TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
DJTO’M: Well, I do my best writing when I’m sitting on the couch, with my feet up, and the TV on mute. Which is not interesting at all, but does fill my mother with rage when she sees me doing it. She feels it’s not authorly enough, that it looks too easy. But the thing that always bites me (or at least makes me look the most ridiculous) is that I always get my best ideas in the worst possible places. Often at the movies, or when I’m walking the dog at night, or in a meeting as part of my day job. Somewhere where, inevitably, I can’t write down the idea. So, I’ll end up repeating it frantically to myself, or sitting for hours with my fingers crossed so I don’t forget to remember. At one public service training course, I had a great idea about an entire family assassinating each other, and hurriedly scrawled down ‘kill entire family’, only to realize that one of my fellow students was looking, horrified, over my shoulder.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
DJTO’M: Oh boy, there’s a lot of them, but the ones that I’ve reread the most times are probably the most important. So, here are my top four (four is the new five, apparently.)
Firstly, if you want to be a member of my family, you are obliged to worship at the altar of George MacDonald Fraser. His Flashman books are thrust into your infant hands, and you have to like them, or else you are exposed to the elements. Fortunately for me, I love them. His main character is capable of (reluctant) action, and gets put in dire and dangerous situations, but Fraser was never afraid to make his hero look absolutely ridiculous. Which really struck a chord for me, because I look ridiculous so frequently.
I discovered Terry Pratchett in 7th grade, and never looked back. Every time a new book comes out, I consume it voraciously. He’s funny, and he’s clever, and he writes such good characters. He’s the kind of writer whose work leaves you consumed with envy because you know you will never be as brilliant as he.
Brian Michael Bendis writes outstanding dialogue, and he always seems willing to make unexpected moves that leave you gasping. I’ve been reading his Ultimate Spider-Man for years, and his writing has given me a deep affection for the characters. He’s also left me feeling like I’ve been punched in the gut with the rapidity with which he changes everything.
Finally, books by China Mieville (sorry, I don’t know how to put the little accent on the ‘e’) fill me with a great and terrible joy. I love the complexity of his work, how he throws in a million ideas, any one of which could make a whole book by itself. It makes for a really rich fictional world. I really tried to do something along those lines, putting in lots of cool little things, and incidental mentions of big ideas.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
DJTO’M: I’m kind of a sick hybrid. I’ll start out with my one big idea – my concept -- and I’ll usually know vaguely where I’m going, and I’ll have in mind a few stops along the way. But then an idea will spontaneously occur to me, and I’ll pursue it. Or else, I’ll see some flaw, some question that needs to be answered, and I’ll have to figure it out. In fact, some of my favorite writing has come out of plugging up the plot holes. At one point in The Rook, the main character and a bunch of others have to go through a battery of intense, undignified and invasive medical examinations, solely because I’d written myself into a corner. It was entirely possible that everyone was a traitor, and I needed to prove there were some trustworthy people around. Otherwise, the book would have ended with everyone locked in their offices, with guns pointed at the doors.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
DJTO’M: Sitting down and actually doing it. It’s so, so easy not to write -- there’s a billion things I could be doing. My house is never so clean and my correspondences never as up as to date as when I’m working on a book.
TQ: Describe The Rook in 140 characters or less.
DJTO’M: M. Thomas protects Britain from supernatural horror. Myfanwy T. has no memory of who she is. And they're the same person.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Rook?
DJTO’M: I have the deplorable (and entirely unique) habit of getting bored during meetings. And during these meetings I have been known, on occasion, to pretend that I’m a stranger who has been abruptly dropped into my body. I have to figure out what’s going on, and who I am, and provide reasonably believable spontaneous answers. Out of that, I wondered how well someone could really fake being someone else.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Rook?
DJTO’M: Not a whole heap, to be perfectly honest. Probably the most informative thing that happened was that, partway through the novel, I got a position with the Australian Government. Of course, my job was nothing like the work of the Checquy (I do media and communications stuff for the organization that investigates transport accidents), but there were various details and aspects that I realized had to go in. Some things were fairly minor (I’d managed not to give my secret Government operatives security passes) and others were things I’d simply never known about (no public service undertaking, be it a communications strategy or the besieging of a fungus cult, is going to happen without a risk assessment, and some occupational health and safety preparations.)
TQ: Why did you set the novel in Great Britain?
DJTO’M: There were several reasons, really, some quite prosaic, and some based on emotion. Firstly, it’s the right size – it meant that my main character could get around to occurrence sites fairly easily. And secondly, it’s got a good long history of continuous government, and that was necessary, for the Checquy to have that sense of centuries and centuries of weird traditions and bureaucracy. Plus, it’s handy for Europe, and all the related risk of having extremely large countries looming over the horizon, ready to invade.
Finally, a huge number of the books I read as a kid and teenager were set in Great Britain, so, for me, it’s always been the place where that sort of thing happens. We can probably agree to blame Enid Blyton and E. Nesbit for most of that.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
DJTO’M: At first, the lead character, Myfanwy Thomas, was very daunting to write. Partially because she has amnesia, and I really wasn’t sure how someone would react to that, and partially because she’s a woman, and so there was a bit of hesitation on that score. In the back of my mind, I was convinced that a thousand women (many of them suffering from amnesia) would stand up and condemn the book. But, then I figured that if there were any egregiously inappropriate actions or words, a) someone would point it out before it got printed, and b) I could blame it on the amnesia. And for those with amnesia who felt it was inaccurate, I could blame it on being magic amnesia. As it turned out, there weren’t any problems, which is nice. But for a while, it was a trifle nerve-wracking.
The easiest character was an obnoxious teenage guy who wanders around, acting all precocious and entitled. Probably because, as a teenage guy, I had a few periods of being shiningly obnoxious, precocious and entitled.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Rook?
DJTO’M: I’m very fond of a scene where various important Government executives gather to watch the hatching of a dragon. It’s an important occasion, with all sorts of scientific and military and hierarchical implications on the line, and the machinery of the Checquy working frantically to make sure everything turns out right. Naturally, everything turns out wrong. Dragon-hatchings are kind of a cliché in fiction, so it was really fun to try and tip one on its head.
TQ: What's next?
DJTO’M: I have a ton of ideas for the world of the Checquy, and I am keen to explore the possibilities further, but at the moment I’m working on a couple of unrelated books. One is a young adult novel set in the Ottoman Empire in 1500’s. The other is a novel about a woman who is a talent agent for assassins and killers. She manages their careers, and they are all complete divas, requiring constant attention.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
DJTO’M: Thanks for having me.
Little, Brown and Company (January 11, 2012)
Hardcover, 496 pages
"The body you are wearing used to be mine." So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.
She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.
In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.
Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, THE ROOK is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.
About Daniel O'Malley
The Rook Files
Myfanwy Thomas' Twitter
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