Trudi Canavan is an Australian writer, artist and self-confessed chocoholic who lives in Melbourne. She is the highly acclaimed author of the Black Magician Trilogy and the Age of the Five Trilogy and has recently become the latest writer to top one million print book sales through UK Nielsen BookScan. I thought that was an extremely impressive accomplishment so I asked if she would answer some questions for us, I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.
Firstly, please allow us to extend our Congratulations on reaching the 1 Million Copies mark with Orbit. Would I be correct in thinking that this is UK sales alone, it doesn’t take into account the rest of the world?
Yes, that’s right.
What was your first thought when you heard from Orbit about reaching the 1 Million milestone?
“That was quick!” Because they’d told me when I was on tour over in the UK in May that we were getting close. I thought it would take a lot longer than a couple of months to get there. The whole prospect was almost too amazing to comprehend, so I think a part of me didn’t believe it was going to happen at all!
If you had been asked back in 1994, before you were published, could you see yourself where you are today?
No. At that point my goal was simply to prove to myself that I could finish a book. As it turned out, that book kept getting bigger and bigger and I had to turn it into three. Then once I’d put that much hard work into writing, getting it published was more of a goal than it had been. After all, I’d had a lot of fun writing it and rather fancied doing that for a living, but that requires it to earn an income. Once I was published I found myself wishing that the income was a bit higher – something a person could actually live off. Eventually that did happen. But since I reached my first goal I’ve been doing much better than I’d imagined, so everything that’s happened after it has been a marvellous bonus.
Your work has been quite highly awarded. Have you got a favourite or most meaningful award?
I’ve been very fortunate to have received both a Ditmar and two Aurealis Awards, but I can’t say which is a favourite because they are such different awards for different kinds of work. One is chosen by peers, the other by public vote, so it’s equally lovely to know that something I wrote was valued by both groups of people. Two are for short stories and one is for a novel, and while it’s great that the hard work that I put into the longer work was recognised it’s also a treat that the shorter form is appreciated as well. The Aurealis Award I received for The Magician’s Apprentice is also special because I was having a low period after we had The House Extension From Hell, and the award made me feel the struggle had been worthwhile.
(Photo credit: Paul Ewins)
You have been awarded for both short stories and novels. Can you tell me please, is one harder to write than the other?
It depends what you mean by ‘hard’. Writing a novel is hard work, both in the planning and the sheer staying power you need to complete it. Writing a short story is faster, but it’s a more demanding, uncompromising form. I prefer writing novels because I like to become immersed in the world and get to know the characters. I don’t write short stories often, but they are a great form for exploring a specific idea, which might be lost in a novel.
From starting your first manuscript to the publishing contract was quite a long road. Can you tell us a little bit about how long it took?
It is always hard to pinpoint the starting point. Do I begin with the first idea for the Black Magician Trilogy story, scribbled down in 1992? Or in 1995 when I quit full time work and started The Telltale Art, an illustration business, so I could write part time? I finished the first draft a year and a half later, but of course there was all that rewriting. It wasn’t until 2001 and two major rewrites of the first book that I sold the trilogy to a publisher in Australia. Then a few more years before it found a US and UK publisher. There were highs and lows along the way, but to describe them would make for a very long answer. Which is why I’ve put a longer version of the story on my website.
What were your biggest challenges throughout the process?
Money and health. I kept the bills paid by working as a freelance illustrator at first. Back problems that started when I worked as a full time graphic designer grew worse from the demands of jobs with short deadlines, and these days I can’t write for long hours because of them. Illustration was a good way to stay poor, too. My first advances were good, but not a full-time wage by any stretch of the imagination, and yet I had to cut back on illustration work in order to have the time to write more books. After starting my second trilogy, the Age of the Five, I started having days of fatigue with no obvious cause. Doctors didn’t know much about chronic fatigue then, and would only begrudgingly consider it as a possible explanation if all the tests they put you through didn’t pinpoint anything else. Fortunately it knocked me out for only a day per fortnight on average, so I was able to keep writing and, 8-9 years later, I seem to have recovered.
Research plays quite a large role in your work, what is the most interesting piece of information you have uncovered in your research?
The most interesting piece of information is the next one to be discovered! There are so many things that I have researched that have opened my eyes and mind to the world and given me fabulous ideas for stories – often more than I can possibly use in my books. I’ve also discovered much about myself. Like that I am very bad at fencing (with swords, that is, not slats, nails and posts) or that history is fascinating to me when it is more about a thing or idea than about people or countries, or that my political views might need a little adjustment now and then.
What happened to The Telltale Art?
The success of my books killed it! To be honest, while illustration is a great creative job, it’s still a job and that means drawing what other people want you to draw. Writing is a little more like being an artist, who paints what he or she wants and then hopes someone will like their work enough to buy it. I’ve been fortunate that lots of people liked my stories, making writing a much better source of income.
Where is the most exciting place your writing has taken you?
Aside from the thrill of writing a pivotal scene… on tour in Europe earlier this year, meeting thousands of lovely, enthusiastic people who read and enjoy my tales, hearing their inspiring stories and sharing the love of good books.
What does being a woman mean to you?
Would it be strange to say not a lot, on a day to day basis? I’m lucky enough to live in a place and time when being a woman – or not a man – doesn’t limit my choices very much. However, it means more on another, less obvious level. The physical advantages and disadvantages sometimes make themselves known, like that I’m likely to live longer than a man, but they don’t have to go through menopause. And the social ones, on a subtle level. Sexism certainly does exist, but mostly either as a character flaw in unpleasant individuals, or an unconscious general attitude that is hard to combat because it isn’t open and obvious.
Do I like being a woman? Yes! In some ways, we have a lot more freedom than men when it comes to identity. If someone told me I wasn’t feminine enough, I’d just laugh and call them old fashioned. But men are under so much pressure to be masculine. Being feminine or masculine shouldn’t matter as much as simply being yourself, and being kind to others.
(Note from Michelle, that wouldn’t be strange at all because though it’s a question in all my interviews it’s not one I think I could really answer either.)
Thank you so much for your time, and congratulations again for the achievement of 100 million copies.