Chris Brookmyre – novelist

Chris Brookmyre
Chris Brookmyre
On Tuesday 16th August, the Scottish novelist Chris Brookmyre was kind enough to take a few minutes before the RBS sponsored event at the Edinburgh Book Festival A Fictional Journey into Glasgow’s Gangland to talk to Geek Chocolate about his latest novel, Where the Bodies are Buried, the first in a new trilogy, his back catalogue, his next projects, and his love of gaming.  Join us as we take shelter from the rain.

Geek Chocolate – Chris Brookmyre, thank you for taking the time out on this somewhat soggy and muddy Edinburgh evening.  First of all, you have a new direction on your new book.  What happened to your Topher, and how has your new direction and new name been welcomed?

Chris Brookmyre – A Topherectomy.  There’s no big conspiracy about it, it actually was the jacket designer who came up with the idea.  He said it would look really good.  He was doing mockups, and my editors thought, well actually it’s quite a good way of announcing a change in direction, to change your name.  Everyone seems to have cottoned on to it, read great things into it, and the change in direction has largely been well received by people who realise it’s still all about the story.

There’s a sense of some people getting a wee bit het up over the lack of knockabout humour.  I can understand if that’s what they liked about my books, but I’d like to think most people liked more aspects of the books than just that.  And there is some humour in this book.  Obviously it’s not the gross over-the-top kind of humour, but there’s still humour coming out of more human situations than self-consciously absurd situations.

Where the Bodies are Buried
Where the Bodies are Buried
GC – I understand you’ve completed work on the second book in the new series, and you’re working on the third.  How’s it going, and what can you tell us?

CB – I have finished the second one, I haven’t actually started the third.  I know roughly what I’m dealing with, but I won’t be starting to write the third for a wee while yet, in fact.  I’ll probably write another book in between.  I always have this philosophy that if I’m enjoying writing, people will enjoy reading, and the books that I’ve enjoyed writing the most have tended to be the ones people have enjoyed reading the most.

Of all the kind of whodunit mystery type stories I’ve written, the next one is called When the Devil Drives, and that’s the one I’ve most enjoyed writing.  Not of all my books, but of that style, because it is about as twisty-turny as I’ve ever written, and that’s what I like, the misdirection aspect of misleading the reader.  I think I’ll have them guessing right ‘til the end.  I actually had my editor guessing right to the end, which is hard to do.

When the Devil Drives
When the Devil Drives
GC – Excellent.  Where the Bodies Are Buried features a smaller core cast than some of your previous novels.  Do you find it easier to coordinate a smaller group, or is an ensemble more fun to write for?

CB – Do you know, both of those statements are true.  It’s easier to concentrate and bring out more in depth with a smaller cast of characters, but there is something great fun about having a big ensemble, because you can explore different aspects through different characters.  You can explore all their story arcs, or you can truncate their story arcs by having them die, as I tended to do a lot in Pandaemonium.

GC – And indeed, you commented at the launch party of Where the Bodies… that you would like to write a sequel to Pandaemonium.  Do you have any ideas for it yet, or just a desire to revisit those characters?

CB – I’ve got very, very loose ideas about it, and I always think of the gap between The Sacred Art of Stealing and A Snowball in Hell.  I always wanted to write a sequel to The Sacred Art… but I wasn’t going to do it until I had an idea, but also in a way, it wasn’t just a question of waiting for an idea, I felt a certain amount of time had to elapse in the lives of the characters, and I think that would be the same with Pandaemonium, I’d want it to be as different a book as possible.  Obviously it would be a sequel, but I don’t want it to be another teen horror story.  It would have to be some of the same characters, but I would want there to be a very different feel to it.  So I’ve got some thoughts on it, but it’s very premature.

GC – In Pandaemonium there are some obvious gaming references, and some more oblique ones, such as having crates on the levels of the military complex, and also in Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks you have a reference to Duke Nukem Forever.  Are you a big gamer?

CB – I’m not as big a gamer as I used to be, because I’ve been too busy.  I used to be a very big gamer, I used to play, it’s going back an embarrassingly long time now, I realise, but I used to play Quake 2 and Quake 3 at quite a high competitive level.  I used to play in clan leagues; in fact we used to play European clan leagues, so I was very into it.  I was quite monogamous though, because you have to be, to play at that level you have to play all Quake all the time, you couldn’t hop around.

My son plays loads of games, and I kind of keep up to date by looking over his shoulder, and I did play all the way through Portal 2 over the summer, and actually my next big project, I’m going to be working with some games developers, a software developing company, on a first person shooter.

GC – I believe Pandaemonium was originally developed as a screenplay.  I think it would have made a fantastic mini series.  What was the story behind that, why did it never progress, and do you still harbour some optimism?

CB – I do think one day, when the time is right, the right person will see it and see that it would make a really good sci-fi horror story.  What I wanted, even with the screenplay, was to write something that the first forty minutes or so would almost work as a kind of American Pie type teen sex and alcohol comedy, and then get railroaded by the horror.  I thought it did work in that respect.

The origin of it was the company called Clerkenwell that made Quite Ugly One Morning for ITV had read Be My Enemy and thought it would make a great ho
rror movie because of the country house remote location and mad psychos besieging the place, and they asked would I write a horror movie for them, because they thought they couldn’t do Be My Enemy because of too much back story.

So they wanted a low budget Scottish set horror, and unfortunately I went off and wrote something that was going to cost a fortune.  They did try and get it developed, but at the time they were trying, everyone wanted to make British set horror, and then the capriciousness of the film business was that all of a sudden nobody wanted to make that any more, so it didn’t go anywhere.  I liked the story, and I thought, I’m going to take the bones of that and make a novel.

GC – Only one of your novels has been filmed.  In your perfect world, if any more ever were to be produced, which would you choose, and who would be your ideal cast?

CB – You know, Pandaemonium would be probably top of the list, as would One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, well up there, and The Sacred Art of Stealing.  And All Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye.

GC – Are there any you wouldn’t like filmed?

CB – I know, I keep thinking how much I’d like to see them, but I think of the ones I’ve actually got cast in mind, which is quite rare, I don’t often see an actor or actress, All Fun and Games, my dream casting, all the time, ever since writing it, was Emma Thompson, because I think she’s fantastic, and would really bring her to life.  Beyond that, Sacred Art of Stealing, for Zal Innez, I see Nathan Fillion.  That would be my dream casting.  Beyond that, I don’t have particular casting in mind. 

Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks
Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks
GC – The corollary of that would be, with Neil Gaiman writing for Doctor Who, and back in the day both Stephen King and William Gibson writing for The X Files, and with the prevalence of police procedurals on air, is there any show you would like to write for, or would you opt for something completely unpredictable – like writing a game?

CB – Well, that’s it.  I don’t know if I would be comfortable writing for TV anyway, because it’s such a difficult medium, and I think in this day and age TV has superseded film as a medium because of how much you can explore over the arc of a twelve part series or a twenty four part season of something.  But the more I watch it, the more I think, this isn’t my game.  Whereas, as I’ve been trying to develop the idea for this first person shooter, I’ve thought, well this is more my territory.  Not like in writing a first person shooter, but I’m going to write a novel based around it, and there will be a synergistic relationship between the two.

GC – Excellent.  Now, this question is genuinely written here, not influenced by what you said a moment ago.  One of the lead characters in Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks wandered about in a tatty brown coat and used the online name Malcolm Reynolds.  How did that come about?

CB – Ach, just because I’m a big geeky Firefly fan.  That’s all.

GC – You’re very hands on with your website.  Is that something your publishers encourage, glad to be rid of the task, or do their marketing department live in fear of your acerbic and direct views?

CB – No, they had to kind of encourage me.  Way back in the day, back in like 1998, I first put a website together myself, and it was a long time before the publishers had anything to do with it, and actually it was a long time after that before I would tinker with it.  Recently they revamped the website, and instead of just putting up news, they gave me a log in for a word press dashboard, and said can you update the stuff, because if somebody organises an event, I know about it, rather than telling the publishers to put it on there.

It’s allowed me now to put on other things, like I did put something up about Duke Nukem Forever finally coming out, and how my reference in Rubber Ducks has now finally been superseded.  I found a clip of myself on an Irish television programme, so I put a link up for that as well.  The only problem is they have to encourage me to blog, because I’m not very good at that, I’m not a child of the Twitter age, where I feel I want to share every last mundane thing that happened to me.   I’m actually a bit lazy about adding to it.

GC – You’re honorary president of the Humanist Society of Scotland.  What does that entail, and what are the challenges of that viewpoint in a society where critical thinking is discouraged in favour of tradition, superstition and the comfort of continuity?

CB – God, I cannae gie you a quick answer to that one!  I’m speaking next Monday at the international festival, there’s an event called Global Philosophies with Professor Tu Weiming of Peking University and Doctor Richard Holloway, so we’re going to be exploring those kind of themes.  My position as honorary president, they just asked me if I would sort of take that honour, and answer questions for journalists now and again on the subject, and probably chuck the odd hand grenade into the public debate.  So I don’t shy away from that.

The only time, and it’s not shying away, but I was once asked by the Humanist Society to put on a debate with some creationists, and I did, because I felt I had to fulfil my obligation, but I would never do it again.  I definitely subscribe to the viewpoint that you don’t debate with creationists, because only they can gain any credence.  It’s just not worth it.  It’s like teaching a pig to sing.  You’ll only annoy the pig.  It’s awful.  I wanted to kill people by the end of it.  They were so creepy.  Very touchy as well.

GC – Once again, Chris Brookmyre, it’s always a pleasure to see you.  Thank you so much, not only for all the books, but your time tonight.

CB – I’m always happy to talk geek with someone who understands and speaks the language.

The Edinburgh Book Festival continues until Monday 29th August

Where the Bodies are Buried is out now, and When the Devil Drives is published June 2012, both from Little Brown

Special thanks to Frances Sutton on the Book Festival media team and Zoe Hood at Little Brown for their kind assistance in arranging the interview