Changing tactics

Best known for his cult footie column, Scottish writer Christopher Brookmyre is launching into the world ofcrime fiction for his first novel. He speaks to Stephen Naysmith.

There aren‘t many crime novels start with a turd on the mantelpiece.‘ Chris Brookmyre explains. as he wrestles with the question of how to define his first novel Quite Ugly ()ne Morning. ‘l'd have to say it is a cross between a thriller and Hare / (iol News/or You.‘

Whatever pigeonhole it ends up in. the book looks marked for success. ()ffrcial publication was delayed because John Smith and James Thin booksellers both wanted to name it as July‘s book of the month. it has also been placed on the ll’omzrrone is rw'onnnemls list for July.

Somehow Brookmyre‘s first novel seems to have struck a chord with its combination of a relentless plot and an apparently well-informed satire on NHS reform. ‘I have a very close friend who works in a hospital. and there are points made in the book which people probably won’t be aware of.‘ he claims.

The parody of post-Thatcher Britain is certainly one

~ aspect ofthe book that makes it stand out. Brooktrryrc

. a

Christopher Brookmyre: scoring on his debut

defines it as ‘attitude'. and selects a football metaphor: ‘l'd say it was brutally acerbic satire. It goes in with both feet and the studs showing.‘

His love of soccer is never far from the surface. A St Mirren fan for. well. too long. his name is known to some as a sporadic contributor to the famine The Absolute (hone and as author of a column in The

Pink. the Saturday sports edition of the Edinburgh [Evening News until recently. It featured the findings of an alien being researching Scottish football culture. It was basically an excuse to slag Rangers and Celtic. he admits.

Having had fun with the column he was ready to have more fun with his novels, after two efforts featuring an unlovable Scottish detective had failed to find a publisher.

‘I’d say it was brutally acerbic satire. It goes in with both feet and the studs showing.’

Quite Ueg ()ne Morning begins when investigative

journalist Jack Parlabane stumbles on the scene of a

particularly nasty murder. “Parlabane's not based on anyone I know. but the kind ofjournalist we would all like to think exists somewhere.‘ Brookmyre explains.

l’arlabane decides there is rrrore to the situation than a cursory police investigation reveals. and begins to take an interest in the chicfexecutive of an Edinburgh NHS Trust. The journalist protagonist is reminiscent of lain Banks‘s (‘oniplit'itrx and the comparison is one that others have drawn. ‘I think London publishers tend to think we‘re both weird and Scottish.‘ Brookmyre says. ‘l'm a huge admirer but I think I'm more flippant than he is.‘

Hence the opening scene with its vomit. crap-on- the-mantelpiece and a gruesomer disfigured body. ‘I did want to write an opening that people wouldn‘t be able to ignore.‘ he says. ‘Some have been appalled by it. but I wrote it for laughs. It is an attempt to distance the reader from what is going on.‘

Some might be put off by this. or by the cynicism of the narrative voice. Brookmyre admits he is a sceptic. but defends all disappointed idealists. ‘To paraphrase the late Robertson Davies: inside the heart ofevery cynic beats a romantic and sympathetic heart.‘ he says.

Qllllt’ Ugly ()ll(' Morning by (.‘lri'islop/rt'r Ili'ooknir'rr' is published by Little. Brown a! £72.99.

Cutting edge

Readers experiencing difficulty in getting through a novel is hardly unusual. Inability to open the pages to get started without the aid of a paper-knife is another thing altogether. This mode of packaging is utilised to highlight the latent violence of Scottish writer Alice Thompson’s latest novel Justine and to increase the tension as the tale unfolds.

Justine’s narrator finds himself led by the hand into the heart of darkest london by a woman with whom he has become obsessed. Is it the enigmatic Justine or her twin, the more volatile Juliette? Or do either of '5 them really exist? The book is

Alice Thompson: sharp words

complex and compelling, with echoes of Poe’s claustrophobic horror, Dostoevsky’s duality, the Marquis’s sadism and, above all, the exploitation and paranoia of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

‘That’s one of my favourite films,’ confesses Thompson. ‘I like its mystery and how, from day one, James Stewart’s character doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. I wanted that sense of vertigo for both the reader and the narrator.’

That feeling of giddiness is intensified via the setting. London acts as both an unwelcoming expanse and a tight maze within which the narrator is simultaneously cut off from his surroundings and entwined in its Iabyrinths. Thompson ought to know, having spent a period there feeling invaded by its

bewildering and grotesque nature. Her other credits include editor of this esteemed publication, reviewer for Melody Maker and tinkling the keys for The Woodentops.

Besides the odd book review, she has now thrown herself into her literary pursuits. Hopefully her next project will fall into place quicker than Justine. ‘This took about four years to write,’ admits Thompson. ‘It started off as a science-fiction novel and went through five re-writes. It retained the atmosphere I wanted and the original inspiration behind it, which was one word, really.’ And that word? ‘Obsession.’ (Brian Donaldson) Justine by Alice Thompson is published by Canongate Books at £9.99. Alice Thompson reads at Waterstone ’s, 13 Princes Street on Thurs 20 Jun, 7pm. See Book Events.

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