Snowballing success of novelist Brookmyre

THE scene was one of sheer chaos. There were screams, perhaps the occasional retch as a stomach emptied its technicolour contents and a lot of angry words – some of the four-lettered variety – quietly muttered under exasperated breath.

All ingredients of a typically dark Christopher Brookmyre novel – albeit minus the pints of blood, extreme violence and gruesome killings. Still, as experiences go, it was certainly verging on murder.

The difference was this particular scene was played out at a heaving, over-populated and largely underwhelming kiddies' theme park, where the so-called Tartan Noir author had taken his young son.

"It was awful," he groans, recalling the holiday treat for Jack, eight, that involved standing in a lot of queues for a very long time in the vain hope of a 30-second turn on a not particularly thrilling fairground ride. "Not really recommended," he shrugs.

Unlike his latest book, Snowball in Hell, currently receiving a clutch of five-star reviews and following in the same pulsating vein as his previous bestselling darkly humorous, bloodstained and provocative efforts.

In it, Brookmyre unleashes one of his most disturbed characters Simon Darcourt – revived after apparently dying in his earlier book, A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away – and sets him on a bloody journey through myriad issues close to his own heart, from loud-mouthed journalists to the media's obsession with petty celebrity and blind religious faith.

Think Big Brother meets A Nightmare on Elm Street with outspoken newspaper columnists and religious fanatics as the unfortunate housemates.

Perhaps his theme is not surprising given Brookmyre's personal background – he worked as a sub-editor on the Evening News while perfecting his first two novels and spent his childhood in a community steeped in West of Scotland Catholicism.

"I suppose the character of Simon is a good way of taking your own prejudices and petty annoyances and blowing them up," he says.

The trademarks of Brookmyre's work – blood, terror, murder and chaos emerge just a few pages in, when his violent anti-hero imprisons and methodically slays one particularly vociferous newspaperman after first revealing his victim's pathetic hypocrisy to a captivated nation of viewers.

"The book is a look at the modern media as much as anything," adds the 39-year-old, whose own religious conversion from Catholicism was complete with his recent installation as the Humanist Society of Scotland's new President.

"I thought of these tub-thumping tabloid journalists, the hang 'em high brigade, how would they react if they were put in a situation where they had to choose between coming face to face with a prisoner who had been through rehabilitation and one who hadn't. Which prisoner would they choose?

"The book looks at the way that celebrities, no matter how minor and how little they have to celebrate, are treated as if they from a different planet and everyone else is a lesser being.

"The way kids see talent and celebrity programmes and read Heat," he adds, warming to his theme, "they think all that matters is to be famous and it doesn't matter what you are famous for.

"The book tries to show that there's something more to aspire towards, but just settling down and having a family isn't going to get anyone on the cover of Heat."

Yet it's one of his characters' thoughts on a far more delicate subject – Islam, the burkha and religious fanaticism that could put Brookmyre's latest novel under a more controversial spotlight. At one point his female cop Angelique de Xavia, another character along with magic man Zal Innez revived from A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away, rolls up in a niqab described as a "mobile gazebo" and reflects on religious worship as "mind control".

"I think I offend everyone in this book," he shrugs. "There's the female character who has issues with the burkha and jilbab, but the book also draws distinction in the ways radical Islamists are separate from the rest."

The people most likely to be offended by his books, he argues, are the ones who don't actually read them.

After his three sold-out appearances at the Book Festival, September will see him make a joint appearance at the Liquid Room with acclaimed singer/songwriter Billy Franks, whose fans include Bono, Oasis and Peter Gabriel.

Is there any chance he might return to the Evening News for a stint on the subs' desk? With a string of bestsellers, industry awards and ideas for his next novel already taking shape, you could say – like his book's title – there's not a snowball's chance in hell.

"Hmm, much as I'd like to," he says with a gracious laugh, "I really don't think so."

Snowball in Hell by Christopher Brookmyre is published by Little, Brown on August 14. Tickets for his appearance at the Liquid Room on September 9 with Billy Franks cost 6 from Waterstone's (West End), 128 Princes Street.

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