CHRISTOPHER BROOKMYRE INTERVIEWED
Christopher Brookmyre is about to go out to dinner with some publishing types in London when SHOTS catches up with him via mobile phone from the other end of the country.
What was to be on the menu is unknown, but one thing is for sure; Chris was unlikely to order the ostrich, as were his hosts if theyíd read Brookmyreís latest novel, Be My Enemy, where a meal of ostrich provides one of the most memorably squeamish set pieces in a book that puts the gag in gagging.
Then thereís some very unconventional climbing rope, a nasty incident involving a snooker table and edged weapons and something very nasty in the woodshed...Had the unrestrained Mr Brookmyre ever considered even he might be straying beyond the boundaries of good taste.
"Not with this book, but I was aware this was probably the furthest I had gone in terms of good taste," he admitted. His answer should not be too unexpected from an author whose full title for the book is Be My Enemy or, Fuck This For a Game of Soldiers.
Added Brookmyre: "My thinking was if I could make people laugh at these things then go: ĎI canít believe Iím laughing at thisí, then thatís, what Iíd go for. If there was a feeling running through it was basically: ĎFuck them.í With it being about intolerance, I wanted it to have the most absolutely gross consequences."
Brookmyre admits his anaesthetist wife had some reservations when he told her about some of the bookís content, but far from family life and fatherhood (he and Marisa have a four-year-old son Jack) putting the brakes on the excesses of his blackly comic imagination, Brookmyre laughs: "Spending the first two to three years getting continuously covered in vomit and faeces wasnít likely to tone down that aspect of my writing. Fatherhood has changed some aspects of my writing, though, but more in the way I respond to certain things."
Fatherhood and the practicalities of caring for a young child have also had their effect on Brookmyreís promotional duties. However, a move back to the Central Belt after exile in Inverness and Aberdeen has made things a little easier in that respect and after being conspicuous by his absence from the likes of Dead on Deansgate, Chris is booked to make an appearance at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in July.
"Family constraints have been a big factor," he explained of his non-appearance at previous crime festivals.
"When I lived up in Aberdeen I couldnít even fly out of Aberdeen to do anything. I always had to drive to Glasgow and leave Jack with his grandparents first. I still canít see myself jetting off to things every week, but to be honest, a lot of it is based on what the publicists think is a good idea. Harrogate will be the first of this kind of thing Iíve done. Iím looking forward to it."
Speaking of Jacks, Be My Enemy features the return of Brookmyreís semi-regular anti-hero Jack Parlabane. The sarky super-hack has cropped up in around half Brookmyreís books and a single short story since the 1997 debut Quite Ugly One Morning, but hasnít been sighted since 2000ís Boiling a Frog when he ended up behind bars and lost a length of intestine.
"I think heís a bit chastened by what happened before," Brookmyre suggested.
"I treated him abysmally badly in Boiling a Frog. Thatís why when you have the argument about Ď80s politics he doesnít say much when in the past he would have been right in there."
Perhaps another reason for Parlabaneís more low key appearance is the changed political landscape. While fully prepared to vent his spleen against the Tories, it seems he canít work up the energy to dish out the same treatment to New Labour.
"Maybe it says a lot about New Labour that I havenít written too much about them although Boiling a Frog satirised a gay Labour MSP pretending to be hetro to give him this media-friendly image," Brookmyre commented.
"The thing about New Labour is that they are so media savvy they have made politics very dull. I think thatís one of the things that made me hark back to the 1980s in the new book with a group who, if they didnít know what they were fighting for, knew who they were fighting against."
The basic set-up of a group of disparate near innocents menaced by a gang of killers has echoes of the earlier One Fine Day in the Middle of The Night (1999). There a school reunion party aboard a converted oil rig is gatecrashed by terrorists, providing the cue for a host of sly digs at the action movie genre. The former film critic acknowledges that if the earlier novel was Chris Brookmyreís Die Hard, then this is his John Carpenter homage with conscious or subliminal references to Halloween (dirty great big knives), Assault on Precinct 13 (the siege) and even The Thing.
"This is a slasher," he confirmed gleefully.
"Itís a throwback to when I got a Betamax video and started watching all these video nasties: films where you have people bumped off with all sorts of imaginative weaponry. Iíd done guns so much, I wanted to get away from them. Also it ties in with the theme of the book, which is about intolerance. I didnít want to take anyone out with a long-range sniper rifle. The violence had to be up close, personal and bloody."
Brookmyreís books may be uncompromising in their violence and black humour, but they are also uncompromising in their Scottishness. Despite his strong following outside Scotland, Brookmyre sees no reason to tone down the Scots language or cultural references.
"I never felt I was setting out to write about Scotland for Scottish readers. I like the fact I have other readers, but I also think people elsewhere in the UK like the fact itís raw and undiluted," he said.
"It always comes out that way and Iím not inclined to soften these things."
Of course, Brookmyre is not the only Scottish crime writer who rose to prominence in the 1990s. Rankin and McDermid graduated from the midlist to bestsellerdom, Denise Mina, Paul Johnston and Manda Scott, like Brookmyre himself, produced award-wining debuts. However, Brookmyre believes there is an element of chicken and egg in this flowering of Scottish talent.
"The more Scottish writers there were, the more open editors and booksellers were to Scottish books," he suggested, though adds that the best of Scottish crime fiction reflects the countryís clear sense of regional identity.
Parlabane will be back, as will a number of Brookmyreís previous leading characters, though a meeting between Jack and gorgeous Rangers supporting policewoman Angelique is not on the cards.
In the meantime, his next book will take him out of Scotland for the first time since the California-set Not The End of the World in 1998 with a young grandmother surprisingly caught up in James Bondish territory. Even by his standards, the proposed title is a bit of a mouthful - All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye.
"People keep looking at the guy who designs the covers and going: ĎYou poor, bastard!í" Brookmyre laughed.
By the time the new book appears, however, Brookmyre will be further insinuated into the mainstream with a major television adaptation of Quite Ugly This Morning.
Scottish actor John Hannah may own the rights, but Northern Irelandís James Nesbitt will take over as Parlabane in a pan-Celtic identity swop. His attachment guarantees a big-budget, high-profile production.
"ITV are looking for an audience of 10 million. Thatís more than 10 times my readership," said Brookmyre.
Rest assured. Just because it is mainstream does not mean certain trademark elements are going to be diluted.
"Iíve been able to give some thoughts on it. Iíve read the script and Iím amazed how much they have kept in with all the slapstick violence," Brookmyre said.
"Donít worry - they still have the jobby on the mantelpiece."
BE MY ENEMY published by Little, Brown paperback £10.99
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