It’s a “bit hectic” the day best-selling crime writer Ian Rankin speaks with The Scots Magazine but the prolific author was looking forward to some well-earned time off.
“I just need time to breathe. The current schedule of a book a year, and all the touring that goes with it, is just now too much for me. I want a year off, just to recharge the batteries, and to think about what kind of stories I want to tell next. There are a lot of bits of Scotland I don’t know at all; I’ve never been to the Western Isles, for example. My wife would like us to have a few holidays, as we don’t seem to get much in the way of them.”
The deaths of two friends was also a factor in his decision.
“You do start to think about your priorities – do you want to die slumped at your laptop or would you rather go out and see a little bit of the world first?”
Is writing Ian’s own way of dealing with questions of mortality?
Given how much of his work involves death, is writing Ian’s own way of dealing with questions of mortality?
“I’ve always had a morbid interest in the darker side of life, ever since I was a kid,” he says. “It might have ‘helped’ that my mum died when I was 19; that I was a fairly introverted character, happiest inside my own head, sitting in a room scribbling things down on bits of paper and listening to quite dark music. I wasn’t a great reader of crime fiction till I started writing it; I kind of came to crime fiction by accident, while trying to bring the theme of Jekyll and Hyde back to contemporary Edinburgh – because it really annoyed me that Stevenson had chosen to set that book in London when it seemed to me to be such a Scottish novel!
“When the writing is going well, there’s no better feeling in the world and the days fly by. It feels like you sat down at the computer for half an hour but actually six hours have passed and you’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Then there are other days when you feel like you’re tearing your hair out, when it’s like trying to dig through ice with a blunt shovel to get to the right words or the next chapter. Those are not nice days, but the good days more than make up for that. And it just continually thrills me when a story starts to come together.”
In more general terms, the writing process itself continues to fascinate him.
“Any one of us can write a sentence or a paragraph that’s never been written before”
“With just 26 letters of the alphabet, any one of us can write a sentence or a paragraph that’s never been written before,” he points out. “How amazing is that?”
Saints of the Shadow Bible is Ian’s 33rd novel, and the 19th to feature his most famous creation, John Rebus.
“Several things happened to give me the storyline,” he explains. “One was that the Scottish Government were trying to push through the ending of the ‘Double Jeopardy’ rule, which means you can now re-prosecute people even if they were found Not Guilty in previous years. I just thought: ‘What kinds of cans of worms could that open up?’ “Also, I’d been to a few retirement ‘do’s’ for cops and I’d gathered so many fantastic stories of the way policing used to be in the 1970s and 1980s,” he adds. “I started to think: we know Rebus now but, when we first met him in 1987, he’d already been a cop for some considerable time. So this novel allowed me to go back to the early 1980s, to discover what it was that turned Rebus into the kind of cop he became – somebody who is happy to break the rules, and somebody who’s very cynical about due process.
“Rebus is the last of that kind of cop”
“Rebus is a dinosaur,” he insists. “He’s the last of that kind of cop; they can’t really exist any more. There’s kind of room for him, but no others.”
Saints of the Shadow Bible brought Rebus up against Ian’s more recent literary creation, Detective Inspector Malcolm Fox.
“Malcolm is, I think, more like me; he’s canny and cautious, and he doesn’t like breaking the rules,” Ian points out. “Rebus is very unlike me; he’s my kind of Mr Hyde – he’ll happily break the rules just for the sheer fun of it, and I’ve never been like that. It was interesting putting the two of them together, because one represents a very careful, cautious way of policing and one represents the way policing used to be, which was much more cavalier. Somebody said to me it was like when two Doctor Whos meet!”
Go to www.ianrankin.net/ for the latest news from the author, including details of his forthcoming novel, Even Dogs In The Wild, the 20th in the Rebus series, due out October 2015.
For more great interviews pick up the latest issue of The Scots Magazine. In the shops now or order online by clicking here.