Interview by Kathryn Linge
Trudi Canavan is a fantasy writer based in Melbourne. Her first short story, “Whispers of the Mist Children”, received an Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story in 1999, but she came to international prominence thanks to the bestselling Black Magician Trilogy: The Magicians’ Guild, The Novice and The High Lord. Trudi’s second trilogy, Age of the Five, has also enjoyed bestselling success. In 2006 she was offered a seven-figure advance for a four book contract to write the prequel and sequel to the Black Magician Trilogy. Her website is: http://www.trudicanavan.com/
1. Your career is founded on the considerable success of the Black Magician Trilogy, a series that took you seven and a half years to sell. What were the first inspirations for the series and how did you keep yourself motivated in those early days?
The first moment of inspiration came just prior to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. A late night news report told how the authorities were sending busses around the city, picking up homeless and anyone who looked ‘untidy’ and shipping them to other cities. I dreamed that night that I was among a crowd being herded out of a city, and when we stopped to confont those herding us it turned out they were magicians. That dream became the first chapter of The Magicians’ Guild, but it was another three years until I started writing the story. What motivated me to quit my job and start my own business so I could spend my ‘spare’ time writing was the ending of the story, which occurred to me in 1994. An ending that has earned me countless wailing protests in fanmail (and probably spurred a whole lot of fanfic alternate endings) and, conversely, as much praise from readers who can see why it makes the story work.
2. Do you miss design and illustration now that you’re (essentially??) a full time writer? What do you think about the way that different countries interpret cover design for you books? Do you get to provide any input?
I do occasionally miss design and illustration work – and cartography, too. But I don’t miss the contrary clients, the rush jobs, and the low wages.
Having worked as a designer at two publishing companies, and then as an illustrator, I probably understand better than most authors why we get the covers we get. Yet I can also see where publishers are kidding themselves. On the cover of the US edition of The Novice there’s a flying horse (and I only just received yet another fanmail asking ‘WTF’?). It was, originally, a dragon, but I objected on the grounds that there are readers out there who love dragon books who are going to send me flame emails if there aren’t any in the series. My editor argued that it would sell more copies of the book. But a second book sells mainly on the merit of the first one. The cover either reinforces or confuses the reader. I felt a dragon would do the latter.
So they asked if a gryphon would do. That’s when I realised I was going to get a fantastical beastie, no matter what I said, so I suggested a winged horse because at least there are horses in the book.
That’s about as much input I get on the overseas editions. HarperCollins Australia were very good with my covers, asking for suggestions, feedback, and making changes. It helped a great deal to know how illustrators work, too, so I could request changes that were workable.
3. You signed a substantial contract to write both prequel and sequels to ‘The Black Magician Trilogy’ last year. How do you feel about the responsibility of producing books to a specific timeline? Do you think you’ll be able to start any other projects before you’ve finished?
Ah, the ‘seven figure advance’. You know, it was meant to stir up a whole lot of major media coverage, but the only bit was an article in the Herald Sun entitled something like ‘Huge Sale’ which I’m sure people only read because they thought there were bargains to be had somewhere!
Writing books to a timeline isn’t something I haven’t experienced before. Age of the Five had it’s own set of deadlines… which, because I got chronic fatigue in the middle of writing them, did make interesting wooshy noises as they went past. I can handle deadline pressure fine on its own. After all, my illustration work always involved crazy deadlines, so the writing ones are pretty good in comparison.
However, there has been a huge source of delays this time, in the form of a house extension that should have been finished last October. The troubles we’ve had with the builder have been extremely stressful, frustrating and depressing. At times I’ve been too emotionally exhausted by it all to write. A few months back I looked at what I had written, and it was all plot and no character or world building – as if I subconsiously knew I had to get something down quickly before I was interrupted again. Fast paced is good, but not this fast paced! Still, a short stint at Varuna Writers Centre in June gave me the space to see and fix problems and get a better grasp of the potential scope of the book.
4. Enough about the writing, what’s the best thing you’ve read this year?
Dream Home by Mark Wakely, an author who was at Varuna while I was there. A combination of good timing and great non-fiction writing. Good timing because I was so depressed about the house extension just before going to Varuna that I wished we’d never started it, and somehow this book gave me back the hope that it would be worth it. Great non-fiction, because Mark is one of those writers who manages to say things you’ve always thought deep down, but never quite consciously observed until you read his words. He’s writing a book about death now, and I’m definitely going to track it down when it’s published.
5. Finally, and certainly most inappropriately, you’re given the opportunity to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most. Who’s it gonna be and why?
Hmm. I think the fact that I’ve sat here wracking my brain for ten minutes is a pretty good indication that I don’t have a favourite lust-worthy character. Except, perhaps, the romantic lust interests in my own books while I’m writing them. You kinda have to be in lust with them to write those sorts of scenes well. At least a bit, anyway!
I might have said Gimli, except I know that’s based on the actor in Lord of the Rings, not the fictional character!