In 2011 Little, Brown gave Christopher Brookmyre a name change. He had written Where the Bodies are Buried, the first of his crime novels featuring Glaswegian actress-cum-private eye Jasmine Sharp, which signalled a shift in tone. The Sharp books are more serious than his other “Tartan Noir” books, whose comic flourishes can be seen not just in the pages but in the titles too—All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye and Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks are just two examples. So, for the Sharp novels, he became Chris Brookmyre.
“It was a bit of a Iain/Iain M Banks sort of thing,” Brookmyre laughs, referring to his fellow Scottish novelist who publishes under slightly different names for his SFF and mainstream titles. “I guess if anyone was disappointed that I was becoming quite serious [with the Sharp books] this will be a sort of dog whistle that I’m back to my humorous self.”
Yes, the comic riffs are back in his newest, Bedlam, out in February next year. The book follows Ross, a young scientist in Stirling who works for shadowy global conglomerate tech firm Neurosphere, and is given the chance to be the guinea pig for new technology. Unfortunately, that technology somehow propels Ross into Starfire, a first-person shooter video game set on an alien planet which Ross played as a teenager.
Much of the humour comes from the slapstick of Ross trying to learn the rules of the game (and re-learn them as he finds himself propelled into different genres of games); the spot-on dual homage and mickey-taking of the tropes and dialogue of video games; and perhaps the most inventive use of swear words since Trainspotting.
A former gamer himself—“now I mostly only see them looking over my son’s shoulder”—Brookmyre says: “One of the things Bedlam tries to reflect is the way games are a big part of our popular culture now; you might get that same buzz of nostalgia in associating a game with a time in your life the way we do with a pop song or a movie you saw at a particular time—whether it’s middle-aged guys thinking about what they played on their first ZX Spectrum or people who first experienced Doom in the 1990s, or Doom 3 in the Noughties.”
The creation of Bedlam is a very 21st-century publishing story. It came out of a meeting Brookmyre had with developers RedBedlam about writing a video game. Brookmyre put the idea aside but he was intrigued by the premise of a man trapped in a series of video games, and decided to forge ahead. “I knew that it would work both as a game and novel,” he says. “Obviously, it’s much quicker to write a book than develop a game, so at the next meeting [RedBedlam] were slightly alarmed that I had written about half the novel.” RedBedlam has secured investment for the game and is aiming to release it in the third quarter of 2013.
Brookmyre believes there will be more crossover between games and books. “Video games influence our narrative structures; people are telling stories in the way we never had before. I think people can be snobby about that, but people used to be snobby about the influence of cinema on literature. But if you look at ‘Source Code’, that movie is essentially a structured video game as you keep reloading and trying again. That type of storytelling is bleeding into books.”
Bedlam is the first book Brookmyre has published under Little, Brown’s SFF imprint Orbit. Yet it is not exactly a huge departure as many of his books, particularly Pandemonium (Abacus, 2010), have had SF elements. As to publishing in the future with Orbit, Brookmyre says it has not been discussed formally, “but informally we’ve agreed that Bedlam is not going to be a standalone”.
In fact, he has bigger plans. “I wanted to establish this game-based artificial universe that I could do anything with. It makes a vehicle for any kind of genre: you can have a SFF world in there, a historical world. It’s like Terry Pratchett with Discworld where he can have all manner of genres and styles. I was trying to set the concept with Bedlam, and after that I can take it where I like. I love the freedom it gives me and I can write it in my more familiar irreverent idiom. I’d like to think that I will be writing lots of books [for Orbit].”
Though writing in that “irreverent idiom”, it should be underscored that Bedlam tackles huge issues, from the nature of consciousness to transhumanism (the theory that genetic enhancements and technology will ultimately fundamentally alter human nature).
Brookmyre argues that comic writing can be an effective way of examining the big issues. “I like to think that with humour you can take something serious and make it accessible and readers will engage with the issue more.”
It is his somewhat skewed take on the world that has led some to label Brookmyre a cult novelist, a depiction he disagrees with. “I realised when I was starting out that writing humorous crime fiction put me in a small subset of the great taxonomy of literature. There is maybe something more off-the-wall in my style which identifies it as something a bit more leftfield, but I think what I write about and my inspirations are quite mainstream.”
Christopher Brookmyre's Top Five
A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away
Brookmyre’s sixth crime novel. Bored teacher Ray escapes into violent computer games before meeting up with hitman Simon—and the violence becomes real.
Books sold: 92,000 since 2001
One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night
Brookmyre’s fourth novel sees a gang of mercenaries terrorising holidaymakers on a North Sea oil rig.
Books sold: 83,000 since 1999
All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye
Jane, a former punk and now a 46-year-old grandmother, has her life turned upside down when she is forced to confront assassins and drug dealers to save her son.
Books sold: 82,000 since 2005
The Sacred Art of Stealing
A standalone sequel to A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away, sees master thief Zal being blackmailed by crime boss Alessandro to do one last job.
Books sold: 82,000 since 2002
Quite Ugly One Morning
Brookmyre’s first novel, and his first to feature recurring character Jack Parlabane, a Glaswegian journalist. Adapted by ITV and broadcast in 2003.
Books sold: 78,000 since 1998
Publication date: 7th February 2013
ISBNs: 9780356502137/ 9781405515962
Editor: Jenni Hill at Orbit (for Bedlam)/Richard Beswick and Hilary Hale at Abacus (for crime series)
Agent: Caroline Dawnay at United Agents
1968 Born in Glasgow
1987–90 University of Glasgow, MA (Hons) English and Theatre
1990–96 Worked as a journalist for a variety of British newspapers.
1996–present First novel, Quite Ugly One Morning published in 1996. Bedlam will be his 16th book. Awards include the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction for All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye in 2006.