Tuesday 9 March 2010

Aye Write, It's Christopher Brookmyre

I had a lovely time on Sunday going to a couple of the things at the always excellent Aye Write Festival in Glasgow, so here is my reports on one of the events.

The first thing we went to see was Christopher Brookmyre being interviewed. Brookmyre started off by saying that at last year's Aye Write he was on an atheism panel. It just happened to be on the day that his team - St Mirren - were playing Celtic in the Scottish cup. Celtic, needless to say, were the hot favourites. Brookmyre switched his phone off and he said it was a good thing that he had done so because if he'd seen the texts coming in from his friends, telling him that St Mirren had beaten Celtic (1-0) he would have had to abandon his atheistic stance and say to the other panelists "Look guys, all bets are off, there is a god."

He described Pandaemonium as a Gothic horror story, and said that, when asked what the difference is between horror and Gothic horror he says "I don't know, but this is Gothic horror because it has goths in it" :o) Pandaemonium is the tale of a group of High School students who are taken off to a retreat to help them come to terms with the death of one of their fellow students, through counselling, discussion, and prayer. The teenagers, on the other hand, have other ideas (most of which revolve around alcohol and sex). The Guardian described it as " a book in which vengeful demons meet horny teenagers in a remote location and huge quantities of blood gets shed." Because, yes, there are demons in the book. Brookmyre said that, according to Catholic doctrine, it's required to believe that demons are real. And there are, apparently, around 312million demons loose in the world right now. Brookmyre's comment was "Has anyone told the Daily Mail? What if they're all claiming benefits right now?"

He then read from Pandaemonium. Generally, I'm not a big fan of authors reading what feel like interminably long chunks from their books, but he's such an entertaining reader, and his books are such good fun, that he could have read for the whole hour as far as I was concerned.

The interviewer mentioned how well he writes his teenage characters (he's written great teenagers in several books now, including my favourite - ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT), and asked whether they are former classmates. Brookmyre said that he finds it easy to cast his mind back to his school days and that he is very much in touch with his inner teenager, or as he added "I'm emotionally retarded". He also mentioned that he is currently in talks with an American publisher of Young Adult novels, which will be science fiction books. One thing that concerns him about not actually being a teenager is that some of the put-downs are not actually being used any more. He says one of the benefits of the internet (and, specifically, football forums), is that you get to see the terms of abuse people are throwing at each other.

As far as writing teenage girls, he said it's easy to write the boys as he shares a lot of their enthusiasm and insecurities, however, it was harder with the teenage girls and he had to get into the way of 'psychological cruelty'. When there were laughs from the audience at this he said that was the "laughter of recognition and shame."

He was then asked about having his books turned into films and said that, currently, ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEBODY LOSES AN EYE is with a French based producer, and that there is also interest from a UK company in THE SACRED ART OF STEALING. He said that he's not precious about the way his work gets adapted and finds it interesting to see how someone else sees it. Matthew Vaughn (Kickass and Layer Cake) wanted to option A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY, but only so that he could get the character Simon Darcourt - the rest of the story itself would have changed beyond recognition. Brookmyre was interested to see what he would do with that, but, unfortunately, it fell through.

I was particularly interested to hear that as in my screenwriting class, I am currently adapting (oh, that sounds so much grander than it is!) BUMPING UGLIES - the short story I wrote for the wonderful HELL OF A WOMAN anthology - and the only bit which has survived is the very beginning. It's a totally different tale now.

He loved Carl Hiaasen's books and read them all within about six months. He admires Hiaasen's ability to write a fast paced story, with great characters, and focus on something he's really interested in or passionate about. He thought it would be good to do something similar set in the UK. At the time, he felt that British crime at the time was grim and depressing, with characters who weren't allowed to be heroic.

He recently received a fan letter from Diana Gabaldon, who really enjoyed Pandaemonium and she told him she had him on her Methadone List, which are suggestions she gives to her own fans as to what they could read while they are waiting for another one of her books to come out. Brookmyre commented "I don't know what Diana Gabaldon's readers are going to make of my swearing, shagging teenagers."

When asked why he had changed genres somewhat with Pandaemonium, he said that he felt that he couldn't top A SNOWBALL IN HELL in terms of satire and character, and every idea he had for an OTT satirical crime thriller after that didn't seem good enough. He'd always wanted to write something SF. Pandaemonium started life as a screenplay and he decided to see if he could turn it into a novel, which he found an interesting process. He said it's almost unrecognisable as the screenplay it started life as, and commented that, with a screenplay, you sometimes have to use stereotypes for some of the supporting characters. With novels, you can take those stereotypes and subvert them.

He was then asked about the title, with Anthony, the interviewer, getting a laugh when he said "A one word title is a bit of a departure...admittedly, it's a long word." Brookmyre said that he wanted something a bit different and felt that PANDAEMONIUM was very apt - it's the capital city of hell in Milton's PARADISE LOST, plus it's what you get when you have 30 or 40 hormonal teenagers running around.

When asked whether he starts with a title or a theme he said it's usually a theme and the title suggests itself at some point. However, for ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT and A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY he had the titles first and just knew he wanted to write a book with those titles. Incidentally, the alternative title he had for ONE FINE DAY was GOOD GUYS GET SHOT IN THE SHOULDER.

A question from the audience was raised as to how the west of Scotland humour translates. Brookmyre said that he doesn't worry about how it's going to be perceived outside the UK. When he's reading a book he would rather get it raw and work out what things mean, rather that a one-size fits all version. I totally agree with him. I hate it when publishers feel they have to change things in books because they think their readers are so stupid that they won't be able to get something from the context.

On the subject of translations, he said that his experience with translators is that they tend to either ask loads of questions or no questions at all. When ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT was translated, he was intrigued to see that it had a two word title. It turned out to be PARADISE FUCKED (sorry Dad, but that's what the book's called).

A Japanese translator asked one question, and one question only, about ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. In it, there's a character, in his pajamas, very miserable, as he's been shot out of a dinghy. The quote from the book is something like "utterly miserable and, for a Leither, marooned." This is a very Edinburgh specific quote in that the suggestion is that because he's from Leith, then he's a Hibs supporter (who play in green and white). The rival Edinburgh team is Hearts, who play in maroon. Hence, he wouldn't want to be marooned. Brookmyre told the translator that if he could translate that, he deserved an award.

Brookmyre had a very bad experience with a French translator (who appeared to have got the job because of who he knew, rather than what. He was translating QUITE UGLY ONE MORNING and COUNTRY OF THE BLIND and sent Brookmyre about 400 queries, many of which were answered on the very next page. Some of them were legitimate questions but still very funny. We were treated to a recitation of some of these and they were hilarious: "What does mean 'gub'?", "What are 'the dry heaves'", "What does mean 'boaby'?", "What is a protestant?", "What is a shirtlifter?", "Can you explain Schadenfreude?", "What is the meaning of Lebanon." "I know Fred West from your previous book but who is Rosemary West?", "Who is Rod Hull?", "Who is Johnny Foreigner?", "What scientist is Stephen Hawking?", "What does mean 'bawhair'?" And his final e-mail - very aptly - said "Your tea's oot means you're finished?"

Brookmyre said that Pandaemonium was "a big, geeky playground" for him. He was able to take some of the themes and iconography of the supernatural and combine them with science and quantum physics.

He then talked about some crime fiction he is working on now, which sounded really good. It's less satirical, more 'realistic' and plausible. It's a set of crime novels set in Glasgow's 'gangland' which sounds like a theme park. The first one in the series is about an enforcer who's looking for redemption later in life. The first one will be out in Summer 2011 and it's called WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED. He said it's both exciting and daunting embarking on a new character.

Talking of characters, he was then asked about Jack Parlabane. Since Brookmyre was a journalist, he was asked whether Parlabane was based on any journalists he knew. He said that, no, he wanted to create a fantasy journalist who would stop at nothing to get to the truth. His own experience of real journalists is that they would stop at nothing to get to the pub.

He then gave us a sneak preview of WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED and it sounds really good. As I hope comes across, it was a really fun hour and I could have listened to him for far longer.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing all this information.

  2. Patti - you're most welcome!

    Michael - I WISH. I took copious (and often incomprehensible) notes.

  3. whatever - Chris is a hoot and a half, isn't he? I wish I had a tenth of his wit.

  4. He was brilliant. If I was able to talk like him,and be as funny as him, I would have no qualms about doing events.

  5. As I do, I overdosed on Brookmyre in the 90's when I lived in London. I read everything up to Boiling A Frog and loved them all. Then I stopped for a while until I found 'All fun And Games'in Warsaw book shop and loved that too.

    His writing has changed over the years and is lighter, it seems , but always a pleasure, never a chore!

  6. Brookmyre put in an appearance at my university, and was utterly brilliant. I laughed so hard I cried. I'm so disappointed that I have to wait until 2011 for Where the Bodies are Buried!

  7. Paul - nice way to overdose though!

    Anonymous - thank you for your comment. I've seen him a couple of times now and he's always good.

  8. I just found this and thought you might be interested in a charity auction I have going at the moment. Chris Brookmyre has donated a signed 1st edition of Be My Enemy to auction for MS research. It is actually his own copy.
    It ends tomorrow and is up on ebay http://tinyurl.com/32frb3c

    Thought you might be interested!

  9. I can't WAIT for Where The Bodies Are Buried - it's been an absolute age since Pandaemonium

  10. Karl - I'm really looking forward to it - it sounds great. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. interesting article and great interview.