Thief’s Magic Inspiration: Handcrafts

Trudi Canavanon writing

One of the ideas behind the Millennium’s Rule trilogy was “what if creativity generated magic?”.

Rulers often commission fancy palaces and beautiful artworks, to display their wealth and good taste. What if another reason was to make them more powerful, magically?

It would mean magic would be a byproduct of human civilisation.

It would mean the amount of magic available in any place would be variable.

It meant I could incorporate another of my passions: art and handcrafts, into my stories. 

In Thief’s Magic, Tyen visits a printer, where he sees books being made. A few years ago I did a bookbinding workshop, and since then have tried many binding techniques. Making books gave me the idea for Vella, a book that was conscious, could collect and store knowledge, and communicate to the reader.

Rielle is a painter. Initially I intended to show her drawing and painting to demonstate the difference ways male and female artists are regarded in her world, and for her own sharpened sense of observation to communicate information to the reader. But the scene where she grinds paint while she thinks about what has happened to her wrote itself, a perfect metaphor for her circling thoughts. Though I have never made my own paints, I researched methods and ingredients in order to make that scene more authentic. In her world and culture, old water-based painting methods are used, but having her meet someone who has developed the first oil paints, gave me two catalysts for change and conflict.

At the time of writing this I was working on book two, Angel of Storms. Two other creative disciplines found their way into the character’s lives and setting: tapestry weaving and calligraphy. One was planned, the other unplanned. I’m looking forward to seeing what other creative pursuits manifest in this series, and in what way. In Successor’s Promise one of my earliest hobbies – pottery – is featured and one of my newest – mosaics.

I am certainly not the first writer to incorporate art and craft into a book. It was Lloyd Alexanders Chronicles of Prydain that inspired me to try pottery as a child, a handcraft that I practised for five or six years and revisited as both a teen and an adult. The Harry Potter and Sookie Stackhouse books feature knitting, Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest features spinning, weaving and sewing, Glenda Larke’s Water Giver series describes a kind of painting done on water with magical effects.

In this day and age these creative skills seem like frivolous indulgences, but in the past – in the kinds of eras fantasy worlds are usually set – making and decorating objects was and essential part of life for most people. If not for their own survival, then for their income. I’d like to see more than just blacksmithing mentioned in fantasy settings, because it is often the small details that make a world seem real and believable.