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Book Talk: A Conversation with Guy Gavriel Kay

Banner - US Cover Children of Earth and Sky

Banner - US Cover Children of Earth and Sky

A few weeks ago, we reviewed Guy Gavriel Kay’s, Children of Earth and Sky. Set in a parallel Renaissance world, two major religions, the Jaddites who worship the sun, and the Asharites who worship the stars, struggle amidst the backdrop of court politics, murder, espionage, faith and family. We managed to some get time in his busy schedule to ask a few questions about Children of Earth and Sky, the latest addition to an impressive catalogue that has spanned thirty-two years. 

What was the inspiration behind writing Children of Earth and Sky?

There’s never a single one, and each book has a different origin story. But I can say for this one that the seed of an idea was planted by my Croatian publisher one day as we drove Roman roads from Zagreb to the Dalmatian coast and he first told me, gesturing a little too excitedly for a driver on winding roads, about the Uskoks of Senj. (We were headed in that direction.) They were raiders on the Adriatic, and inland to Ottoman territories, in the late medieval and Renaissance periods. ‘You must write about them!’ he told me. I promptly went and wrote two books inspired by Tang and then Song Dynasty China, but the idea lingered, and many years later I started doing some traveling, then reading and corresponding. I was thinking about the Uskoks, about Dubrovnik, Venice again, about Mehmed the Conqueror … and the core of a novel started to emerge.

Will Children of Earth and Sky be part of a larger series?

Not in any formal sense. It takes place in the same general near-Europe as several earlier books, and has associations with my two novels inspired by Jusitnian’s Byzantium (Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors), but it takes place 900 or so years after those two – following the equivalent of the fall of Constantinople, in 1453.

You’re well known for writing “near history”, stories based on actual historical events, but set in an alternate universe. What was it about Croatia’s Uskoks, and the city of Dubrovnik that piqued your interest? Did you find anything surprising in your research?

I always find surprising things! Part of the joy of research. The Uskoks themselves were a surprise, I’d known nothing of them. I became fascinated by Dubrovnik’s history. Somewhere quite early in shaping this story I realized I wanted it to be a novel about not-powerful people. The shakers and movers are in the story, but the core characters are people trying to (in very different ways) ‘get on with their lives’ as great and dangerous events begin to unfold. I wanted to suggest in this one that the lives of those not central to their time (to history) are equally worth of a writer’s attention – and a reader’s.

Of all the places you have written about, from medieval Spain, to Provence, to Byzantium, to China, is there any particular place that you enjoyed researching and writing about the most?

Honestly, they all end up compelling and engaging me. I found Tang China mesmerizing, partly because my gateway was the astonishingly great poets of that time, partly because of the colossal scale and consequence (through ripple effects) of the An Lushan Rebellion in the middle of the 8th century. But 6th century Byzantium utterly absorbed me, and still does, and I suppose I will always have a soft spot for the Provence of the troubadours. I’ve written in and around Aix-en-Provence four times, I suspect that is a giveaway as to where part of my heart is!

Where will you take readers next? Do you usually have an idea or place in mind, or does it come to you spontaneously?

It is never spontaneous, but I also never know, when I finish a book, what is coming next. I’m not usually ‘ambushed’ by a book – though Ysabel was an exception. That did come upon me by surprise as we had gone back to Aix, and I thought I was going to begin my China-inspired book, but the presence of Provence overtook me again, since it had been a decade since our last time there. I ended up writing a book shaped by the founding myth of Marseille. You write the book that is demanding to be written. Normally I start reading widely, gradually finding myself focusing in on a period and places – and themes. But it isn’t premeditated. The in-between-books time (I’m there right now) is the most unsettling for me, actually.

~Sandra Alvarez

Guy Gavriel KayChildren of Earth and Sky was released globally in May and is available from Penguin Random House in the US and Canada, and published by Hodder and Stoughton in the UK.

Guy Gavriel Kay is the bestselling author of twelve novels. He was named to the Order of Canada in 2014 and has won numerous awards for his writing. His books have been translated into over twenty-five languages.

For more information about Children of Earth and Sky, and Guy Gavriel Kay’s works, please visit his website: brightweavings.com

You can follow Guy on Twitter: @guygavrielkay

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