There aren’t many crime writers who have won awards for comic fiction, but Chris Brookmyre has. His exuberantly titled All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses An Eye (his books might not be best suited to the squeamish) won the Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, but his most recent plaudits have been for hard-boiled stories about ex-journalist Jack Parlablane. There’s also a trilogy about PI Jasmine Sharp, which begins with Where the Bodies are Buried.
After 18 novels over 20 years, Chris has detected that his work has become more ‘morally complex’ under a process of ‘natural maturing’ – but all of them push the idea of how far you can take moral ambiguity in a character.
He has said, ‘I’ve never liked my heroes to be squeaky clean or to be too clean cut, I think the best crime fiction always exists in a kind of moral borderland. I like my villains to be strangely likeable and my heroes to be slightly untrustworthy or just to have an edge to them. I got bored by a lot of British crime writing years ago simply because the main characters were so miserable, they tried to make them as plausible as possible but that also made them really dull.’ (That quote is from a great interview, which you can read here.)
I love the way Chris’s answers take in the entire breadth of his writing – so many books mentioned, all memorable for different aspects of the creative process: whether it’s the fact that a new novel grew from an abandoned book, or the final version of another more closely resembled its authors original vision for it.
- What was the first book you wrote?
The Shark Killers. I was seven years old, late summer 1976, and I had been to see Jaws. I wrote a horrifically gory story and designed front and back covers for it, which I lovingly if non-symmetrically stapled into place.
- For which book would you like to be remembered?
Hopefully one yet to be written, and definitely not Quite Ugly One Morning. Proud as I am of my debut, it’s a long haul to get past being known for a book that opens with a jobbie on a mantelpiece.
- Is there a book you abandoned partway through?
No, though I did write an entire novel that just didn’t work and rather than rework it, I drew upon what it had taught me about certain characters in order to write what became the Jasmine Sharp trilogy.
- Is there a book you know you’ll never write?
No. One of the most exciting things about writing is the possibility that you can surprise yourself, so that a kind of novel that might have been unthinkable when I was in my twenties becomes an aspiration later in my career.
- Which book do you believe should have fared better?
Pandaemonium. It is the book of which I am most proud, and the book that I am most asked about at events by readers desperate for a sequel. I think every writer starts with a platonic ideal of the book they want to write, and then the process takes them further and further away from that. Pandaemonium was the novel that most closely resembled what was in the foreground of Plato’s cave.
- Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to a particular book?
I remain astonished by how many people tell me their schooldays were exactly as I described in A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil, regardless of age, class, geography or gender.
- What book do you wish you’d written?
The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I have often written in a satirical and irreverent idiom, but been increasingly drawn towards the serious by the needs of plot or character. Douglas Adams made this inventively humorous tone seem effortless, as well as describing a boundlessly fascinating universe.
- What are you writing now?
Nothing. I have just delivered a new novel, an SF/crime crossover that is kind of a female buddy cop story set in space.
For more about his writing, visit Chris’s website
To read other posts in the bookbybook series, with writers such as Joanne Harris, Susan Hill, Adele Geras and Michael Ridpath, please click here.