Interview with Guy Gavriel Kay, Author of Children of Earth and Sky

11 Jun 2016

What can you tell us about your new release, Children of Earth and Sky?

I truly hate summarizing a book, always have! This is my 13th novel, it is inspired by the Renaissance conflicts between Europe and the Ottoman Empire, but it is very much a book about ‘not powerful people’ trying to get on with their lives in a time of war, as opposed to the doings of sultans and emperors and queens. I wanted to suggest that high drama and intense emotion can be conjured from such lives, and that they are just as worthy of my empathy and attention, and the reader’s.

What impact did working on Tolkien’s Silmarillion have on your own writing?

Firstly it crystallized my own awareness that writing was what I wanted to do – though I also doubted it would happen, as a full-time career. It also made me reassuringly aware that brilliance, great work doesn’t just emerge, it goes through revisions, drafts, long careful labour. And linked to this was an early awareness that patience and taking time are keys to art. So you can partly blame Tolkien for my not being a book-a-year writer!

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

Mostly poetry, to be honest. I try to do a reread about every 6th or 7th book I read, but that isn’t the same as returning over and over. A number of loved poets – Yeats, Seferis, Dickinson, Frost, Cavafy, Auden – are always with me, always by the bedside.

Who are your literary heroes working today? Why do you admire them?

I don’t actually think in such terms. There are some writers I’ll read with anticipation whenever they come out with a new book – Elena Ferrante has become one of these. I am eagerly awaiting Hilary Mantel’s conclusion of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy (spoiler: he dies). I flat-out loved Penelope Fitzgerald’s work, especially her last four books, but she’s gone, so there’s nothing, alas, to await. I think writers need to be assessed in terms of their work, not as heroes. Each book is its own success or failure to succeed.

Where did you write Children of Earth and Sky?

I wrote it here in Toronto, though there was a fair bit of travel for it, to some of the settings (Prague, Venice, Dubrovnik, the Dalmatian coastline…).

What makes your world go round? Why does it bring you joy?

Friendship, family, single malt whisky, baseball, travel, good writing, thoughtful people, the study of history. I look for richness in life and people, find it in various ways, use it to stave off cynicism and sometimes despair at ‘what fools these mortals be’.

What’s your favorite quote or scene from Children of Earth and Sky?

Nope. No spoilers! Besides which, I always prefer to hear what readers feel as to that, rather that put my own stamp on any one moment. I can say that in ‘craft’ terms, one of the hardest things in this book was keeping five major protagonists in balance, because the book can only succeed if I do. Doesn’t mean readers won’t have favourites, of course we always do, but the engagement with all of them is critical.

GGK Author Photo Credit Samantha Kidd

Guy Gavriel Kay is the author of the new book Children of Earth and Sky.

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