CHRIS Brookmyre has spent the past 25 years surprising readers. He was a journalist before becoming a full-time novelist with the publication of his award-winning debut Quite Ugly One Morning. Since then, he has conjured up a succession of freewheeling crime stories, featuring thrilling plot twists in books peppered with pop culture references.

His literary universe is firmly rooted in a recognisable version of Scotland. Extraordinary things happen against a canvas of music, relationship angst, football rivalries, small-town intrigue, regional idiosyncrasies and dark humour.

His latest book, The Cut, is an unpredictable tale about Millie Spark, a special effects make-up artist who wakes up to find her lover dead in her bed. After her sentence for murder is served, she meets troubled Glasgow film student and reluctant petty thief Jerry. Together, they begin to discover that all was not what it seemed.

The book powers through spiralling, stylish layers of intrigue and character reveals, the ingredients that have helped sell two million copies of Brookmyre’s novels.

The Herald: Christopher Brookmyre 1 SA : Scottish Author Christopher Brookmyre at Aye Write! Glasgow's Book Festival, The Mitchell Library, Glasgow.

Photographer :- Stewart Attwood (33023493)

Is it exhausting trying to figure out new directions to take a story? “I remember Ian Rankin talking about our job,” Brookmyre says. “Whether it’s intentional or not, writers are constantly finding ways to make the job harder than it was before. I think that is the part of your mind that knows you have to find a new story to tell, or tell it in a different way than you did before.

“I suppose the question of whether you’re still surprising – that’s tricky because I think if you’re trying to write something that’s going to mislead the reader, you’ve got to be aware that the more they’ve read you, the more they’re going to start to spot your tells. So I’m constantly wondering about that.”

This sounds almost collaborative with expectations from readers, some of whom have been with him from the start, influencing part of the process.

Brookmyre says it’s more personal than that. “I’m always very grateful when I find that people have been reading the books for so long and haven’t got fed up with me,” he admits.

“I do think about how people start to get used to the way I write or the type of character I create. But I suppose that’s part of finding ways to make it new to yourself.

“I’ve done that down the years by exploring other genres, or things come along like Ambrose Parry where I’m writing with my wife and that changes everything. It has a completely different tone and dynamic to it.

“It is difficult trying to come up with something fresh but also that’s what makes it exciting. You can’t really go to work until you’ve come up with something that you find exciting yourself. You’re writing a hundred thousand words, at least. You’ve really got to care about it to get through that.”

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Putting Scotland at the centre of his books was both a deliberate choice and a result of the way Brookmyre’s imagination would wander while travelling around the country. It started out close to home.

“In the early days, when I wrote Quite Ugly One Morning, I just wrote about all the places that were literally on my doorstep,” he explains. “I was staying on McDonald Road in Edinburgh at the time and a lot of the action takes place within about one square mile of where I was living, because I would go out for walks to see these locations. And that’s always been the case. You’re somewhere quite mundane and everyday so you project something really unusual on to it.

“I’ll see some place and it sticks in my mind, I’ll imagine a story. One of the seeds of writing A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away was I was driving to Oban from Aberdeen and passing the Cruachan power station. It wasn’t even the power station. I saw this sort of pontoon where the roads had been widened and there were pillars, and there was somebody in a little dingy. And I was imagining, what if they were going under these pillars and there was a tunnel that went all the way into the mountain? And it was just a starting point like that, imagining a story that might fit into it.”

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Brookmyre has always had the desire to take the reality of the type of people he knows and place them in a high concept setting: “Growing up, I related to things like Billy Connolly and anything that seemed authentically of the world that I knew, but also to the escapism of grand-scale American movies,” he says.

“I always wanted to be able to combine those things. I think when you’ve read about something that you really relate to and you know intimately and you know that place, it’s more of a buzz if you can picture it. When I was reading Iain Banks in my early 20s, I would really be excited by the fact these very bizarre things were happening in places I knew.”

Brookmyre describes discovering Iain Banks as an inspirational moment for him, just after he left university. “There was something unmistakably and unapologetically Scottish about his writing,” he says.

“And yet it was not the Scotland that was normally depicted in mainstream culture. It was a long way from the shortbread tin or Sir Walter Scott or even Robert Louis Stevenson. It was a modern, at times very Gothic, darkly humorous version of Scotland.

“When I say Gothic I mean this cathedral-like imagination that Iain had and that he would write about science fiction as well. It told me you could write about Scotland that way and be published. That was very inspiring. It was not just the type of books he wrote, but the decisions he made, like deciding you could alternate between science fiction and mainstream literature. He made me think ‘Yeah, you can do whatever you like’.”

Chris Brookmyre and Denise Mina will be in conversation with Louise Welsh for an online event as part of the Aye Write book festival on Wednesday, April 28, at 7pm. Early Bird AllAccess Festival Passes (£40 until April 28) and individual tickets (£5) are available at

This feature appeared in the May edition of Best of Scotland magazine