Everything comes with a price. Which is what Malachi learns when someone offers to graft him a new tongue, thus restoring his ability to speak, in T.C. Farren’s new speculative fiction horror thriller novel The Book Of Malachi (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Farren discusses what inspired and influenced this story, as well as why she didn’t write it as a movie.
First up, what is The Book Of Malachi about, and when and where is it set?
It’s set in the near future, and takes place on a derelict oil rig in the middle of the sea. It’s about this guy from West Arica who was maimed during a guerrilla attack on his village. Malachi can’t speak. He is hiding inside his silence, living on automatic when a huge pharmaceutical company offers to graft a new tongue for him. All Malachi must do is keep a close eye on caged killers who are being used to grow extra organs inside them. Still seething with rage against the people who ruined him, Malachi forces himself to walk among these prisoners and clip the nails on their hands and feet. Try as he might, he can’t block out their pleas or their awful testimonies and the story veers from darkly psychological to straight frightening as Malachi is compelled to act on his feelings.
Where did you get the idea for The Book Of Malachi, and how, if at all, did that original idea change as you wrote this story?
I was sitting on a rocking chair in my child’s room with a pencil thinking, I need an idea. Malachi, the rig, and the organ farming thing landed swiftly and softly. At the time, I was living in a nervous suburb with high walls and intercoms while murder stories streamed through the radio every day. At the same time I was doing daily meditations that insisted we are all made of love. All of us. Tormented by this split, I needed to go into the center of prejudice. Killers seemed like the perfect short cut to this soul stuff. Thankfully, Malachi had the courage to descend those metal stairs while I hid behind him, watched and listened.
And is there a reason you made Malachi a thirty-year-old as opposed to a teenager or a fifty-year-old or even older?
30 seemed like a cool age to either die or start again. Malachi had lived for 15 years and died for 15 in the sense that he had been going around like the living dead. On the rig he gets the chance to either resurrect or be killed with the prisoners. His youth coupled with his traumatic history seemed to raise the stakes.
The Book Of Malachi has been described as being a science fiction thriller. Do you agree with this assessment?
It’s quite accurate but there is more than a touch of horror in it. What about speculative fiction horror thriller? The book is for people who are bold enough to travel through deep shadow to reach the light. I think people who are more into science than psychology might get a fright.
Having said this, Malachi is also very funny in his satirical, self-deprecating way. Well I think so, anyway, and he agrees.
The Book Of Malachi is your third novel after Whiplash and Snake. But those two were credited to Tracey Farren, while Malachi is credited to T.C. Farren. Is there a reason for that?
My agent, Isobel Dixon, suggested using the abbreviation because of my tendency to swap genres. This can be confusing in publishing and marketing terms, so I reckon I’ll keep T.C. Farren for stories that hover above the now, and Tracey Farren for stories that are rooted in our current, just as crazy time.
So in regards to those earlier novels, are there any writers who had a big influence on The Book Of Malachi but not on Whiplash or Snake?
I had almost abandoned fiction for a while, and was reading neo-colonialist theses, as well as reams and reams of medical articles. Two of my children were seriously sick, and no one could help them. I studied diagrams of human insides and taught myself a whole lot of things about enzymes. Google and I walked slowly towards a cure which, it turned out, had everything to do intolerance to GMO food. Of course, out of loyalty, I read the excellent South African spec-fi and crime writers, especially the women, like Sarah Lotz, Angela Makholwa, Lauren Beukes, and Margie Orford. Still, I felt a powerful lure to become a man for a writing season.
What about non-literary influences; was The Book Of Malachi influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Not really, no, but I watched the old movie, The Green Mile a year after I wrote Malachi. I felt a massive affinity with Stephen King’s inquiry into the psyche of condemned killers and the way he blends horror with magical realism (which to me is not fancy but a higher plane of truth).
The computer games that came up in The Book of Malachi are that ridiculous, addictive game, Plants vs. Zombies, and Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider games. But the heroines in my book don’t have bountiful breasts and incredible lips. One is an old crone with hair like a rope. Another is a scarred young woman who killed her husband with his own fishing knife.
Speaking of movies, you wrote the screenplay for Tess, which was an adaptation of your novel Whiplash. How did writing a screenplay influence the way you wrote The Book of Malachi?
Scriptwriting helps me to know when to ask my character to please stop deliberating and ramp up the action. I know the hero’s journey can be seriously formulaic but I have noticed that fictional character and actual people love to react to a big trigger, leave behind the familiar, suffer terrible reversal and drill down to find new ways. Of course, at the end, we can fail and crash or fade away or pull ourselves up by our boot straps and try again. However blurred these arcs are by all the drama, I see these three big movements in all my writing.
Did you ever consider writing this story as a movie instead of a novel?
No, Malachi immediately became an audible voice in my head, and writing his story as a screenplay would have felt like a betrayal. To me, novels are the most faithful way to take down tales from the ether.
Does that mean you don’t think The Book Of Malachi could work as a movie? Or a TV show?
Actually, Little Island Productions in the U.K. have optioned it for a TV series. I can totally see it as being taut and cinematic, set inside an unforgiving metal edifice with characters who are complex, edgy and well…naked. Forty humans languish in cages, scarred from the clumsy extraction of new organs that grow inside them every six weeks. Then there’s the savagery of the shark pit. And, did I say, Malachi is beautiful.
You can tell I’m excited.
Interesting. So who do you think they should cast as Malachi and the other main characters?
Okay, if I happened to be a casting agent and not a solitary writer — U.K. actor Chiwetel Ejiofor [Doctor Strange] would make an amazing Malachi. Awkwafina [Crazy Rich Asians] would be fantastic as Meirong, the logistics controller on the rig. Kiera Knightly [Pirates Of The Caribbean] could make a wonderful Vicki, the husband killer while David Oyelowo [Selma] would be perfect as Thamba, the surveillance man. Daniel Kaluuya [Get Out] would make a great Samuel, the journalist and Storm Reid [Euphoria] or Letitia Wright [Black Panther] would be lovely as Lolie, the child soldier. Aisha Tyler [Friendsgiving] would make a fabulous Charmayne, the big island beauty and, and…
As we discussed earlier, The Book Of Malachi is a speculative fiction horror thriller. Some spec-fi novels are stand-alone stories, while others are part of larger sagas, and the same is also true of thrillers. What is The Book of Malachi?
As you’ll see from the ending, it could easily be a book series, though I don’t think it would extend beyond a trilogy. There is a large enough cast to lose some through tragic means and let some charge forwards with the story. The characters are all extreme people given to radical action so it would be fascinating to see what choices they would make in other locations, especially if they’re under pressure to survive or to hide.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Book Of Malachi which of your other two books would you recommend they read next and why that one and not the other one?
Read Tess [a.k.a. Whiplash]. It’s also a risky book — gritty, scary but definitely funny. It’s about a sex walker who falls pregnant and gives up her drugs while she decides what to do with the kid. All hell breaks loose in her life and her mind. Most of it takes place over an Easter weekend and, at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, people fall badly in love with Tess despite her bluntness and her talent for self-destruction. My middle book, Snake is a psychological thriller narrated by a 12-year-old girl who gets locked into a lie with a charming stranger on the farm. It’s no longer available, but we’re thinking of republishing it.