When I brought Jorg Ancrath’s story to a close in Emperor of Thorns I made it clear that I didn’t want to be wedded to one character for the whole of my writing career, and if moving away from him gambled that career then so be it. Jalan Kendeth was about as different from Jorg as it is possible to be in terms of character. But he was still a young prince in the Broken Empire.
Just as I wasn’t prepared to be tied indefinitely to the same character, it turned out that after six books in the same world I wanted a change from that too.
Nona Grey, the lead character in Red Sister, lives in a very different world to that in which the Broken Empire sits. The people are different, the land is different, the magic is different – even the sun isn’t the same colour.
The writing style has also changed. My previous books were told by the protagonist, seen through their eyes, and readers were offered an armchair seat in the mind of the prince in question. The books were written in the first person. Nona’s tale is told in the third-person form used in the majority of fiction. It offers a less claustrophobic feel to the story.
Nona’s adventure sprang from a question I asked my editor: What sort of cover would Prince of Thorns have been given if it were titled ‘Princess of Thorns’, and instead of being credited as a ‘Mark’ I was a ‘Mary’? My editor sent me a piece of artwork of a dangerous looking young woman with a sword, and some time later I started writing a story about her.
Although Red Sister has a good measure of violence in it, the story also focuses on the nature of friendship – on making friends, on losing them and on loyalty. I did worry at some points about the size of the step I was taking by writing a story about novices in a convent. Would my publishers think it was a Malory Towers with knives, or a Chalet School for ninjas? Would my readers come with me? And would I find new ones wherever it was I might have taken myself?
Well, with the April 2017 publication date still on the horizon, those worries will linger a while yet, but from the early reviews one common refrain has been ‘his best book yet’. Which, funnily enough, is what my US and UK editors said when they read it. I guess they must know their stuff!
So, while it isn’t true that in writing it’s change or die, it certainly is true for me that I have to change things up every now and then or die, at least a little, on the inside. I’m very happy to have written the Book of the Ancestor trilogy and feel that Nona has earned her place in my affections alongside Jal and Jorg. I’m proud of the story and I hope the readers who try it will have as much fun as I did writing it.
Red Sister is will be available online and from all good bookstores on 27th March!
Note from the editor, Jane Johnson:
I loved Jorg fiercely, despite (maybe because of?) his dangerous amorality: I loved how Mark dragged us back through his thorns to show us what traumas and twists had made him who he was. Then came Prince Jal, a regular Harry Flashman of a character, apparently debauched and cowardly, shot through with surprising dashes of decency and heroism. Both characters were very male. They strutted through the books with an excess of charismatic masculinity. When Mark declared the next series would feature a female protagonist I was delighted, but a little nervous. Could he pull it off? I shouldn’t have worried. Nona is a delight: ferocious, pig-headed, gritty, irreverent and possessed of a huge, wild heart. I adore her, and I think you will too.