An Evening with Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay is known for his fantasy novels, starting with the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, set at my alma mater, University of Toronto. He has written twelve novels, a book of poetry and numerous reviews and articles for Canadian and English newspapers. His internationally bestselling works have been translated into over twenty-five language. Among others, he has won the International Goliardos Prize for contributions to literature of the fantastic. Along with astronaut Chris Hadfield, in 2014 he was named to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour.

In September, I attended a ceremony recognizing 30 years of the Fionavar Tapestry at Bakka Phoenix bookstore in Toronto. Kay is a witty speaker, who underlined how lucky he was to have collaborated with such ‘tolerant’ and wonderful people over the years, many of whom he met during the writing and production of his first novel, The Summer Tree.

The store was packed with fans who lined up to have their books autographed by Kay, and also Martin Springett who created the iconic Summer Tree cover back in 1984. In his speech, Kay also recognized writer Sue Reynolds, creator of the first published map of Fionavar. It was fascinating to hear how the bay she drew on the map, based on Kay’s writing, inspired him to ask for a tower to be drawn there, and how that tower became essential in book three, The Darkest Road.

The ceremony began with original music performed by Martin Springett. It ended with three fabulous Dufflet cakes, each sporting a cover from the Fionavar trilogy. It didn’t surprise me at all when hungry fans ate their way around the outside, but refused to cut into the photographic decorations. As part of the Sunburst award group, who awarded him a Copper Cylinder Award for River of Stars, I was invited to the after party.

While I’ve met Kay before, this was an intimate gathering. He even bought us a round. Guy Kay is personable and generous with his observations. Speaking to a small group of bibliophiles and writers, he commented candidly on his current work-in-progress. In his remarks, there were lessons for creative types of all stripes:

At 100 000 words, the point where most novelists are finished, he is halfway through his epic novels and said he ‘hates himself’ because what he is writing never measures up to his artistic intention. Quoting T.S. Eliot, Kay compared this artistic disconnect to the ‘desire versus the spasm’

Kay is an international bestseller with a reputation for literary prowess. How inspiring to hear such an accomplished writer admit to ongoing artistic struggle. It encourages me to keep going and finish projects, since you never know when the project you are working on right now will be the one to change your life.

The other lesson was how important people and friends are to creative work. Gathering a group of creative people who understand your vision and can help you express that to an audience is crucial, especially for word artists. It takes a team of people to put out a book and for me, since I am researching indie publishing, it was a good reminder that any publishing project depends not just on the appeal of the author’s work, but also on the talents of the team who edits, formats, prepares and distributes it.

At Bakka, Kay said author tours used to be common and joked that in October, you couldn’t go through a Canadian airport without bumping into an author. How things have changed! Publishers no longer have money to publicize new authors but an established publisher like Kay’s (Penguin) represents more than prestige and publicity. It’s also about working with a publishing team of the highest quality.

Kay’s most recent work, River of Stars, continues the story begun in Under Heaven, which is inspired by Tang Dynasty China in the eighth century. Kay is known for creating epic novels set in well-researched fantasy realms that resemble real places and times. From fictionalized Ancient China to Byzantium and beyond, if epic drama, exotic realms and history pique your interest, visit his author page to discover Kay’s unique worlds.

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