This event began with a surprise. One of the aims of Bloody Scotland is give a voice to debut authors and one of the ways they do so is to give them a chance to read for two minutes at the beginning of an event. After inviting Chris Brookmyre onto the stage, the chair Gordon Brown (not the one you might be expecting he adds) introduces Phil Miller, arts correspondent for the Herald, and invites him to read from his debut novel Blue Horse.
The section he reads involves a drunken party in Edinburgh’s New Town, filled with a variety of people including a couple of art specialists. After some drunken posturing and vague expressions of interest it becomes clear that one of them is being teased. Someone laughs that he specialises in Dutch artists no one has ever heard of, or seen any work from. Other guests pitch in with fake name suggestions, ranging from the sensible all the way to ‘Tulip van der Bicycle’.
The event as billed then gets underway with Brown explaining that Brookmyre has written 18 books since his award winning start. Brookmyre then stands and explains that he’s delighted to be back before launching into a reprise of the brilliant and hilarious story he told during Why I Call Myself A Feminist at the Edinburgh Book Festival last month, featuring the Athena tennis girl poster and a heterosexual man starting work at a company staffed entirely by homosexual men who leer at him in the same way that an unfortunate number of straight men leer at women.
He began with this reprisal of an earlier event because his two most recent books Dead Girl Walking and Black Widow (which comes out early next year) both feature women who stick their heads above the parapet and challenge the status quo. He reads a section of Black Widow from the point of view of that woman. She’s sitting in her own trial at the time thinking about the way she has been talked about and will be treated by everyone from the jury to the press. She laments that no one asks ‘how dare he?’ when a man kills his wife, though they’re always ready to wonder why she hadn’t left and how this ‘tragic event’ is sort of her own fault. However when a woman kills her husband, no one makes even a vague attempt to blame him and the underlying tone of all the discussion is always ‘how dare she?’ The woman in question had started off writing a blog about sexism in surgery, ranging from simple reporting of events to posts wondering why no one has done a study to find the optimal breast size for a career in surgery, since so many male surgeons seem to think them a factor. The blog grows and expands and eventually she turns her gaze on the IT guys, which then leads to her fall since she angered the one group that can puncture her anonymity.
Brown then asks why he brought the journalist Jack Parlabane back after 7 years. Brookmyre explains that the Leveson enquiry got him thinking about Jack again. When he’d described the journalist breaking into places and hacking phones he’d always imagined that what he was writing was fairly far fetched. Then Leveson arrived and it turned out to be fairly normal, with the slight difference that Jack had been hacking to solve mysteries rather than gathering celebrity gossip. Jack would still have been vilified as part of the enquiry though. The arse had fallen out of the bottom of his world and suddenly he was a character Brookmyre was once again interested in.
Brown asks why Jack has changed and the simple answer is that Brookmyre has changed. He’s not 26 anymore and he doesn’t think he knows everything. The things he’s interested in have changed so the books have shifted from being about the big conspiracies to the small deceptions people use against each other. A question from the audience asks why Jack and Sarah have split up. Black Widow is about a horribly ending marriage and Brookmyre thought it interesting to remove that part of Jack’s life too. He then adds that he also felt Jack was too ‘cock sure’ and needed a kicking so that you actually rooted for him when he was trying to get somewhere in the future.
Another audience member asks about grabbing the reader’s attention and Brookmyre laughs that for a long time he fell foul of the publisher’s long held prejudice toward books that are shite. He then wrote Quite Ugly One Morning to make himself happy and to make his friends laugh. It began with the attention grabbing line ‘Jesus, fuck!’ because he thought it was funny, though some readers disagreed. He received letters from people who had put it down after that first line or who had hurried to remove it from their kindle. He wonders if they thought it would corrupt their device and that they’d turn it on to find Fuckleberry Fin or The Cunt of Monte Cristo.
This leads to him standing to read out a letter from a woman who wrote to him to express her displeasure at seeing that he had succumbed to the growing trend to throw the C-word in when he wrote Bedlam. He then asks for two volunteers to pick 3 books of his to compete for a prize of the American edition of one of them. He gives their picks a score of how many times the C-word is used. One earlier book contains 65. Bedlam, on the other hand, contains just one single cunt. The running total over all of his books was over 200. He had sent the woman a list of the books in chronological order with a ‘C-word count’ and received a slightly sheepish reply.
After a brilliant and hilarious hour Brookmyre ends by reading the opening of A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil, featuring two men arguing about what to do with the bodies of the two people one of them had killed. The killer tries to explain that his friend had simply arrived when things had got a little desperate. His friend replies that it “Looks like I missed desperate and came in well past diabolical!”