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 closet curser

A Brief History of Swearing

I have become a Closet Curser of the sub-category Car Closet Curser. Roadworks, detours, and the colour orange (never my favourite) thanks to the thousands of Christchurch road cones, all these can set me off. But cursing in books is not much of an issue for me.

But it is for some customers, like the gentleman who complained that he didn’t want to read “any more goddammed crappy books with foul language”. So the big question is how to steer yourself  away from books that pulsate with profanity?

First a little research on cursing in English is called for. Holy Sh*t (A Brief History of Cursing) is an excellent place to start, or you could move straight on to the e-book Wicked Words (A Treasury of Curses, Insults, Put-downs, and Other Formerly Unprintable Terms From Anglo-Saxon Times to the Present). Now you know what you are talking about – always a plus, let’s move onto fiction books that are obscenity laden.

The PanopticonAn esteemed novel that is loaded with profanity but is also a great read is The Panopticon. Billed as: “top-tier stuff: profane, inventive, funny and gob-smackingly offensive”. A prison setting for juvenile recidivists, it nails the Scots dialogue, made up almost exclusively of swear words, in this instance. Keep the clean-living away from this little beauty.

Same goes for Trainspotting, also Scots , here’s a cleaned up quote:

Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting on a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing (rude word) junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total (rude word) embarrassment tae the selfish, (rude word)-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.

How Late it was how lateAnd in How Late it was How Late (also Scots – just saying), Sammy is having a really sh*t time – and then he goes blind. All three of these novels nail the dialogue, and the dialogue they are reproducing with honesty, is profanity laden. Of course this will not be to everyone’s taste, but please don’t self-censor the book. Just stop after the first page and read no further.

It would be great to hear of other good reads where bad language feels like a character in its own right – share please do. And finally, if reading bad language in books raises your blood pressure – guess what, swearing ultimately lowers it – and gives you greater tolerance to pain.

Outlandish kilt addiction

Cover of OutlanderThe things you find when trawling through the library catalogue.

I was just trying to fill the hole that the conclusion of the first season of the Outlander TV series, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, had left in my leisure time.

I found a blog post about the source novels, and an If you like… Diana Gabaldon book list. It seemed I wouldn’t have to wait until the next series to get some more 18th century kilted historical-time-travel-romance in my life. Very good.

But then I idly went searching to see if we had any copies of Highlander (either the movie, or the TV series) and shove me in a sheep’s gut and call me haggis, I stumbled upon… a bunch of shirtless kilt-wearing cover-boys. And not just a couple, but legions of them. Well hello, Jamie Fraser!

It must have been warmer in Scotland in days of yore if this lack of upper body garments is anything to go by. Will ye nae put a vest on, lad?

After rigorous research I can confirm that covers in this particular genre fall in to three categories in which the muscular hero can be –

holding a lady,
Cover of Rogue with a brogueCover of Mad, bad, and dangerous in plaidCover of to marry a scottish lairdCover of In bed with a highlanderCover of Never seduce a Scot

holding a sword, either pointy side up…
Cover of To wed a wicked highlanderCover of The chieftainCover of Sins of the highlanderCover of The guardian

…or down,
Cover of Temptation in a kiltCover of The stone maidenCover of Moon awakeningCover of The hellion and the highlander

or at least, wearing some kind of armband (face optional).
Cover of awaken the highland warriorCover of The immortal highlanderCover of The dark highlanderCover of Sweet revenge

And am I allowed to say that some of the titles are AMAZING? For my money Mad, bad and dangerous in plaid is a standout, though Temptation in a kilt must surely get an honorable mention.

You’ll be pleased to know that almost all of these titles are available in eBook format, possibly as a result of the “embarrassment factor” that does apparently influence choice of format for recreational reading. Though why you’d be whakamā about reading In bed with a highlander on the bus, I can’t imagine (okay, yes I can).

Which of the above is your favourite Caledonian cover-boy?