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Putting Authors / Illustrators in the Picture #12: Guy Gavriel Kay

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 1st August 2019

Our author in the picture for August is a writing hero of mine so I may get a little gushy and enthusiastic, sorry (not sorry)! I’ve been reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s beautiful novels since I was a teen. When I say beautiful, they really, truly are. I have a proper all-encompassing reading experience and always fall headlong into the story. I feel a connection in my heart and soul, not only with the characters but also the epic scale, inclusivity, the descriptions of scenery, art, feelings… The storytelling itself often pierces my very being, and yes, I have sobbed, as well as laughed, and sat in contemplation as the words travel from the page into my thoughts. 

I read for a living, and rarely get to sit and read a book that isn’t in some way connected to work. GGK’s novels always call to me though, and I regularly reread them, the last one being The Lions of Al-Rassan which I first read in 1996. These are books that can’t be pigeonholed, they sit outside of time, of labels. Though, I have to say that one reviewer did rather hit the nail on the head by describing them as “historical fiction with a quarter turn to the fantastic”. I do feel that readers will be missing out if they usually turn away from anything described as fantasy, so go on, read a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, I dare you!

An authorised website was created in 2000 and is a fabulous link to the worlds created by GGK. He also has a strong social media presence, particularly on Twitter as @guygavrielkay. Opinionated, yes most definitely, also funny, thoughtful, and interesting (his love for negronis, sport, art, and puns are well known).

We have a rather wonderful competition running during August 2019, which includes copies of his latest novel, A Brightness Long Ago, do take a look at the link.

His chosen photos for our Author in the Picture blog piece open a window into his writing world. So, thank you and cin cin Mr. Kay!

A Location that has inspired you?

When we were still young (long ago!) we rented an academic’s Tuscan summer home in a hamlet between Florence and Siena, towards Certaldo, during the autumn when I began writing my fourth novel, Tigana, influenced by events during the Renaissance in Italy. I picked an extra bedroom as my writing room, pushed a desk in front of the window, opened the shutters on my first morning, and saw this view. In the distance are the celebrated towers of San Gimignano (a must-visit, by the way). Yes, they worked their way into the novel, as an inspiration. And, yes, that landscape did, too. How not?

Your favourite reading or writing snacks and beverages?

This is so easy as to be almost cheating, since I’m (over?) identified with Negronis and Campari on social media. (And I loved them way before they became trendy, dammit!). I’m also doubling things up a bit, as this Campari-and-soda is sitting on a table outside Les Deux Garçons on the gorgeous Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence — where I’ve written on four different occasions over the years. The 2Gs was the favourite cafe-bar of Cezanne and Zola in Aix, we are told. Who am I to not love it? Really? I should perhaps clarify that the drink is for after a good writing day, not during. Thank you.

Favourite book cover to date?

I’m actually hesitant to answer this one, as I’ve been so lucky over the years (with a few infamous exceptions we shall not discuss here, thanks) with my covers around the world. But these two really are special, and photos can’t even do them justice because of how they are designed. These are the Chinese editions of Under Heaven and River of Stars, my novels inspired by the Tang and Sung Dynasties respectively. I was really curious what the Chinese publishers would do, and what they presented blew me away. The covers have semi-translucent overlays that can be unfolded to show all of what is beneath. The first overlay is of clouds and the sky, the second of a river, and they are overlaying art from the periods the novels evoke. I thought they were, and are, jaw-droppingly beautiful covers. (The green sticker on the second is removable, of course, contains publicity/marketing information.)

An object that has inspired you.

The cloister of the cathedral of Aix-en-Provence is small, quiet, quite lovely, if not majestic in the way some others are. Because I love Aix, I love this one. And during our last year living and writing there, in 2004-05, I wandered back in, early in our stay, and was Smitten By An Idea — specifically related to this column carving. There was, in those days, a small plaque on the far wall identifying all the carvings and sculptures (it isn’t there now, for some reason). This one was said to be the Queen of Sheba. And I stood looking at it and I said ‘No. That isn’t who she is. Not for me.’ And from that moment there emerged a scene right at the beginning of Ysabel, the novel I wrote that year, inspired by Celts, Greeks, Romans and a romantic triangle coming back in the present day. That stone carving, if you must know, is a faded, worn, medieval sculpture of Ysabel, done by a man who loved her. Long ago and … now.

Your favourite author photos.

I have two, many years apart. On one occasion TIME Magazine sent a photographer to do a shoot for a profile they were running. My younger son, a toddler then, was fascinated by the whole process, kept hovering in the room, watching the lighting being adjusted, the poses changed, listening to the conversation. Towards the end, the photographer grinned and said ‘Let’s get him into a shot. My wife quickly changed Matthew into ‘author black’ clothes, and this shot emerged. It wasn’t used in the magazine piece, but remains a favourite to this day.

The other photo is more of a culminating moment, of sorts. In the summer of 2014 I was invested with the Order of Canada for my contributions to literature over the years. The ceremony was the next year, in Ottawa, and this is taken with the then Governor General of Canada that afternoon. My mom, my wife, my sons were there. It is our highest civilian honour, and I still feel humble and proud, in roughly equal measure. The smile probably gives that away.

Your most memorable book event.

I’m going to go back to China, though there have been many events that are memorable (sometimes hilariously so). But at Beijing Normal University Laura and I were requested to come with my agent and Chinese publisher (and a wonderful interpreter) to attend what we were led to believe was a salon of sorts, drinking tea with some academics and reviewers. Uh-uh. It turned out to be a full-blown symposium on my work in an enormous boardroom, with five papers delivered. Before the first one, the chair of the event, head of the Foreign Literature Department, turned to me and murmured, ‘Each paper, twenty minutes, your response after, thirty minutes. Acceptable?’ You will be happy to know I dealt with this with outward aplomb. This, of course is why I call the interpreter wonderful … she kept a running translation going for me, I scribbled notes, and she translated my remarks back, on the fly. It was a truly memorable morning, in part because the whole event was so unexpected. At the end of the formal session, the department head invited academics and students to come forward to have books signed, English or Chinese, if they wanted. It was not, shall we say, an orderly queue!

Keep up to date with Guy:

Website: http://brightweavings.com (authorised but not run by Guy)

Twitter:@guygavrielkay

Facebook: Guy Gavriel Kay

Instagram: @guygavrielkay

Comments (18)

Barbara C - 31st August 2019

Amazing choice and excellent reads

Abi D - 31st August 2019

❤️ ❤️

Kim S - 31st August 2019

I must say I fully agree the artwork on the favourite book covers is stunning!

tessa p - 31st August 2019

Tigana is my favourite because I love Italy

Lesley C - 31st August 2019

great giveaway thanks for the chance

paula c - 31st August 2019

I have never read this author yet

Steve K - 30th August 2019

Very interesting post - thank you

Nancy B - 30th August 2019

River of stars

Sheri D - 29th August 2019

I haven't actually read any of them yet

Annabel G - 29th August 2019

The Lions of Al-Rassan

Andy T - 29th August 2019

I'm new to you books having never read one. I'm hoping to read one very soon. Superb blog article.

Catherine P - 29th August 2019

Guy Gabriel Kay is not an author I have tried before, but after reading about him on this site I am about to remedy this!

Lisa F - 29th August 2019

Really interesting article, thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

Julie M - 29th August 2019

My favourite Guy Gavriel Kay book is The Lions of Al-Rassan

Ivana A - 29th August 2019

I love this blog post!

Fiona K - 21st August 2019

I have not yet read anything by this author but after reading about his books I will definitely do so.

JANE K - 21st August 2019

THE LAST LIGHT OF THE SUN

Maria D - 18th August 2019

The Lions of Al-Rassan is one of my favourites

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