David Towsey is the author of the upcoming Equinox novel, The Walkin’ trilogy, and one-half of the creative partnership of D.K. Fields. Equinox, David’s newest release takes place in a world where every human body contains two distinct identities – a day brother and a night brother. One never sees the light, the other nothing of night.
David sat down with GDM to discuss his writing, computer games, the nature of binaries, and his love of ice cream. Thank you for sitting down with us and having a chat.
[GdM:] In case people are not familiar with your work, could you tell us about yourself?
Sure thing. I write novels, short stories, and indie computer games – mostly in the SFF genre. I guess I blend a lot of genre elements in what I do; my first novels apparently cornered the market on literary zombie-westerns. My next release, Equinox, is a mix of dark fantasy, folk horror, and witch-hunts with a strong SF-style “what if?” at its core. Game-wise I’m one half of Pill Bug Interactive, and we’ve released three games so far across Steam and Nintendo Switch™. I’ve also co-written a fantasy-crime trilogy under the pseudonym D.K. Fields. I think it’s fair to say I like to mix things up.
[GdM:] I read that you are an ice cream man, is that still the case?
Ice cream is not just a dessert, it’s a mindset. Especially once you accept pistachio flavoured ice cream into your life.
[GdM:] I read that you enjoy computer games and MMOs and that you play Magic: the Gathering at a competitive level. As a game geek myself, I would love to hear more about that.
Oh wow, you have done your research! I actually stopped playing MMOs a few years back, around the release of WoW’s Mists of Pandaria. I still have a lot of love and respect for that form of gaming, but I just couldn’t give it the time and dedication I wanted to. I’ve also hung up my Magic slinging boots (not sure that metaphor works, but I’ll run with it). When my partner and I moved to Cardiff in 2016 we got involved in the local board gaming scene. We met loads of lovely people, played so many great games, that I didn’t find myself driven to keep up with Magic.
But when the pandemic hit, like many folks my work went solely online so I was in front of the screen even more than usual. I picked up an old, old hobby of mine in miniature painting. Mostly Games Workshop, but some 3D printed stuff to. It was a lot of fun getting back into that and seeing how far the hobby had come since I was a kid (YouTube painting videos are amazing!) That inevitably led to playing miniature games, and I’ve just started to get into tournaments for Age of Sigmar… once a tournament gamer, always a tournament gamer, I guess.
[GdM:] I read an interview you did where you were asked about your introduction to genre fiction being The Hobbit. I think many of us had similar experiences. Are there any other books out there that had profound influences on you as a reader?
So many, it’s hard to narrow it down. Perhaps one of the biggest influences for me as a reader and a writer would be Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. I love so much of his work, but this book in particular opened my eyes to a certain kind of horror writing. For many readers in the 1950s and 60s, he brought horror to the suburbs and showed it could exist outside places like Dracula’s castle. Even decades later, as a young reader I experienced that powerful effect which brought horror home, and it stayed with me. I don’t necessarily write horror in the purest sense (though, I suppose that’s open to debate). But I think my interest in the genre is firmly rooted in the family and domestic spaces.
[GdM:] As one half of the Pillbug Interactive duo, you’ve written for games such as Make It Home, Cycle28, and Intelligent Design. What would you say the difference is between writing a great book and writing a great game? Do you have any techniques that only work for one or the other? Is there anything that surprised you by working well in both media?
I think it’s really important to respect each form of writing on its own terms, even though there are often crossovers. It’s dangerous to assume because you can write in one medium, it’s going to be easy to write in another. So, I went into games knowing I had a lot to learn, and as open-minded as possible. One of the most obvious differences between books and games is that for most games “writing” is only part of how a story is told. There are so many other factors: visual story-cues, game play mechanics, user interfaces, sound effects and music – the list goes on. This can be quite a shock for a fiction writer who is used to having almost complete control over their story. It can feel like a steep learning curve. But the good news is: some skills do translate. I’m quite a dialogue-heavy writer, and this helped a lot with writing for games; more often than not you’ll be writing dialogue, rather than full scenes or description. If you can craft an economic conversation that covers some key story beats, without it feeling too wooden or forced, that’s a great start for game-writing.
[GdM:] Could you tell us a bit about the Bath Spa Creative Writing Masters program?
In short: I had a blast on my MA. I was one of the youngest of the cohort, coming almost directly from my BA in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth, and it was brilliant to be around such a diverse group of driven writers. There was a huge variety of projects people were working on – in prose, poetry, and other mediums. It was a really good energy to be immersed in for someone trying to write their first novel. I started Your Brother’s Blood on that course, and have a lot of people to thank for how it turned out (don’t worry, they all appear in the acknowledgements).
[GdM:] How has the program helped you as a writer?
I’m sure their website would tell you the particulars, but my experience of the program was of learning a lot about writing in a very intense year. I’d already started to grasp how scenes were constructed, how and when to be economic with language, and how important voice was to a story; but it wasn’t until my MA that I felt confident in applying these ideas to my own novel-length project.
The critical element of my thesis explored representations of absent parents in SF novels. In one chapter I did a close reading of Matheson’s I Am Legend through the lens of Attachment Theory – as I mentioned earlier, it’s a novel that had a big impact on me as a reader. The creative element of my Ph.D. was a novel called The Orbital Son. The theme of absent parents in the critical thesis carried over to the novel, which follows a young man as he tries to reconnect with his dying father. It’s not the most subtle thing I’ve ever written, but I learned a lot writing it.
[GdM:] What was your experience with language and writing where you discovered just how powerful it can be?
As a reader, I’d say it was reading The Hobbit as a kid, which you mentioned earlier. I was on a holiday, stuck in a car with my grandparents for hours on end. I was amazed that words on the page could take me away from that hot, stuffy car and put me in a totally different world. As a writer, I didn’t have much confidence in my own ability to do that until readers started commenting on the particulars of Walkin’ characters, as if they were real people. I’d managed to use language to get readers to think about living on after death, about poking your own spleen through a hole in your chest, and how a father might convey this all to his daughter. That felt pretty powerful.
[GdM:] When you are writing a story do you start with an idea, such as “what it would be like to live forever” for example in Your Brother’s Blood? Or do you start with a character such as Christopher Morden from Equinox and go from there?
I’m definitely an ideas-led writer. I start with a concept that might make for an intriguing set-up, and then start exploring what stories feel like a good fit for it. With the Walkin’ Trilogy that was, as you say, about how the burden of living forever might affect a family. In a sense, it’s a kind of family saga told over three books rather than one big one. For Equinox, the two-people in each body concept changes so much, I could have told a thousand different stories. But it led me down some pretty dark paths from the get-go. The idea of one half of a witchfinder falling in love with a suspect, while the other half tries to convict them really appealed as a way to link concept and story.
[GdM:] The Walkin’ Trilogy is a zombie-western and has a very different feel, it is much sparser in prose, then Equinox. Was that a conscious choice or was that how the writing evolved organically?
It wasn’t a conscious choice to make that change. The voice of both books was led by their respective worlds. We talk a lot as SFF writers about worldbuilding, but it’s a conversation often dominated by things like social or power structures, magic systems, that kind of thing. Not so much about voice or tone. When I write, I want my prose to feel part of that world. Sparse, staccato prose for the Walkin’ Trilogy’s western landscape sounded right to me. Equinox is looser, and maybe denser, to reflect the thick forests surrounding Drekenford – and the slightly claustrophobic nature of that village.
I think SFF is in a positive place right now. It’s such a broad genre, or group of genres, that there’s work being published for a wide range of readerships and tastes. The diversity of voices is improving, but it’s fair to say there’s still a way to go on that front. I hope that more writers and readers coming to SFF will branch the genre in ways that I can’t even imagine – which is the whole point, isn’t it? It’s a playground for sharing our individual, esoteric imaginings of the future.
[GdM:] You write as one half of the creative partnership D. K. Fields with poet Katherine Stansfield. How does your partnership work? Do you jointly talk about every aspect of the story, or do you take chunks of things then combine them?
It was messy. At least, it started that way. Neither Katherine nor I had co-written anything before. When we started Widow’s Welcome – the first book in the Tales of Fenest Trilogy – we took an admirable, yet naïve, set of decisions to make the process as democratic as possible. We each wrote a chapter of the same story, passing the manuscript back and forth. When we had a full draft, we even line edited together in a Google.doc, facing each other at the same table on two laptops. Many arguments ensued about commas and the like. By the time the trilogy was finished, we’d worked out a smoother but still equal process… and we haven’t written together since.
[GdM:] Could you tell us about your upcoming release, Equinox?
It’s a dark fantasy story about a witchfinder, Special Inspector Christophor Morden, who is sent to a remote village to hunt a witch. A man has clawed out his own eyes, driven to do so by teeth growing in his eye sockets, and sorcery is the suspected cause. But in this world every physical body has two people inside it: one day-sibling, one night-sibling. So, Christophor’s day-brother, Alexsander, has no choice but to accompany him on this witch-hunt. As the investigation leads one brother closer to his witch, the other finds himself falling in love with a prime suspect.
[GdM:] How did you come up with the idea of a day sibling and night sibling?
In a strange way, I have Katherine to thank for the initial spark for this idea. She was taking a nap one day in a chair near a window and her face was almost perfectly half in shadow, half in the light. Seeing this happened to coincide with some things I was working through personally about why we’re strong in some ways and vulnerable in others. The image of her face “split” by light and shadow crystalised this duality in that moment, and I found myself imagining how I might push it to an extreme. Two different people in one body, each strong in some ways but vulnerable in others, seemed like an interesting concept to explore.
[GdM:] Is it fair to say that the concept of binaries is an important part of Equinox? I appreciated that in the story people are more complicated than “good/bad” or “black/white” but that they are shades of gray.
I think the core binary of night-day sibling is essential to Equinox. But I wanted to explore the very idea of binaries in the book. I liked the irony of a novel that presented as black-and-white (and Head of Zeus did a wonderful job on the cover in this regard) but was actually a story about the complications and nuances that are part of any binary, if you just scratch the surface. It’s not a new idea, and many better writers than I have examined this in far more significant contexts. The most I can hope for is that Equinox gets one or two readers thinking about the nature of binaries.
[GdM:] I hear that you write to music. How do you pick the music for the novel, does the playlist go along as things change? What was the playlist for Equinox?
I do indeed write to music. I construct a playlist for each project, with songs taken from a fairly wide variety of artists. The emphasis is, again, on tone. What kind of mood do I want to put myself in while writing? Sounds obvious, but like a lot of people music has a huge impact on how I feel in any given moment. The playlist for Equinox was pretty bleak. Songs from artists like Mazzy Star, Alice in Chains, and Elliot Smith featured heavily. But even more “upbeat” artists have songs that felt right for some of the darker elements of Equinox – bands like The Mars Volta, Fleetwood Mac (of course, Rhiannon had to feature), and Coheed and Cambria. It’s all stuff I’d listen to anyway, but brought together to set the tone in the background as I write.
[GdM:] You released Your Brother’s Blood in 2013, the first novel of The Walkin’ Trilogy. What lessons have you learned since then regarding your writing workflow? Was Equinox easier to write than Your Brother’s Blood?
I wish! Equinox was perhaps the most challenging book I’ve ever written – and that includes learning to co-write. The technical issues caused by having two personalities for every character when trying to plot a kind of crime investigation… do you know that Charlie Day conspiracy board meme? It became a kind of totem animal when drafting Equinox. I very nearly lost it on that book. That said, perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned since 2013 is that I revel in the challenge. If writing feels easy, I don’t trust it. I have keep pushing myself, like a shark has to keep swimming, otherwise, I’m sunk.
[GdM:] What things do you have coming up?
Well, the release of Equinox is keeping me pretty busy at the moment. But the next novel project is in the research and planning stages, so that’s starting to feel exciting. I can’t say too much yet, only that it will be another blend of fantasy and horror that puts some fairly unusual elements together. Pill Bug Interactive is similarly in the early stages of our next game. And who knows, maybe D.K. Fields will “get the band back together” for another series. It’s an energising time, full of creative possibilities.