Monday, October 10, 2011

Out-of-Town-Authors: Guy Gavriel Kay

Here’s where the fantasy began

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
by: Ariel Gordon

Toronto-based writer Guy Gavriel Kay has legions of fans, drawn from both geekdom and the literati.

His pedigree is as epic as his books: in his 20s, he moved from Winnipeg to Oxford, England to help J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, Christopher, edit The Silmarillion.

In his 30s, he published The Fionavar Tapestry, a critically acclaimed trilogy of high-fantasy novels.

These days, Kay writes what he calls ‘historical fantasy.’ His latest, Under Heaven, won a Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic and was nominated for several other prizes.

Kay will be appearing at McNally Robinson on Thursday to celebrate the paperback release of Under Heaven.

1) As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?

A good, complex question! There is a wide range of comfort among writers for the road show/performance aspect of the business. I spent many years writing and directing in radio drama, so I am comfortable with an audience or a microphone, but I do worry about the blurring of an author’s public persona with the work itself. A good ‘performer’ can make a mediocre book sound strong, and a shy author can leave listeners missing the excellence of his or her writing. I get the most out of touring overseas, the exposure to completely different cultures (China, Croatia, Russia, France, Mexico...) and seeing how my work is received there. That’s hugely rewarding on a personal level.

2) What do you want people to know about Under Heaven?

I lived with this book, researching, incubating, writing, for seven years, even through the writing of another novel. Because of this, the awards and honours it has received feel hugely reassuring: the idea that taking time, being careful, polishing, are still worthwhile in today’s sped-up world. The novel is inspired by the Tang Dynasty of 8th-century China... the most glittering, dazzling period in their history. It embodies what has become my ‘method’... close attention to real history and then a "quarter turn to the fantastic" as the Globe and Mail reviewer put it. (A phrase I like and have obviously stolen!)

3) Will this your first time in Winnipeg? What have you heard?

Um, well, gee...I grew up here! I’ve heard it all (well, probably not quite!): Kelekis, the BDI for ice cream and romantic walks over the bridge, Corydon, Osborne Village, Juniors for midnight hamburgers (the original one, opposite the train station!), Winnipeg Beach, Falcon Lake, mosquitoes, hitchhiking to campus in winter, the hockey rink behind Sir William Osler School (I pretty much grew up on that sheet of ice, or on the football field we used just north of Taylor, around Mathers Bay). The radiators of University College on campus (did some more growing up there), the River Heights library and Mary Scorer Books (dating myself), graham wafer pie at Salisbury House. What else have I heard? Rumour has it there’s a hockey team again. Go Jets!

4) What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

Just finished The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, nominated for a lot of awards this fall. I enjoyed it a lot. We share a film agent and he tells me the book’s been optioned by John C. Reilly, the actor...and he’d be flat-out perfect for the lead role. I hope it happens. I’m in the middle of writing my next book. I never talk about books in progress, I could decide to change it to a series of seafood recipes, after all.

5) You’ve published 11 novels...and one book of poetry. Tell me about the urge towards poetry.

I started with poetry, first recognition, first awards. The impulse and the writing never went away; I just stopped sending them out to magazines around the time I released my first novel. The poems were the only thing I wrote that was not for everyone else. Then my editors at Penguin, who were also friends and had seen several of them, aggressively urged me to do a book. Editors can be aggressive, especially after drinks. That’s how Beyond This Dark House appeared. There’s a level at which, if you take poetry seriously, the focus it involves...that never goes away.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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