NEXT STEPS TAKEN
Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel, lauded by the authors of True Blood and Twilight, now has a sequel and a screen adaptation
You know you have written a remarkable debut novel when two of the biggestselling queens of the fantasy genre – Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer – embrace your work.
Such is the case for Canberra author Daniel O’Malley and his 2012 novel The
Rook, which was a Time magazine book of the year, an Australian Aurealis Awardwinner and the eighth most borrowed adult fiction title in libraries nationally last year. Harris ( True Blood) praises O’Malley’s work as “satisfying and spellbinding”, and Meyer ( Twilight) enjoyed
The Rook so much that she bought the TV rights and now has a screenwriter working on the project.
“It’s exciting because Stephenie has such a devoted following,” O’Malley says. “When I spoke to her she was very kind and enthusiastic and has some great ideas. Her (buying the rights) means the world to me.’’
O’Malley says Meyer told him she enjoyed his unique combination of genres (fantasy, thriller and spy spoof), as well as his strong female characters, led by chief protagonist, high-ranking Checquy agent Mwfanwy Thomas. With O’Malley’s long-awaited sequel,
Stiletto, he has expanded both of these areas as he explores the relationship between the Checquy, a secret government organisation made up of people born with special abilities to combat the supernatural and unnatural forces that threaten Britain, and their Belgium-based rival group, the Grafters.
“When you have the supernatural combined with bureaucracy it is amusing to treat the remarkable as routine, such as filling out forms because of the werewolf risk analysis,” says O’Malley of his stories, which one reviewer labelled “X-Men meets The X-Files”. Stiletto continues to follow Mwfanwy’s adventures but the novel also includes storylines involving a young Checquy member and Mwfanwy’s protegee, Pawn Felicity, and Odette, a descendant of Grafter loyalty, whose allegiance to a merger between the Checquy and the Grafters is not clear. “Stiletto is a subtle weapon and I like how it evokes a sense of female power,” O’Malley says.
Stiletto follows the forced merger between the two top-secret organisations, who have had hundreds of years of enmity and bloodshed. Not surprisingly, things do not go smoothly and when bizarre attacks sweep London, Myfanwy must expose the group threatening to sabotage negotiations and to uncover the spies in both organisations.
“We have these two organisations who loathe each other and they both bring history … the Grafters bring enemies from Europe, a group called the Antagonists,” he says.
In Stiletto, O’Malley explores the world of the Grafters, whose bizarre surgeries and genetic modifications are designed to create a super race, though their work “can make people feel uncomfortable”.
O’Malley, 36, says he developed the character of Myfanwy in 2003 while a student at Ohio State University in Michigan, in the US, where he completed a master’s degree in medieval history.
To distract himself during lectures he started imagining what it would be like to fully lose your memory and “to wake up in a body you don’t know anything about”. He started writing some of the novel when he struggled with motivation to complete his university assignments.
“I started to think: how much of us is made up of our memories? Are we still the same person if we are not bound up by the baggage of our memories?”
“I wrote The Rook for my own pleasure. What I found most exciting about it was that when questions kept occurring to me I had to find the answers, and that is how one thing led to another when writing the book.”
O’Malley, who was born to American parents and raised in Canberra, where he is still based, wrote most of the novel before starting his job as a media communications officer with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in the national capital.
He says he took longer than expected to complete the 596-page Stiletto because of his workload, which included being a media spokesperson for last year’s MH370 disappearance and the ongoing Australian investigation.
O’Malley says he was always a strong reader from a young age, a habit encouraged by his parents.
He plans to write more books about Mwfanwy and the Checquy and hopes to set some of his future novels in destinations around the world, including Australia.
Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel, The Rook, has been optioned for a TV project.
Stiletto HarperCollins, $28