BOOK editors have asked one of Scotland’s leading authors to tone down his characters “more and more”, a defamation enquiry has heard.

Best-selling writer Christopher Brookmyre has had a shelf-full of hits since publishing his first novel Quite Ugly One Morning in 1996.

The story is a satire on NHS reforms carried out by the former Tory government, and since then he’s become a celebrated crime writer and one of the best-known “Tartan noir” novelists.

Yesterday he told MSPs on Holyrood’s Justice Committee how editors have asked him to change his depictions of characters and companies – in case readers think he’s writing about them.

Brookmyre was giving evidence on the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill which is currently before the Scottish Parliament. It was introduced by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf late last year to “modernise and simplify” the law around what can be published about individuals and organisations.

Barrhead’s Brookmyre – who also writes under the name Ambrose Parry with partner Dr Marisa Haetzman – is one of around 180 writers and campaigners who wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last year warning that Scots law in this area is “out of date, inadequately protecting free expression, and is in urgent need of reform”.

Other authors calling for reform include Ian Rankin, Sara Sheridan, James Robertson and Zoe Strachan.

Yesterday he told the cross-party committee: “I started off 25 years ago writing more overtly satirical fiction in which there were often quite grotesque parodies of not identifiable public figures, but certainly identifiable behaviours and attitudes.

“I think I would also, at that point, have felt I was protected by the law of fiction, the fact that these were amalgams of individuals.”

He went on: “There’s a danger someone might identify themselves too closely with a work of fiction.”

Saying he does not want his books to become “bogged down in litigation in any way” or “cause a problem” for a publisher, Brookmyre says requests to change works to avoid “leaving ourselves open” to a legal challenge had initially happened “on occasion”.

Brookmyre continued: “There are times I have thought that was a ridiculous concern because it was often too grotesque or something that was clearly meant as a joke, but I met it more and more in recent years.”

Public bodies can’t sue for defamation and writers organisation Scottish PEN says only firms with fewer than 10 workers should be able to.

Brookmyre, a member of the group, says the power to create a “particularly unflattering” parody to draw attention to a social wrong is necessary and that no corporation or public body should be treated like an individual in law.

He stated: “Much wrong has come of that principle.

“I think it’s slightly cowardly as well to say ‘we, as an organisation, are being defamed by your depiction’. I think individual behaviour should be accountable and corporate behaviour should be accountable.”

He went on: “My instinct, from admittedly a position of legal ignorance, is to be uncomfortable with the idea of a local authority for instance, a public body, having recourse to defamation proceedings as a means of deflecting criticism.”