to do a Prince of Thorns graphic novel. I'd like one - but it hasn't happened yet. If I really like the winning entry of this competition I will send it to the new graphic novel department at Ace. I have zero influence with those people but a nice chapter 1 might spark their imaginations. If they decided to go ahead with the project there might be zero chance they'd want to secure your services for the artwork. Or those chances might be as high as one in a million. That's not a good reason to enter the competition. Think MUG. Think FREE BOOK.

The competition closes on 31st of January & if nobody else enters you could win it with a smiley face :D
I will display all entries and think about some fair voting scheme as well to help me in my choice.

You can email me entries (partial or otherwise) at

Entries so far can be viewed here.

So - below is the script I wrote for chapter 1. Stick to it, or don't. Put in as much or little effort as you like. Draw stick-men and stop after panel 1 page 1. Draw sumptious full-colour art and complete every panel. Entirely up to you.

Prince of Thorns – Graphic Novel Script
Mark Lawrence

Page 1
4 stacked panels onto the same scene
Panel 1 – Rooftops, the gables of a church, well-to-do but rustic village, single column of smoke rising. A line of ravens looking down from the church gables. Last of them with torn flesh hanging from beak.
Caption - Ravens! Always the ravens.

Panel 2 – Panning down we now see Jorg’s head – young man, sharp features, long black hair. Smear of soot on cheekbone.
Caption - War, my friends, is a thing of beauty. Those as says otherwise are losing.

Panel 3 – Panning lower – see that Jorg is armoured in a battered platemail breastplate, spattered with gore, see some buildings have flames from windows. See other Brothers looting – brutish men in mixed armour, some old, some huge, some skinny – a rag tag bunch. See simple fountain in town square and the first of the corpses. An injured man calling for water.
Injured man: ‘Water’
Caption – ‘Water! Water!’ It’s always water with the dying. Strange ‒ it’s killing that gives me a thirst.

Panel 4 – Pan to the ground and there’s a sea of corpses, blood running everywhere, propped against fountain base Bovid Tor, older, fatter peasant with a woodax close by, belly opened, guts out.
Caption - And that was Mabberton.

 Page 2
Panel 1- Close up of Bovid’s open guts, flies, hand straining toward axe hilt. Shower of severed fingers raining down onto belly.
Rike (out of frame): ‘Shit-poor farm maggots!’

Panel 2- Pan out. Jorg and Rike face each other standing to either side of Bovid, fountain behind them, blood and corpses. Where Jorg is relatively clean Rike is filthy with gore. Jorg = mature 14 y-o not far off six foot. Rike = massive man in partial platemail, bald headed, scarred, brutal face, close on seven foot tall, approaching 30. Jorg and Rike eyes locked (Jorg looking up). Severed fingers still dropping from Rike’s open hand. Jorg elegant longsword, scabbarded. Rike big axe, in hand. Sub-panel, Jorg’s eyes & Rike’s, intense stare.
Rike: ‘A whole village. One gold ring! Fecking bog-farmers.’
Jorg: ‘Settle down, Brother Rike. There’s more than one kind of gold in Mabberton.’

Panel 3- chest and head shot – Makin pushing between Jorg and Rike, arm around each one’s shoulders. Makin, tall knight, best armoured of the bunch, midway between Rike and Jorg in height. Dark curly hair, sweaty, thick lips, amiable face, often smiling. 
Makin: ‘Brother Jorg is right, Little Rikey. There’s treasure aplenty to be found.’

Panel 4- Close up, Makin’s face turned to Rike. Makin eyebrows up, suggestive – Rike surly.
Makin: ‘When you get farmers, what else do you always get, Little Rikey?’

Panel 5- Close up, Makin’s face turned to Rike. Makin expectant – Rike puzzled.
Rike: Cows?

Panel 6- Close up, Makin’s face turned to Rike. Makin grinning – Rike realisation.
Makin: ‘Well, you can have the cows, Little Rikey. Me, I’m going to find a farmer’s daughter or three.’

Panel 7- Makin and Rike, backs to us walking away toward house with broken door. Makin steering with arm across shoulder.
Rike: ‘Hur, hur, hur.’

Page 3

Panel 1- Panorama of Mabberton, several columns of smoke, ravens descending on bodies. Brother Maical leading the grey horse and head cart in stage left, dripping axe, hand on reins also holds severed head by hair. Maical solid, short-cropped hair, torn chainmail shirt, vacant face. Jorg foreground, chest up, staring at the flames starting to take hold. Rike and others disappearing into one of the larger houses.
Bovid Tor (beneath the frame): ‘Boy?’ (weak voiced)
Caption: A thing of beauty I tell you.

Panel 2 – Jorg crouching by Bovid, Jorg sword out, point on ground, arms up on hilt, resting. Bovid sprawled and pale.
Bovid: ‘Boy?’
Jorg: ‘Best speak your piece quickly, farmer. Brother Gemt’s a-coming with his axe. Chop-chop.’

Panel 3 – Jorg and Bovid. Bovid dying. Jorg angry.
Bovid: ‘H-how old are you, boy?’
Jorg: ‘Old enough to have slit you open like a fat purse.’
Bovid: ‘Fifteen summers, no more. Couldn’t be more….’

Panel 4 – Panorama again. More flames now, more smoke. Jorg standing looking down (at Bovid – out of frame). Head cart up close now. (we see heap of heads, tops of the wheels, Maical and Brother Gemt (smaller man, red hair, rat-faced, poc-marked).
Jorg: ‘Take his head. Leave his fat belly for the ravens.’     
Caption: Fifteen! I’d hardly be fifteen and rousting villages. By the time fifteen came around, I’d be King!

Saturday 22 December 2012

[ENDED] Prince of Thorns price promo for 24 hours on

Well it was fun while it lasted & I've got this to remember it by   :D

When I'm all washed up and forgotten I'll have it made into a T-shirt and bug the other residents at the old people's home with the story!

Thursday 20 December 2012

A Year In Numbers ... Two!

So following on from a similar post this time last year I record a year of triumphs and failures. A moment where I let the numbers-guy in me out of his cage before another year confined to only coming out at work.

It's been a pretty good 2012 all told! I get staggeringly little information on sales - it has to pass the dual barriers of my publishers' accounting department and my agent's accounting department. I do however believe I've now sold more than 100,000 books world wide. And that's pretty special!

Possibly the highest point of my writing career can be summed up in these pictures from the UK Amazon's best sellers in Epic fantasy kindle and hardcopy lists. During this price promotion Prince of Thorns was at one point the 27th best selling book in the UK on Amazon - happy face doesn't cover it :D

Lies, damn lies, and statistics to follow:

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Uh ... excuse me, but your magic system is showing ...

Brandon Sanderson (a popular fantasy author that I've yet to read) gives us:

Sanderson's First Law of Magics: An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.
And in a recent review of a friend's book someone said:

The lack of explanation of the magic system has me hesitant to continue the series.

Now both of these are opinions. I have a different one:

I've never been aware of reading a book with a well explained magic system. I can't say how I'd enjoy it but my instinct is that if an author started to explain the magic to me as if it were a system born on the pages of a Dungeons and Dragons rule book I would walk away. I quote Sanderson here because I've seen the 'law' repeated in several places. It's entirely possible I would enjoy his work - I don't have time to find out right now - but the sentiment that radiates off the two quotes above sits uneasily with me.

Don't get me wrong - I started playing D&D in 1977 and spent man-years at it. I love magic rules, the inventive combinations that one can concoct in something like Magic The Gathering. I like understanding how things work (I am a scientist after all). However, a novel is not a role-playing game put into words. For me, for magic to be magical, rather than just weird science, it needs mystery. It is an act of writing skill to simultaneously construct the mystery in magic and the faith that it will not be abused. Gandalf's magic didn't come nailed to a system diagram. He wasn't limited to some pre-declared set of rules - two level 1 spells a day - a fireball can only be yay big - or whatever. We trusted Tolkien that along with the mystery there would be an appropriate restraint. Gandalf was never going to say 'sod this let's fly' and magic them into the air, he was never going to turn the balrog into a toad. His power enchanted more than his enemies - it enchanted us - remnants of lost lore and ancient traditions, embodied in and by the man.

If I had to frame a law it might run:

Lawrence's First Law of Magics: An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the author gains the reader's trust and draws them into his world.

But both versions miss the point somewhat. The primary reason for including magic in a book (if you're me) is for the magic of it. To give the reader chills - to excite them - to make them wonder. Magic isn't there to solve conflicts - that's what cleverness and bravery and fortune are for. Magic is there to rock.

And if you do happen to wipe out thousands of men with magic and nary a hint of a cog-wheel or subsection to rule 27 paragraph 2 ... sometimes people go with it anyhow. Because they're in there with you, they trust your vision, they're sold.

That's the magic. Writing is the magic. Rules are for games.

Thursday 6 December 2012

List of Lists .... Two!

(I did this last year ... I'm doing it again!)

List of Lists

2012 has been kind to King of Thorns!

Below are the 31 'Best of 2012' lists, 7 'Best of 2013' lists, 3 'Best of 2014' & 1 'Best of 2016' lists that I know of featuring King of Thorns (presented in chronological order of publication). The two main reasons for assembling this list of lists are:

i) A thank you to the reviewers in question. It's a labour of love maintaining a book blog.

ii) You're probably here because you liked King of Thorns. These reviewers (or in one case, these 50,000+ voters) appear to share your taste in one book, perhaps you will enjoy the other books on their lists.

Rob J Hayes

Myth and Mystery (Rick Riordan)
The Upstream Writer

Pompous Barbarian
A Fantastical Librarian
J. Michael Melican
Fantasy Review Barn
T.L. Gray
Fantastical Imaginations
Rants of Fantasy
SFF World members vote
A Fantasy Reader
Fantasy Book Review
Fantasy Book Critic
Ranting Dragon
Elitist Book Reviews
Reddit r/fantasy poll
Wilson Geiger
Barnes & Noble
The Royal Library
Adam P Reviews
Founding Fields
SFF Meta
Draumr Kopa - Fantasy Book Blog
Only the best scifi/fantasy
Musings of a restive mind
Fantastical Imaginations
Lynn's Book Blog
Knutter's Choice
SFF World
Great Reads
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
The Flushies
Forbidden Planet
Nightlife Books
The Reading Frenzy
The Streetlight Reader
Goodreads Choice Award
Isaac Hooke, author

Monday 19 November 2012

Best Fantasy 2012 - The Goodreads Choice Awards!

Wow! Many thanks for all your votes. King follows Prince into the finals of the Goodreads Choice Award - Best Fantasy 2012!

The target to beat is:


Princeof Thorns came 10th last year with ~1000 votes. So if you can find it in your heart to stop King of Thorns coming last in the final ... then vote here!

Many thanks again!

Sunday 18 November 2012

Fifteen moments of fame . . .

(warning - probably not of interest to non-writers)

I added a book, The Lone House Mystery, to the Goodreads database recently.

Congratulations, you’re on your way to being a forgotten author. That's what this book tells me.

As a child I read and enjoyed (several times) a book called The Lone House Mystery. If it had a dust jacket it was long gone when I got to the book. The front cover declares it ‘A Collins Junior Mystery’. The spine reports the author as one J.Jefferson Farjeon. Shortly after joining I tried to find the book in their database (containing millions of titles) and rate it. It wasn’t there and none of the 11 million members have added it to the list of books.

It wasn’t until I rediscovered the book on our shelves at home recently that I was convinced I’d got the details right. But I had. Inside the front cover in my mother’s handwriting is a large declaration of her ownership with a painted boarder. She would have been quite a small girl when she got the book new in 1949.

The book may not be mentioned on Goodreads but J.Jefferson Farjeon is. The site lists 10 of his books and says he wrote at least 70 others. The write up for Farjeon (1883-1955) includes:

Joseph Jefferson Farjeon was always going to be a writer as, born in London, he was the son of Benjamin Farjeon who at the time was a well-known novelist whose other children were Eleanor Farjeon, who became a childen's writer, and Herbert Farjeon, who became a playwright and who wrote the well-respected 'A Cricket Bag'.

The family were descended from Thomas Jefferson but it was his maternal grandfather, the American actor Joseph Jefferson, after whom Joseph was named. He was educated privately and at Peterborough Lodge and one of his early jobs, from 1910 to 1920, was doing some editorial work for the Amalgamated Press.

He also wrote a number of plays, some of which were filmed, most notably Number Seventeen which was produced by Alfred Hitchcock in 1932, and many short stories.

When he died at Hove in Sussex in 1955 his obituary in The Times wrote of his "deserved popularity for ingenious and entertaining plots and characterization".

So, 80 books, obituary in the Times, a play for Hitchcock, born of actors and writers, descended from Thomas Jefferson ... and the 11 million members of Goodreads have given 10 of his 80 books a grand total of 11 ratings.

Time is the fire in which we burn and also the tide that drowns us.

Extraordinarily few writers are noticed at all and the vast majority of those are lost from memory with the passage of five or twenty-five years. Sixty-some years has all but erased J.Jefferson.

So. I read his book again. I started reading it to my daughter but she got bored – it is rather dry and dated – and since it’s short and I knew the story I finished it for my own nostalgia.

The book was written and set very soon after the war. Three posh children outwit common and vulgar crooks. It has some similarities with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five in that respect. The book isn’t without charm or imagination though, and I do enjoy the ‘rather’, ‘do be a sport’ ‘I say’ ‘keep your pecker up’ ‘jolly rotten’ etc. The strong moral messages and reiteration that our three children are made of the right stuff are ... directed at children. Nobody here is complex except perhaps for a repentant thief – it is a children’s book after all and it was entertaining when I read it in 1972/3/4 less so now.

The plot is implausible and discordant notes are struck when the crooks produce pistols and shots are fired and our children blithely carry on defending the house they’re ensconced in with a hose pipe. Possibly the proximity to the war put a different perspective on things at the time ... I don’t know. It seems bizarre now – as does the curious lack of emotion from their family who lose them from a train into a snow storm and don’t find them for three days. Most would expect the thaw to reveal frozen corpses . . .

In the end, putting nostalgia aside, I’ll give this 2* for ‘ok’. It has dated, and it’s too dry for today’s 8-12 year olds who have so much else on offer, and too shallow for the 13+ who might read past the old fashioned language.

So back on the shelf it goes and J.Jefferson’s shade can slip back into the nameless horde of thousands of other popular authors who we’ve forgotten that we forgot.

What we do in life echoes in eternity.
(but often very very quiety, even if it's in print)

Saturday 10 November 2012

All Reigns Must End

To reach the throne requires that a man journey. Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.

The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine. The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at th
e end days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.

This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don't look to me to save you. Don't think I will not spend you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don't follow me.

Follow me, and I will break your heart.


Pre-order US / UK

268 days to go - click here for update

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Strangely Narrowed Horizons

This post is an observation about the critique of fantasy (or more broadly SFF). It might be described as a complaint, and will surely ruffle feathers if it manages to penetrate the circles I have in mind – an unlikely event given their inward-looking nature.

What this post most assuredly is not is a complaint about a specific critique or about the common or garden type of critique that seeks to tell the reader what a book’s about and to share the critter’s enthusiasm or distaste for the end product. The vast majority of bloggers who critique books are just telling it like it is, performing a useful service for other readers who want to spend their book dollars effectively.

I’m addressing a largely different beast. I’m talking about intellectual criticism. The sort that seeks to dig deeper, go past the plot, link the work into the wider world and traditions of literature.

If that’s something with zero interest for you then it’s probably best to bail now. Here’s picture of some ruffled feathers to reward your efforts.

So, a serious critique of a piece of literature can look at many things, including: relationships, the internal landscapes of the characters, themes, plotting, narrative arc, narrative voice, conflict, etc. A mixture of mechanics, thematics, and also the societal and existential dimensions. We’re taught this in our English classes at school. In university things become deeper, more involved, but it’s more of the same. When literary criticism lines up the classics of literature in its sights it employs these tools, it seeks the meaning behind the words, between the lines.

Generally genre fiction is not targeted for intellectual criticism of this nature. It isn’t deemed worth the effort. The topics that might be focused upon by such critique are held to be absent from the work. Even fantasy, the king, queen, and footman of genre writing, is regarded thusly. Mostly.

There is now (and perhaps has been for a while – I am no expert, simply someone with an opinion too large to keep in his mouth) a school of intellectual criticism targeted at fantasy. This school of criticism is armed with a hammer.

That hammer is societal deconstruction.

There is a mentality that expects (nay demands) that each SFF book is a tightly wrapped social commentary, a distorting mirror of our society crafted with the sole point of making socio-political points, usually to educate the unwashed masses through parable in the business of how society should be. Thus every fantasy story whether it be about bugs or robots or whatever, is really an agenda either supporting or making war on the pundit’s world view. The critiquer’s goal is to beat each book placed before them with the hammer of societal deconstruction until it yields its secret agenda. These dwarves are jews and Tolkein is a racist! These robots are a metaphor for women and their treatment is problematic. These actual women are actual women and their treatment is problematic – which must be what the book seeks to propagate. Et cetera.  

Why is the diverse and rich output of many intelligent and skilled authors being repeatedly hit with a hammer for meaning when the toolbox is crammed with instruments far more suited to the purpose in many cases?

It seems to me that, in part because of this poverty of tools, the intelligensia of genre critiquing mistake complexity for depth, applaud the compression of philosophy into aphorism, and only see subtext when it's monologued 'to camera' by the protagonist. I only have a narrow window on the genre, on genre criticism, and on literary fiction - but it seems to me that the critiques that try to reach beyond the plot in genre critting are looking for social messages rather than for the 'open questions asked about the human animal' that literary fiction poses.

Possibly this is a relic of a bygone era when science fiction (particularly in television (such as The Twilight Zone)) would be used to discuss issues such as racial oppression and gender roles which would not get aired in any other format. Today a great deal of critique is focused on feminist deconstruction of genre writing.

Many SFF books do contain or even focus on social commentary – both through the desire of the author and likely in response to the understanding that this is how they will be read. We may not have censorship in the same way now, but these approaches allow the subject to get under people's guards before they impose their knee-jerk responses. It’s all good – I’m certainly not trying to say this kind of book is not out there or to stop people from discovering what its subtext is.

However – this is not the be all and end all of what fantasy books are about nor the totality of how we may critique them. To me it’s far more interesting and appropriate to address existential issues in fantasy - we are human when removed from our society - human when deprived of our history - it takes more skill and reveals more truth to place a human in alien environs and explore them. Separate a man from the familiarities of class and society - build a new world around him and see what he is then - that raises more questions about what we really are than offering a slice of him in suburbia.

The deeper themes in much good fantasy are about what happens within the confines of one person’s skull – existential stuff – the enduring stuff of classic literary fiction – not the transitory business of social structure which holds far less interest for me. The game of deconstructing every single story for its social message is one that bores me. We might hope that literature as a whole gives good messages about equality and diversity. It’s not the task of every single book to make that its raison d’etre within the slim confines of its covers. Can we not declare our genre worthy of full inspection, capable of bearing any message and exploring all dimensions, interior and exterior. Could our conventions widen the focus from 'gender in genre' and 'diverse sexuality' panels and spread their nets more widely? Could our literary elite look for a little more depth than yet another strained attempt to reiterate contemporary society’s issues in an alien culture? Could we not set down that hammer just once in a while and maybe use the screw driver or the drill?

I do realise of course that the very first and most predictable response would be to turn all those devices upon my own work and parade it as lacking in all other regards too – but that’s really not the point. Just because all you’ve got is a hammer doesn’t make me a nail.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

VOTE, damn you, VOTE!

A hugely important poll is coming up and you must get your vote in! It's your democratic duty.

You can also vote for Barack Obama or Mit Romney if you're so inclined (and American (and not a felon)).

What I'm talking about though is this:

Possibly the most important picture book of our generation. It's crazy frikken robots for godsake!

Read it here. Or watch the motion picture here!

Through some ridiculous bureaucratic error

                                               it seems that Wheel-Mouse has been omitted from the Goodreads Choice Awards nominees for Best Picture Book 2012.

Clearly this is crazier than robots. However, all is not lost. Friend Elephant can still save the day. All you need to do is go here to the poll. Scroll down to the write-in box, and start typing in Wheel-Mouse vs all the crazy robots. And we're good to go.

All profits from the book go to the hospice charity.

Look. Here's a picture of Celyn handing over the check for the monies made so far (also the check from the sale of the King of Thorns manuscript).

Also, if you really want to, you could go here and vote for King of Thorns as it's been nominated in the Fantasy category!

Here's what being nominated did for King of Thorns' fortunes (and the rest of the trilogy):

Let's do this for Wheel-Mouse!

Thursday 25 October 2012

Lost in Translation

Prince of Thorns is now out in twenty-three languages and half a dozen alphabets. In fact it came out in Dutch first, then German, and I had to wait another six months for a copy I could read.

Some of the many translators involved have contacted me for clarification on one or other point and so I’ve had the chance to get a small insight into the business of moving a work of fiction from one language to another.

So far I’ve spoken to (well, had email from) my Dutch, French, Hungarian, and Greek translators. I’ve also seen comments on the translation of Prince of Thorns from my Indonesian and German translators in interviews and blogs.

[addition: my Greek translator blogged on the business of translating Prince of Thorns here]

The translation of a work of fiction is so much more than the ‘simple’ mapping of one language to another. Google translate does that (albeit far less well than a skilled human) but that task is the tip of a wordberg.

Just for starters, Prince of Thorns now has at least six titles. The title of course may be driven by marketing directives as well as issues of translation, but it’s possible the title sounded silly, or awkward, or rude in other languages.

We have:
Prince of Darkness (Germany)
Prince of Lightning (Italy)
Prince of Evil (Spain)
The Skinned Prince (France)
Prince of Revenge (The Netherlands)

I discovered recently that Indonesian has no tenses! That puts paid to all my tense games with box-memories in King of Thorns! It also means that sentences may need considerable help in order for the required information to come through them. I saw this on my Indonesian translator’s blog (Linda Boentaram). [Translated here for you by Google Translate!]
This novel is the hardest novel I ever translated. In addition to the language of the 'guy really' short-short alias that often have to be read twice to understand his point, there are sentences that seem to have no context or not important, but it is an indication for the things that happened next. I would not be surprised if the readers of this novel difficult to read or comment on the book's frustrating, because I have the time to translate it flips. Sometimes I had to add the words became clear that the meaning of the sentence, but did not venture too detailed so that the original author's style is not lost.

My German translator Andreas Brandhorst reported in an interview [Translated here for you by Google Translate.]
A good translation presents the novel as originally written in the target language. The style is important if the author really has its own individual language, and this is not often the case. But if you as a translator is an author who comes with its own language or used deliberately special stylistic devices, one is called twice and have to follow the language of the author. I had a few months ago such a case, as I have translated as "Prince of Thorns" by Mark Lawrence (German: "Prince of Darkness", in May 2011 Heyne), which surprised me with the sound of his voice and enthusiasm. In the translation of all challenging works is: you have to get into the skin of the author, as he write and think.

So in addition to the meaning it’s a challenge to preserve the voice of the author through the necessary changes. But wait, there’s more!

I’ve heard from my French translator Claire Kreutzberger on both books and discovered how far the translator’s work extends. Consider that each cultural allusion I make needs to be examined and a decision made as to whether it will work for the new audience. When Jorg quotes from the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty, “All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men . . .” what would a French reader make of the literal translation? Instead Claire called upon her own experience and used a French nursery rhyme,  "Pirouette cacahu├Ęte" - the story of a little man who falls down the stairs and breaks his nose, and then someone repairs it with some golden yarn. Something suitably comic and yet tragic that would capture the same sentiment.

I also quote from Andrew Marvell, from the Iliad, Shakespeare, and other sources all of which require not a literal translation of my quote but the exact words used in the official translations such that they can resonate with the reader more effectively.

I’m also pleased to report that even read with minute care and translated line by line the story still has an effect and the translators are able to appreciate / enjoy / be moved / be bored / be appalled by it, each depending on their tastes. In several cases translators have reported laughing at the funny parts, shedding a tear in the sad or poignant places.  Which is all good.

So as Prince of Thorns and the rest of the trilogy roll out into more and more languages I’d just like to tip my metaphorical hat to the translators wrestling with my prose all across the world. It’s a far harder job than I ever imagined. And being terrible at languages myself I had always imagined it to be a pretty difficult job in the first place!

Sunday 21 October 2012

What's my line?

I've got one more set of these to give away. Free. Gratis and without charge. Internationally. I'll even sign them on sticky labels inside.

To enter just put you favourite line (up to 3 consecutive sentences let's say) in the comments and a winner will be chosen at random midnight (UK time) Halloween (31st October).

If you're lazy you can find quotes other folk like here and here!

Thursday 18 October 2012

Murder’s bad m’kay?

 For the record: I think that murder, torture, rape and stealing are bad things. They’re wrong. You shouldn’t do them.

Shortest. Blog-post. Ever!

Well no. There wouldn’t be a blog post at all if it wasn’t for the fact that some people although they know that murder is bad, aren’t sure that you do, and feel that the fact I don’t spell out in Prince of Thorns that these are things you shouldn’t indulge in means it’s a book that should be condemned.

This does seem to be an approach that takes a staggeringly low view of one’s fellow readers, but there you go.

One of the first things to note after a year of feedback is my discovery that people like to use any book that has a high profile in order to bang a gong about whatever issues are most prominent on their mental landscape. People like to bang that gong without interruption (who likes to have a rant interrupted?) - despite being totally available and doing dozens of interviews, nobody with any of these complaints has _ever_ asked me about them, even when side by side with me on a comment list etc. The fact is that unfailingly people with an issue they want to talk about and who pick at my work to reinforce it, just want to say their piece. It’s their own points they want to make. They don't want the inconvenience of my opinion!

There is a mentality that expects (nay demands) that each book is a tightly wrapped social commentary, a distorting mirror of our society crafted with the sole point of making socio-political points, usually to educate the unwashed masses through parable in the business of how society should be. Thus every fantasy story whether it be about bugs or robots or whatever is really an agenda either supporting or making war on the pundit’s world view.

I do not subscribe to this mentality. I don’t play those games. Any deeper themes I have are about what happens within the confines of one person’s skull – existential stuff – the enduring stuff of classic literary fiction – not the transitory business of social structure which holds far less interest for me. The game of deconstructing every single story for its social message is one that bores me. We might hope that literature as a whole gives good messages about equality and diversity. It’s not the task of _every_ _single_ book to make that its raison d’etre within the slim confines of its covers.

Let’s put that aside and return to murder (it’s bad, m’kay).

The argument goes that I have written a book in which bad things happen but I have not told you that those things are bad. Worse still, cry the people who have read the book and hate Jorg, I’ve tried my level best to make you like Jorg. The fact that they hate him . . . well I guess they’re just immune to my evil plan – it’s the rest of you who don’t know that murder is bad who will be helplessly seduced by Jorg and go out murdering common folk the moment you close the back cover.

“are we supposed to like Jorg?” – a question I often see posed by people who then go on to make it very clear that my intention was for them to like him (it can’t be a fantasy book without a hero!) but they manfully (or womanfully) resisted.

Well here’s the thing. I was interested in whether the combination of first person and charisma, of youth and some measure of doubt would draw readers to the character. I never decided that the reader should like Jorg. I was interested in challenging the reader with a complex character. To have him do terrible thing but to muddy the waters a little, to consider how long a shadow the crimes of youth cast down our years - to consider to what degree if any youth and background extenuate - to see what elements of the character resonate with readers - to examine our own reaction when the evil-doer is charming and witty, and how that contrasts with our feelings when a coarse and ugly villain does those same deeds.

I do all that and people often appear to insist that whilst they end up hating/disliking/condemning Jorg ... _I_ am desperately trying to make them love him? Surely that would mean I've done a piss-poor job of it? If I wanted to make everyone love him wouldn't I just make him a nice person who does nice things?

The fact I get a wide variety of reactions to Jorg is (to me) welcome confirmation that I pitched the question just right and that readers (a diverse bunch) fall on every side of the fence (a clever multi-dimensional fence).

Prince of Thorns isn’t a book that sets out to make you cheer bad deeds or a bad person  – it’s a book that sets out to challenge the reader with a character – to make you think about a real (albeit unusual) person and about the issues of what makes us bad, what is and isn’t forgiveable, what role nurture plays over nature, how we react when the badness is done by someone clever, intelligent, charming. And it doesn’t answer those questions. The trilogy as a whole stumbles toward an answer, but it won’t ever get there. It’s what we scientists call ‘an unsolved problem’.

Above all it’s not a guide for life, not an instruction manual, not a political statement or social commentary. It’s a book that treats you as an adult, accepts that you’re not an idiot and already know murder is a bad thing, and presents you with a puzzle. Jorg.

Saturday 13 October 2012

The Cutting Room Floor

These are the only passages cut from King of Thorns. They originally sat here and there before "Wedding Day" chapters with the intention of showing glimpses of the battle from different perspectives - from the bottom rather than the top, to put a more human face on the casualty figures.

Editorial thinking was that they would add confusion and dilute the storyline. That's probably true.

I've posted most of the these before, but here they are in one place.


i) Sorren Hammerson, seventeen, arrow shot. Tellan slopes, below the Haunt.

Son of William and Sereh, raised in Northdean, Renar.

The arrow pinned him to the moment, and Sorren fell, knowing that for all his life he and the arrow had been racing toward each other.

He fell. His head bounced once and his helm clattered away. A last breath left in a crimson spray of surprise. Sound faded, bowstrings thrummed into silence, the sky bright and wide, filled everything. He had wanted to be a farmer. He had wanted Milly Turner. The sky narrowed to the gleam of her hair. Narrowed again. Gone.


ii) Martel Harris, twenty-three, sword blow. Blue Moon Valley, west of the Haunt.

Son of Martel and Hela, born above the Falling Angel’s barroom, Crath City, Ancrath.

Find something worth following and stick to it, son. Martel took his father’s advice along with his name, and both served him well. He followed into the Forest Watch, followed the Forest Watch into the Renar Highlands. He followed the son as he had the father.

Just don’t put a foot wrong. Another gem of Harris the Elder’s wisdom. Martel put a foot wrong in Blue Moon Valley. You can’t follow on a turned ankle. He drew his sword and chose his spot amidst the broken rock. Kenna and Justin tried to stay with him. The first time anyone ever tried to follow Martel Harris. He saw them off with curses and threats.

A tear ran hot on his cheek in the coldness of the wind. He watched the men of Arrow over the bright line of his blade.

“I may have followed, but I wasn’t led.”


iii) Nial Ravener, thirty-four, spear wound. Blue Moon Pass.

Son of Graem and Nalla, raised in the Haunt. Husband to Erin. Father to Kai, Kelin, and Keris.

The spear hurt less than the climbing. Nial pitched into the deep snow, almost grateful for the excuse to stop. He lay cradled in softness.

Time was I could run all day. From valley to peak. Then time caught me up.

A blessing to die in the snow. Clean, serene, where all sins are covered, in the purity of high places.

No pain but the ache in his lungs and the memory of agony in his thighs. It felt good to be still, in a cool embrace, cold kisses on his forehead. Even the hot wet wound in his back seemed like release.

Images of Erin at the cottage door. The children in the hay. Bright days of summer. Too bright. Nial turned to older days, dim yesterdays lit now by the last beats of his heart. He remembered his mother, framed in golden curls. How fiercely he had loved her.


iv) Chaliced Rome, fourteen, arrow shot, Haunt, east wall.

Son of Molly Freerange, father unknown, raised in the Haunt’s shadow.

So many arrows had missed him that Chaliced started to think they all would. He started to think Kelly’s warm kiss, the one she gave behind the stables, really would keep him safe. Even when the arrow came he thought it some kind of mistake. It didn’t look like an arrow, just black flights and an inch of wood standing from his chest. It hadn’t felt sharp, more like a punch. He reached to tug at it but his fingers were too cold to grip. Chaliced turned to ask Old Jorna and something hit him in the neck.

To fall forty feet from wall-walk to courtyard flagstones takes almost no time, but starting to fall, those moments of imbalance, of flailing arms, of a foot finding nothing but air beneath it, they can take forever.

Even falling Chaliced didn’t think he would die, or that he could die. Fourteen is too young for it. He wanted . . . too many things. One more kiss would do.


v) Alan Herder, forty-six, lost, east sally tunnel.

Son of Fredrick and Kath, born and raised in Gutting.

Forty-six is too old for running up a mountain and down again. Alan set his back to the rock and slid to a sitting position. The dark wrapped him tighter than blindness – this night had never been broken, by sunlight or by flame.

Exhaustion had taken his legs from him, and what put one foot before the next came from somewhere deeper than his will. In the face of all the blood and death, avalanche and rockslide, Alan Herder had made his way where so many fell and failed. Tired to the point of delirium he followed Captain Keppen into the sally tunnel, shuffling along the ancient path through the caves.

Even now he couldn’t remember how he lost them, all his fellows in the Watch, how he stumbled sleep-drunk from the path, unseen, and took the wrong turn. Too tired to notice the darkness it had taken a collision with a cave wall to bring him to his senses.

Alan had hollered, yes, and run, hurt his leg, crawled, then limped, and finally sat in the ancient night and let sleep claim him.

Forty-six is too old for running up mountains, but any age is too young to die alone buried in the dark.


vi) Connie Hux, sixteen, arrow shot, Haunt, east wall.

Daughter of Samath and Greta. Born Hodd Town, Renar.

The speed of the shafts zipping over the walls didn’t scare Connie. It isn’t until you haul the bowstring back for your first shot, until you feel it bite at your fingers through the leather of the guard flap, and your bicep aches with the tension, that you remember just what rides behind the sharp iron of those arrowheads. The arrows didn’t scare her - she scared herself.

Connie loosed six shots into the men streaming to reinforce the enemy’s ram. She knew each one hit, though she didn’t stop to watch. Commonsense dropped her between shots and she’d no desire to see men die. If it were her say the gates would open and the Prince of Arrow could have her oath. But Camson was on the walls, up in arms to defend the Highlands and King Jorg. And it only stands to reason – the more who held the walls alongside him, the less likely Camson would be to get hit.

As Connie stood for her seventh shot, Camson glanced her way, a wild grin on him. Even the winter sun struck gold from his hair.

The day turned darker.

“God no . . .” A voice that creaked with age.

Old Jorna’s fingers hurt her shoulders as he helped her down. The light came flat as before a storm.

“I’m not hit.” She tried to say it.

Across the wall Camson loosed another arrow out toward the ridge, not seeing her, not looking.

“I’m not hit.” The words wouldn’t come.

“Ah hell . . .” Something more than age cracked Jorna’s voice.

And darkness took her.