Where, when, and how Widow’s Welcome, our political fantasy novel, started life is a subject of much dispute.
The “D” of D.K. Fields remembers the moment of inspiration with startling clarity. Dave claims the first time we talked about the novel we were walking on the beach in Aberystwyth. It was 2015. We had lived in the Welsh seaside town for thirteen years, from undergraduates all the way to lecturing at the university. We met there. Fell for each other there. And, as fate would have it, decided to leave Aberystwyth right when we first discussed writing a novel together. How hard could it be?
To this day, the “K” of D.K. Fields, Kath, has no memory of this conversation.
A brief bit of context to this time in our lives as individual writers might be helpful. We’d both been published, but not in fantasy. Kath had published her debut novel, The Visitor, with Welsh indie press Parthian, as well as a poetry collection, and was working feverishly on the book that would become the historical crime novel Falling Creatures (published in 2017 by Allison & Busby). Dave’s first two books – the zombie-westerns Your Brother’s Blood and Your Servants and Your People – had been published by Jo Fletcher Books, with the third in the trilogy already written and scheduled for publication later that year. All of which is to say, Widow’s Welcome was not our first rodeo.
So, Dave’s memory is of walking on the beach with Kath one sunny summer afternoon, both still reeling from the finale of Game of Thrones season five which had just aired. Kath was – still is – a huge Stannis Baratheon fan. There’s no accounting for taste. The demise of Stannis, and his fall from grace, gave us much to talk about, as did the whole fantasy narrative in all its richness of character, deft plotting and epic drama. As far as Dave is concerned, the conversation on the beach went something like this,
Kath: I want to write a big fantasy story, like Game of Thrones, but I don’t know how.
Dave: Neither do I. Let’s learn how to do it together.
Sensible people might have had that idle conversation and thought nothing more of it. Slightly sensible people might have decided to each write a big fantasy book separately but simultaneously, helping the other as they went. Only truly misguided individuals, like us, would have taken that as a springboard to write a book together. Apparently – our agent would later tell us when we pitched him the idea – it’s not as uncommon as you might think. But everyone else thought we were mad. What is particularly interesting is the form that madness has taken over the four years it took to write Widow’s Welcome. Four years of re-drafts, arguments, tantrums, conciliatory ice cream, and questionable working practices was perhaps to be expected. But long-term amnesia was a surprise.
Because Kath’s lack of memory about that conversation on the beach remains. She remembers what happened to Stannis, remembers many walks around Aberystwyth, remembers many other ideas for books, but can’t remember how we decided to write a big fantasy book together. There is a gap, a lacunae, where a Widow’s Welcome origin story should be.
Just pause and think about that for a moment.
Kath can’t remember when she decided to write this novel, can’t remember the start of that no small undertaking, what would turn out to be four years’ commitment of imagination, time, and energy. For Kath, it’s as if one day she was not writing a Game of Thrones-inspired fantasy novel, and the next she was, with no recollection of how she got there. That’s pretty weird in and of itself.
You’ve probably heard someone ask a writer where the idea for a novel came from – you may have even asked a writer that yourself. It’s a common question. Answers, of course, vary hugely, but there usually is an answer. Responses like the classic, “I don’t know, but I’ve always wanted to write this story” are still an answer of sorts. Kath doesn’t even have that one to fall back on, not without lying. In Kath’s defence, it was a very busy time for us. We’d decided to leave our jobs, our home, our friends, our cats, to go travelling for an undefined amount of time, learn a language, Dave wanted to grow his beard long – it really was a crazy time. But still, a pretty weird gap in Kath’s memory.
What’s much stranger, in our case, is that someone else provides an answer for Kath.
Dave provides his memory of the origin of Widow’s Welcome. He provides it with conviction.
What is Kath to do? Accept the memory of another? Deny it? Create her own? Deflect the question? Admit her gap in memory? Kath has tried this and more. For now, she has settled on a place-holder: that we very likely started discussing the idea once we reached the country of our travels, which was Italy. She thinks it must have been there, once we’d extricated ourselves from our old lives and reclaimed the mental and creative space to think about new projects.
It’s fair to say that neither of us anticipated this kind of problem back in 2015. There are so many consequences of co-writing that we didn’t anticipate, both positive and negative, that the question of agreeing a starting point for the novel is just scratching the surface. In this day and age, shouldn’t we have documented every part of the process for a blog, a webseries? At least then we’d have a record to refer to for author Q&As, interviews, and blog posts like this one. It would even help conversations at parties or in bars.
Instead, we end up with this: two people wrote a book which one can’t remember how they started. One has to trust the other that their memory is the truth. And it’s that trust that has, ultimately, seen this fantasy book develop from early conversations to a trilogy with Head of Zeus.
(c) D.K. Fields
D.K. Fields is the pseudonym for the writing partnership of novelists David Towsey and Katherine Stansfield. The couple are originally from the south west of England, and now live in Cardiff.
David’s zombie-western The Walkin’ Trilogy is published by Quercus. Katherine’s historical crime fiction series, Cornish Mysteries, is published by Allison & Busby. She is also a poet.
About Widow’s Welcome:
There’s power in stories. This is a story of power.
Dead bodies aren’t unusual in the alleyways of Fenest, capital of the Union of Realms. Especially not in an election year, when the streets swell with crowds from near and far. Muggings, brawls gone bad, debts collected – Detective Cora Gorderheim has seen it all. Until she finds a Wayward man with his mouth sewn shut.
His body has been arranged precisely by the killer and left conspicuously, waiting to be found. Cora fears this is not only a murder, but a message.
As she digs into the dead man’s past, she finds herself drawn into the most dangerous event in the Union: the election. In a world where stories win votes, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to silence this man. Who has stopped his story being told?
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