An interview with Trudi Canavan

Trudi Canavan

By Joshua S Hill

It has become quite apparent to me that Australia is producing more and more of fantasy’s best writers. Thankfully for me, they are also some of the nicest people around, and one of the best, Trudi Canavan, was happy enough to sit down with me a few weeks ago.

Funnily enough, it turned out that we lived pretty close to each other, and so we met at my local shopping centre for coffee and lunch, and what followed was two and a half hours of great conversation with one of the better Australian writers’ I’ve come across.

Life for Trudi, however, is simple, and focuses very much on her writing. From dawn till dusk the computer is on and she is writing. But when dinnertime comes, her husband Paul and Trudi taking it in turns to cook, the computer goes off.

Some nights the pair can be found at a group of people interested about writing, bitching about one book or reliving the joys of another. Other nights might see them at the Melbourne Science Fiction club, or simply resting at home together with their 14 year old ginger cat.

Born and raised in Victoria, Australia, Trudi Canavan has always had a passion for stories. When in primary school Trudi’s librarian started to read a story that she had already read herself, she complained. In fairness, Trudi had read the vast majority of the library, so this was probably a little unfair on the librarian. Nevertheless, seemingly unfazed, the librarian asked Trudi if she would like to tell the students a story.

She agreed.

What followed was a lesson in storytelling that could very easily have turned Trudi off writing altogether. She reversed the original Little Mermaid story so it was the human male falling in love with the mermaid. For those who know the original story, you’ll know that the mermaid actually ends up dying, kinda. Trudi found that, despite hating the ending to the original story, she couldn’t change the ending in her own story. She had to kill off the human man who had fallen for the mermaid. Trudi noted that “the other kids didn’t like it very much. And that was my first introduction to how fans will react when you kill off their favourite character.”

Personally, I think we’re lucky to have any stories from Trudi Canavan.

Maybe we can owe our thanks for Trudi’s perseverance to the 80’s radio production of Lord of the Rings, which inspired her to not only read the book but to want to create something as epic. Or maybe we can thank the teacher that, after Trudi mentioned she wanted to make something like the Empire Strikes Back.

Trudi tells of what life was like after the second Star Wars movie was released. Between hooning around the playground with the boys pretending to be tie-fighters, Trudi went to a teacher and said that she wanted to make movies when she grew up. The teacher told Trudi that the movie industry was hard to get into, so maybe she should start writing her ideas down.

“I actually have a little book somewhere that I made by hand, the story of the Dollmouse, and I would have done that when I was 8; my first written book.”

Not surprisingly then, Trudi has a large collection of notes that date back to 12 years of age. Trudi’s most recent trilogy, the Age of the Five Trilogy, actually dates back to one of those original ideas.

“The Age of the Five actually saw me go back to a story I was writing at age 14. So I took out the really embarrassing elements, like the telepathic miniature winged horses, and the villain who wore leather so he creaked all the time. “

But it was in her mid twenties, when Trudi attended classes on writing and grammar that her writing began in earnest. And, following in the steps of her love for research, Trudi found herself investigating other Australian authors, looking for signs of tertiary education. What she found is truly fascinating.

“I did a lot of research before I was published, and I looked at all the authors that had been published and whether they had a degree and what the degree was in. And I found that only about half the authors had a degree, and only half of those had anything to do with writing. The other ones had degrees in other subjects like geology and biology and things like that. So I think you always need to have a great enthusiasm for other things as well. “

“I’ve got a great curiosity about the world,” Trudi continued. “I love reading non-fiction books, I love watching documentaries. I love going out and trying something. I’ve learnt weaving recently, and I know how difficult weaving is. I’ve done woodcarving, I’ve done pottery, and I’ve done fencing for awhile.”

Trudi is probably best known for her Black Magician’s trilogy, first released in 2001 (but originally written well before Harry Potter). She spent a long time waiting for one publishing company to get back to her, and dealing with a troublesome commissioning editor before Trudi moved on. “Eventually I got a real commissioning editor who took me on and then got me the publishing deal at HarperCollins. So I didn’t get any rejection slips. I always wanted them to give me a rejection slip so I could pass it on to someone else. So I wrote another book in the meantime, because you don’t just sit around and wait.”

Following on from the success of the Black Magician trilogy, came the prequel, the Magician’s Apprentice. And naturally, Trudi will be continuing that series with the Traitor Spy trilogy, set to be released early 2010, and to be set about 20 years on from the end of the trilogy.

According to Trudi, the titles to the books are a huge hint as to the content (The Ambassador’s Mission, The Rogue and The Traitor Queen). And for those who have read the previous books, the titles will probably tell you we will be seeing more of Savara and her people, who are also (probably) the women who disappeared out of Sachaka into the mountains at the end of Magician’s Apprentice.

One of the questions I love to ask authors is whether anyone in their books mirrors people in their real life. And though Trudi wouldn’t tell me who the character was, she does explain why she doesn’t like doing it.

“I always said I’d base characters on character types, not on people. But a few years ago I was scratching around to name a character, and I didn’t know anything about her, I just needed to replace a character. And so I stole a friend’s name, and altered it a bit, and I thought, what the hell, I’ll make it like this friend, because the friend had lots of personality. And then, this particular character decided to grit her teeth and become a totally different character, and she became evil. And I had this friend who knew I had based a character on her, but the character had turned evil, and I thought ‘I’m not doing this again’.”

There was a lot more to our interview, a lot that I’ll keep to myself. But for a lot more information on the author, make sure to check out Trudi’s website at www.trudicanavan.com.

Inspirations

 

Favourites

  • The Belgariad (David Eddings)
  • Magician (Raymond E. Feist)
  • Tanith Lee
  • Glenda Larke
  • The Southern Vampire Mysteries (Charlaine Harris)

Trudi Canavan books reviewed