About Us

Contact Us







A Big Boy Wrote It and Stayed to Talk About It
Hazel Marshall

When Christopher Brookmyre was in his English classes at school he used to write pages and pages for his stories where the other children would write one side of A4. I wonder if even then he was expounding on the absurdities of daily life which he does so well now. He claims not and cites his influences as much more escapist, crediting Cold War thrillers and horror videos as his inspirations - ‘Not really so much towards the supernatural, more the mad psychotic slasher with the gardening implement’.

But the greatest influence on him was Booker prizewinning Canadian author Robertson Davies and, in particular, his Cornish Trilogy (composed of The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus). ‘It was the first time I read something that I would regard as extremely literary that was also highly scatological. Robertson Davies has a lot of fun, whether it be with bodily functions or sexual misadventures. These were things that I didn’t really expect to find in it but I suppose I should have expected to find because the first book is all about translating Rabelais.’

This mix of literary with scatological is something that Brookmyre has in common with Davies, although in Brookmyre’s case it is more a mix of the political satire with the scatological. How many books do you know that have a jobbie on a mantelpiece in the opening chapter of a book which also pontificates upon the corruption of NHS Trusts? There are other comparisons too - not least in characters’ names.

‘I’d read The Cornish Trilogy a couple of times by the time I wrote Quite Ugly One Morning and I wanted to come up with a name that was fairly original and one that also wasn’t in any way obviously ethnically identified. I didn’t want to call him Jack MacSomething or just anything that was too identifiable in a geographical location and a name that people would remember. And also for sheer self indulgence I wanted to create the situation where I could use the line ‘Parlabane’s back’ because that’s the opening line of the Cornish Trilogy.’

Christopher Brookmyre was born in Glasgow in 1968 and was launched upon the British reading public in the summer of 1996 with his book Quite Ugly One Morning which won him the Critic’s First Blood award. It could variously be described as a political satire, thriller, crime novel or humorous book and fulfils the requirements of all those genres. It also introduced Jack Parlabane who featured again in Brookmyre’s second book Country of the Blind, which functions as a mirror to the dying, decaying years of Thatcherism but which is shot through with fascinating insights and the kind of humour that leaves you aching all over.

Brookmyre’s third book, Not the End of the World, took him across the Atlantic to the gaudy lights of LA and delights of the porn industry, a fundamental religious movement and a maniac who wants to destroy the world. Not surprisingly it was heavily influenced by the millennial hysteria sweeping the world prior to the year 2000. I wondered how the American audience would react to it - it’s to be published in America this year - and Chris explained that he had tried it out on a Canadian audience and ‘they really lapped [it] up for the simple reason that they like laughing at Americans. It makes them feel very superior.’ I would imagine that they will be somewhat bemused by the fact that the two heroes are a photographer from deepest darkest Lanarkshire in Scotland and a female porn star, not the usual Hollywood stereotypes but in the book Brookmyre unerringly puts his finger on the mood of that time and shines a blinding light into the hypocrisy of some religious movements and society in general. Brookmyre himself spent time in LA while working for Screen International which explains how he captured the LA culture so well and why this is his favourite and most personal book.

His fourth book, One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, returned him to Scotland and to a high school reunion but not one that any of us are likely to attend. Not only does it take place on a disused oil rig which has been converted into a luxury holiday resort, but it is also hijacked by a group of dysfunctional terrorists. Calling on his knowledge of action movies, Brookmyre develops a character who has seen one too many action films and can’t help calling on his knowledge of them in his attempt to save the group. MacDie Hard indeed. Would Brookmyre himself attend a high school reunion? - ‘Absolutely not!’

The titles of his books are the first thing which catch the attention and surely must take almost as long to think up as it takes him to write the books. ‘Sometimes the title’s there first, most of the time in fact, and they’re not usually mine. Quite Ugly One Morning is the name of a song by Warren Zevon and coincidentally the same week the book was published in the UK the film Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead was released, which is actually the next track on the same album. Country of the Blind was written under the working title of Arena and my wife suggested Country of the Blind as a title. Apart from being an H G Wells quote, it’s also the name of a song by a 1980s band, the Faith Brothers. Not the End of the World is an expression obviously and then One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night is a children’s nonsense rhyme.’

And the title of his fifth book Boiling the Frog conjures up an appealing image of Jack Parlabane (back for the third time) as he struggles to work out a scandal of immense proportion in post-devolution Scotland. Given that the first two books featuring Jack Parlabane focussed on Thatcherism, does he think that devolution was a good thing for Scotland?

‘Yeah, I think it was. The nature of politics is that anything that happens and anything that changes, there’s absolutely no way everybody’s going to say, yes, it was a good thing because people have got a vested interest obviously in saying it’s not, but I think that in the long run, the retrospective, there will be very little question that it was a good thing. I mean people tend to evaluate it in terms of two things. One, what they think of the current incumbent and two, whether their lives have changed on a day to day basis. Well, politics never changes peoples’ lives on a day to day basis but it does change their lives over a long period so I think anything that works as a bulwark against what happened under Margaret Thatcher is always a good thing.’

In his books so far, he has tacked politics, religion, the law and the NHS and the books make you wonder what is really going on inside the national institutions that we take for granted. This questioning of any form of authority is quite generic to the area where Brookmyre grew up (either you accept things blindly or you question everything). It did make me wonder though, is anything sacred?

‘I don’t think so. I refuse to just accept handed down criteria for respect and I think that’s important to everybody to do that rather than just being told you should respect this because we’ve all respected it. You have to understand it for yourself. A friend of mine, the comedian Brendon Burn grew up in Perth in Australia where there’s a great deal of bigotry of all natures. He says he grew up with that and was part of it for a while and that he then learned to criticise it. He says that if you don’t criticise it and reevaluate the values that are given then basically, it’s 1939 Weimar Republic, and you’re a Nazi. So that’s why I’m as irreverent as possible.’

So back to devolution and what would he do if he was in charge? What would be the first thing he would do as First Minister of Scotland? ‘Panic. I’ll go back to Billy Connolly - the desire to be a politician should be a disqualification from ever becoming one. So the fact that I’ve got no intention of becoming one kind of rules me out.’

His new book has another one of those delightful titles - A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away and ‘it’s about how people, when they sort of hit their mid thirties, reconcile the lives they have now to the lives they maybe dreamed or aspired to have when they were, maybe back in student days and, in the case of one character, deals with it through retreating into a virtual world of online video games and another character deals with it through mass murder, serial killing, contract killing and eventually international terrorism.’ And the name of this fine upstanding example of humanity is ‘Simon Darcourt. He’s the villain simply because, to me, Simon Darcourt has always been like the patron saint of the unfulfilled and this character is unfulfilled but his reaction to it is certainly not saintly. And also because Parlabane, he’s the misanthropic bad guy in The Rebel Angels and in my books he’s the hero so that’s another bit of the mirrors backing.’

Brookmyre is unlikely to have to resort to international terrorism. By the age of thirty he was already a successfully published author and now, only just approaching the outer edges of the mid-thirties he is a bestselling author with five books under his belt and another one due out this year. His first two books have been optioned by Clerkenwell Films, owned by John Hannah and One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night has been optioned by Douglas Henshall. There is no doubt he is firmly on track to the future he dreamt of while scribbling those stories in school.

© Hazel Marshall 2001


< Back to Index
< About the Author
< Reply to this Article