Ian Rankin

me & IR

On Tuesday evening Ian Rankin was presented with the West Lothian Libraries’  Scot Scriever Award and I was there, thanks to my son, who lives in West Lothian. He’d managed to get the last tickets. Ian Rankin was voted the public’s favourite Scottish author. He’s been my favourite Scottish author for some time so I was delighted to hear him talk about his work and shocked when he drew my ticket number to win a signed copy of one of his books, Exit Music.

(Photo courtesy of West Lothian Council)

It was a fascinating evening. Ian Rankin is an excellent speaker, even though he said that he isn’t a stand-up comedian – he’s a writer and writers sit in isolation in their rooms, scribbling away with a pen or writing on a laptop, or whatever. He finds it a strange existence coming out of his shell to speak on tour at book events. His talk was punctuated with many amusing anecdotes and there was much laughter from his audience.

He gave us some advice.  As a teenager he’d entered a poetry competition and had read a book on writing poetry which said that you should write about what you know. Well, he did that, won the competition and got into trouble with his aunty because she recognised herself, even though his poem “Euthanasia” was about a tramp. Then there was a short story competition, which he won (he thought he could write a short story, because it was just like a poem but it goes to the edge of the page) writing about his uncle who walked through the streets naked and this also landed him in trouble when it was broadcast on the radio unchanged.

So his advice is “write about what you don’t know“, which is why when he decided to write a novel, Knots and Crosses, the first Rebus book, he wrote about the police because he knew nothing about them. He had done his research, talking to a couple of detectives, who as it turned out were investigating a crime similar to the one he was writing about in Knots and Crosses. They said the best way for him to see how they worked was for them to treat him as a suspect and he ended up for a while as a real suspect! So his next piece of advice is  “don’t do any research“. He did no research after that until he met a detective, who later became his friend and helped him make the books more realistic.

He writes crime fiction because it helps him look at the world, it takes on moral and ethical questions, why things are the way they are, what makes people work, and what crime says about our society and the problems we have. Crime fiction is now a serious subject to study, both at school and at university, even though it doesn’t get considered for the Booker Prize for example.  

He also talked about what he has been doing this year and the future. After the last Rebus book he wrote Doors Open , which is about an art heist. He planned it as the Scots Oceans Eleven, with all the great Scottish actors, but no one was interested in doing it. Later it was  serialised in NY Times, then published as a book and now a film company is interested. He decided that he didn’t want any involvement in filming the Rebus books because he didn’t want the actors’ voices and faces in his head (the reason I don’t like films of books is just the same) and it’s not possible to fit a book into an hour and a half TV production anyway (which is why I think the books are better). But he’s going to be  more involved in the films of Doors Open and The Complaints.

Even though he’s having a year’s break from writing he’s working on a film script of James Hogg’s book Confessions of a Justified Sinner. He’s finding this hard to write but I do hope he finishes it and the film gets made as I’ve been interested in James Hogg since reading Alice Munro’s book The View from Castle Rock (Hogg, born in 1770 was a poet, a protege of Sir Walter Scott, and a cousin of one of her ancestors). He may bring Rebus and Siobhan Clarke back investigating Cold Cases in another Complaints book – I hope he does.

It was a memorable evening  – Ian Rankin is great storyteller. .

11 thoughts on “Ian Rankin

  1. What a lovely evening, especially for a big fan like you. Knots & Crosses is on my reading list because of you 🙂 Congratulations on winning the signed book and the great picture.


  2. Margaret, what a wonderful everning for you. I love the picture and congratulate you on winning the signed book. Thanks for sharing with us. Ian Rankin is on my list of authors to try soon. I think I have a copy of Knots and Crosses around here somewhere. I’ll have to get to it!


  3. Oh, Margaret, a perfect, perfect time! Thank you for sharing so much of what he said. It was a bit like being there. Really very interesting and funny, too. Thanks again. I must begin -this year! I liked both Rebuses (?!) on tv. Which must in itself be some kind of tribute to the author that two such different actors as John Hannah and Ken Stott made the character work.


  4. What an evening! Lucky you and thanks for sharing it with us.
    Ian Rankin has been my favourite author for many years and I have all his books in english and half of it in danish. That gives double pleasure. I read him as I read John le Carré: Fast for the plot and, after the last page, once more from the beginning but this time for the language.
    I wish you many pleasant hours with Ian Rankin


  5. Great post! It’s been very clear to me as a regular reader of this blog how much you enjoy Ian Rankin and I’m so pleased for you that you not only got to hear him speak, but also meet him! Always a great moment as a book lover to meet a favourite author (and not be impressed!).

    I must confess I haven’t read any of his books but I think it’s time I fixed that and added him to my reading list. What book would you recommend I start with?


  6. I’m so jealous Margaret! Glad to hear Rankin is a nice bloke and thanks for posting his comments for those of us who weren’t there.

    I’m slowly working my way though the Rebus books at the moment- I just finished Ressurection Men which I thought was particularly good, and am starting A question of blood now.


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