Meeting Ian Rankin

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After a suggestion by one of my film crew colleagues (thanks, Andy!) I bought tickets to see an interview with Ian Rankin, writer of the Rebus detective series. It was organised by the Dickens Fellowship and was focussed on the book Bleak House by Dickens. Rankin was interviewed by James (Jim) Naughtie, Aberdeenshire born and bred radio and news presenter for the BBC. I had never read any books from Ian Rankin, but I remember having seen some of the series when John Hannah played the role of Rebus. I liked him and the series.

To be prepared for the meeting I bought the book ‘Exit Music’ by Ian Rankin, in which detective Rebus has to solve a murder ten days before he is due to retire. As expected I didn’t get far, I only read the first thirty-seven pages. I also bought the whole works of Bleak House, by Dickens, but didn’t even attempt to open that one. I hope to have the time one day. I did learn about Rankin’s writing in those few pages though. He is a master of ‘setting the scene,’ in particular one in Scotland. From the few remarks and casual observations you can place yourself in the scene and know what it would be like to actually be there. He mentions Edinburgh street names (which I did look up on Google Maps) that exist. When in a restaurant he orders venison pie (where else would you have venison pie but in Scotland?!). From using only two words, claustrophobic and damp, you know exactly what the office of the pathologist is like.

During the interview it was nice to find out that Rankin is like any other writer. He has a beginning and possibly an end to a story, but he has no idea what is going to be happening in between. Sometimes he even doesn’t know who has committed the murder. Sometimes he does, but during his writing process this changes. Likewise with his characters. Some sideline characters become major players and more prominent ones get ‘killed off.’ When Rebus ‘retired’ his publisher suggested Rankin to write about when Rebus was younger. Rankin’s answer was no, because he doesn’t write historical novels as this would need ‘too much research.’ I so concur with this 🙂 . Another option was to ‘stop the time,’ where Rebus would not get older. But Rankin also refused this as he thought that was cheating. As there are many more Rebus books after ‘Exit Music’ I can only deduct that Rebus didn’t retire.

After half an hour of talking together, discussing the work of Dickens and comparing his work to that of Rankin, the audience was able to ask questions. One person asked if and for what Rankin wanted to be remembered, like Dickins is remember after so much time has passed. Rankin responded that the only contemporary writer that would probably be remember was J.K. Rowling. Which makes you think if there really are no other worthy authors to remember out there at this day and age. I suppose the surplus of indie authors make it hard to find the good ones, like a needle in a hay stack.

I did get the microphone to ask a question, but unfortunately the session was cut off just as it was my turn. I had so many questions to ask! If Ian ever gets to read this, maybe he will grace us with a bit of his time and answer the following questions:

  • Why did you start writing? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? Do you think your university education made a big difference in your work?
  • Do you follow your tracks through the city to make sure they are accurate or do you sometimes do it from memory? If the latter, have you ever been caught stating something that was inaccurate?
  • How did you get published? Was it hard to find a publisher? What did you have to do after finding a publisher? How much time do spend writing nowadays compared to promoting?
  • Where do you get your ideas? Do you have friends that are forensics or detectives?
  • When your books were made into a series, did you write with the actors in mind? Did you have any say in which actor was used?

All in all a great experience! Thanks, Ian, for dropping in on Aberdeen 🙂

3 thoughts on “Meeting Ian Rankin”

  1. Well done on almost asking Ian Rankin a question – closer than I’ve got. I love the Rebus books, though haven’t read very many. I also love the TV series (the Ken Stott version, which is more accurate, I think).

    1. I’ve never seen the Ken Scott version. I must get the whole series now and watch them all 😊. I should actually read the books, but I’m so time deprived it’s not funny anymore…

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