The Next Chapter·Proust Questionnaire

Guy Gavriel Kay reveals his biggest regret, favourite painter and his idea of perfect happiness

The acclaimed writer and recipient of the Order of Canada answers The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire.
A Brightness Long Ago is a novel by Guy Gavriel Kay. (CBC, Penguin Random House Canada)
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Guy Gavriel Kay's bestselling fantasy novels are beloved in Canada and internationally. Among his many novels are Tigana, Children of Earth and Sky and most recently, A Brightness Long Ago.

He began his career assisting the Tolkien estate in editing J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion in the 1970s. Besides his novels, Kay has written a book of poetry, had his work optioned by the Canadian production company behind Orphan Black and he's the recipient of the Order of Canada.

Kay took The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire.

Who's your favourite character in fiction?

"There's a Scottish historical fiction novelist named Dorothy Dunnett. Her first series, The Lymond Chronicles, is set in 16th century Europe. They had a protagonist named Francis Crawford of Lymond and I think he's one of the most vividly realized figures created by anyone.

"I read my first of Dunnett's books when I was about 12 years old. I read the last one the year I was living outside Oxford working for the Tolkien estate and editing the The Silmarillion with Christopher Tolkien.

"I announced to him that I was going to have to take three days off because the final volume of The Lymond Chronicles was coming out. So I took the bus into Oxford and bought that final book. I didn't even make it back to the bus because I ended up sitting on a riverbank reading for a while. She's an extraordinarily compelling writer and I was lucky enough to meet her later that year. She personally had a formative influence on me."

Who is your favourite painter?

"I've got to say it's Cézanne because I am truly, madly, deeply in love with Provence. I've written there on four different occasions and Cézanne for me is overwhelmingly identified with the colours, the landscape and the essence of Provence."

What is your greatest regret?

"Early in my writing career,in the middle of the night, I started getting the idea for a poem. Not just a concept, but the actual lines were coming to me at three in the morning, in bed half-awake and half-asleep, vividly and intensely. I said to myself — looking back — I can't believe I was ever that stupid, but I said this is too intense and it's too vivid. I will remember it in the morning. Of course, you almost never remember in the morning. I woke up that morning and there was nothing there.

"You like to say that the things you most regret are things that teach you something. I always get up and write it down or reach over to the table and write it down. It's usually in the dark which raises legibility questions in the morning. But I now always write it down when an idea comes to me."

What is your favourite occupation?

"My favourite occupation is writing. Almost every writer I know curses, swears, mutters and drinks, or goes for 15 mile runs, in order to avoid writing. But at the root of it for me, and I think for many of us, is it's hard to imagine not doing what we're doing. Yeats once said, 'all things contemporary from this craft of verse' and then he went on to say, as he got older, 'nothing came more easily to his hand than this accustomed toil.' That's where I am now, no longer young, that nothing comes more easily to me than sitting down at the desk thinking about the next book or writing the next pages of that book."

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

"For those of us who are serious about our art in writing, or painting, music, dance, any form, the effort is to reduce the gap between what we have in our head and what ends up for writers on the page — to make that gap, that space, as small as possible. For me, the perfect happiness is at the end of the day, if I feel that what I've done does in fact make that gap between what I want to do and what I seem to have achieved as small as I can make it. That's immensely satisfying."

Guy Gavriel Kay's comments have been edited for clarity and length.

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