Christopher Brookmyre was born in Glasgow in 1968 and educated at the University of Glasgow, where he earned an MA in English and Theatre. He worked as a sub-editor in London and Edinburgh prior to the publication of his first novel, Quite Ugly One Morning, which won the First Blood Award in 1996 for the best first crime novel of the year. His Jack Parlabane series saw him become the first writer to win two Sherlock awards, and his 2006 novel All Fun And Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye won him the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Writing. In 2005 he was named the University of Glasgow’s Young Alumnus of the Year and in 2007 he won the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award for writing. As well as his Jack Parlabane series, he has enjoyed considerable acclaim for his Angelique de Xavia novels ands more recently his Jasmine Sharp trilogy.
1. In researching you, I found that you have published quite a few novels, but I couldn’t find a mention of this flash fiction piece, or any information on whether or not you write flash fiction. So, what made you want to write a flash fiction piece?
The idea came to me one day when I was waiting in for a gas engineer to repair my boiler. I do a lot of book festival events, and it’s always good to end the show on a light note. The final question from the audience can be something really mundane, like “Do you write longhand”, so I like to have a short piece to read as the last word. I realised this would make an ideal punchy short story for such occasions.
2. What made you want to shoot for 225 words specifically or did that part come about later?
I think the first version was probably longer than that, but I was asked to contribute to a Flash Fiction anthology, and 225 words was the stipulated length. (The anthology was titled “The Flash,” edited by Peter Wild and published by Social Disease in 2007.)
3. What was your biggest challenge when approaching this piece, or were there any unique challenges about flash fiction that you faced?
I very seldom write short stories, preferring the grander canvas of novels, but the restrictions of brevity worked in my favour in this case. It’s all about conveying an atmosphere and setting up for what comics call a “pull back and reveal.”
4. I thought it was brilliant to focus on a common and mundane experience (utility workers coming to a house). What was your inspiration to write about something that’s supposedly so mundane? What do you think it adds to the story?
As above, inspiration can come from obvious sources. I was thinking about how gas engineers and postmen can sometimes be ninja-like in their ability to show up during the brief window when you finally leave the house for five minutes, and I extrapolated the idea from there.
5. I really liked the way the characters worked in the story. They were there but were shrouded in mystery; they were heard but not seen. Why did you leave out the characterization? Was it simply part of keeping the word count down, or does it serve some other purpose?
I had to make the narrator seem clinical and cold, leaving out all trace of individuality, in order to add a sense of menace. It’s funnier that way.
6. Finally, is there anything else you want readers to know about or take away from this piece?
No. I’ve already written considerably more words about it here than actually comprise the story.