Daniel O'Malley on writing an unexpected sequel


Daniel O'Malley on writing an unexpected sequel

I wrote The Rook to be a stand-alone, one-shot book. 'Woman with amnesia has to masquerade as herself in a Government department that deals with (and is staffed by) the supernatural. She fights evil and treachery with the powers of bio-manipulation, bureaucracy, and the occasional smart-ass remark.' 

What more needs to be said?  Myfanwy Thomas, the titular Rook, gets into bewildering situations, kicks ass (both literally and administratively), clashes with enemies, and suffers loss, and the story comes to an ending. It was obviously ended. This was not a cliff-hanger ending.

Or at least, I thought it wasn’t. 

But I kept thinking about it.

At the end of The Rook, I’d brought two enemy forces, the British Checquy and the Belgian Grafters, together in a peace deal. I’d ended a centuries-old conflict. As a result, I considered myself something of a diplomat and peacemaker (forgetting for a moment that both organizations were fictional and, really, had no choice but to do what I said.) But I found that I still had some doubts. In my day job, I work in the Australian Public Service, and the civil-servant voice in my head kept whispering in a ghostly, moaning tone:

'You know it wouldn’t be that easy. It’s not that simple when real Government departments come together, and they don’t have immortals, giant monsters, and retractable talons to contend with.'

'Also, you should reconcile your corporate credit-card expenditures this afternoon, or the Finance team is going to yell at you.' 

And dammit, the civil servant voice was right. The merger of the Checquy and the Grafters would be a nightmare. These were people (and creatures) that had been trained to kill. Worse, they’d been trained to kill each other. And now they were going to be sharing offices? And dojos? And bathrooms? There was more story to tell on this.

So, I set about writing Stiletto. It’s an unexpected sequel, in so far as it follows on from the events of The Rook, but there are some significant differences and departures.

For one thing, while Myfanwy Thomas features in it, she’s not the main character. This was going to be a book about hate, about two organizations who loathe each other but are coming together because they’ve been forced to. And Myfanwy doesn’t have that hate in her, partially because she’s got amnesia and doesn’t remember her indoctrination, and partially because she’s too smart, sensible, and skeptical to have real hate. 

Plus, Myfanwy is a Rook, one of the elite executives of the Government. She’s a fun character to write, but it’s not always easy to send her out on hair-raising missions. While I’m willing to bend the laws of realism when it comes to the presence of the supernatural in our streets and fields, no one is going to believe that a Whitehall mandarin would leave their cushy office to go traipsing around a remote haunted village in Scotland.

So for Stiletto, I followed two new characters. Odette, a Belgian alchemist forced to be a diplomat, and Felicity, a British supernatural soldier who is assigned to act as her bodyguard. They detest each other, they’re not in control of their own lives, and they face the continuous possibility that they’ll be ordered to kill each other. They’re sent on missions to sites of supernatural horror, and obliged to attend political functions.

Writing Stiletto gave me the opportunity to explore the world of The Rook from some very different perspectives. Myfanwy Thomas regarded the world of the supernatural with skepticism, but Odette and Felicity have grown up in it. Instead, they see normal people as the strange ones. We get to see Myfanwy as her underlings see her, a general with terrifying powers who manipulates Government authority brilliantly. And we get to see the hatred of the Grafters and the Checquy from the perspective of those who have been raised to it.

In the beginning, I was nervous about writing from the perspective of someone other than Myfanwy – she’d lived in my head for so long that I was worried I couldn’t shift from that voice. But as I continued with the story of supernatural diplomacy and terrorism, I became more and more fond of Felicity and Odette. Each is guided by different goals and different world views, and they react to things in different ways. They kept me on my toes, and the story kept surprising me, even as I wrote it. 

The civil-servant voice in my head was right. What came after The Rook wasn’t simple, and it wasn’t easy, but it was a hell of a lot of fun to write, and I hope it’s fun to read. 

And, of course, I got my credit-card reconciliations done on time. The voice was right about that as well.

Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley is available in paperback and ebook now.