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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dictionary of the Tree - Mary Victoria

Who among us likes to read the 'behind the scenes' parts of books. I for one love reading glossaries and footnotes on my favourite characters. It gives us a greater understanding of who is what and what is when. Mary Victoria, author of The Chronicles of the Tree trilogy has been compling notes and ideas and turning them into a dictionary - one she is calling The Dictionary of the Tree. It is fascinating and completely too big to merge with the actual series. Here is how she got the idea on how and why to create it.
The Dictionary of the Tree

The idea for the Dictionary properly belongs to my wonderful editor at Voyager books, Stephanie Smith. We had originally looked at publishing a simple glossary at the end of ‘Oracle’s Fire’, as we did with ‘Tymon’s Flight’. It would have been the same as the one appearing in the first book, however, as there was no room for further additions and entries. Both Stephanie and I felt this was rather a shame – why say the same thing all over again?
She suggested that instead of reducing ourselves to what could fit in three pages at the end of a paperback, I should put the glossary up on the website and add entries as I saw fit. That way it would always be available to whoever wished to consult it – and I wouldn’t be confined in terms of content. I was happy with that idea as I’d always felt the existing glossary to be lacking something in the way of verve. I didn’t just want a dry explanations of concepts. I wanted something more fun: fake scholarly entries, unreliable sources, tongue-in-cheek references. I wanted to include excerpts from the books themselves and notes as to my own sources of inspiration. Basically, I saw in Stephanie’s idea the opportunity to write something far more interesting than a simple glossary. It was an entire Dictionary, the ABC of the Tree.

The Dictionary as it stands has several types of entries. Some are indeed explanations, from the point of view of either the Argosians or the Nurians, about some key aspect of their culture or environment. The trick there is to watch out for unreliable narrators – is an Argosian priest really the source to trust for information about Nurians? Do either Nurians or Argosians actually understand anything about their physical environment, or are most of their notions based on legend and superstition?

The second type of entry is an excerpt from the books themselves. I’ve used these when I feel a particular scene describes or brings to life a concept far better than any explanation would do. So there are excerpts from scenes depicting a Grafter trance, for example, or metaphysical concepts like the Tree of Being, where a character’s direct experience can be illuminating.

Thirdly, and often concurrently to the first two methods, I’ve appended my personal notes to the entries. These sections are entitled ‘Under the hood’ and include my own thoughts and reactions, the inspiration for certain story elements and even a protest or two against what might be said elsewhere. I don’t always agree, as an author, with the opinions of my characters…
All this was immensely fun to put together, of course, and I don’t rule out further entries in the Dictionary of the Tree, should occasion arise. But the cherry on top for me was the freedom I had to illustrate the entries to my heart’s content. You see, it’s unconscionably expensive to actually publish a glossary illumined like a medieval manuscript, with decorative borders and miniature paintings in full colour. But that’s something that can quite easily be achieved on a website, with the help of a talented illustrator – in this case, Frank Victoria, the artist responsible for the gorgeous covers on all three books. If I had my way, of course, there would be a fabulous box set of the Chronicles available in bookshops, illumined throughout in a style I imagine used by the monks in Argos. But failing that, there is always the Dictionary of the Tree – and a taste of the peculiar processes going on in the author’s mind, behind the scenes.

Here is the link for the Dictionary of the Tree. You should go have a look at it and comment on what you think.


  1. thank you mary for your wonderful insight on your glossary... i'll tell tarran that i'll be buying your novels and will also take a look at the dictionary of the tree site. regards, steven.

  2. Thanks Steven - those are words every writer loves to hear!
    All the best and enjoy your journey in the world of the Tree.


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