Chris Brookmyre at Bristol Festival of Ideas

Flesh Wounds
Foyles, Bristol, 11 September

I really like Christopher Brookmyre, or Chris Brookmyre, as he’s branded these days. His books (or at least the ones I’ve read, which is quite a few) are funny, clever, insightful, satirical, sharply observed and just plain well written. But I tend to forget him when listing authors I admire (sorry, Chris) and that’s a shame because I really do. So big thanks to my friend L for asking me to go tonight’s talk with her. A quick glance at the number of his books I own gives some indication of the love I have for him.

Brookmyre books

The first Brookmyre book I read was A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away, which Tim borrowed from his friend (actually, the same friend who originally helped me to set up this website) and then told me I should read it as well because it would apparently explain to me why computer games, especially Quake, are so great. As well as being a good crime novel. And also funny. I very bravely (I’m shy, remember) put up my hand and asked Chris about this book tonight and he confirmed that he was indeed a lover of the Quake games, and he felt that those early days of online gaming made a really interesting subject for a book, though sadly he doesn’t play much these days.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Chris Brookmyre was interviewed (in front of a surprisingly small audience – I feel I should reassure Chris that he is loved, though I’m sure his sales figures attest to that) by Julian Baggini about his new book Flesh Wounds and his career to date. Baggini asked some really interesting questions about the sociological and psychological insights into crime that Brookmyre excels at. I did enjoy Brookmyre’s insistence that he couldn’t pull off the perfect crime because he’s no good at standing up to authority (which is a little surprising considering how many of his books satirise major establishments) and in real life you can’t predict what the police will do, the way you can when you’re the novelist controlling them (fair point).

Brookmyre was refreshingly down to earth and accessible. He enjoys language, especially dialect, which I think clearly shows in his work. And he’s very self aware. He says that the violence in his books is deliberately slightly cartoonish because he wants to distance the reader from the reality of that side of things, because it’s never central to the story. I hadn’t really noticed that but on reflection it’s obviously true. As he said, there’s one book in which he contrives to have a character cut off their own head!

Brookmyre is also honorary president of the Humanist Society of Scotland and apparently has written some articles on the subject, which perhaps isn’t surprising having read some of his earlier books that talk about the Catholic Church. Interestingly he said tonight that back when he wrote those books he felt frustrated and angry that there wasn’t a voice for non-believers and that there was an unquestioned respect for organised religion, but now he feels that in many ways the war has been won – religion no longer has a free pass and atheism is widely accepted. Certainly, I’d agree that huge progress has been made but I definitely wouldn’t say the fight is over, even here in the UK, let alone elsewhere in the world. If I wasn’t so uselessly shy we could probably have had a good chat about that afterwards.

As it was, I got two books signed (including an embarrassingly dog-eared and tea-stained copy of The Sacred Art of Stealing that I had to reassure him was in that state because it’s “well loved”, which it absolutely is) and, possibly more importantly, was reminded that I greatly enjoy and admire this author and should read more of his work.

This event was part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas.