Friday, February 16, 2007
Last night I had the honour of attending ‘An Evening with Guy Gavriel Kay’ as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival. This was a treat for me for two reasons – I needed to escape my mom duties and have a break, and Kay is one of my favorite authors. It was mostly part of his tour to promote his new novel Ysabel, but it was fascinating to hear a successful novelist talking about the craft of writing and the almost ‘stigma’ of being pegged a Fantasy Writer.
After being introduced by Hal Wake of the CBC and Artistic Director of the Writers Festival, John Burns of the Georgia Straight sat down with him to discuss the novel and the craft of writing. Being that this took place in a small lecture theatre at Simon Fraser University, it felt very intimate and comfortable. Both John and Guy tried very hard to not spoil the book for us folks who have not read it yet. I actually had just picked it up a week ago after my MOM told me about it. It was laying in my purse as the discussion went on.
Apart from thoroughly enjoying the reading from the book (I can’t WAIT to read it now), the discussion was a wonderful opportunity to hear a writer discuss his craft and his own personal experiences. He spoke about the struggle to be ‘respected’ when you write in the ‘Fantasy’ genre. How that label tends to push people away from even trying a book. How reviewers and newspapers shun the genre or change the label to ‘imaginary fiction’ if they are forced to discuss it. Big guns like Margaret Atwood must drive them crazy.
One of the things that stuck with me was his comments about how over the years the ‘compliment’ that he was good at writing full and well developed female characters, turned more and more into an insult to him and to pretty much any author. He said that if you can’t write something other than yourself, then we would all just right autobiographies. He said all it took was ‘imaginary empathy,’
Another thing he discussed was how the theme of the past ‘haunting’ the present was really a key theme that runs through all his work. It is the major theme in this new work. Ysabel was inspired by his time in Provence, France. How you can’t walk anywhere there, without tripping over history and how that history inspires and influences everything today. He said that he really felt the tension between the ages on his last visit there. France is going through big upheavals, politically and culturally, but as he pointed out, so it had done in the past, over and over again. History does tend to repeat itself.
He briefly also touched on magic and how he uses it in his novels. Magic in his books tends to be a reminder or warning about ages gone by. It tends to represent the ‘natural’ vs. ‘unnatural’ or ‘human built.’ You really see that in Sailing to Sarantium., where we read of an Empire that balances the present and future ambitions with the legends and myths and ways of the past. The protagonist comes face to face with the ‘ancient’ and this encounter humbles him and terrifies him. It also helps him see how flimsy mans grasp is on the world as is his art. The use of magic is used in this form in ‘Tigana’ too.
Ysabel gives us a new treat from Kay. Ysabel does not take place in a past…it takes place in the here and now. I can’t wait to sit down and read it. Kay seems to be a really nice guy who enjoys and appreciates his die-hard audience. He stuck around after to sign books and so I was very happy to get a brief chance to speak to him and have my copy signed and to note that he is a lefty like myself.