Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Guy Gavriel Kay on what his tombstone will say

The author of Children of Earth and Sky answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Guy Gavriel Kay is a celebrated Canadian fantasy writer. (Ted Davis)

Guy Gavriel Kay has published 13 novels and is a familiar name on bestseller lists around the globe. His Fionavar Tapestry fantasy series has sold over a million copies worldwide since being published in the 1980s and has been optioned by the Canadian production company behind Orphan Black. Some of Kay's other titles include Children of Earth and SkyTigana and River of Stars. In 2014, he was appointed to the Order of Canada.

Below, Kay answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Alissa York asks, "Do you ever give thanks for something you've written? If so, to what or to whom?"

Gratitude, relief, wonder have all surfaced at times. But they aren't directed at anyone or anything. I don't often re-read my own work, but sometimes touring in another country for a foreign-language edition of an earlier title I'll have to, and there have been times when I was bemused by that earlier incarnation of myself who had managed to get something right so long ago. Who was that guy? How did he do that? I do give thanks, then, and worry if I'll be able to do "it" again.

2. J.B. MacKinnon asks, "You can write your next book at a desk with a view of the sea, of a busy European plaza, or of a blank wall right in front of your desk. Which do you choose, and why?"

"Thalassa, thalassa"... the sea, the sea. I wrote my first novel on the south coast of Crete, most of it on the roof of my $4-a-night hotel, gazing out at the Libyan Sea. I was probably imprinted with that preference right from the start. I am usefully guilt-driven, too. Wake up in a beautiful place and think, "How do I justify being here if I'm not being productive?"

3. Alexi Zentner asks, "What's your worst writing habit?"

Not writing. There are always so many other things that must be done. It doesn't hit so often any more, though. "Now nothing but comes readier to the hand / Than this accustomed toil." — Yeats.

4. Will Ferguson asks, "How much thought/meaning do you put into the naming of your characters?"

A fair bit of thought. One must live with these people (by name) for — in my case — several years as they take shape. I have also written novels that are partly about the importance of names as a component of identity, so I suppose this issue of "names matter" is a core element in my case.

5. Nazneen Sheikh asks, "Have you ever been frightened by what you write? How and why?"

Frightened, moved, aroused, pained, joyous... the detachment, the clinical, craft aspect is a part of the revising process, but in the initial shaping of a story I am frequently very much caught up myself. I don't outline in any detail, so the narrative and its characters can surprise and affect me.

6. Pasha Malla asks, "Flannery O'Connor: 'All novelists are fundamentally seekers and describers of the real, but the realism of each novelist will depend on his view of the ultimate reaches of reality.' Where do your 'reaches of reality' extend to?"

Well, I use the fantastic as a tool in the writer's toolbox, and am immensely happy to see more and more others now starting to do the same, whether labelled in any way or not. I think the O'Connor quote is almost a given: that what is "real," what we have creative, moral, intellectual access to, what we want to "work with" will vary widely. Which is one of the glories of the artistic process. But those "reaches of reality" are also, for me, about purpose and craft — what tools fall most easily to our hand? What will let us say what we want to say?

7. Linda Spalding asks, "What moves you to tears?"

My family would say "lots of things," but I will, on the advice of counsel, deny it — to preserve my curmudgeon credibility. But really... poetry, admired athletes retiring, the destruction of Palmyra, losses to death, a child's suffering or joy... In writing I am often quite "raw" especially in early drafts as the story unfolds within and for me. I have joked that on my tombstone it might say "He Made People Cry" and I do believe that an aspect of this is my being so intensely engaged in what happens in a novel I write.

8. Charlotte Gill asks, "Describe your alter ego in personality and appearance."

My esteemed counsel (see above) advises that I would be violating aspects of National Security if I outed him too explicitly. This person does — I can reveal — still have the ability to hit a tennis backhand that I am gradually losing, myself. He lives much of the year in the south of France and is on first name basis with the owners of Chateau Simone, having bought so much of their wine at the vineyard.


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