* Dros has contacted all the MORNINGSTAR Nominees and invited them to write a short Blog post for us. He asked them all why they chose fantasy as a genre to write in and who their influences have been. They have all replied I'm happy to say, and so, it gives me GREAT pleasure to introduce our first 'Morningstar' (and Member here on site!).... take it away, Mark...
MARK LAWRENCE - ‘PRINCE OF THORNS’
Please don’t try this at home. They slap that on the TV with monotonous regularity for a very good reason. Monkey see, monkey do. And we’re 99.8% monkey when it comes down to it, complete with throwing poo at each other given half a chance (in this regard the internet constitutes three-quarters of a chance). So to steer this away from monkey shit and back to the question – why did I choose to write fantasy rather than some other genre? Because I was raised on a diet of fantasy. My mother read me Lord of the Rings when I was seven. I cried when [spoiler] Gandalf died [/spoiler].
In my early teens I raided second hand shops and got pretty much every book Michael Moorcock wrote in the 70’s. Elric, Corum, Dorian Hawkmoon, Erekose ... like favourite uncles to me! Favourite deranged uncles with doom-laden fates and demon-infested pasts. I read a LOT of fantasy in the 80s but the stories that stuck with me were LeGuin’s Earthsea, Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Empire trilogy by Feist and Wurts, and Julian May’s saga of the Many Coloured Land. In the 90s I have to admit I grew tired of fantasy and read little of it, choosing modern classics and literary fiction in the main. The only fantasy that could hold my attention was Gemmell’s work and I devoured large chunks of it. He captured what I loved about fantasy in the 80s and felt I’d outgrown, but somehow repackaged it in a way that still appealed. That’s something I owe him considerable thanks for. There’s a fire in Gemmell’s work that keeps me reading, keeps me involved. He is in fact the only author I’ve ever taken the trouble to find out more about.
Shockingly perhaps as a modern author encouraged to attempt a cult of personality through the twin evils of Facebook and Twitter, I’ve always found myself entirely happy to leave the author as a name on the front cover and confine my interest to what’s written between that and the back cover. For some reason though I hunted out Gemmell’s story and found it as fascinating as his fiction.
In the new millennium I took to writing short stories and learning to improve my efforts in online writing groups. The recommendation of a good writing buddy lead me to read George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, which I found to be exceptional and addictive, and later to start acquiring Robin Hobb’s books which also exhibit a standard of writing that really surprised me. I knew then that I had to raise my game! Not because I ever thought I stood a chance of publication, but simply because when I do something I like to do it well.
Most recently I’ve read and enjoyed the first two books in Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle and these along with his friend Myke Cole’s recent book Control Point have highlighted that it’s possible to do even good old fashioned demons & fireballs fantasy to a high standard that captures the fun without feeling like something aimed at a thirteen year old. The trick perhaps is to have a hidden current of deeper questions being asked of anyone paying attention.
The headline question I set out to answer here was about influences, and all I’ve done is list what I’ve enjoyed. I can’t cite any book as an influence other than A Game of Thrones, and that only inasmuch as it worked as a wakeup call to get serious or get out. I love Martin’s work but I can’t call it an influence – I don’t write like him, not even on the most basic levels. I guess in the end it’s all influence of a kind, all literary streams running down into the sea I’m swimming in, hoping not to drown.
One thing I enjoy is reading reviews that list as obvious influences on my work a whole host of authors I’ve not read and, until recently, not heard of. I suspect the truth is that publishers pick from the slush pile manuscripts that share elements of style with whatever is selling well for them that year. The slush pile is large enough to contain a vast sweep of techniques and approaches, and so if they want a manuscript that is in some ways similar to XXXX, they can find one. It doesn’t mean they’ve asked someone to write like XXXX or that the person they pick is even aware XXXX exists.
So in conclusion: Monkey see, monkey do. And for me writing a book is like igniting a plainclothes firework. Where the ideas come from, what drives it, is all a mystery to me. I light the touch paper and enjoy the show, as surprised as any reader who later picks the book at random off a shelf.
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