Christopher Brookmyre interview: The novelist on psychopathic surgeons, and why he declined Question Time

Brookmyre is a Scottish crime writer, whose 19 novels include award-winners 'Quite Ugly One Morning' and 'All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye'

Adam Jacques
Saturday 13 February 2016 23:08
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Brookmyre says: 'You can't overvalue someone who actually has some information and truth to contribute, as opposed to an opinionated celebrity'
Brookmyre says: 'You can't overvalue someone who actually has some information and truth to contribute, as opposed to an opinionated celebrity'

I grew up with a great love of anarchic and scatalogical humour I particularly loved listening to Billy Connolly's toilet humour – and my early books had lots of that, along with cartoonish violence. I once got my wife, an anaesthetist, to ask a bowel surgeon how strong intestines were, so I could feature them in a book. In the end I had a character disembowel a dead man and use his intestines to abseil down a building; the surgeon pointed out that while they'd be strong enough to stretch, you'd also be squeezing and emptying them. So as my character abseiled down, I had someone else unfortunately walk beneath.

There's something psychopathic underlying many surgeons There's a huge psychological barrier against driving something into another person – not everyone is capable of cutting someone open with a scalpel. Now, there's often a compassionate drive in people who are doing it in a clinical environment, but at the same time there is the question of what it takes psychologically. My wife has worked in medicine for the best part of 25 years and the phrase she has used about surgeons is "clever psychopaths." They love cutting people open.

Writer's block is a reluctance to make decisions You're trying to keep your options open and hoping a simple idea comes along, so it's hard to commit to one. My wife once told me, as I was having trouble getting going, "That's because you are trying to write the book, and you just need to write a book."

The most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves So much crime fiction is about how far people are prepared to go to deceive others for profit. But for me the scariest questions deal with how good we are at deceiving ourselves, such as telling yourself everything is OK in a relationship when it really isn't. We tend to project things on to partners in the early stages of a relationship; we see what we wish we could. Once you get married, that's when you're up hard against reality. I think that happens quite a bit.

I'm probably the only person to have turned down 'Question Time' I didn't feel I could make an informed contribution to the debate. I respect really informed people; you can't overvalue someone who actually has some information and truth to contribute, as opposed to an opinionated celebrity. When they had [footballer] Joey Barton on, I was agog at the banality of what he was coming out with and the staggering sexism.

Playing 'Doom 3' had a bigger impact on me than watching any horror films I remember playing [the 1990s survival-horror first-person video game] with headphones on and the lights out, but not for long, as it affected me far more than a film in terms of tension and a sense that I was immersed in the environment. It's what I try to do with books, to create that same sense of claustrophobic fear that a good console game in that genre can offer.

I can't work if I can't walk Even though I live in an urban area, I'm very close to the countryside and I like walking by the River Clyde. It helps me think and write; I read recently that it's because walking, running and physical tasks occupy certain parts of the brain and free up the collective unconscious to get on with itself, and suddenly thoughts can flow more freely and it's easy to process things. So even if it's windy and raining heavily I have to go out, although I've been told I look like a deep-sea fisherman when I do that.

Christopher Brookmyre, 47, is a Scottish crime writer, whose 19 novels include award-winners 'Quite Ugly One Morning' and 'All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye'. His latest, 'Black Widow', is out now (£18.99, Little, Brown)

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