Fife-ing it up with Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin was born in Fife. I was born in Fife. Ian Rankin studied at Edinburgh University. I studied at Edinburgh University. Ian Rankin writes successful, suspenseful and gritty crime fiction. Nope, nothing. But I am most affirmatively a mahoosive fan-lassie for his thrillers set in the Athens of the North a.k.a. Edinburgh and featuring Mr Booze John Rebus.

Marcus Elliott and Ian Rankin
Marcus Elliott and Ian Rankin. WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret’s College. Sunday 14 May 2017. Flickr 2017-05-14-IMG_0127

Last night Christchurch played host to Ian Rankin as the opening event of the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season and it was a full house at the Charles Luney Auditorium of St Margaret’s College. It was also a slightly more blokey audience than most book events attract, albeit it in a very metro, groomed and grizzled with grey fashion. Marcus Elliott, the Christchurch coroner, was asking the probing questions.

Rankin claims most crime writers would rather be rock stars than writers. Aged 12 he created a band called The Amoebas. With no musical ability himself – and no friends who actually wanted to be in a band – The Amoebas were entirely fictitious, but Rankin still managed to create world tour itineraries, lyrics for top 10 hits and music press interviews.

Writers are shy, nerdy kids who create worlds

he said, and while for most people the adult world draws a halt to childish imagination, for writers it keeps going. Rebus is his imaginary friend, but one who wouldn’t like Rankin in the real world. Rankin claimed Rebus would label him “a wishy-washy liberal”.

The first Rebus novel, Knot and Crosses is celebrating its 30th anniversary and Rankin said the character of Rebus leapt “fully formed” into his head. He didn’t entirely realise he was writing a crime novel and was a little perturbed to see what he thought was the next great Scottish novel appearing in the then “not sexy” crime section of his local bookstore.

He was aware early on he needed help with creating an authentic police world and wrote to the then Lothian Police to get some advice. He was also briefly a suspect in a missing person/murder case!

Asked if he counted policeman amongst his fans, Rankin said “weirdly yes”. Everyone likes a maverick and Rebus is his own man but also on the right side. His novels represent authentic investigations but with all the boring bits taken out, a streamlined version of a real investigation.

Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin: Writing Rebus. WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret’s College. Sunday 14 May 2017. Flickr 2017-05-14-IMG_0140

Rankin added that keeping the series fresh wasn’t too challenging as Edinburgh, Scotland and Rebus had all changed. Rebus has retired, and after years of booze, fags and fried food, his body is starting to wind down. Rankin has recently gifted Rebus Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) but added he needs to work hard at remembering new story elements, for example he forgot he’d written in a pet dog for Rebus and then had to re-write and add the pooch in later!

Rankin said he likes to explore different social issues and each novel starts with a theme: immigration, people trafficking, xenophobia, banking crisis or business scam – but he is mindful that he also needs to create an exciting read. He says he doesn’t plan too much and sometimes the ending changes because the narrative knows better and he has to “trust to the muse”. All his books end before the criminal trial because, he says, he knows nothing about the Scottish criminal system and is too lazy to do the research.

Marcus Elliott asked about the TV versions of Rebus, and Rankin said there was early interest from the actor Leslie Grantham better known as Dirty Den of Eastenders’ fame. Later the BBC wanted the rather rotund Robbie Coltrane to play Rebus, and Rankin was like “Jesus you know he (Rebus) was in the SAS”! He recently got the rights back and would like to see them filmed in a more leisurely Scandi-style rather than the breakneck a-novel-condensed-to-an-hour speed of the ITV series. Writer, and fellow Fifer Gregory Burke is involved and the actor Ken Stott may even reprise his role.

There was time for a few questions from the audience, and it was the usual mixed bag with questions that aren’t questions and some sneaky self-aggrandisement. Rankin was asked about his love for the music of the late Jackie Leven, a prolific Scottish singer-songwriter, who he collaborated with on a CD and series of stage performances. He was also asked how he researches and makes authentic the criminals that appear in his fiction. He has spent time in prisons particularly through literacy in prison programmes, but was recently shocked when a fan described his recurring crime boss “Big Ger” Cafferty as a “big, huggable, loveable bear of a guy”. He fears he has perhaps over-identified with Big Ger and is going to make him horrible again.

The session started to wind up but Rankin still had time to apologise for Donald Trump being half-Scots and to warn us of the seething rage and stabby darkness carried inside romantic fiction writers. This was a witty and polished session with truck loads of well-executed anecdotes and crime fiction insights.

Ian Rankin signs book
Ian Rankin. Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret’s College. Sunday 14 May 2017. Flickr 2017-05-14-IMG_0150

The Rankin File – Ian Rankin at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Ian Rankin is coming to town as part of WORD Christchurch Autumn Season, and I’ve got myself a ticket to go and hear him speak!

Ian Rankin – Sunday 14 May 6pm

Ian Rankin. Image supplied.
Ian Rankin. Image supplied.

Now it’s confession time … I’ve never read an Ian Rankin novel.

In my years working in public libraries, Rankin’s books have been ever-present and always on the move. Their uniform cover design makes them stand out really well among the larger collection and they all portray a sense of grim foreboding and cold realism.

Rankin’s name is always the first and largest text (before the title) and this is tribute to his popularity. And speaking of popularity, his Rebus novels in particular have a huge following of readers, some of whom have regularly suggested that I read his work. But I’m afraid I’ve never gotten around to it (so many books, so little time!), UNTIL NOW!

CoverI’ve just begun his first Rebus novel Knots and Crosses, and already I’m loving it. All the elements of a good noir crime story are there — an overworked under-appreciated borderline protagonist, a system of bureaucracy to overcome, the doggedness to get to the truth, and a series of gruesome crimes committed by a dangerous and difficult-to-understand sociopath … it’s gripping!

CoverI’m now an “almost-fan” and really looking forward to hearing about the author’s background, inspirations and where he’s headed to next in his writing. My experience at his talk may go either way for me in regards to my reading further works by him, but I’m excited at the prospect of gaining some extra knowledge to fuel my new reading. Who knows I might get all the way through the series! There’s currently TWENTY ONE titles in the Rebus series so it’s a decent list to invest in, and the latest Rather Be The Devil has his loyal readers queuing up for our library copies!

So, if you’re like me — a lover of gritty noir crime, but have never picked up a copy of an Ian Rankin book — then I would implore you to do so. You won’t regret it. If you’re already one of his legion of loyal followers, then come and see the man himself at 6pm on Sunday 14 May.

Hear Orphan X author Gregg Hurwitz in Christchurch – Wednesday 1 March

Gregg Hurwitz is in Christchurch on Wednesday 1 March thanks to Penguin Random House New Zealand and WORD Christchurch.

Gregg Hurwitz

If you are at all into thrillers, you have probably heard of this New York Times bestselling author of Orphan X and its sequel The Nowhere Man.

But did you know his skills extend way beyond the crime genre? He’s also a Shakespeare-tragedy scholar and a writer of comic books.  Gregg will be interviewed by local crime reviewer Ken Strongman. After the talk, there will be an audience Q & A and book signing, with books available to purchase on the night. Book your tickets now.

Gregg has a contract for three more Orphan X novels, and Bradley Cooper’s production company has picked up the film rights. Gregg has experience writing for television, so he is on screenwriter duties for this movie adaptation.

I asked my Dad – who is thriller and crime buff  – a few questions about Gregg:

You’ve read books by Gregg. Tell me a bit about them.

As mentioned I have read three of Gregg’s books over the past year. My first taste was Don’t Look Back about a year ago. A great story about a single mother on an adventure tour group to Mexico, concerns over being trapped by a dangerous predator and secrets wanting to get safely back home to her son. Great “edge of the seat” stuff to keep you glued to the pages.

I then noticed the highly acclaimed Orphan X which I read next a few weeks later. Evan Smoak is the man. Taken from a group home and trained in undercover operations it has more potential thrills, twist and turns you think you could handle. It is no surprise Bradley Cooper is signed up for the movie.

I was hooked by now, so read one more of Gregg’s books to confirm my theory. I read Tell no Lies in May of last year and this one was based in San Francisco, a counsellor with ex cons and suddenly anonymous threats from a killer. No rest again as the action is maintained.

He is bleeding good, one of my favourites.

What are the best things about his writing?

The joy of his books is the immense variety, realism yet excitingly dangerous and ever changing scenarios. Some people may only like to read them during the day as those noises from inside your house could be the precursor to something evil.

Are you keen to see him in person? What would you ask him?

If I happened to meet Greg my question would be how hard is it to switch from comic book to a serious badass thriller.

Thanks Dad!

More:

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Murder in the library – A panel discussion on Wednesday 1 June 6.30pm

The Ngaio Marsh Awards, in association with the New Zealand Book Council and Christchurch City Libraries, invite booklovers to Murder in the library – A panel discussion – Ngaio Marsh Awards featuring three talented Canterbury authors. It is on at South Library, Wednesday 1 June at 6.30pm. This is a free event, but bookings are essential as places are limited. Please telephone 03 941 7923 or email LibraryEvents@ccc.govt.nz to book a seat.

Crime writing has evolved from the puzzle-like mysteries of Agatha Christie and Christchurch’s own Ngaio Marsh to modern novels delving deeply into people and places. It is the world’s most popular form of storytelling.

2016 Ngaio Marsh Awards entrants Ray Berard, Katherine Hayton, and Deborah Rogers will discuss what drew them to crime writing, how they craft memorable characters and page-turning stories, and the impact of our New Zealand setting on tales of crime and mystery.

Ngaio Marsh Award

A new eGem: Crime, Punishment and Popular Culture, 1790-1920

CV3N7JrXIAAqTuzAnyone who is familiar with the works and times of Sherlock Holmes or Charles Dickens will recognize the culture and characters within our latest eResource archive, Crime, Punishment and Popular Culture, 1790-1920.

The industrial revolution had seen people rush to cities to chase a better standard of living that never eventuated. More often than not, workers were forced to live in squalid conditions with little reward for long and dangerous working conditions. Not surprisingly, crime soared. Throughout the 19th century major trials were followed avidly in the courtroom, in the newspapers, and at public hangings. True crime literature captured the attention of all classes, with murder ballads and penny dreadfuls sold in the streets. The development of the police force, particularly detectives and forensic techniques, were also subjects of interest. At the same time the judicial and penal systems were being reformed which led to such practices as transportation to the colonies.

This digital archive covers all of these developments and more with a broad examination of crime and culture in the 19th and early 20th century. It reflects the causes and effects of the rise in crime, the development of the police and the public’s fascination with sensational accounts of crime. It also contains a searchable collection of materials from prisoner photographs to trial transcripts and police records. It even has police gazettes from Queensland, Australia. These gazettes contain fascinating content including information on convicts and criminals who absconded from prison, reports on criminal activities such as murder, and reports on missing friends and relatives. So if you are interested in this time period, the development of the judicial system we can recognise today, or maybe just looking for dodgy relatives then there is plenty to learn and enjoy from this archival gem.

CrimePunishment

Michael Robotham – The psychology of crime

Michael Robotham is full of stories. He had a crowd enraptured at South Learning Centre last night with his tales of crime, psychology, writing, and the Ozarks.

He is now a best-selling, award-winning writer, but started out as a journalist. Later he was a successful ghost writer, working on 15 autobiographies (including Ginger Spice, Rolf Harris, and Lulu – he turned down Bryan Ferry though!)

Michael started writing his first novel The suspect when he had some time off between ghostwriting memoirs by Lulu and Rolf Harris. There was a bidding war – he had arrived with a bang. When it was published, he sent a copy to his Mum. After a while, she still hadn’t read it and told him “I had three library books to get through”.  She won a Friends of the Library Award for that commitment to libraries. Her review of his first book? “It took me a while to get into and then I did”.

Michael and author Paul Cleave
Michael Robotham and Paul Cleave. Flickr 2015-08-26-IMG_8920

Michael talked about his road to becoming a writer, and his literary parent Ray Bradbury, as told here in Ray Bradbury is my ‘Father’.

He also shared stories about his dealings with Oz’s most wanted crim Raymond John Denning, It is a ripper of a tale and was sparked his fascination with the psychology of crime.

Michael told us about time with psychologist Paul Britton (who was the basis for the fictional character Cracker played by Robbie Coltrane). This was the man who went to Fred and Rosemary West’s house and when they found bodies in the garden said “they’re in the garden because the house is full”. Very creepy stuff.

His books all have a factual basis. The spark for his latest book Close your eyes was the murder of Janet Brown in Somerset. Life and Death was inspired by a man who escaped from prison the day before he was due to be released – and was never seen again.

I try so hard to write fiction that reads like fact.

Audience
Michael Robotham talk at South Learning Centre. Wednesday 26 August 2015. Flickr 2015-08-26-IMG_8919

Michael told us about his trip to the Ozark Mountains, scouting for a location for Life or Death. The locals were less than friendly. A burly Ozarkian Sheriff sparked good lines like someone being “dumber than shit on a biscuit”.

Not only did we get most excellent anecdotes, Michael also shared some writing tips. Find your own way. Do just enough research so the premise works, don’t let your research dominate.

Michael has just gained a new gang of Christchurch fans.

Michael Robotham and Dennis
Michael Robotham and my Dad.  Flickr 2015-08-26-IMG_8922

Search our catalogue for Michael Robotham.

Cover of Close your eyes Cover of Watching you Cover of Say you're sorry Cover of Life or death Cover of The suspect

Close your eyes – Michael Robotham is coming to Christchurch

Cover of Close your eyesChristchurch crime fiction fans are in for a treat when Michael Robotham, one of the best crime writers working, visits on Wednesday 26 AugustHe’s coming to Christchurch with his latest book, Close Your Eyes, but he’s got an impressive back list. His books Shatter and Lost won the Ned Kelly Award for Australia’s Crime Novel of the Year – good old Australia – a Crime Novel Award named after a criminal.

Shatter and The Night Ferry were shortlisted for the Crime Writer’s Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award; Say You’re Sorry and Life and Death made it to the shortlist for the Crime Writer’s Golden Dagger Award. We’ll have to wait until September to see if Life and Death wins.

I always like a crime writer who started as a journalist. Even better if they started as a cadet rather than doing a post-graduate degree in Journalism (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s just that writers who have had to distill the facts of a story into a small space jostling with lots of other stories know how to grab your interest. And I fondly imagine cadets learning their craft by having their copy scrutinised by cynical hard-bitten reporters squinting through the smoke from the fag permanently attached to their lips. Probably an image that was way out of date when Michael Robotham was working on evening newspapers. If it was ever true. Perhaps I’ll ask him when he comes to Christchurch. I also have a question about going to school in Gungadai.

Event details

An evening with Michael Robotham
Wednesday 26 August 6pm to 7.30pm
South Library
Free event, complimentary tickets can be picked up from South Library or Paper Plus Northlands Mall. Books will be available for purchase courtesy of Paper Plus. For more info or to reserve tickets please call Kathryn Hartley Ph: 03 941 6649 or email:kathryn.hartley@ccc.govt.nz

Michael Robotham: ghosting and crime Michael on Saturday Morning with Kim Hill, Radio New Zealand National, 15 August.

Hear Graham Beattie’s review of Close your eyes on Nine to Noon, Radio New Zealand National, 12 August.

Cover of Life or Death Cover of Watching you Cover of Say you're sorry Cover of Bombproof Cover of Lost

A beautiful place to die

Cover of A Beautiful Place to DieI’ve read a couple of books recently at opposite ends of the reading spectrum – one’s funny and character-driven, and one’s dark and atmospheric. The first you’ve probably heard of already — Jojo Moyes’ The One Plus One (not as sappy as it sounds! If you enjoy Liane Moriarty or Raffaella Barker you’ll love it) — but the second I hadn’t noticed before, although that’s probably due to my reading prejudices. And I wouldn’t have picked it up off the shelf, because look at that cover! What is it with all books set in Africa having the same look, whether romance or mystery?! It’s always a silhouette of a tree against the sky, probably with a sunset, maybe a giraffe. Come on, publishers, up your game.

Cover of African SkiesCover of In Search of AfricaCover of Into the Lion's DenCover of Ivory

I’m not usually much of a crime reader — I definitely veer towards the Dorothy Sayers end of the crime spectrum — but after reading a review of Malla Nunn’s first novel, A Beautiful Place to Die, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. A Beautiful Place to Die kicks off a series of four books (so far), all featuring detective Emmanuel Cooper and all set in 1950s apartheid South Africa.

As has happened to me before, and as could probably be guessed from the title, I’ve fallen in love with the setting. The descriptions of the landscape are so evocative, the tension between such a beautiful country and its ugly laws so captivating, I couldn’t put it down. Even a murder investigation is influenced by apartheid laws in so many ways — Cooper is challenged by his superiors when he investigates white suspects, as upholding the institution of racism is deemed more important than bringing a killer to justice. As might be expected there is a lot of violence simmering beneath the surface.

If you enjoy your crime with a bit of armchair travel and racial politics, this is the book for you! Or if you prefer funny stories about dysfunctional families like The One Plus One, please tell me your favourites in the comments. I’ll need something a bit lighter when I finish Blessed Are the Dead!

Happy birthday, Ngaio Marsh!

Ngaio Marsh would have been 120 today. This world renowned crime writer and theatre director was born Edith Ngaio Marsh in Fendalton on 23 April 1895. Her father, a clerk, built Marton Cottage at Cashmere in 1906. This was her home for the rest of her life, although she spent significant periods in England.

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : “Ngaio in the spotlight” [194-], CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038

Today there is a lovely little Google image celebrating her.

Many people know of Ngaio Marsh as the crime writer. But she also enriched the cultural life of Christchurch with her devotion to theatre production and mentored young people with dramatic aspirations. Ngaio made a huge contribution to the community, and it seems appropriate her name lives on  –

For more on Ngaio Marsh:

A very very cool lady – Swedish crime star Camilla Lackberg

Dennis and Camilla LäckbergMe and my Dad like to go and listen to writers. We’ve been to Lee Child, Rebecca Macfie, and last night we saw Camilla Läckberg, Swedish crime writer. She has written 8 crime novels (and cookbooks and kids’ books), sold 12 million copies, been translated into 37 languages. Camilla is in New Zealand for the Auckland Writers Festival, and appeared in Christchurch courtesy of them and The Press Christchurch Writers Festival.

We claimed our spot early, and chatted to a Timaru couple who are big Camilla fans. In a librariany diversion, the woman talked about the crime writers she liked, and how she remembers what library books she’s read (initialises the book).

Camilla proved to be a funny, smart woman (in fabulous vertiginous shoes) with as many good stories in life as on the page. She is a gun Latin dancer, courtesy of an appearance on Sweden’s version of Strictly come dancing (see her in action at her first pro-am competition). She writes about Fjällbacka, a small fishing community on Sweden’s west coast – her real-life hometown. Fjällbacka is proud of her, and there are even guided tours related to her books. Journalists occasionally visit and ask for Camilla, and her Mum goes to meet them and poses for photos.

Buried angels

Camilla spoke to Ruth Todd of the PlainsFM show Bookenz and kicked the evening off by reading the opening few pages of her latest book Buried Angels. Describing the process of writing it, she said the story began as a picture in her head – a huge dining room table set for Easter, empty, where did everyone go?

Cover of Buried AngelsThe other crucial strand of the book germinated after a guided tour of Fjällbacka. The guide talked about the Swedish connections of Hermann Göring. Camilla stumbled upon a real life mystery. Göring had been married to a Swedish woman Carin von Kantzow. She died in 1931:

Her death came as a great blow to Göring. He named the baronial hunting lodge he built from 1933 Carinhall, in her honour. It was there that he had her body re-interred from her original grave in Sweden, in a funeral attended by Adolf Hitler.

After the breakup of Göring’s estate, Carin’s Swedish family were sent her cremated remains in the 1950s. But in the early 90s, another coffin was found and it was identified as Carin. Discovering this was “one of those moments when you can hear angels singing” – who was the other body? What happened? Perfect fodder for a crime writer who incorporates history into her work.

Detective Patrick Hedstrom and Erica Falck

Buried Angels and Camilla’s other books feature Detective Patrick Hedstrom and Erica Falck, crime writer and researcher. She sees the couple as “one main character”.

Patrick is ordinary, he “doesn’t listen to opera, doesn’t listen to jazz, likes Bruce Springsteen”. He is based on her first husband, an economist, not her second ex-husband who is a policeman.

The couple were dating in her first book – the “five times a night thing” and eight years later: “It’s Saturday night, maybe we should?”

She “started lending her own life to Erica” and considers the pair her best friends:

It’s embarrassing to turn 40 and have two imaginary people as your best friends.

Writing career and style

Camilla LäckbergCamilla’s dream was always to be a writer. And it seems crime writing was her destiny. Her first book – when she was 4 – was about Santa and his wife. It started off happy, but in four pages “it goes straight to hell” and “Santa’s wife is beaten to death”.  She was infected with the “book bug” by her father and from the age of 7 was a big Agatha Christie fan:

I liked to be in her universe … she was a very very cool lady.

She still reads mostly crime fiction, citing Peter Robinson, Val McDermid, Denise Mina and Michael Connelly as her favourites.

Camilla started her working career as an economist, but did a crime writing course when she was on maternity leave and her first book started as an assignment. Her writing style is to write the historical sections of her book sometimes in between, sometimes all together. But the parts set in the present day she writes chronologically:

When I am on page one, I don’t have a clue what’s happening in page 70.  I know about 2% of the book at the start … I know my final destination.

When the manuscript is finished, it goes to her editor who Camilla proclaims is strict but amazing.

She writes mostly at home, sometimes in pyjamas and her best time is writing is when the kids are at kindergarten and school:

In my view, inspiration is a myth … my best writing advice is “Glue your butt to a chair”.

Scorpio books at Camilla Läckberg