Trudi Canavan

bestselling author of The Black Magician Trilogy

Trudi's Blog

First Paragraphs

The first paragraph of a book is one of the most important. It contains the words that can introduce a reader (or commissioning editor) to an author’s writing style, the world the book is set in, and is the first taste of the story to come. If the reader doesn’t like the first paragraph, they may stop reading and put the book down. Because of this, it’s easy to become intimidated by writing first paragraphs.

Me? I love them. As always, I’m not vain enough to think I can dazzle everyone with sublime prose, so I aim to have a little fun. In the Black Magician Trilogy the first paragraphs were all about establishing a mood and a feel for the world the story was set in:

The Magicians’ Guild:

It is said, in Imardin, that the wind has a soul, and that it wails through the narrow city streets because it is grieved by what it finds there. On the day of the Purge it whistled amongst the swaying masts in the Marina, rushed through the Western Gates and screamed between the buildings. Then, as if appalled by the ragged souls it met there, it quietened to a whimper.

The Novice:

For a few weeks each summer, the sky over Kyralia cleared to a harsh blue and the sun beat down relentlessly. In the city of Imardin, the streets were dusty and the masts of ships in the Marina writhed behind the heat haze, while men and women retreated to their homes to fan themselves and sip juices or – in the rougher parts of the slums – drink copious amounts of bol.

The High Lord:

In ancient Kyralian poetry the moon is known as the Eye. When the Eye is wide open, its watchful presence deters evil – or encourages madness in those who do wrong under its gaze. Closed, with only a sliver of white to mark its sleeping presence, the Eye allows hidden deeds of both good or ill to remain unnoticed.

As a writer you are always learning. When I came to write the Age of the Five trilogy, I had worked out that a first paragraph was much more effective at making a reader want to continue on if the tension of a situation was immediately apparent:

Priestess of the White:

Auraya stepped over a fallen log, taking care that no crinkle of crushed leaves or snapping of twigs betrayed her presence. A tug at her throat warned her to look back. The hem of her tawl had caught on a branch. She tugged it free and carefully chose her next step.

Last of the Wilds:

Reivan detected the change before any of the others. At first it was instinctive, a feeling more than a knowing; then she noticed that the air smelled duller and that there was a grittiness to it. Looking at the rough walls of the tunnel, she saw deposits of a powdery substance. It coated one side of every bump and groove, as if it had been blown there from a wind originating in the darkness ahead.

Voice of the Gods:

The man staggering through the hospice door was covered in blood. It streaked his face and clothing, and leaked from between fingers pressed to his brow. As the occupants of the greeting hall saw him they fell silent, then the noise and activity resumed. Someone would take care of him.

But when I came to write the prequel to the Black Magician Trilogy, I needed to drag my attention away from the many distractions competing for it, and I think that may have been the source of this first paragraph:

The Magician’s Apprentice:

There was no fast and painless way to perform an amputation, Tessia knew. Not if you did it properly. A neat amputation required a flap of skin to be cut to cover the stump, and that took time.

Which, while short, has drawn some interesting reactions from test readers. What do you think?

A Reading

Writing – at least writing Big Honking Fantasy Trilogies – tends to involve a lot of time spend alone and unobserved. It’s a job ideally suited for a loner. That suits me fine. I reckon I’m 90% hermit and 10% social party animal.

The 10% social party animal comes in handy when it’s time to promote a book. Over the last seven or eight years, since I first had a published book to wave about, I’ve taken part in most of the usual forms of book promotion. I’ve held a book launch. I’ve signed books in shops, or at conventions. I’ve been interviewed via email, the telephone, and in a radio station studio. I’ve accepted awards. I’ve did one short talk at an English teacher’s conference – boy was that nerve-wracking! I’ve sat on panels at conventions, done a few talks to SF social groups, and occasionally run writing workshops.

The one thing I have avoided is readings.

Why? Well, I’ve read excerpt of other people’s books when launching them, so I know I can do it. For some reason when I read someone else’s writing I don’t worry that I’ll have a coughing fit, or lose my voice, or accidently substitute a word for something rude.

But with my own work? Anxiety abounds. And worst of all, I just know that I’ll find a mistake in the text. And then I’m going to forget I’m reading to an audience and start editing on the spot.

For a long time I’ve been telling myself that the only way to get over this anxiety is to confront it. But I’m good at avoidance, and it’s taken the dogged perseverance and irresistible charm of Natalie at the Melbourne Science Fiction Club to finally corner me into doing a reading.

So if you’d like to watch me freak out hear me read the first chapter of The Magician’s Apprentice, come to the Melbourne Science Fiction Club on the evening of the 21st November.

Just make sure there are no red pens in sight.

Maps for The Magician’s Apprentice

The first full-time job I had was as a designer at Lonely Planet Publications, where I drew maps and illustrations along with setting them out with the text of travel guidebooks. While I’d sketched out maps for the fun of it as a child, and examined the maps in the fantasy books I was reading, I hadn’t had any training in cartography. Learning on the job was fun, though drawing the same style of maps did become drudgery after a few years. Later, when I worked freelance as an illustrator and cartographer, there was a lot more variety and scope in the maps I got to draw.

The maps I draw for my own books are mostly hurried sketches, starting as a general idea with details being added as the worlds I create are fleshed out. When the time comes to change these sketches into maps to go into my books, what I learned while working at Lonely Planet comes in handy.

The most useful skill I learned was knowing how much detail can be put in a map that must fit on, at the most, a double page spread of a paperback novel, often using low quality paper and ink. How much detail can be put in? Not much!

My sketches tend to be about the same size as a double page spread of a paperback these days, and my final maps are drawn to fit that size. Any larger and they’d have to be shrunk to fit. Fine detail is likely to fill in, tiny labels are likely to become unreadable. I might still include a lot more detail in my sketch than will go on the finished map, but keeping it small helps remind me I’ve got limited space in the final version.

















When I start creating the finished map, I also consider the look and style of it. In the early days of learning about cartography I used to sneer at the maps in fantasy novels, most which I considered badly drawn. Inconsistent scale, foolish little ‘witches hats’ mountains that didn’t show the true lie of the land, border lines that were obviously based more on convenience to the author than convincing geographic or political boundaries, awful, unreadable fonts, are just a small example of what made a poor map.

But then I began to look at historical maps, and I began to change my mind. I started to see that the errors and quaintness in those old maps was part of their charm, and in fact it was the static, obviously computer drawn maps that didn’t suit fantasy books.

So when I came to creating the finished maps for my own books, I aimed to make them look like someone living in the world of the story had drawn them. That way, the maps were part of the world building. They told the reader something about the level of technological advancement, and even the culture, of the setting.

This is why there is an architectural plan of the Guild grounds in the Black Magician Trilogy rather than a map. It was only at the last moment that the idea of including the label: “This plan is the property of the Magicians’ Guild of Kyralia and must not be removed from the Magicians’ Library” came to me, to give a sense of the disciplined world it came from.

















In The Magician’s Apprentice I took this a step further, including a cartographer among the secondary characters who explored new ways to draw maps. 

I’ve always felt that maps should not be essential to comprehending a story – there’s nothing more annoying that having to flick back and forth in order to follow the plot. The greatest sin is the map that shows (usually in a dotted line) the path of the characters, as this nearly always spoils the plot. Most maps are decorative – and since authors don’t have much control over their covers at least they can decide what the map is like.

But the best maps are those that add a little extra something to the experience of reading the book. Like the little hints I put into the text knowing that only those readers who read the books a second time will pick them up. A treat waiting for those who happen to look.


And the Winner is…

Orbit and I have finally settled on an author photo.




















 Yep, nothing like the ones I posted a few months back. Those ones didn’t have quite the right feel, it turned out. So my partner, Paul, and I did another shoot. This time outdoors, along the Yarra River in Melbourne. This one had the ‘authorshottishness’ we were after (especially after my friend, Kerri, waved her magic Photoshop wand at it). The bods at Orbit agreed.

I like it. What do you think?

Conflux 5 – a great weekend!

We had a great time at Conflux 5. It was a small enough convention to be cosy but large enough that I still didn’t manage to spend enough time with everyone I wanted to catch up with. Highlights include:

Meeting and chatting to con guest Liz Gorinsky, associate editor at Tor (who liked my boots).

Friday night’s Dreaming Again launch. The last of the first print run was sold out there and people were racing off to Borders to get a copy.

Mark Shireff’s guest presentation on his Bafta and Oscar nominated short animated film The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello.

The auction, at which I bought an Aussiecon bid t-shirt. (Worldcon is going to be in Australia, in my home town of Melbourne, in 2010.)

All four panels I was on for Sunday:

‘Achieving the Dream’, where we discussed what our dreams were/are and if we’d attained them.

‘Choosing an Overlord’, in which we pretended to be henchmen discussing our bosses and giving advice to minions aspiring to be henchmen (and we decided that the male version of a wench was a wrench).

‘Dreaming Again’, where the process of making the anthology was discussed.

‘Making the Jump’, at which we discussed moving from short stories to novels, or the reverse, or both at the same time…

The cosy and conversational Conjecture room party – Conjecture is a convention that will be running in Adelaide, South Australia, next year.  

Going to conventions usually leaves me all inspired and abuzz. But this time when we got home we had a mad, frantic day of house cleaning (the dust bunnies had evolved into tumbleweeds) and then yesterday we finally moved the last of my furniture from my old house here – three years after I moved to this house (the delay thanks to the Great House Extention Debarkle). Now I’m too stiff, sore and tired to be buzzing, and I really need to get stuck back into writing The Ambassador’s Mission.

And on top of that, I’ll soon have 1338 signatures to scrawl, on a whole lot of first editions and uncorrected proofs of The Magician’s Apprentice, and some bookplates. Pity my poor hands!