Today I’m delighted to be joined on the CTG blog by crime writer Chris Brookmyre. Chris, a former journalist, is one of Britain’s leading crime novelists and more than one million copies of his Jack Parlabane series have been sold in the UK alone. He’s kindly agreed to answer some questions about his latest book in the Jack Parlabane series – BLACK WIDOW – and talk about his writing process.
So, to the interview …
Welcome, Chris! Your latest book BLACK WIDOW is published today, can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s about how the most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves. It’s about a surgeon who has given the best years of her life to her career and is beginning to think that maybe the price was too high: she doesn’t have anyone with whom to share her life and is fearing that the time to have a husband and a family may have passed. Then out of the blue she has a whirlwind romance with a hospital IT tech: within six months they are married, and within six more he is dead. The question is: did she kill him, and if so, did she have a very good reason.
Surgeon Diana Jager is a fascinating character – strong, successful and willing to speak out for what she believes in, yet inwardly vulnerable – what was it that inspired you to create her and tell her story?
My wife is an anaesthetist who has worked in the NHS for twenty years. She saw a lot of her colleagues in the same situation as Diana in terms of giving so much of themselves to their careers. She observed a great deal of sexism in medicine, overt sexism in terms of how people are treated and spoken to, but also a more insidious, pervasive covert sexism in terms of how it is made a lot easier for male doctors to have both a career and a family. They are seldom forced to choose, or judged for their decisions. The other inspiration was the way I’ve seen women abused on social media for being even the slightest bit outspoken. I wanted to create a character who would be an acerbic and divisive blogger in order to show what the fall-out might be like for a woman who dared to stick her head above the parapet.
How does a story idea start for you – with a character, a theme, a plot, all three, or something different?
I honestly can’t remember. By the time I’ve finished writing a book, there has been so many processes gone through that the seeds are lost in this miasma of inter-tangled ideas. It’s different for every book. With Black Widow I wanted to write about how we are inclined to trust people early in a relationship because we are desperate for it to work out, and that can blind you to danger signs. I’ve touched upon this in previous books: how we tend to intellectually rationalise our fears in order to convince ourselves everything will be okay, when in fact we should listen when our instincts are telling us to run.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot your novels out in advance, or dive right in and see where the story takes you?
These days it’s more the former, but in the past it was the latter. I would come up with outlandish ideas that excited me, and before I knew it I was mired in them. I would end up drawing upon my wife to help work out a way of pulling all the threads together into a satisfying conclusion. A good example is All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye, where I came up with the concept of this very law-abiding and dutiful grandmother who gets drawn into a world of espionage. The possibilities were so intoxicating that the book just got longer and longer, but in recent times I have been plotting my books very carefully. Not too much because you don’t want it to seem like your characters are on a rail, but with something like Black Widow, which is very twisty turny, if you want to misdirect the reader, you have to control the information and be very conscious of how much the reader knows at any given time. In order to do that, you need to know where it’s all going. As a character says in the Sacred Art of Stealing, you won’t know anything until you know everything.
So, what’s next for Jack Parlabane? Do you have another series book planned and, if so, will things start to look up for him in his private life?
I’ve actually just finished the first draft of the next Jack Parlabane book, and having in recent novels been wrestling with the implosion of print journalism, at the start of the new one he is finally turning things around. He bags a job at a very forward-thinking news website, and one of the characters remarks to him that Jack is so used to things going wrong, he finds it hard to accept it when things are going right. Parlabane replies that this is because when everything is going right, that’s usually the sign that a meteor is about to strike, which of course it soon does.
As crime writers are also usually avid crime readers, can you tell us what’s your favourite crime novel and why?
Strangely enough, perhaps my favourite crime novel is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I always loved Douglas Adams’ work, and when he decided to write a detective story, it was of course an entertainingly bizarre detective story. As soon as I finished it I went back to the beginning and read it again because it was a novel that read completely differently second time around, once you knew what was really going on. Since then it has been my ambition to write a novel that would have readers to that, and hopefully I have realised that ambition with Black Widow. The best twists aren’t merely a surprise: the best twists change the meaning of everything so that you can go back and read the same chapters again and it’s like seeing the same events through different eyes.
And, finally, what does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?
I will be polishing up the next novel, which is entitled Want You Gone, and I am also writing another science fiction novel. It won’t be outlandish far-future science fiction: I am hoping to take my crime readers with me because the plan is that it will be a crime novel that just happens to be set in space.
Huge thanks to Chris Brookmyre for stopping by the CTG blog today and letting me grill him.
BLACK WIDOW is out today.
To buy it from Amazon, click on the link here
To buy it from Waterstones click on the link here
You can find out more about Chris and his novels by hopping on over to his website here and following him on Twitter @cbrookmyre
And, I’ll be reviewing his fabulous new book – BLACK WIDOW – here tomorrow so don’t forget to stop by then!