Author Essay and Excerpt from King of Thorns,
by Mark Lawrence
Writing book 2
Writing book 2 is some scary ...stuff!
It would have been much worse if I were writing it now after seeing the reception that Prince of Thorns received. Firstly I would feel all those fans of book 1 at my shoulder, wanting book 2 to blow their minds. Secondly I would have had a vociferous minority of critical voices nagging at me, scratching away at the back of my thoughts, and quite possibly cramping my style. Most likely by me going out of my way to irk them further!
It is much easier to write well when you’ve nothing to lose. If you make a threepoint basket while fooling around (and no, I never have) everyone turns round and says ’do it again!’ at which point, under such scrutiny, most normal humans would be lucky to get a shot within a yard of their target. If you write a book that a bunch of people love it’s the same thing the pressure is on and your writing muscles tighten up. People are watching, expecting, and all of a sudden you’ve got something to lose. You can lose their interest. It’s nice to have people reading you, saying good things . . . you have to be pretty laid back not to care if that goes away.
Fortunately I wrote King of Thorns before Prince of Thorns hit the shelves. I wrote it in six months and carried on to write book three in another six. Even so, the pressure was on. It’s in my nature to feel a duty to those people I’ve made a commitment to or who have placed trust in me. My publishers had staked some small part of their reputations on me. They had read me, praised me, paid me, and bet on me. With that praise ringing in my ears, and their dollars backing it up, I sat there looking at my first blank page and thinking that for the first time in my life it mattered what I wrote. If I wrote nothing, or wrote poorly, I would be letting people down. It changes the game.
My solution was to pretend none of it was happening to push it all from my mind and write as if it were just me same as always. To a large part I succeeded in the illusion. I was helped by the fact that my deadline was nearly two years off and so if I screwed up I would have time to tear it up and start again.
So I wrote as normal, letting the words take me wherever it was they wanted to and not sweating it. I had great fun and the story flowed out.
One thing I noticed immediately is that my book 2 (and likely book 2’s in general) are very different beasts. Your main characters are well defined. Your world is laid out. The flavour and tone of your story are scored deep. On the negative side, many of your opportunities for surprise and novelty have gone. On the positive side, you already have living breathing characters to whom your reader is attached, your explanationtostory ratio has tipped decidedly in favour of story.
I made two firm decisions when I agreed to a threebook deal. Firstly it would be a trilogy, not a series. There’s a power in knowing when to stop. I’ve seen too many great characters/worlds/ideas carry on past their prime and sully glorious opening books with a long and drawn out death rattle where characters become caricatures and the story ends not with a bang but a whimper as it’s abandoned by disenchanted readers. Secondly I would not simply turn the handle and roll out book 1 again with the furniture swapped around. Book 2 would be an evolution.
And so, here we are with the release of King of Thorns hard upon us and me wondering what the hell its reception will be like. King of Thorns is a more complex, more epic, and in some ways more sophisticated book than Prince of Thorns will the readers delivered to its doorstep by book 1 be ready for all that? Reviewers so far have been extremely positive. Let’s see what the wide world makes of it!
The following short passage is extracted from deep within King of Thorns and I hope gives something of the book’s flavour.
Extract from King of Thorns. Copyright Mark Lawrence, 2012. Reproduced with permission of the author and Ace Books.
I took myself to the courtyard where my levies, subjects, and bannermen waited, crowded rank upon rank before the gatehouse. Knights from Morrow to the left of the portcullis, armour gleaming, swords in hand. To the right more knights, plate armoured, the noblest sons of Hodd Town, my capital down in the valleys to the north. No doubt they had come to win the king’s favour and honour for their houses. Young men in the main, soft with gold and more used to lance and tourney than blood and ruin. I saw Sir Elmar of Golden among them, his armour radiant as his name implied. A warrior, that one, despite his finery.
They had some strength among them. Crowded on the gallery and stairs, crossbow men from the Westfast under Lord Scoolar, hardeyed and windburned. Packed before the splintering gate, men of the Hauntside, tough fighters from the hills, in leather and iron, axes honed, round wooden shields layered in goat hide. Behind these, warriors from Far Range, their iron helms patterned with silver and tin, each man armed with hammer and hatchet. And to the rear, ranked before the keep wall, Cennat shield dancers, their warboards taller than a man.
I walked among them, Makin at my shoulder, amid the stink and heave of bodies, the tension a taste in the air at once both sour and sweet. I hadn’t words for them, no kingly gestures, no speech to shout above the screams from beyond the wall and the crash of the ram. When you fight alongside Brothers you bind them with word and deed. When you fight among subjects you are a figure, a form, an idea. Men will die for many things, lives hoarded with care can be spent for the strangest of reasons. What bound us here, we men of the Highlands, was defiance. All men will dig their heels in if pushed enough. All men will reach the point that they say “no” for no reason other than opposition, for no reason other than the word fits their mouth, and tastes as good as it sounds. And in the Highlands, among our mountains, the heights breed men who will give no single inch without defiance.
I walked between the men of the Highlands, the old and young, some bearded, others clean cheeked, some pale, some red, the trembling and the steady, and came to stand before the portcullis, ironbound timbers splintered, the rush of the ram beyond, the savage cries of the hundred wrestling it toward me. My fingers found my knife hilt and I pulled it clear. Laid against my unburned cheek the metal felt like ice. The portcullis shuddered and groaned before the ram. Men of Arrow screamed and died as missiles rained upon them. The knife blade cut skin soft as a kiss. I took the blood on scarlet fingers and wiped it over the gate timbers. I turned my back on the gate, crouched before my men, and smeared a line of blood across the flagstones. As I returned to the keep I set my hand to a score of warriors, the eager ones, the ones in who I saw an echo of the same hunger that made me want that gate open every bit as much as those men on the ram.
“King’s blood!” Sir Elmar of Golden raised his axe, the crimson smear of my fingers left across his shining helm.
“King’s blood!” A hairy Hauntside warrior pressed the heel of his hand to the red imprint I set across his brow.
“King’s blood!” A Cennat dancer twirled the huge shield where my handprint sat scarlet across the white moon of his house.
The roar pulsed back and forth, following us within the keep. A king is a sigil, not a man but an idea. I thought they had the idea now.