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David James Brock (L) and Gareth Williams (R) holding copies of a million billion pieces

Meet the authors: David James Brock and Gareth Williams

By Jessica Lewis Date: April 27, 2022 Tags: Meet the Author

Meet the authors of the teen space opera a million billion pieces—playwright David James Brock and composer Gareth Williams!

David James Brock

Describe yourself in one sentence.
I try wildly.

Tell us a little bit about your new book.
a million billion pieces is a play interwoven with opera and an extension of a project I created with composer Gareth Williams called Breath Cycle, where we developed short operas in collaboration with singers affected by cystic fibrosis. I love the concept of singing as “beautiful breathing,” and though not explicitly about CF, a million billion pieces is about the difficulty, power, and beauty of making music with others.

What's something unique about you or something you like to do?
I spend a lot of time reading about and watching professional wrestling. Far beyond violence and machismo, my creative process for theatre, film, and opera is partially informed by some of the early storytelling lessons pro wrestling taught me: have a problem, show audiences something different, keep collaborators safe, have fun, make moments, make them big, make it matter.

What does your happy place look like?
I'm in a cabin in the trees near some swimmable water. A baseball game is playing on the radio. A couple of friends are there, or maybe they are on the way.

What is something you're curious about?
It’s hard to answer this without entering Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles” territory, but the answer is rainbows. I get the basic science, but that doesn't reduce my wonder about living on a planet where colour is generated from light, water, and air (and that my brain's perception of the phenomenon is part of the transaction). I recently got my hands on a chromolithograph from an artist named Verplanck Colvin titled "Remarkable Triple Rain-bow, June 1876," and even just the illustration of these rainbows opens a portal through time. What did Colvin feel when he saw the triple rainbow? How did people react to a rainbow five hundred years ago? Or two thousand… or like… what did Neanderthal think rainbows were?

What are some of your favourite plays?
The Hope Slide by Joan MacLeod, The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh, Huff by Cliff Cardinal, The Supine Cobbler by Jill Connell, Daughter by Adam Lazarus.

What are you reading these days? 
I usually have a few books on the go, but I try not to read two books in the same form—like, I wouldn't read two fiction novels or two histories simultaneously. So right now, I'm enjoying the current varied stack on my desk, which includes Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu; Fuse, a memoir by Hollay Ghadery; The Milk of Amnesia, poetry by Danielle Janess; and Bret Hart's biography Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling.  

What's something that makes you laugh?
Stan Brock, who is my dad. He will often make a joke before anyone is listening or watching and then repeat it until someone does. I love that kind of thing.

Learn more about David James Brock:
David James Brock is a playwright, poet, librettist, and screenwriter. He is a past winner of the Herman Voaden Canadian National Playwriting Competition for his play Wet. Brock is the author of two poetry collections, Everyone is CO2 and Ten-Headed Alien (Wolsak & Wynn). With Scottish Opera, Brock co-created Breath Cycle, a multimedia operatic song cycle developed with cystic fibrosis patients. He co-wrote both the opera and screenplay for Year of the Horse (with Mike Haliechuk) and the script for the film Mother of All Shows (with Melissa D’Agostino). He lives in Toronto.

Gareth Williams

Describe yourself in one sentence.
Well, this feels like the right moment to admit that I am in actual fact a composer and not an author – so I’m a guy who gets to work with incredible authors, like David James Brock.

Tell us a little bit about your new book.
The story is gorgeous. It invites the reader to witness an incredible connection forming between two young people, whilst at the same time, this story has dread at its heart as we also begin worry about the consequences of that connection.

What’s something unique about you or something you like to do?
I spend my time searching amongst pages of text to find things I can turn into songs. That’s my thing, as it were. During the lockdown due to the COVID pandemic, most shows and projects just stopped, and I didn’t get any books, scripts, or libretti to work on which was quite heartbreaking.  So I turned to my bookshelves and made a project around making songs using the final lines of some of my favourite books—Songs from the Last Page—which I’m currently touring around book festivals across Scotland. I make one of these songs every week now—it’s become a very strange hobby.

What does your happy place look like?
If I’m allowed to be momentarily sentimental, then I’ll take a full day here at Portobello Beach in Scotland, where I live with my partner, Lyn, and my sixteen-month-old boy, Sonny.

What is something you’re curious about?
Why the people who get into politics get into politics.

What are some of your favourite plays?
My favourite plays have an orchestra, a chorus, a conductor, singers with colossal voices, continuous music, ridiculous plots… oh wait, I think I’m describing operas.

What are you reading these days?
Here comes a tangent, I’m currently reading Bitch: A Revolutionary Guide to Sex, Evolution and the Female Animal by Lucy Cooke, which has demolished so many pre-conceptions I was unaware I was carrying around. It’s striking that the discoveries Lucy writes about have always been there to see, but everyone was watching the males of the species, mistakenly thinking that the whole story would be found that way.

What’s something that makes you laugh?
The good people of Twitter. Every reaction, pun, green-screen, photoshop, gif, hot take, or take-down that turns up seemingly seconds after a big news event. I’m always in awe at the comedic wisdom of crowds. Meanwhile, I usually spend around three to four weeks formulating my own hot take and drop it into the ether. To the sound of complete silence.

Learn more about Gareth Williams:
Northern Irish composer Gareth Williams lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he makes work that seeks to find new participants, collaborators, and audiences for opera and music theatre to shed light on stories and communities that have been overlooked, and to explore ideas of vulnerability in vocal writing. His music is often site-specific and responsive, with performances happening in lighthouses, whisky distilleries, nuclear bunkers, and libraries. From 2015 to 2018, Williams collaborated with Oliver Emanuel to create the critically acclaimed 306 Trilogy, a collection of music theatre works telling the story of the British soldiers shot for cowardice during WWI, produced by the National Theatre of Scotland. The album from the trilogy, Lost Light: Music from the 306, was released in 2020. Rocking Horse Winner, produced by Tapestry Opera, was nominated for nine Dora Mavor Moore Awards in 2017, winning five, including Outstanding Musical Production. The opera was recorded and released in 2020 by Tapestry Opera. Currently, Gareth lectures in composition at the University of Edinburgh, and is working on new operas and musicals, as well as a new album as a singer-songwriter.

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