Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, on 7 November 1954 to Samuel Kay, a surgeon, and Sybil (Birstein) Kay. He has two brothers Jeffrey and Rex, who are, respectively, a lawyer and a psychiatrist. Kay himself trained to be a lawyer, earning his LL.B. from the University of Toronto after his B.A. in philosophy from Manitoba. However, he now earns his living as a novelist. Kay currently lives in Toronto with his wife Laura and their two sons.

Kay’s love of literature came early since his parents, both readers, read to their son regularly. Kay’s introduction to fantasy came through reading Greek myths, fairy tales, and later, authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, E.R. Eddison, Lord Dunsany, and Fritz Leiber. As an adult, he is an omnivorous reader, consuming large amounts of non-fiction as well as fiction. A few of the fiction writers Kay particularly respects are Gabriel García Márquez, Milan Kundera, Thomas Flanagan, Shirley Hazzard, Cormac McCarthy, as well as the earlier works of Dorothy Dunnett, Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ novels, and George Garrett’s Elizabethan historical fiction.

A critical development in Kay’s career as a writer came from his acquaintence with Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, when Kay was a student of philosophy at the University of Manitoba. When Christopher Tolkien was named literary executor after his father died, he invited Kay to Oxford to assist him in editing Tolkien’s fragmentary and uncompleted ‘The Silmarillion’. Kay accepted; as he comments, ‘Who in their right mind would NOT have been interested in the project?’ Kay worked on ‘The Silmarillion’ for a year, from 1974-1975.

The year that Kay spent working on the Tolkien project reinforced his interest in writing, but at the same time he became aware that it was not a profession to be relied on, especially for someone young and inexperienced. Not expecting to be able to make money as a writer, he returned to Canada and earned a law degree at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1978. His interest in writing did not disappear, however: after finishing his degree, he went abroad to write his first, unpublished, novel.

Kay received his call to the Bar of Ontario in 1982, but never actually practised. He turned immediately to writing, this time in a different medium. He had become friends with criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan, who was developing (with writer/producer George Jonas) a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio series, The Scales of Justice, which was to dramatize real Canadian legal cases. Kay became Principal Writer and Associate Producer for the program and continued to work for the series until 1989. The series was highly successful, including an award in 1985 for best media treatment of a legal issue from the Supreme Court of Canada and the Canadian Law Reform Commission. Kay still writes for television or film at times, between novels.

1984 marked two important events in Kay’s life: his marriage on July 15th to Laura Beth Cohen, a marketing consultant, and the publication of ‘The Summer Tree’, the first volume of the trilogy The Fionavar Tapestry. Kay produced the two following volumes in fairly rapid succession over the span of two years. In The Fionavar Tapestry, Kay started his career as a writer and as a fantasist by consciously working within the traditional boundaries, both in content and technique, of the branch of fantasy literature that Tolkien founded. In part, he was paying homage to Tolkien, whose writing had inspired him personally, and in part he was working to revitalize the genre. Kay comments that in The Fionavar Tapestry, he consciously chose ‘to work squarely in the Tolkien tradition while trying to allow room for character development and plausibility that I tended to find missing in most post-JRRT high fantasy. In a way it was a challenge to the debasing of the genre’.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s subsequent works include ‘Tigana’, ‘A Song for Arbonne’, ‘The Lions of Al-Rassan’, ‘Sailing to Sarantium’, ‘Lord of Emperors’ and ‘The Last Light of the Sun’. He lives in Toronto.

The Fionavar Tapestry

Books by Guy Gavriel Kay