Trudi Canavan

bestselling author of The Black Magician Trilogy

Trudi's Blog

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!

A Worthy Cause

It may surprise some of you to know I do read every email sent to me and every guestbook entry posted to my site. (Mind you, if someone sent me an email that waffles on for three pages, I’ll skim it. There are limits to my time and attention-span.) Sometimes I wish I had an assistant who could filter out the occasional rude or plain stupid email, but that’s a luxury that’ll have to wait until I’m mega rich.

Now and then I get an email asking a question or raising an issue I find interesting, and I consider whether or not to write about it in this blog. (I say in the guestbook that I may do this from time to time.) But like with the following guestbook entry, something about it makes me hesitate:

Hi there, Currently I am enjoying your first trilogy, and said I’d check out your website. I thought that I would let you know that your site is extremely inaccessible – that is to say, it is very difficult for disabled computer users, specifically blind people, to interact with your website. For example, most of the links or buttons on your site are infact images and as such can not be accessed by a blind person using a screenreader and keyboard to surf the net- you need to provide text alternatives (the alt=”” attribute of an image <img /> tag). Similiarly in the code of your website relies heavily on interaction with a mouse, but a great number of disabled computer users with a large variety of disabilities – simply do not use a mouse at all, they interact only using a keyboard. A method such as onFocus() should be used in place of mouse methods. The vast majority of people are unaware of the difficulties the average disabled user faces online, and as figures from the world health organisation show, approx 1 billion people worldwide are disabled. This is a large market you are excluding through the inaccessibility of this website. Apart from profitable reasons, it is socially responisble to provide services that are equally accessible to all, regardless of capability. Currently I am completing my masters in this field, if you would like independent confirmation (that I’m not half mad) please google the WCAG (web guidelines for accessible design from the web standards authority, W3C) and section 508 (American law on this topic). I would suggest you complain loudly and shame your web designer. I really enjoy your stories, and look forward to reading more, Kind Regards, Lauren.

Now, the first impression I get is that this person has absolutely no idea how to sway people to her cause. She started off well by educating with facts and explanations, but then made two huge mistakes: she did not research her target audience and she shifted to a tone that was condescending and even a touch threatening, both which will only alienate the person or people she ought to be wooing.

Of course, it’s possible she is an internet ‘troll’ trying to rouse debate (if you don’t know what a ‘troll’ is, look it up on google or wiki), or maybe a student hoping to get some useful text or statistics out of me and anyone responding to this post. But let’s go with the assumption she is trying to make the world a better place.

If you want to make the world a better place, do your research.

Firstly, if you are targeting a specific person, perhaps you ought to read the available information about that person. I am an Australian. I live in Australia. Waving American standards and laws at me isn’t going to have much of an effect – except to annoy me. I have a bio on my site. It wouldn’t have taken much research to find out where I lived.

Secondly, I am an author. Most authors can’t afford to spend a lot of money on websites. We don’t get paid to have a website – we get paid to write books – so we can’t spend too much time on websites. My website is an indulgence for me and my readers. We’re not going to commission a complete redesign of a website at the drop of a hat. Bear this in mind when promoting your cause to authors.

Thirdly, while Lauren has made some attempt to educate and explain, she does not acknowledge how little choice the average customer has. My website is a product I bought, and like many buyers, I don’t know that much about the tools used to make it. I do know that the types of tools used were initially restricted by what my ISP would support. My web designer did what she could with it – and I think she did a fine job. (Oh, and by the way, she’s a friend. I’m not going to complain loudly and shame her. I may, however, raise the issue in a friendly fashion in the future.)

Neither my web designer nor I decided that my site would be inaccessible to disabled people. Of course I want disabled people to be able to access my site. Why wouldn’t I? The more the merrier! If we’d had a choice at the time, we’d have made it as accessible as possible.

Fortunately, I’m not the sort of person who changes their views in reaction to one email. Fortunately, I’m not the average uninformed customer: I learned of this issue a year or so back, on a science program (though no solution was offered on it). Since then I’ve kept it in mind for the future. When the time comes for a redesign of my website I will see if there’s a solution available and, if it is affordable, implement it. Hopefully by then there’ll be a bit more choice in the marketplace. Technology changes quickly, after all. 

Filling in the Dance Card

The program for Conflux 5 arrived the other day, so I can now list the events I’ll be taking part in:


Friday October 3rd

9pm – Dreaming Again Launch

Saturday October 4th

4pm – Mass Book Signing

Sunday October 5th

10am – Achieving the Dream panel

11am – Choosing an Overlord panel

4pm – Making the Jump panel


There will be no bookshop signing outside of the con, unfortunately. My on-the-ground organising guru is moving house right now and has enough on her hands. Also, I’ll be flying up now so won’t have a car to get myself to a signing in anyway. I’ll be heading home earlier, too, so I can continue writing The Ambassador’s Mission.