D.K. Fields (dkfields.blogspot.com)
Head of Zeus (headofzeus.com)
What inspired Widow’s Welcome?
In short: “Mi dispiace, il mio italiano non va bene”.
This became a mantra for us when travelling in Italy – “I’m sorry, my Italian is not good”. Whether Kath was trying to order peach ice cream but kept saying ‘fish’, or Dave was struggling to ask where the toilets were in a gallery, we invariably fell back on this stock phrase. We apologised, but we persisted… to varying degrees of success. But we also found that barely speaking the language and not knowing anyone was quite conducive to focusing on a new novel.
We began writing the Tales of Fenest trilogy, of which Widow’s Welcome is the first book, in August 2015 in Turin. We had sold off or stored all our stuff, re-homed our cats with Kath’s parents, and given up our jobs. For two very unadventurous people, it was a bold move, and we were very lucky we could do it. We’d never really travelled. When everyone else was hitting the “find yourself” spots at 18 or 21, we were saving for the next part of our studies. Eventually, we needed an adventure. We chose Italy for too many reasons to mention. But seeing as this is a post about influences, it’s fair to say Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The Trip to Italy had some part to play in the decision.
Our itinerary was not set at all. The plan was one Italian city a month, starting in the north and making our way south, chasing the sun. We’d book an Air BnB place for a whole month for a really good price. Our secret?
Go to places at times that no-one else wants to.
Turin closed in August. We missed the outdoor film festivals in Bologna. We had Pompeii pretty much to ourselves in November. People in Perugia kept asking us: why are you here?
In every Italian city we apologised, persisted, and got a lot of writing done. But not just writing, research and planning too. For us, that meant getting to do all the tourist stuff like visiting the amazing sights, galleries, and churches that were in just walking distance. It’s impossible to convey just how much we saw, or how it affected us on both conscious and subconscious levels. But we’ll try to give a clear, tangible example of our trip’s influence.
In Turin we spent four days in the Museo Egizio / Egyptian Museum. No kidding: four straight days, one after the other, there at opening and only leaving to grab some lunch before heading back in. One day for each floor. We read every plaque and info board of the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts outside Egypt. When we arrived in Turin we had no idea it was there; it’s like one of those bad t-shirts: “I went all the way to Italy, and all I got was four floors of Egyptian antiquity.” Perhaps it’s no surprise the Museo Egizio turns up all over the place in Widow’s Welcome, and in the rest of The Tales of Fenest.
In fact, you see it before the novel even starts. The list of The Swaying Audience – our fifty-strong pantheon that features such highlights as the Beguiled Picknicker, god of festivals, incense, and insect bites – came from being beguiled by the museum’s massive display of the ancient Egyptian pantheon. This display, by its own admission, was just a fraction of the 1,500+ deities that are understood to have been worshipped at some point or other in ancient Egypt. We’d heard of all the famous ones, of course, but there were so many we didn’t know. And the lists of what they were the deities of, that was amazing. Often there was a logic there – the god of truth was the god of justice, that made sense. But others were wonderfully unexpected. We started having a lot of fun with it, thinking about what our god of grain would also be the god of. Mice? Breakfast? Comfort?
Kath was also particularly taken with the displays of grave goods. There were huge glass cabinets full of items that ancient Egyptians were buried with, and not just the pharaohs, but items from all levels of society. The most common of these were the ushabti – carved figurines that in the afterlife were supposed to act as servants for whoever they were buried with. Some sets or troops of ushabti were huge; good help is hard to find, even in the afterlife. Months later, in Salerno, when Kath started work on the Lowlanders story for Widow’s Welcome, the ushabti of Turin loomed large. As did the decorative paper butterflies on the wall in our Salerno kitchen – these inspired the mostins found in the Lowlands, and on the cover of Widow’s Welcome.
There are so many such moments of influence across the whole trilogy that we don’t have space to explore them all here. But, and we think this doesn’t spoil anything, in the coming series look out for: wild things in glass cabinets; paintings the size of a whole room; rainbow wings; complex games; strange smoking pipes, and much more besides. If something strikes you as weird or intriguing in The Tales of Fenest trilogy, chances are we saw it in Italy, in between all those apologies.