Mark Lawrence: Endings

Endings are difficult. I thought perhaps that someone famous and wise had said that, and that with the aid of Google I might be able to quote them, and seem wise by association. But the truth is that it’s so obvious there’s no original source to quote from. Breaking up is hard to do – there! I found someone to quote. Neil Sedaka said it for us in song.

The full quote is:

Do do do, Down dooby doo down down,

Comma, comma, down dooby doo down down,

Comma, comma, down dooby doo down down,

Breaking up is hard to do.

Author photo of Mark LawrenceBut let’s not dwell on that. The point is that whether it’s the last page of a book, or a windswept street corner at 3am after a party in Wandsworth 1985 … breaking up is hard to do. Endings are difficult.

Endings are important. Quite how important depends on the reader. Stephen King is a favourite of mine and of a great many other people, and yet the man can only write a good ending to a book by accident. With King, I enjoy the journey, and even if the destination isn’t what I’d hoped for, I still enjoyed the journey and want to take another trip.

Some readers, however, are all about the destination. They subscribe to the ‘rat turd in your cereal’ philosophy. The rat turd might only be a tiny percentage of the contents of your cereal bowl, but you’re unlikely to just eat around it – the breakfast is ruined.

Both approaches have valid things to say. The ending is often what stays with a reader and stands in as shorthand for the whole book.

Endings are hard, because in the body of the book pacing is more flexible. You can put off this task or that task, knowing that you’ll have time to get to it later. You can seed new elements to the story, assuming that at some point they will weave seamlessly together. You can build your hero and your villain (if you have them) in isolation from each other, piling strength on strength.

But in the end … it all has to come together. One element rushes headlong into the next in the diminishing space available, and you have to hope (or better still, engineer through writing skill) that they join together to make something greater than the sum of their parts.

The Girl And The Moon is the final book in The Book of the Ice. So, not only do the last few pages constitute the end of the book they’re sitting in, but they bring to an end a story that has occupied two other books as well.

Cover for The Girl and the Moon: Final Book in the stellar new series from bestselling fantasy author of PRINCE OF THORNS and RED SISTER, Mark Lawrence (Book of the Ice, Book 3) eBook :Over and above that, The Girl And The Moon ends threads and elements that loosely connect The Broken Empire trilogy, The Red Queen’s War trilogy, The Book of the Ancestor trilogy, and The Impossible Times trilogy. So, now there are 15 books, FIFTEEN, all peering over my shoulder as I bash out the final chapter of The Girl And The Moon.

The connections among these books are, as I mentioned, loose, and I had no intention of writing a Third Book of the Ice that required a reader have read and memorised all 14 of my other books. Many of the connections are subtle and will be noticed only by the dedicated Lawrence reader. The book is designed to be enjoyed by a reader who misses ALL of the connections.

I invent my stories as I tell them. I’m what George RR Martin calls ‘a gardener’. Like him, I throw out seeds and see what grows. It’s a nice analogy but insufficient to describe the process. If you just throw out seeds and leave it at that, you will end up with a hotchpotch garden with splashes of colour here and there. A wild meadow, basically. Some may find it pretty but it’s not exactly gardening. A gardener has to employ some tools and bring a degree of order. Quite how much depends on taste. Whether you want the ornamental garden of a stately home or the chaotic sprawl of a wildlife garden, you still need to put in the work, if only to control the weeds.

For me the second phase of any novel or trilogy, after having begun to sow those seeds, is to make connections. To see that this one thing fits nicely with that other thing. To bring together disparate elements in ways that solve problems, and eventually direct what might otherwise be a sprawling mess into a steadily narrowing focus.

It’s the ability to make these connections and focus a story that always amazes me. It’s never something that I feel confident will happen. And yet, time and again, it has happened. I have found that this character, that power, these locations, can be combined in some unexpected way to reduce the number of variables while generating excitement, and eventually bringing us to a conclusion.

The same process of connection can occur over a trilogy rather than just across the span of one particular book. And, of course, it can occur over multiple trilogies. The inclusion of trilogy spanning connections is somewhat of a two-edged sword though. These overarching threads can excite and intrigue readers, but they can also (wrongly) put readers off.

When a writer sends a book to an agent or publisher seeking publication they know that the person at the other end is drowning in manuscripts and thus is naturally looking for reasons to swiftly discard as many as possible. These days, most readers seem to have a to-be-read stack of books that towers so high that its collapse might cause casualties. And this moves them, reading-wise, closer to the agent/publisher. Readers actively look for a reason NOT to read new books, because they already have more than they can cope with.

Cover for The Girl and the Moon by Mark LawrenceAs such, the implication that this new trilogy is linked to an older one that the reader hasn’t read, can instantly be taken as a reason not to read the new trilogy. The reader feels that they will miss out on something important, it will be like starting a series on book 3. Why bother? Thus, my reluctance to acknowledge the tenuous connections across my trilogies. I don’t want to give the reader an excuse to turn away from the newest offering.

Yes, Doctor Taproot appears in every trilogy I’ve written. But the important part is that I have never written a book where knowing this fact is required to enjoy the book. I write the best books I can – and then there’s this extra thing that might make a subset of the readers smile.

Imagine someone told you after you read The Lord of the Rings, that the Silmarillion also exist. It’s like that. A generation read and loved The Lord of the Rings without knowing the Silmarillion existed. JRRT wrote the best book he could, and your enjoyment was not blunted because you didn’t know what Galadriel got up to in her childhood. It’s the same sort of thing here. Not that I’m claiming to be JRRT.

I lay all this out to illustrate the difficulty of ending such a thing. The quandary of giving endings to threads and characters that the reader of only this trilogy may not even be aware are woven and/or walking through the pages. There is, for example, one character many readers will be intimately familiar with, but who weaves themself through this story so subtly that even their greatest admirers may miss the evidence of their fingerprints on the tale.

One reader well versed in the ways of this particular character reached the reveal and messaged me to say “You absolute madman, you actually did it!”. Another, who had also followed the character through many books, missed their presence entirely and yet still 5★ed The Girl And The Moon and reviewed it with lavish praise. So, in the final analysis, I feel that the undercurrents of the many books reach a confluence here that will bring a measure of satisfaction to the sharp-eyed Lawrence devotee, whilst having no negative impact whatsoever on the ability of a newbie to devour The Girl And The Moon with maximum enjoyment.

But it wasn’t an easy needle to thread!

I’ll finish with mention of one of the least satisfying but also wisest endings I’ve read. Namely, the ending in book 13 of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, aptly called The End, wherein Lemony Snicket leaves a great many important storylines hanging and uses them to underscore his main point: that a story never truly begins nor ends, and a book is merely a sliding window over events, page 1 not commencing the narrative any more than the final page can halt it.

I’ve not followed Lemony’s approach. I have provided the very best ending I can achieve. But it is true, that the story began before I chose to start chronicling it, and will venture forwards in many imaginations, including mine, even though I will no longer pursue it through the keyboard.

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Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence was born in Urbana–Champaign, Illinois, to British parents but moved to the UK at the age of one. He went back to the US after taking a PhD in mathematics at Imperial College to work on a variety of research projects including the ‘Star Wars’ missile defence programme. Returning to the UK, he has worked mainly on image processing and decision/reasoning theory. He says he never had any ambition to be a writer so was very surprised when a half-hearted attempt to find an agent turned into a global publishing deal overnight. His first trilogy, THE BROKEN EMPIRE, has been universally acclaimed as a ground-breaking work of fantasy. Following The Broken Empire is the related RED QUEEN’S WAR trilogy. THE BOOK OF THE ANCESTOR trilogy is set on a different world and is followed by the related BOOK OF THE ICE trilogy. There is also THE IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy, a D&D/sci-fi work set in London in the 80s. All of these trilogies can be read in any order. Mark is married, with four children, and lives in Bristol.

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