A close friend of mine introduced me to the works of Guy Gavriel Kay about a month ago when I was admiring the cover of River of Stars at a local bookstore. She began almost jumping up and down upon discovery that he had released a new book and she promptly whisked me away to the fantasy section to show me more of his works. After, reading a couple first sentences in his novels, I needed no more convincing and immediately downloaded The Lions of Al-Rassan when I got home.
Last night he graced our city with a visit to our public library and with his new book in hand, I realized I was listening to one of the greats in Canada. Last night, he taught me something about the fantasy genre. How much of a playground fantasy truly is for the writer and how much imaginative freedom one can find in this genre. Kay described himself as having “chronic grad-school syndrome” when it came to research for his novels. A place where you always need to get one more footnote, or find one more article. It never ends. Finally, he gets to the point where he just has to start to write the book based on all of the notes he made (which are handwritten in Moleskine notebooks). He said that was his least favorite part because, “writing is bloody hard work!” Kay mentioned that the reason he chose fantasy, although he is on the edge of historical fiction, is that he doesn’t want to pretend to know what historical figures did in privacy. Fantasy gives him the room to imagine what they did and how they thought. One reviewer of his work described him as having a “quarter turn to the fantastical.”
During the question and answer period, many people asked different question about his writing process. He proceeded to tell us that he “hate[d] authorial pontification” and that author’s will always give you conflicting information on what works for them. He gave the example that Margaret Atwood recommends having a Thesaurus beside one’s writing desk at all times, where as another author whom I can’t recall, said to take a Thesaurus out to the garden shed and lock it up and throw away the key, essentially. I also know that Stephen King advises against a Thesaurus and says that if you need a Thesaurus then it is clearly the wrong word. Although writing has a community surrounding it, it is ultimately a solitary act. This can be terrifying and liberating at the same time.
Another inspiring tid-bit about Guy Gavriel Kay is that his story began with an opportunity to work at Oxford for a year (I missed the details of what he was doing there) and after that year he decided to go to Greece and become a writer. One of the professors at Oxford warned him not to “leave a winning ball-game, Mr. Kay” but he did anyways and look at where he is now. I can already tell I am going to go back to that story over and over whenever I feel discouraged in this business (which is often).
Kay also shared his method for revising and he said he “write[s] endlessly as [he] goes.” Every two weeks he goes back and rewrites what he wrote in those two weeks and then every six to seven chapters he takes a break and re-writes again, etc. etc. Although, he really stressed to writers to do whatever works best for them, he also shared his disdain for the separation between an engaging story and the language. Some reviews Kay has received mentions how Kay delivers both an engaging story and language. He expressed that there should never be a separation because it is in part the language that does make the story engaging. If I could have I would have high-fived him right then and there. The only way I will read a book is if it has both of these elements.
Lastly, when I finally got to speak with him in the book-signing line he was personable and made you feel as though he really cared you were reading his books. I have been to many books signings and not all authors possess this quality.
Thank you, Guy, for making lasting fans out of the midwives! Now we better get reading!!!