INTERVIEW: Trudi Canavan

Trudi Canavan lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has been making up stories about people and places that don’t exist for as long as she can remember. Her first short story, “Whispers of the Mist Children,” received an Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story in 1999. When she recovered from the surprise, she went on to finish the fantasy novel-that-became-three, the bestselling Black Magician Trilogy: The Magicians’ Guild, The Novice, and The High Lord, followed by another trilogy, Age of the Five. Last year the prequel to the Black Magician Trilogy, The Magician’s Apprentice, was released and she is now working on the sequel, the Traitor Spy Trilogy. One day she will write a series that doesn’t contain three books.

Tell us a bit about your story, “The Mad Apprentice.” What’s it about?

“The Mad Apprentice” is the true telling of a disaster that led to the Guild banning higher magic–or “black magic” as it came to be known. As happens so often with historical events, details were forgotten or misremembered, witnesses killed and records lost or deliberately destroyed. In the sequel to the Black Magician Trilogy, The Ambassador’s Mission, one of the magicians attempts to sort out truth from the mistakes and lies but is only partially successful. Only the reader, though this story, will know the full truth.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

At first it was just a piece of world building for the Black Magician Trilogy, a story to explain why black magic was banned and later prove the revelation that the Guild had once taught and valued it. Yet the idea that one mere apprentice could threaten an entire guild of them had a lot of potential as a tale in itself, so when I received two requests for a story relating to that trilogy–one a short and the other a novella–I decided to see if I could write it in two lengths. The shorter version was not accepted (I suspect because it was a bit too grim for that magazine’s audience) but the novella version, which I prefer, was published in Jack Dann and Jonathan Strahan’s Legends of Australian Fantasy anthology [and subsequently, in Epic –ed.].

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

All stories throw unique challenges at you and this was no exception. The technical one was making it fit into an already created world, magic system and the stories that I had written–and was yet to write–about them. The greatest challenge was conveying Tagin’s madness. I knew it would be difficult to get thoughts and reasoning to seem plausible to a reader without over-explaining his mental state and reasons for it. Part of the impact of his actions comes from not knowing what is going on in his head, too. So I chose his sister’s point of view. However, that made it a much more painful story to write.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I’ve known someone with a few of the problems Tagin has, thought not all and definitely not the violent extremes.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

Since the story is set in a world I’ve already created, most of the research was already done. Though I do seem to be in a constant state of researching what I’ve already written!

What is the appeal of epic fantasy? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write it? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

Different people are attracted by different aspects of epic fantasy, and I suspect that’s why it has such broad appeal. For me, it’s like being an explorer of a new planet while experiencing what it’s like being another person–with crazy stuff that can’t exist like magic enhancing and complicating the situation. I love that fantasy is so diverse, so full of potential to stretch the imagination in new ways. I hate to admit it, but this has made me a very “disloyal” reader. Even when I like an author’s work I often don’t get around to reading more than one series or books, because I always want to see what interesting new things the next author has done, and the next, and the next…

What are some of your favorite examples of epic fantasy (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

The Lord of the Rings, of course, and Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy. I still have a soft spot for Edding’s Belgariad, because it reset the parameters of fantasy at that time to include an easily read, humorous style of writing. Guy Gavriel Kay’s books are wonderful, and the ones I give to people trying fantasy who are used to a more literary style of writing, and then I follow them up with Robin Hobb’s The Farseer Trilogy. Great examples of fantasy by Australians are Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, and Glenda Larke’s Isles of Glory trilogy. More recent books that wowed me are N.K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy and Alison Goodman’s Eon duology.

And in film, you can’t go past the old classic Ladyhawke as an example of how a good fantasy story still works even without a big, modern special effects budget.