Trudi Canavan in 2011: Trudi, a fantasy author talks to Dark Matter in 2011. The background noise in the cafe is so bad that this interview is only available in text. Trudi also talked to Dark Matter more recently in 2012, that interview is available as an MP3 here.
Trudi Canavan talks to Nalini Haynes of Dark Matter about developing writing as her career, her novels and her recent author tour of Europe.
Hello Trudi. I’ve been researching you on the internet.
As you do.
As you do. You studied art at uni.
Technically I did promotional display, which is things like window dressing, graphic design, photography, all that advertising side of art at TAFE. So I didn’t actually go to university. And it was an interesting course in that it was very varied. You could go in many different directions from the course. You could become a window dresser or a graphic designer or an illustrator. I became a graphic designer and an illustrator. I became an illustrator so I would have enough time to write. I had this glamorous idea that I would paint all morning and write all afternoon. Of course what happened was I’d get a freelance job, and freelance jobs are often handed out when they’re running out of time. So I’d work insane hours for 2 to 3 weeks and then I’d have 2 to 3 weeks with no work. So I’d write within those 2 or 3 weeks. It didn’t work quite the way I’d expected.
Did it work for you though?
For the purpose that I’d started, that I’d have enough money to get by, it sort of did. I discovered I was more scraping by. There was one year where I only paid $300 in tax because I was only a little bit above the lowest tax free threshold. Some years I’d make a good wage and some years I wouldn’t. It would depend on my main publishing company. Most of my clients were publishing companies and they’d have fluctuations in their fortunes, which would reflect on my opportunities. Also different things would happen. Suddenly photoshopped images would become really trendy so there wasn’t as much work in illustration because a lot of illustration spots in magazines were being taken up by photoshopped work.
There were also trends within illustration. At one stage scratch board illustration style, the lino cut looking illustrations, became really popular. Just as I was getting really good at that it would switch and something else would become really popular. It was very much art as work. It was not very glamorous and sometimes I’d be doing things like illustrations of tapeworms. You can imagine that’s not the most exciting thing you could be doing illustrations of.
No. You started with that and went to work for Aurealis Magazine?
Actually I started both at the same time. I started as a self-employed illustrator in 1995 and I started working for Aurealis magazine in 1995. The reason these two lined up was because, when I decided I was going to work freelance part time and write part time, I decided it was time to do some catch up education with writing. So I went to the Council for Adult Education and did some grammar and punctuation courses and workshops. That was interesting because I never had great education in the English and Literature side of things. I went to technical schools, they were more interested in working with your hands. It was either woodwork, sheetmetal or typing. Mum just pictured me becoming a receptionist somewhere. That was her idea, preferably with a little grey suit, twin set sort of thing. And yet I was completely the opposite sort of person, I was wandering around with torn jeans and paint all over my clothes. It wouldn’t have suited me at all. I had the good marks in art. In year 11 I went to a different school because they had a great art course at that school, designed to get you into year 12 with a really good folio. We had English as part of that class, and I’d never had a proper English class since grade 6. Everything was called things like Communications or Humanities. If we were to read a book, we’d have a choice between doing a book review or a talk in front of the class, (I was excruciatingly shy), or draw our own cover. With my love of art, of course you can understand what I did.
You drew lots of covers.
I got to year 11 and I’d never written an essay in my life. The teacher in year 11 couldn’t understand it because I was a very conscientious student and I was failing English. (Fortunately in grade 6 I had a really good teacher who gave me a grounding in punctuation and grammar that lasted.) So she took me under her wing and I scraped through in year 11 English. Of course when I got to the point where I was going to write full time I thought I have to take a writing course. I was so conscious of the fact that I did not have a very good education in English. One of the courses I did was a course the editor of Aurealis used to run, on writing science fiction and fantasy. So that’s how I met him.
I was probably the first person he’d met who had read Aurealis magazine from the very first issue. When I said to him ‘I’m a graphic designer, would you like me to take on the layout of the magazine doing graphic design?’ He practically fell over himself to accept, because I was offering to do it for free. So I did that for 9 years. That gave me lots of contacts in the industry so it was worth the work I put in. There were probably a couple of really really hectic weekends a year, probably twice a year. It got me a lot of contacts in the industry.
If you were that excruciatingly shy about doing talks in front of the class, how do you cope with author talks now?
Well, I got better. People used to say I was very quiet in public but extremely talkative in person. I was not shy in person. It was just a matter of getting over the shyness in public. Through running your own business you cannot be shy, you have to push yourself. Through going to all these events and introducing myself to people from publishing companies I was working for and Aurealis magazine. I got to know the people I was talking to. It gradually builds. Initially when I was published I was a bit nervous, but I was going to conventions and talking.
Talking on panels at conventions meant I was talking to a large percentage of people I already knew, so it felt like I was talking to a group of friends. When it got to the tour, I had no problem with being in front of a crowd answering questions, meeting people, being on panels, doing a guest speech, which I did at Swancon. I was a guest of honour at Swancon in Perth. The one thing I still don’t like is reading my own work. I’ve done it many times now because I’ve been on tour, and I’ve got better and better at it, but I still don’t like doing it. I have to work at that. Otherwise I’m fairly comfortable. I still get nerves, but I don’t get nerves like some people get where they’re throwing up.
You started reading Aurealis from the first issue. When did you get into Sci-fi and fantasy?
I would say fairy tales. I always preferred the sort of stories you read to young children with some sort of supernatural element in them. I liked the magic in it at a very young age. It’s funny because I grew up in a non-religious family where it was ‘make up your own mind’. So even Bible stories to me were fairy stories, there was a lot of supernatural going on with that. I was one of the earlier generations growing up with young adult fiction. Young adult fiction often was science fiction or fantasy as well. It also helps that my dad was really into science fiction. Initially I was probably reading more science fiction than fantasy, but as I got older I found my taste was really with the fantasy and not with the space ships.
That really comes across in your work. Would you say that you were always into fantasy?
I really couldn’t tell you where it began.
What are some of the sci fi and fantasy stories that you grew up with?
I recently reread Lord Alexander’s Tarren Wanderer, The Chronicles of Prydain. It’s a fantasy series of 5 books for children. There are a lot of fantasy series of 5 books for children. Susan Cooper, Ursula le Guin. I went from that sort of thing to reading things by Michael Moorcock and Lord Dunsany. And then of course you get to the 80s, Eddings came out. So much of adult fantasy was very grim. Michael Moorcock’s Elric books personified the man-wielding magic sword kind of books that were around and along came this thing that was light and funny and fluffy and really easy to read. I was reading the Belgariad as each book came out. I was waiting desperately each year for the next one to come out.
I loved the Belgariad but it’s been a long time since I read it.
I reread it in my twenties and I read a book a day. Just on the train trip to and from work, which admittedly in those days was an hour and a half each way. I read Tolkien at 14. That’s probably in my mind as the old fantasy style while the Belgariad was the new fantasy style, that was more accessible. Then there was Raymond Feist. I got Magician given to me for my 16th birthday by my best friend, (thank you very much). I was a big fan of Tanith Lee. She used to write small fantasy books. I really wish small fantasy books would come back into fashion. So many of these great big chunky series. Her books were these intense little stories. Very rich world building and character building. They were great for when you were travelling. They were easy to carry, and you could rip through a story in one train ride or one plane flight. In the 90s I discovered Robin Hobb, who was my favourite of that time.
Was Supanova the first time you met Robin Hobb?
No. She came to a convention in Melbourne about 5 or 6 years ago. One we affectionately called Neil Gaiman Con because he was the main international guest of honour. We’d never seen queues for someone that long. Robin Hobb was brought out by Harper Collins for that convention and she was actually more accessible than Neil Gaiman because she didn’t have those massive queues although she’s very popular of course.
She’s very popular but she’s not quite the cult figure.
No. I think Neil Gaiman is a cult figure himself as much as his work. I was saying, ‘What does Neil Gaiman do these days? Just be Neil Gaiman.’ That’s probably all he’s got time for.
What inspired you to write and when did you want to start writing?
Initially I wanted to make movies. I was more into science fiction than fantasy when I was younger. I saw the Star Wars movies and I decided I wanted to make movies. Someone said to me ‘write your ideas down’. At that time I was more drawing pictures than writing things down.
So you’re more a visual person. And you were attracted to a more visual medium.
I’m not sure. The two, art and writing, have swung back and forth throughout my lifetime. I think because I didn’t have much confidence in writing when I was 12. I didn’t think I could do it as well. A lot of the ideas I had were very strong visually and I was trying to capture those visuals. I have a couple of folios of really awful drawings from that time. I was not a very good artist either but it was faster. I realised to be a filmmaker you have to be an extrovert, you have to be able to push people around. I was pretty shy. So I started writing. I think the main thing that attracted me to writing from Lord of the Rings was the sheer size of the world. All of those languages. How did he make up the languages? I thought that was maybe too hard. But landscapes, drawing maps. That was probably the beginning of my love of drawing maps. I think I was probably drawing them before that. It really solidified my love of drawing maps. Ironically the first job I ever had was at Lonely Planet and part of that was drawing maps. That’s how I learnt the skill of drawing maps.
So you weren’t actually a cartographer, but your first job was drawing maps. How did that happen?
The story of how I ended up at Lonely Planet. I was doing this course, the promotional display course. We were required to do 2 weeks of work experience each year. They always organised for us to go to Myer to work as a window dresser. So I went to work at Myer for a week and I hated it. Partly because this was before Occupational Health and Safety regulations came in and they had me standing on top of a 12 foot tall ladder hanging 3 kilo Perspex banners on the ceiling of Myer. So you can imagine how high you had to get to hang these banners onto the ceiling of Myer. I did not like it at all. I went to the principal of the school and said if I can find somewhere else to go that satisfies the principles of the course, will you let me? He said if you can find somewhere, we’ll let you do it. Here’s the funny connection: my ex-boyfriend’s mother’s tennis partner’s son was working for Lonely Planet and suggested I work for them. So I rang them up and they said oh yes, just turn up. I asked ‘Don’t you want to know my name?’ And they said just turn up, we have work experience people wandering in there all the time. So I just turned up. That was when Lonely Planet was only about 20 people. I remember thinking ‘what have I done?’ because I walked into this company and here’s all these books and they all had Buddas on the front. I thought I’d got myself signed up to a pot smoking hippy company. I was very conservative in those days. The truth was I had got myself signed up for a pot smoking hippy company but they were the coolest people in the world. By the end of that week they’d worked out I could draw. They had a backlog of illustrations that needed doing, so they just got me drawing. By the end of the week they were in love with me and I was in love with them. Before I even finished the course I had a job waiting for me.
Wonderful. When was that?
1989 I think.
So that was way before you decided to go and write and paint and before you started working for Aurealis.
Yeah. So I learnt to do the cartography at Lonely Planet but I already had graphic design and illustration skills. After 4 years I got tired of that job and wanted to do something else. So I went to work for Oxford University Press in Melbourne, which could not have been more opposite to Lonely Planet. Very stuffy. Very bad staff morale at that time. After 2 years I thought maybe this was not for me. That was also when I came up with the idea of working freelance. 1994 was also when I had the idea for the end of The Black Magician Trilogy. I’d never been much good with coming up with endings before.
You said you dreamt it.
I dreamt the first chapter, I dreamt the beginning. That was in 1992. Then I hit upon the ending as a reaction to a book that I disliked the ending of. It was a long fantasy series and at the end there was a parade and 12 characters got married and it was such a cliché happy ending.
Too saccharine sweet.
Yeah. And I was thinking to myself, what if I made the ending bittersweet? They win but at this enormous cost. Then I hit upon the ending. I won’t say what it is. It was like Minesweeper. You know the computer game Minesweeper? If you hit the right tiles, everything in between disappears. This was the opposite. I hit the right two things and everything in between filled in. It was obvious what I had to do. I thought, ‘I have to write this, but how on earth am I going to do this when I’m working full time?’ I knew I would never be able to get a) the time or b) immerse myself enough. So I started the business. I had the whole first series, the first draft, written in a year and a half. I was younger.
So you’re not so fast these days?
I have a bad back.
So you need to have short stints.
Yeah, so I write in short one to 2 hour blocks and do lots of stretching and exercises in between.
You started at Lonely Planet, then you went to Oxford University Press, then you started your own business, writing and working for Aurealis Magazine. These days you’re a full time writer aren’t you?
Yep. This was a slow evolution. When I got to writing my second trilogy, The Age of Five. Sometime after starting writing, I got chronic fatigue. That was when I had to stop working for Aurealis. I had to start peeling away the extraneous things I was doing until all I was doing was writing. I had that for about 3 years. The fourth year I started to get better. I think the real test was the author tour. If I could get through the author tour without collapsing in a heap at some point, then I’m probably cured, I’m probably over it. But it’s taken years. I kind of evolved into writing full time because I had to. Initially writing doesn’t make a lot of money so I managed by being really, really frugal. I was fortunate to have one of those house loans that’s an overdraft so you can keep drawing on the overdraft. It was early times when those loans were being offered. If it wasn’t for that I think I probably would have lost my house at that time. But I gradually pulled through and gradually started making more money off the books as I got overseas sales. Getting published in the UK was probably the big one where it took off. At that point I took a big sigh of relief and realised I probably wasn’t going to starve.
So you can make a living out of writing.
If you’re lucky. With writing getting published isn’t all luck. In many ways you make your own luck. If you don’t write, put the hard yards in, practice, practice, practice. They say you’ve got to write a million words before you get good at it. I certainly passed that a long time ago. If you don’t have the best book that you can possibly write out there, it’s never going to happen. But there is an element of good luck that is involved. The point at which you don’t have any control over it. Publishers will put themselves behind a book and do what they can, but if the public isn’t going to pick up on it, they won’t pick up on it. This is where it’s all out of everyone’s control. I’ve had ok sales in the US but never enough for the publisher over there to get excited about it. But in the UK, Germany and Poland, it’s really taken off.
How many different languages have you published in now?
I don’t know. People ask me this question. It must be at least 20 by now I think, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how many or what languages. The ones I definitely know are French, Polish, Turkish, Spanish, Dutch…
So you’re big in Europe.
Spanish might be a bit in South America as well. Part of the reason is that my agent in the UK handles most of the trying to get new contracts. I’m so removed from it because I have me, my agent, my UK agent and the publisher who has lots of the small rights and sells them on, so often by the time I find out something’s been sold I’m getting contacted by translators asking for help and I haven’t even seen the contract yet. It’s a slow process. There could be another 10 out there in the works that I don’t know about. It’s very cool every time I get a book in another language. It’s like it’s come from an alternate universe where a different Trudi who speaks a different language wrote it. But somehow I’m getting paid.
Do you have a collection of the different language versions?
That’d be cool.
I had a bit of a problem. About a year ago I cracked. The foreign agents and publishers would send me a couple of copies of each book. When you’ve had 9 or 10 books published in 20 plus languages, you suddenly end up with waaay too many books. I kept one of each and I gave books away. I even had competitions on my website just to get rid of extraneous copies. If I kept them I’d need another 2 bookcases. It’s a nice problem to have.
Oh yes, it’s a very good problem to have. At the moment you’ve just published two books in the Traitor Spy trilogy. Ambassador’s Mission is the first and Rogue has just come out. Would you like to talk about them? Without giving huge spoilers away.
The Traitor Spy trilogy is a sequel to the first series. It’s set 20 years later so a lot of fun of writing that series was writing the same characters and aging them by 20 years. The character that was 19, Sonya, is now 40 and an overprotective, middle aged, cranky woman. Much like me, really. Except I’m not an overprotective mother. Then of course there’s Sonya’s son. I can safely talk about that because even if you haven’t read the first series, 20 years on the fact that a character might have had children is fairly normal. He’s a really fun one to write because he’s the main new character. But he’s a 19 or 20 year old young man who’s been brought up in the Guild so he’s extremely naïve. His main claim to being experienced in life is that he’s had some failed relationships as you do when you’re a teenager. He hasn’t even had the advantage of growing up in the higher class where there is lots of politics and you learn fast. He hasn’t grown up in the slums like Sonya did, so he doesn’t have that experience. But he’s not stupid. He’s intelligent. There has always been this pressure to live up to the reputation of his parents. So when the opportunity comes along to do something really daring, to be Lord Dannyl’s assistant as an ambassador in Sakacha, the country of their old enemy, he jumps at it. So Sonya is horrified and tries to stop him. It’s probably not a big spoiler that she fails. Then he discovers that things in Sakacha aren’t quite what she fears or that the Guild even knows. There’s a third group of people, kind of rebels that have been in existence since the prequel, The Magician’s Apprentice. Readers of the first trilogy will recognise that they’ve seen these people before. It’s funny because when I wrote The Black Magician Trilogy, I did not think that I would write any more in that world. When I came to write this trilogy I realised I had great potential for a sequel. I asked myself why did I put that stuff in. I recently reread those books to do a bit of fact checking. I thought it must seem to people that it was really obvious that I was planning a sequel. But I put those things in, those unanswered questions, because I like unanswered questions in books. I like that sense of never knowing the secret behind them.
Something for the reader to fill in the gaps.
Yes. If you invent a world where all the questions were answered, and even a story where all the questions are answered, it’s just too neat. That was my reaction to that other series; everything was too saccharine sweet and tidy. So there will probably be the same thing at the end of the Traitor Queen, there’ll be some threads not tied off, some questions not answered. I’ll start getting emails asking me ‘What about –‘ That’s probably as much as I can safely describe. Dannyl is still doing research on magic, the research he started in the first book. Lorkin looks at Dannyl’s research and thinks what if we can find something that means we don’t have to have black magicians, we don’t have to compromise ourselves with this dangerous magic? And yes, they do find there is another kind of magic but it’s not as straightforward as all that.
I always say a good book has three sources of tension. Romantic tension, mystery, and the conflict that may end up in a battle or may not, but it’s the out and out threat to the world. So that’s the mystery, the new kind of magic.
You had this experience at the Lonely Planet drawing maps. At one of your author talks you said you drew your own maps for your books. How did that process for you?
It was great fun. I did paintings I hoped would have been the covers for the novels. I did paintings for The Magician’s Guild and The Novice, way back before I was published. I discovered that publishers have a general rule they like to stick to although they do occasionally make exceptions. They don’t use artwork by the writer or the writer’s husband, wife, friends, family or acquaintances, which was quite difficult since I was working as the art editor on the Aurealis Magazine so I knew most of the artists and illustrators in Australia. I had to find a new one. That was how I got Les Pietersen his first cover art job for the cover of the Australian version of The Magicians’ Guild. So when I found out I couldn’t, I was going to do my own maps anyway. My niche was illustrating maps; not many illustrators were doing that sort of thing. So I got a lot of work that way, and of course I was going to do my own maps.
When I came to do the maps in the Age of the Five trilogy, I got illustrations in there by doing character drawings around the border. That was my way of getting some illustrations in the book, by putting them in the map. Some people have a lot of strong feelings about maps in fantasy books. I hate it when you have a map in a fantasy book that has that little dotted line on the map that tells you where the characters are going to go. It’s like you’re revealing the entire story in the first few pages of the book. If you look at the maps closely you can tell what is going to happen. So I wasn’t going to do that.
Some maps are really terrible because people don’t know how geology works and don’t know how continents move and weather patterns. Sometimes it will look like a patchwork quilt where you’ve got the jungle patch and the desert patch and they’re right next to each other and there’s no explanation. This is where I get really geeky.
But you’ve got explanations for that.
In my head mostly, but sometimes I do bend the laws of physics to suit the story. So I try to make it look as if it’s a proper land mass on a real planet. But then to try to draw maps like they really do look, in the Black Magician Trilogy, the plan of the university is like an architectural plan. There are topographic lines and a little thing on it that says ‘This plan is the property of the Magicians’ Guild in Kyralia and must not be moved from the Magician’s library.’ So at that point I hit upon the idea of doing maps that were like real objects from the book. The maps that you see might be something the king possessed or the Guild possessed. Maybe the city plan is from when the city was rebuilt, so that is part of the city plan. It made it very much like they were part of the book. When I got to the Age of the Five maps, I’d already been talking to other cartographer people like Ian Irvine and Russell Kirkpatrick. I sort of took this thinking one step further. I said to Russel that the Age of the Five is set in a sort of Classical world. What sort of maps would they draw then? He put me on to Ptolemy maps.
The Egyptian Ptolemy.
Yes. Obviously what survives now is what has been copied from Ptolemy. No maps from that time exist now I believe. But it showed me how inaccurate they are, but they’re inaccurate in a way that is accurate to the time. The land masses are distorted. In particular I’m drawing continents, which are going to be distorted because they’re going round a circular world, going round a globe. So I did much the same sort of thing. I distorted my actual plan map that I was writing the book to. I distorted it and made it look more like it was a map from that time. Some map pedants complain about the little drawn witches hat mountains but that is what people used to draw. I happily drew lots of little witches hat mountains because that is what they would have drawn.
The maps become artifacts, like a road map or a geographical map these days.
Yes. I have a lot of fun drawing maps. I often have people drawing maps in the stories. I don’t know if you noticed but in The Magician’s Apprentice there’s a cartographer. He’s actually invented a new form of drawing maps, getting rid of the witches hats and doing geographical representations of mountains and things like that. I like putting little things like that in there. I do all this study and research. As long as I’m not throwing lots of information at the reader and boring them to death, I just like to reference them. It’s fun.
At Continuum 7 there was an ethnicity and sexuality panel, talking about minority groups being represented in literature. Your Traitor Spy trilogy came up. You were being held up as an example of a writer who has written homosexual relationships with neither fear nor favour. Yes you’ve put them in some situations where they are discriminated against but others where it’s accepted. You personally haven’t written them with any kind of judgemental attitude. How do you feel about being held up as an example?
Fairly pleased actually. Wiping my brow actually. When I was writing my first trilogy I did ask my agent if this was a good idea. She said to write the book you want to write and let the publisher decide. The only thing she said is that if you are really worried, tone it down in the first book because that’s what they’re going to buy the series over. When they get to the second one they have no choice.
For me it was when I was inventing these characters in my head I knew that Dannyl was gay. It wasn’t necessarily part of the plot when I did the first draft. Because it’s not relevant to the plot it shouldn’t be in there. When I came to rewrite the books… by the time my agent saw them I’d actually pared them back down to their bones. She said they’re too small, you’re the first author I’ve told in a long time to write more and not cut back. The Novice, which was mostly about Sonea’s trials at the University, she said it’s far too grim a book. She said it’s good, but it’s just tortuous to read. You need to balance it with something else. Why don’t you get a character to travel around and see the world more?
I’d resisted the whole quest fantasy thing of having a patchwork world of different countries because that had been done so much before. I’m not real fond of plodding quest fantasies where you just travel and travel and travel here, and it’s all trial here and a trial there. If there’s something that bores you, whether it’s a meeting the characters are having or… imagine all the situations in real life that are boring. To me that is, well, travel is actually pretty boring, so what you have to do is what I call gatecrashing. And one of the best gatecrashers is romance. The only character I could spare was Dannyl. Dannyl, romance, this is going to be fun. I had some fun adding that to the book. It’s probably deep down what I wanted to do, to write this story.
My main concern was that I’m not going to do this accurately. I mean, I’m not a gay man, so how can I possibly write about this accurately through the eyes of a gay man? But then I’m also not a middle aged magician male teacher. And I’m also not a slum girl who grew up in the slums and suddenly discovered I have magic. It’s all about engaging the imagination and empathy. When I wrote the Age of the Five it was not so much a conscious decision to not have a gay subplot in that, I had one character that I thought about, but then I started worrying that it was going to be gratuitous if I forced the story line and it never became part of the plot. When I came to write the prequel and sequel I was very conscious that I was catering to the same audience who had read the Black Magician Trilogy. I then had a chance to do some of the things that I wanted to do story-wise. In particular the lesbian relationship for the novice. That came out of two things. I wanted a lesbian relationship because lesbians had said to me what about us?
What happened with your tour?
So much. People say to me, what was the tour like? There are not enough time or words to describe it. It was exhausting and it was very successful, which is a great relief. With five countries involved…
UK, Ireland, just Dublin though, Poland, France and Germany. That was four publishing companies getting involved and putting money towards air fares. A lot of them were shocked because they didn’t realise how expensive air fares are from Australia. One literary festival in France called The Imaginales. When they put themselves behind you like that, you really want it to be a success because it’ll never happen again and they’ll probably hate you forever if it becomes a liability. And also author tours are becoming much rarer.
Well, lots of bookshops are closing down, which is where you hold events. And people are buying eBooks, so what can you sign? The very first book I signed for the public at the Forbidden Planet book event was a kindle. I actually signed a Kindle. It was the very first person in line. The publisher got excited because it was the first time they’d ever seen someone sign a kindle. The bookshop got excited even though they sell print books because it was the first time anyone had a kindle signed as well. Although I would say I wouldn’t necessarily recommend getting a kindle signed because one of the people who had me sign their kindle, the kindle broke, they sent it back to Amazon who replaced it. They don’t have it anymore. So I’d say get your kindle cover signed, because then you can keep it if the kindle breaks.
I had record crowds. I think I had one of the largest crowds at Forbidden Planet. When I went to Poland I went to the Warsaw Book Fair and signed for 300 people in 3 hours.
Yeah. That wasn’t too bad actually because when you don’t speak the language there’s no point in trying to write something nice in their book. It was more ‘Hello, what’s your name?’ write your name down. I had a translator writing the name down for me, then I’d write it down and sign it. Writing a name down and signing is a lot easier than writing a name, writing something nice and then signing it. That was necessary if I was going to get through that many people.
Poland is a really interesting country in that, apparently in the past, up until my books were published, they had a perception that fantasy is for boys and only men wrote it.
Really? Because here there seems to be a perception that science fiction is written by men for men and fantasy-
Fantasy is for women. It’s not like that for the rest of the world. Fantasy and science fiction are boys stuff overseas. More so in some countries. My publisher over there was starting off a publishing company. They had done research so they realised there was this huge opportunity, that women do read fantasy. Particularly teenage girls read fantasy. Especially Twilight.
Yeah, let’s pass over that.
Actually it’s kind of relevant because at the Warsaw Book Fair I felt like Stephanie Myer. The publisher had obviously tapped into that market so well, the teenage girls read it, then the boys end up reading it because they can see how much the girlfriends are into it. Then the parents read it because they can see the teenagers are into it. That’s how it grew. So I’m there at the Warsaw Book Fair and most of the people who were there were the teenage girls, then there were the teenage boys, who started reading it because of the girlfriend. Then there were the parents. It’s just the same. It’s very funny.
So it becomes a family thing.
Yeah. Whereas in the UK and the same thing happens here at Supanova, it’s all ages. You sort of expect the parent to bring the child along to get the book signed because the parent read it and thought it was suitable and gave it to the child. A lot of my readers were the parent who read it and gave it to the child, but it happened the other way around. The child would have read it and forced it on the parents, so the parents are now fans. The parents forced it on the grandparents, and the grandparents are there because they are now fans. It’s very much a cross-generational thing.
Yes. In my house, my son is actually nagging me to read Patrick Rothfuss. And it’s not that I don’t want to, but it’s not finished yet
Is that Name of the Wind?
I bought that and it’s still in the post on its way to me.
Well I’ve been assured that it’s brilliant and I’m going to regret not having read it sooner.
It was the one book where, wherever I went… I love to grill booksellers, because they’re almost the missing link when you’re a writer. I’ve worked in publishing companies, so I know things from their perspective. And I’m an author so I know things from this perspective. But the in-between, and the reps who sell to booksellers and the booksellers who sell to the public, I don’t get to see them very often so I always interrogate them. One of the questions I always ask is what are people reading. He was the one that came up. Name of the Wind. Name of the Wind. Even customers were coming up asking ‘Have you read Name of the Wind?’ ‘No, but I want to!’ And then I put it in the post, didn’t I?
He’s written Wise Man’s Fear as well. That’s the sequel. And we’re waiting for the next one.
Apparently he’s a very slow writer.
He writes very big books. So that’s part of it. He’s also got a 2 year old or an 18 month old, so that would be part of it too. He has a good Facebook and Google presence. I get little stories about Oot, his son. Very cute.
I met some fabulous authors. N. K. Jemisin who wrote The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and has been nominated for 10 awards. The latest one was the World Fantasy Award. She’s a new author, fresh on the scene, doing so, so well. A really good writer. I’m a big fan of her work. I’m completely enamoured of her work. So I was really excited to meet her. It was funny because at the Imaginale, it was me, Nora and Robin Hobb next to each other. Nora was so excited because she’s next to me and Robin Hobb, and I’m so excited because I’m next to her. She couldn’t quite fathom that. She’s going places. She’s going to be maybe the Ursula Le Guin of the future or something like that. Peter Brett was also at Imaginale. He may not be as well known here but he was also there. With a two year old. Lovely, lovely people.
So what else happened on the tour? You were in Poland with all these people and you couldn’t speak the language so you were quite quick signing.
The tour went UK, Dublin, UK, Poland, UK, France, Germany.
Is there a particular reason for so many trips to the UK?
The reason it first started is that I was invited to the Imaginale Festival in France. I said ‘Can you let me ask all these publishing companies at the same time?’ because I knew that Orbit wanted me to do a tour this year but I did not want to make 2 trips. It’s much too long a trip, that flight. So for a few months I nagged all the publishers and got people to agree to it. Then everything grew from either side of that. It helps that the beginning date had to be the release date in the UK. Imaginale was at the end of May, with Germany at the end of that.
Lots of festivals?
No. There was Eastercon planned but I didn’t end up going to that. Mostly because because the Royal Wedding was a week before the release date. There were obviously going to be problems with accommodation, air fares and that sort of stuff. As it was we got simcards for our phones but we had to travel all over London to find someone who wasn’t sold out. That eliminated that. By the end of the trip we were absolutely exhausted. Even though there were a few things like EuropeCon, an all over Europe fantasy convention that happens a few weeks after we were there, and a few other ones, we just could not have coped with that. We were absolutely exhausted by the end of the trip. I have decided that from now on I’m not going to travel for more than 6 weeks at a time.
So would you do it 6 weeks at a time once a year?
No. Every couple of years. I have to get the books written basically. I can’t write and tour at the same time. I’m not one of those authors who goes back to the hotel room at midnight and writes for three hours and then gets up at 6 o’clock in the morning and is perfectly fine. I’d be speaking gibberish by then.
Do you write by hand? Type?
I type. Because I knew by the time I was 14 that I wanted to be a writer I learnt to touch type as soon as it was available. I think it was an elective at school. The class was full of future receptionists. Mum was so happy about that, not realising that I had completely different motives. By the time I got my first computer I would have been 18 or 19 I went from writing a few exercise book pages at a time to writing 8 or 9 thousand words at a go. It made such a difference. I don’t necessarily, and certainly not in those days, write in a linear fashion. I craft a paragraph at a time so I might write a sentence then decide that’s better at the end of the paragraph, no I’ll start it this way, no I’ll change it back. These days I’m more linear because the more practice you have, the more you get it right the first time. Computers make such a difference.
As long as you don’t lose something. Paul Bedford was complaining on Facebook recently that he’d spent hours crafting a fight scene and lost it.
Ahk. A few times it’s happened to me, and when I’ve rewritten it, it’s been better, because now I know what I’m doing. Now when I write, because of the back as well, I do a lot of outlining. I have the whole book so I know what’s going to happen. When I come to write each part of the book, part one, part two, I’ll write a scene breakdown. I recently did that for the second half of the Traitor Queen book. When I write a scene I write a description of the scene first. It’s interesting because I recently learnt that athletes do something like this, like gymnasts. Their coaches say to them, stand there and picture what you’re about to do, all the moves. So they stand there and picture it, run it through their minds. This means they’ll get it right the first time more often. They’re also less likely to make mistakes and get injuries. I almost do the same mentally I think. It’s the way I write now.
Do you think that helps? On the way in, I was reading a scene in a book where someone got poked with a pitchfork then apparently somehow turned the pitchfork on the other person but the other person still had the pitchfork to use against her. I got the impression that the author lost track of what was happening. Do you think it helps, picturing it like that?
Yes. This is not one of my books is it?
Thank goodness. I’m really pedantic about that too, for 3 reasons. One is I’ve read some really terrible battle scenes where the logic is not there. There was one where a person was having a sword fight on a rope bridge. I am sorry but you would not be having a sword fight on a rope bridge. Your balance would be all out. You would get off that rope bridge.
Or fall off that rope bridge.
You could get off the end of it, on to the stable part, and let your enemies be on the unstable part. Also this person, in the middle of the fight scene, turned around, looked at their friends, then turned back in the middle of the fight scene. If you did that, you’d be dead. The reason I know this is that I did fencing for a little while.
There are 3 levels of research. Do something yourself, talk to someone who does or read about it. If you can do something yourself it’s so much better than everything else. Having done fencing, it didn’t matter that I was really bad at it, it would show me what not to do in the middle of a fight scene. Fencing is also fantastic for fight scenes in some ways because you’re all covered in protection. So much of the way that it’s set up is to avoid injury. You have these bendy swords. You wouldn’t have had bendy swords except for a very short time in history, but it does give you an appreciation that you wouldn’t turn around in the middle of a fight scene.
It’s like a lot of martial arts scenes where people spin around. The martial artists I’ve talked to have said you wouldn’t do that, necessarily. Except in exceptional circumstances. It’s just flashy for the movies. You don’t turn your back on your enemy. And I know people who’ve done martial arts, so again, second level of research is asking people. I had a friend years ago who used to act out scenes and go through step by step. You know, ‘don’t write this because this will happen.’ It’s particularly useful for knife scenes. Researching knife fights back when I was writing the Black Magician Trilogy. I didn’t know what to do there because fencing is nothing like a knife fight. Martial arts don’t involve knife fights. So I hired West Side Story. It’s a great film but I can’t really have Cery pirouetting and stabbing. I hired movies for the visuals. And The Warriors. The 80s version of The Warriors. It was all these people dressed up in costume and they had knife fights. That was hilariously funny but it wasn’t very helpful.
Eventually, I asked a friend of mine who does cosplay as well. I needed help with my fight scene because I couldn’t have my street urchins whip out swords, it would just be wrong. So we worked out things, particularly ‘what if they do this?’ No, that would be the counteract. You wouldn’t have the character do that. He gave me lots of ideas. In many ways a street fight is about bluff, about looking tougher. We talked about Cery having two knives strapped to his hands. It really makes you look like you’ve planned this, you know? So even when he was a teenager in those first books, out comes this person with these two knives strapped on their hands, that looks like they’ve got a lot of practice in fighting and maybe you wouldn’t fight that one. It’s the psychological side of it as well. Research is fun.
Is research a big part of the writing process for you?
Yes. For one thing I love reading non-fiction books and watching documentaries. I love that whole… I love watching documentaries as much as I love reading books. Books will give you the nitty gritty but the documentaries give you the visuals. That’s great for writing. I’m not going to be doing things like martial arts anymore. For one thing I was really bad at them. But things like my next series – it will have this premise of magic being created by creativity. There are a lot of artisans in the story.
Is this the series set in a different world?
Yes. I already do things like knitting and weaving and bookbinding and things like that. But I can justify going to do courses involving all sorts of craftsmanship. I’d love to do things like basket making. One of the things I love about it is I can finally tie in the art and craft side of my life with the writing side of my life. So they can draw from each other. In the Age of the Five I had a character who was a spinner. In the most recent series, Lorandra, one of the evil characters, doing something quite similar to crochet. I get it in there but this is the first time I’ll be writing something where it’s actually part of the world building, the plot, and I’m looking forward to that.
What else can you tell me about this new series?
I have a whole splurge I’ve written now because of being overseas. It’s a multiple world scenario, with many, many different worlds. The worlds have different levels of magic. You can have a very magically strong world and a very magically weak world. There can be various reasons for that. Maybe there was a grand battle in a magically weak world and it used up most of the magic. Maybe there aren’t many creative people in a magically weak world, so they’re not generating much magic. Maybe there aren’t many people in a world, so imagine a planet that doesn’t have much in the way of human life. It’s not going to have a lot of magic yet, because it hasn’t built up.
So if you’re a sorcerer who is powerful enough to travel to a different world, if you go to a magically strong world you can do more things. So you might go there to do a certain thing. Whereas on the other hand, if you go to a magically weak world, there’s a danger you might not be able to get out again because you’ve become weaker. There is a people called The Travellers. They’re sort of merchant Bedouin people who have a route they follow between worlds, and they trade goods, buy and sell between worlds. That’s an idea that’s old. I actually wrote one of the books in the series back when I was trying to get The Black Magician Trilogy published. It’s what I was doing while I was trying to get a publisher. That book will have to be pulled apart and bits pulled from it for this new series. The series has been built from that book. There’s a character in a world that is sort of like our Dark Ages, where magic is forbidden, taboo, who has magic and is hiding it. It’s that sort of scenario. That’s the great thing, these different worlds have different levels of technology too. I have another world that is a post-industrial world and a character who is in a group of archeological adventurers, a bit Indiana Jones-like. Also a bit tomb robbing-like.
Not Tomb Raider, tomb robbing. This is the era where people would open up tombs, find stuff and take it back to their country. So there’s all of that going on. And also there’s magic. The machines run on magic, not necessarily on steam. I guess it’s a substitute for coal.
At least two main characters are from two different worlds. When the series opens up it’s just those two worlds that are quite close. Then it’s just going to expand. I have to stop calling it world building and I have to start calling it universe building. I’m really looking forward to that one.
It sounds interesting. When is the first book in the series due for publication?
Probably 2013. I’ve got a little bit more time to write the first book. I’ve been writing a book a year now. I’ve been finding that inevitably the deadlines stretch. Deadline creep, so it’s a year and a quarter anyway. I think I got a little bit more time anyway for the first book because there’s so much world building in the first book. My agent pointed out that maybe I’d like to have a bit of a rest between series.
Not necessarily all holiday. Publishers are also interested in doing anthologies of short stories. I don’t think I have enough yet. So probably next year I’ll concentrate on writing a few more short stories. I know what I want to write. Some of them will relate to the new series.
So it’s not going to just be an anthology of short stories based on The Black Magician world.
No. There’ll be a novella set in the Magician’s world, explaining why black magic was banned. “The Mad Apprentice” (novella), published in Legends of Australian Fantasy. It’s going to have that in it, it’s going to have some short stories published before and a couple of short stories I’ve never published before unless I find a publisher in the meantime. It will have a couple of stories that aren’t related to any books and a couple that relate to the next series. So it’ll be a mixture.
Have you read Jim Butcher’s Side Jobs? The reason I ask is that it’s an anthology of stories. Each short story has a foreword. The first short story is the very first short story he wrote. He said he’s never published it previously, publishers have not wanted to publish it. He acknowledges that it’s quite atrocious and yet it clearly shows all the settings of Harry Dresden’s world. How would you feel about publishing this book that is the seed for your new world? How do you feel about publishing that early work?
I probably wouldn’t for a few complex reasons. When I wrote that book, called Angel Storms, I didn’t think the Magician trilogy was going to get published. I was having trouble even getting any publisher to reject my books. I just wasn’t getting any response at all. So some of the concepts in the Black Magician world crept into it. Particularly character-wise. This is why I have to pull apart and take out the bits that I didn’t plagarised from myself.
So it’s not too similar to what you have already published?
Yes. So that’s one thing. It’s also a whole book, it’s not a short story in an anthology that would be an interesting thing where people can go ‘oh isn’t that nice’. They might not read an entire badly written book. I don’t know if it’s that badly written but it’s very early on. It hasn’t been polished. And then it comes down to how much work it is to get that book to a publish-able state, so probably not. I haven’t yet written a book from a short story. That would be another reason to do that; it would be really interesting.
Do you have anything to say to readers?
Oh. Thank you for buying the books. It’s an absolute joy that the stories that I write, mostly for my own entertainment, that’s really good, the best way to write is to entertain yourself, and so it’s really great when other people have the same taste as me.
It goes to show that we all have great taste.
Not that if you didn’t like it you would have bad taste. It’s one of those funny things that occasionally, until I wrote something on my website about the ‘Email Trudi’ thing, occasionally somebody would write to me and say, ‘I didn’t like your book!’ I would say, ‘So what? I’m writing them for the people who like the books.’ It’s a strange little circular argument. I’m not writing for the people who don’t like that sort of book. If you didn’t like it, I’m sorry if you wasted your money, but you could go and see a movie and not like it too. I mean, do you actually ring up the director and abuse him? I’m writing a book for the people who like my sort of books.
Do you often get the situation where people are contacting you because they don’t like what you’ve done with a particular character? At Supanova you were saying you can be a bit contrary and if people want to see something you won’t do it.
Not so much these days. I think this is again because I wrote that little thing under the ‘Email Trudi’ section that kind of points out the lack of logic of abusing the author for not liking their books. It also explains why, it acknowledges that there is a bittersweet ending at the end of the Black Magician Trilogy and I’m sorry if you feel sad about that but stories are about moving people. I’m not the sort of writer who’s going to leave you all saccharine sweet and cosy at the end, you know. It’s not a total downer. I tend to get very ‘how could you do that?! I hate you! But I love you as well.’
They hate you because they love the books and just didn’t want that ending.
Yeah. But a lot of people who email acknowledge that if it hadn’t had that ending they would have just put it aside and never thought about it again.
Yes. I think it also impacts on how readers approach other books written by you, because you have shown there are no holds barred. You cannot predict what is going to happen, and yet you are equally unpredictable because you’ve never repeated it.
Well I don’t want to be seen as repeating myself. I will certainly never do exactly the same thing again, but that doesn’t mean I will never kill off a character again or never have a bittersweet ending again. Even in Age of the Five there were elements to the ending of that story that were not a happy ending. In the Magician’s Apprentice there were loose ends. I was fighting with my editor as to how many loose ends. It was years and years before I finally gave in to them and started writing proper last chapters without them coming to me and saying, ‘You need to write another chapter at the end to let us know what happened to X, Y and Z.’ But yeah, there’s a few little things at the end of The Magician’s Apprentice. Probably not so much because I didn’t kill off any major characters at the end of that book. What’s funny though is that, at the end of The Magician’s Apprentice, in the epilogue, the very final ten years later, I mention that one of the characters does die, but it was ten years later.
And he was elderly.
Yes. And I still get emails from people saying, ‘How dare you kill that character!’ Come on, the character’s got to die sometime, they are mortal you know! Well, except for some.
Yeah. I do get people emailing me saying, ‘I’m reading your book. I’m just waiting to see what you’re going to do to me this time. Are you going to kill a character? Are you going to do something terrible?’ The suspense is as much what I’m going to do to the reader as to what the end of the story will be. It’s actually a really hard balancing act to do that. I don’t want to be type-cast as the author who writes that kind of ending. So I have to do it differently. I have to do my style of ending differently each time.
Do you think part of the attraction is that, while this is magic, there is actually a large degree of realism because life is never happily ever after?
I always say if I read a book where people aren’t behaving like people have done now and through time, then people aren’t being human. Then they’re not humans. I’m writing about human beings. The other thing too is that you won’t keep the empathy of the reader if you don’t write proper human beings. It comes down to the whole thing of characters are two dimensional if they don’t have flaws. It’s the characters’ flaws, their weaknesses, that make it interesting. I take that and I apply that to societies. As no society is perfect, in the way that it’s flawed is what makes it interesting.
You commented on societies having these flaws. You have these philosophical discussions between your characters about the way societies treat their various members. How conscious is that?
It’s funny because I remember on tour an interviewer saying I was using a modern approach to a past society. I said to him, it’s not like women and homosexuals haven’t been around for thousands of years either. We think of them as modern issues probably because we talk about them more. Probably because the means of communication are open. But they have always been around. Again it comes down to human beings.
So you’re going to keep on writing human beings for human beings?
Yes. I think so. I think ultimately if I melt it right down to the bare bones of the attraction for me, what excites me about fantasy is the idea of how magic affects human societies, and how that might work and form. That comes down to all the questions of class, religion, politics. The way human beings interact with the natural world. All of the issues humans face today but with magic complicating the whole story.
Thank you very much.
For more information about Trudi and her novels, go to Trudi’s website.