Hello and welcome to Fantasy Book Review!
We're thrilled to be talking to the writing duo that is D.K. Fields.
Tell us about yourselves, please. How did the writing partnership come together? And how does it work having the two of you working on one project?
Kath: We’ve both been writing independently for years. I write historical crime fiction and poetry, while Dave does the horror and fantasy. We each have a few books to our names and have always been very involved in one another’s writing: acting as sounding boards for new ideas, helping solve plot problems, and lots and lots of editing. Around 2014 we were both thinking about new projects. I wanted to write a meaty fantasy series but lacked confidence because this was a new genre for me as a writer, though I’ve always read fantasy. Dave gamely suggested we have a crack at it together and it seemed a logical move, given how much we’ve worked on each other’s solo projects over the years. But writing together was a lot harder than we thought!
In part this is because we’re not only co-writers, we’re also partners in life / love / cat ownership. If we have an argument about something writing-related then it’s hard to step away. I also suspect we each give in to tantrums more readily than if we were working with someone we didn’t also go out with – we don’t worry about professionalism! But these are small issues when the positives are considered. We have a closeness that helps us envisage scenes and character arcs, and to understand how the other works. Through writing the trilogy we’ve also learnt where our strengths lie and how we can best support one another. We work closely together at the ideas stage which is really fruitful – two minds are definitely better than one – and then develop the nitty gritty of scenes on our own, knowing that the editing by the other will be intense. That’s when the arguments really start…
The Tales of Fenest are complex, layered, and altogether original. What came first - characters, plot, or setting? And how long did it take you to write each book?
Dave: We’re really glad to hear that - we’re always keen to push ourselves as writers and that can sometimes over-complicate stories. It’s often a fine balancing act between intriguingly layered and downright confusing. As for what came first in the series, the short answer is: setting. For the long answer, see the next question because a world run on stories was really the spark for all that came next.
As is often the case with book series, the first novel took a lot longer than the others. This is largely due to the demands of being on contract; The Stitcher and the Mute (book 2) and Farewell to the Liar (book 3) were each written in just under a year. But Widow’s Welcome took a little over three years from start to final edit with our publisher Head of Zeus. Obviously, a lot of the planning is done, and creative decisions are made, when writing the first book in a series. You’re not only writing that one novel, but doing the groundwork for all that comes after - even if it goes on to subvert those expectations. That helps writing the books which follow.
This is perhaps the lamest question ever to be asked in interviews, but where did you get the idea for a world run on stories? How did it grow into the fully realised society we see in the series?
Dave: Well, I remember where this idea came from very clearly. But Kath may remember differently - that happens surprisingly often with D.K. Fields. My recollection is that we were cooking together; it’s a good time to thrash out ideas, when at least one of you has a sharp knife in hand... We were talking about writing a fantasy novel together, and Kath was adamant she didn’t want to write about a royal family. No kings, no queens, no princes or princesses. And no monarchical power struggles. I’m sure she won’t mind me saying she’s something of a republican, in the British sense. So, that led quite naturally to democratic power systems, and then on to wondering why so few fantasy worlds involved voting.
The obvious answer being: it’s a bit boring.
But when you stop and think about that, I’m not sure it is quite so clear-cut. More accurately we might say: democracy doesn’t naturally lend itself to established narrative structures. A monarchy does because the focus is on individuals who wield stately power, rather than stately power that is made up of many individuals.
With that in mind, we found ourselves thinking through what aspects of western democracies could be potentially engaging and exciting for a fantasy reader. Scandal. Corruption. Falls from grace. The elements of our power structures that make the pages of the tabloids seemed like a good place to start.
This was also about the same time that we really became aware of the UK media using words like “narrative” and “story” to describe political events. What was the narrative of the Labour campaign, or the Conservative manifesto, etc.
From there, a society that made the connection between story and political power felt like a logical step.
What have been your biggest challenges in writing the series? What was the hardest scene to write?
Kath: Making the political points we want to without losing sight of the story is always a tough balance. It’s easy to slide into allegories that become trite or simplistic. A lesson from my other life as a poet is useful here: tell something ‘slant’ to say it with more power (thank you, Emily Dickinson). A tough scene to write was the one which opens The Stitcher and the Mute in which an important character from the first book, Widow’s Welcome, is found dead in pretty awful circumstances. It was necessary for the plot that that character die but it was still hard to bump them off!
The cover art for your books is so striking. Did you have anything to do with that or have you been really lucky?
Dave: There’s no doubt we’ve been very lucky with the covers for the series! We just love what Helen Crawford-White and the Head of Zeus team have done with them - the colours, the spoked wheel design, everything.
But we’re also lucky in the sense that our publisher did involve us in the process by asking what kind of iconography we thought was important to each book. The barrels and boats for the Caskers, the birds and game pieces for the Perlish - we suggest objects and animals big and small, then Helen works her magic, and we end up with a fantastic cover.
Can you share a fun quote from the series to whet the readers' appetite?
Wherever you lived in the Union – Fenest, the Steppes, the Tear – life left its mark.
There's still more to come in the Fenest series, but do you have any plans for what comes next?
Kath: We’re just about to start the edits on book 3 in the trilogy, Farewell to the Liar, which is due out in summer 2021, and with the end of a major project like this in sight, our minds are turning to what we might do next. We’d love to write more in this world, exploring places outside the capital of Fenest, perhaps looking more at the storytellers - how each realm chooses them, their personal journeys. But we’re also thinking about brand new worlds, possibly in space...
Finally, where can readers find out more about you and your work?
Dave: Either our website, dkfields.blogspot.com, or that of our publisher, headofzeus.com/books, would be good places to start. We’re also on Twitter: @dkfields1, and Instagram: dkfields – check those out if you want to see pictures of our cat (with an emphasis on her paws), Kath’s jigsaw exploits, and the occasional book updates.
Widow’s Welcome isn’t the usual fare, it’s a collection of well-told tales spun by clever hands into something new. It’s a book of stories within stories, the dark shadow of what’s to come hidden beneath them all. I genuinely can’t wait to see where this goes.
The beautifully rolling histories in the Perlish tale were a masterpiece of narrative creation.