Guy Gavriel Kay talk at the VIWF

Update: this was posted live from the reading using a mobile blog client. Much of it is a partial transcript of Guy speaking.

I'm at a reading with Guy Gavriel Kay, which is taking place as part of the Vancouver International Writer's Festival. At the last minute, Susie said she had an extra ticket. It turns out that I love Guy's work: I've read and enjoyed all his books, so I was happy to come along.

Provence was the inspiration for his new book, Ysabel. Guy is explaining that Provence is some place that you literally trip over history. Much of his works deal with different times, and events in the past having an effect on today. So it's fitting that this book is a novel set in modern times.

Guy spoke about the tension in France in 2004 (and today) and how that contributed to the evolution of the novel. Ysabel does still deal with some of the history and magic that Guy is known for: the tension of a Roman world vs. a Celtic world, with conflict reaching back for millenia. Provence was the right backdrop. We don't have records of battles over Antarctica - it is places like the south of France, places of extreme beauty, that have this legacy of conflict.

The protagonist in the book is a young man. 15 year olds today have different roles in culture.

Other changes and differences between then and now: sunset was never beautiful: it was frightening. Darkness was dangerous, go inside, lock the doors.

Sunrise was beautiful - you're still alive in the morning.

We live longer today. Can't be 35 and just getting started in the past: you were lucky to live that long.

The idea that writers need to draw upon life, for the creative process. How can any of us write anything but autobiography? Comes down to imaginative empathy. To think yourself into the head of someone else.


Always been interested in the layering of history. The cathedral of Aix-en-Provence is built  on top of a Roman forum which is built on the destroyed ruins of a Celtic place.

An engaging novel will include interesting things happening to interesting people. Many best sellers have interesting happenings, many contemporary "literature" novels have interesting people. I see it as one process.

Fantasy has been seen as down market, escapist. "Literarily adolescent" (great for a book lover's t-shirt) vs. adolescent literature.

Increasing use of the tropes of fantasy & sci fi in serious novels - Margaret Atwood, etc.

Increasingly, all or no genre, as the tools of the fantastical can be broadly applied. Fantasy as the low brow, shallow end of the pool, is a North American concept. In South America, called magical realism – if the New York Times likes a fantasy novel, it's called magical realism.

Elsewhere, the fantastical used seriously – here, we look down on it. Sure, lots of it is bad, the excellent is rare, and we have to look for it. Use magic as a tool.

In Ysabel, logical, engineering mindset of Greco Roman collided with the more intuitive, holistic world of the Celts. Oversimplification, but doesn't mean it's not true. Walking the landscape of Provence, stub your toe on history. People in the region live their life overtop. Outsiders are fascinated by ruins: locals find them sad, or in the way, or irrelevant.

Rapidly changing world causes us to think less about the past.


Guy then read an excerpt from the novel. A quote that stood out was  one of the characters saying "Google is my friend, Google is my midnight lover". That definitely seems out of place from Guy, but it IS set in contemporary times. Still, perhaps a bit over the top or contrived: I can see older people hearing that phrase and acknowledging that's how young people feel....but myself, hearing that...Google and other search engines are no longer magic to young people: they just ARE...they are part of the background, the underpinnings of the technological society we live in.