Christopher Brookmyre: Creating Pandaemonium

A chat with Christopher Brookmyre about his new book, Pandaemonium, demons, quantum physics, and the nature of reality.

Feature by Keir Hind | 25 Aug 2009

Christopher Brookmyre’s new book, Pandaemonium, is something of a departure for him. One part of his tale is about Glaswegian school kids on a trip to a retreat, to help them recover from the death of a classmate. The other is the tale of an army funded science experiment that has (apparently) opened a gate to hell and let demons in to our reality.

The latter part is, as you may have guessed, the more unusual for Brookmyre. ”I’d always toyed with the idea of doing something in the science fiction genre, but not really the shiny space suits and spaceships end of it,” he says. And so he came up with the idea of science-summoned demons. “I don’t read a lot of sci-fi or fantasy – I am a fan of Iain M Banks, and I’ve seen a lot of it on TV and in films, but that’s about all” he says when I ask about possible influences. “It wasn’t a problem because I was writing a book with only some science fiction elements in it – a lot of the elements are pretty familiar”.

This is true, and that’s a good thing. The school kids of St Peter’s (the name deliberately suggests a gatekeeper) are a recognisable bunch, and it quickly becomes clear that their story will inevitably converge with that of the demons. The real achievement of this book is in the portrayal of these kids – you swiftly get to know them all, and sympathise with the majority of them too. Particularly impressive is their accurate language use - there are few novels where the word ‘fudnut’ has been used so appropriately. And as we get to know them all, the feeling of dread increases at what will happen… “What I wanted” Brookmyre says, “was for readers to engage with the teenage characters, and to create something of a slow burn effect, so that when the different strands engage, we really know the teenagers, and can worry more about them.” But, he adds, “And then, of course, your expectations for the characters are subverted.”

The book subverts genre too. As the author says, for him “the book calls into question what denotes science fiction, what denotes horror, what denotes the supernatural. In a way, it’s a scientific, empiricist take on the supernatural genre.” As such, the author includes a great deal of dialogue devoted to explaining theories about the nature of reality. “I consciously included a lot of debate in the book, because the theme is really about science versus religion, and the implications of what might be the structures of the Universe.” This dialogue is often simplified versions of complicated ideas, such as the ‘many worlds’ theory. Even if that’s not your thing, stick with it. “There’s a lot of really out-there hypotheses, and the many worlds theory is one of the more plausible,” says Brookmyre “But that just serves to make the book more exciting.”

It is exciting. And when the two strands of this book converge, things get very exciting. It also allows for a lot of gallows humour – it’s hard not to laugh when someone describes a demon that “has horns, and a face like he’s been dooking for chips”. The book is a good laugh, and Brookmyre has wrought a great story from the strange premise. His next book might be different again though. “I’ve been talking to my editor a bit about whether I’ve taken satirical crime fiction as far as I can right now. I’ve been planning a book that’s – I hesitate to say serious, but one that’s a bit more down to earth than what I usually write” he says. A departure again maybe, but this book proves that that’s no bad thing.

Brookmyre will be giving a number of readings from the book in various parts of the country (check listings for details) and will be teaming up with Billy Franks again too after last year’s successful events. “The Glasgow event in particular had a cabaret feel to it” says the author, “which made for a different atmosphere than the usual author reading. It was good fun, and the audience seemed to respond to it.” Get your tickets while you can. [Keir Hind]

Pandaemonium is out now, published by Little, Brown, cover price £17.99.