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Book Week Scotland: Black Widow

It is always a delight to find an author who is just as engaging in person as they are on paper. As part of the Pentlands Book Festival and Book Week Scotland, tartan noir writer Chris Brookmyre went above and beyond expectations as he offered an evening of hilarity and hair-raising suspense.

Promoting his latest crime novel, Black Widow, Brookmyre spent most of his appearance at Currie Library discussing his experiences as a writer: particularly the bizarre interactions with fans. These stories went from the creepy to the lucratively insane: first, Brookmyre read aloud one meticulously detailed email that invited him to a secluded pub up North (as he rightfully said, you could hear the duct tape being torn as he spoke). This was then followed by one fan criticising the author’s use of the C-word in his novel, Bedlam: in his response, he highlighted the fact that his fan, who had stated she had read all 15 of his books, had somehow missed the 250+ appearances of the expletive in his other works. Actually researching his extensive use of the word, the ‘C**t Count’ found that A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil won with 65 appearances. Finally, as hands tentatively rose to ask questions, he assured attendees that no question could be as ridiculous as one Glasgow Ned asking him ‘what he done’, mistaking Brookmyre for a true crime writer.

As one fellow audience member rightly pointed out, it seems incredulous that Brookmyre is a crime writer given his comedic disposition. Thankfully this humour has been immortalised in his work, as Brookmyre points out that his earlier works are of a more satirical nature than Black Widow.

While he kept Black Widow close to his chest, afraid to ruin any of the mysteries awaiting his keen readers, a short extract from the novel proved it to be another winner for the Glasgow writer. It was endearing to hear that the book linked back to his first novel, Quite Ugly One Morning, playing on his wife’s experiences as a surgeon, and the decision women have to make between a family and a career. Black Widow is Brookmyre’s own dissection of the idea that surgeons are “clever psychopaths”, and how women are perceived differently within the criminal justice system.

While we were already hooked, a shameless plug came unsuspectingly from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who told him her husband had given her the book as a Valentine’s gift (we and Brookmyre could only hope this was not a subtle dig at Sturgeon for being like the cold heartless bitch around which the story evolves).

Other discussion topics came in the form of his literary inspirations and plagiarism. Brookmyre delved into a conversation of the work of Robertson Davies, and how the Canadian’s Cornish Trilogy inspired some of his characters. As for plagiarism, Brookmyre revealed how a satirical piece he wrote, ‘The Rules of Playground Football’, ended up being circulated on social media “without the two most important words – my name”. While a victim of modern times, receiving emails of the piece from friends (saying “you’ll love this”) was surely confirmation that his humour was worth its weight in gold.

His decision to close the evening with a short story was refreshing. Written for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014 as a celebration of the Kelvingrove Bandstand, ‘Puck knows’ was a side-splitting tale of three Glasgow school kids going to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the famous venue. Never published, and only ever recited by Brookmyre himself, this literary gem was a fabulous way to finish a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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