Christopher Brookmyre is a Scottish novelist whose novels mix politics, social comment and action with a strong narrative. He has been referred to as a Tartan Noir author. His debut novel was Quite Ugly One Morning, and subsequent works have included One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, which he said “was just the sort of book he needed to write before he turned 30”, and All Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye (2005). His new novel: The Last Hack is due to release in July, 2017.
Q. Hi Christopher, and thank you for agreeing this interview. Your upcoming book, ‘The Last Hack’ is due on 4th July 2017, which is an amazing read. Tell me a little about yourself and your background?
I have been writing full-time since the publication of my first novel, Quite Ugly One Morning, back in 1996. Before that, I worked as a sub-editor on Screen International in London, then freelance at the Scotsman and the Edinburgh Evening News. I have published twenty novels, most recently The Last Hack (published in the UK as Want You Gone). I have also collaborated on the FPS videogame Bedlam, based on my novel of the same name.
Q. Briefly, what led you up to ‘The Last Hack’?
I had created the hacker Buzzkill for my novella The Last Day of Christmas, before briefly revisiting the character in the novels Dead Girl Walking and Black Widow. I thought more about who Buzzkill might be, and realising that hackers deal in the same kind of psychological deception I have explored in several other books, I decided to come up with a story that would make hacking central to the plot.
Q. I am fascinated about the real elements related to Hacking (key elements such as Anonymous, irc chat, etc. ) which is the genesis of this title. You have provided which really drives the story and my inner geek. Are you constantly engaged with your inner geek?
I got my first home computer in 1981, a ZX Spectrum. My inner geek has seldom been too far from the surface ever since. I have watched home computers go from a fringe enthusiasm to an indispensable part of everyday domestic life, but no matter how mainstream the technology becomes, the sub-cultures surrounding computers have continued to fascinate me. I was heavily involved in the early, pioneering days of online gaming in the mid-90s, playing in Quake clans using a 14k modem (not recommended) and constantly upgrading as the communications technology began to improve. My 2001 novel A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away was inspired by the burgeoning online gaming culture that I had been part of.
Q. How much time went in researching for these key elements?
I generally don’t believe that you should decide to write about something and then research it. It should be the other way around. I have always written about subjects I was already fascinated by, so I have usually done a lot of research into them before coming up with a story. I had read a cople of books by Kevin Mitnick, including his very entertaining autobiography “Ghost in the Wires”. I was also very interested by the rise of Anonymous, Lulzsec and the new hacktivism culture, so was fascinated to read Parmy Olson’s book on the subject. What most struck me was how isolated and vulnerable a lot of the hackers were, often enduring difficult social circumstances, and how their online activities were a retreat from the harsh realities of their day-to-day existences. I wanted to write about that, to show some of the subtler motivations behind hacking. I also wanted to have some fun dramatizing the techniques hackers use, some of which have been in use for centuries before computers were invented.
Q. What is the easiest thing about writing?
Not having a boss. Though I am a hard task-master.
Q. What motivates you to write?
I have had a compulsion to write stories since I first learned to write sentences at school. I never lose sight of what a privilege it is to make my living from it, as I know it is something I would be doing anyway.
Q. When did you decide that you want to be a writer?
It is the only thing I have ever wanted to be. It was my ambition from primary school onwards, though I was a little older before I became convinced that it was an ambition I could realistically pursue.
Q. What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
I am less concerned by whether a review is good or bad than whether it truly engaged with the book. I have had critical reviews that I enjoyed reading because the reviewer got his or her teeth into the issues and the characters. That is preferable to a review that says the book was good but doesn’t say much more.
Q. What do you prefer: Pen or Computer? And how do you stay organised (any methods, systems, tools you use)?
I hate writing longhand, as my hand can’t keep up with my thoughts, which is very frustrating. Also, my handwriting is a source of deep shame. I also go a lot of walks, dictating into my phone, then transcribe what I have dictated once I get back to my PC.
Q. How do you relax?
I like to run, I work out, I play tennis, and I regularly put myself through an emotional wringer by going to watch St Mirren Football Club. I am also a Buffyholic.
Q. How did you find your agent?
When I was working at the Scotsman in 1995, the film critic read one of my unpublished novels and said he would recommend me to his cousin, who was a literary agent. She has been representing me ever since.
Q. Since you have been published almost two dozen times, what are your few biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
I have watched the business change, most dramatically through the advent of the e-book and of online retail, and the enduring lesson is to always trust your publishers. Writers think about the realities of publishing only once they have handed in a book and are free to look beyond the project that has been dominating their every thought for months. Editors, publicists and marketing personnel are thinking about publishing every day, responding to a changing environment. They usually know what they are doing.
Q. What would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I am seldom inclined to look backwards, certainly not with regret. My thoughts are always drawn to the next story, the next idea.
Q. Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I once performed a fifteen-minute stand-up set at the Comedy Store in London in front of a full house, the opening act in a line-up that featured Rich Hall, Jenny Éclair, Jeff Green and Sandi Toksvig. It was both terrifying and exhilarating.
Q. Do you re-read books? One book that you would read again & again?
I don’t get time to re-read books these days, but in the past I have re-read several books many times, most frequently the works of Douglas Adams and certain Iain Banks novels, particularly Espedair Street. The book I do make time to re-read every few years is Swing, Hammer Swing! by Jeff Torrington.
Q. Your influence(s)/ favourite author(s)?
I grew up reading Douglas Adams and Ian Fleming, which is perhaps why I was initially drawn to write outrageous thrillers with an irreverent, satirical tone. Perhaps the biggest influence was the late Iain Banks, whose work showed me that great stories (including SF) could be written with a Scottish accent.
Q. What book(s) are you reading at present?
I am catching up on Mark Billingham’s books, with Die of Shame before moving on to his new one, Love Like Blood. I am going on tour with him soon, so I want to have read these beforehand, so that if I have any questions I can go straight to the source.
Q. Are you working on anything at the moment? When can we see your next work?
I have completed a SF/crime cross-over novel titled Places In The Darkness, which will be out in December. It is kind of a female buddy-cop thriller set in space. I figure lots of crime fiction fans are happy to read period stories set in the past, so why not a nail-biting whodunit set in the future?
~Find me on~