1 Jan. 2011, 1400 (1515) @ National Gallery of Scotland
Review by Danielle Farrow
Full of humour and a feeling of camaraderie, this New Year’s Conversation with Edinburgh-based crime writers Lin Anderson and Ian Rankin was a good’un. Catherine Lockerbie (founding Trustee of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature, among other literary connections) lead the conversation with aplomb and connected immediately to Edinburgh’s literary heritage, including the Heart of Midlothian football club (it’s in the novel name), as she drew the authors into speaking of how Edinburgh inspires creatively.
The mention of art as well as literature in promotional material gave too wide a scope for the time allocated, though the January Turner exhibition and the Gallery’s role as crook’s target in Rankin’s ‘Doors Open’ was noted. A continuity discussion – connected to past writers presumably – also lost out somewhat to time constraints, though Hogg’s ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ featured, with Rankin having successfully completed a screenplay of this ‘serial killer’ story. But the attractions of Edinburgh were well explored: for crime writing there are dark closes, winding ways and an underbelly that can contrast with the obvious glorious beauty; for writers in general, this dichotomy allows light as well as dark (Rankin‘s ‘multitudes and possibilities’), along with the seven hills for walking / thinking and those important pubs. There was also a nod to the ever-relished (over-relished?) Edinburgh-Glasgow rivalry, Lin Anderson‘s heroine Rhona MacLeod being Glasgow-based and an Edinburgh visitor.
In response to an audience question on process, both prolific writers spoke of writing without much planning. Anderson starts with an initial ’bad happening’ that tends to come via inspiration, such as a devil-dressed hen-night party. Rankin spoke of the first draft as his own investigation, where he finds out about the plot, villain and motive. Anderson has been inspired in Edinburgh by Big Issue Sellers (as in ‘Torch’) and a house on a ghost tour route (‘Dead Close’, a paranormal thriller now also a screenplay), and both writers use real locations. They both know how quickly errors are spotted by readers – Rankin’s memory sometimes playing tricks when he was writing early Rebus novels from abroad – and that place specifics can also quickly date books.
Another audience question about including social issues in Rankin’s work led both writers to speak of how the crime genre allows such ideas to be explored within popular fiction. Rankin can use a police character to get answers, meeting with very different people from all walks of life, and Anderson can address what makes her most angry or afraid in what she observes. Research plays its part – though being too interested in a case may draw suspicion of involvement! – and both writers have put in a fair amount of time in university studies. Their writing, though, is very much connected to the every-day physical world around them.
As Lockerbie reflected at the end, Anderson quoted the benefits of ‘touching the stones’ and Rankin (who has written a guide to Scotland’s capital) said ‘the stories are in the stones’. With stones such as Edinburgh’s, little wonder we have so many quality writers in different genres – a number apparently living in ‘Writers Block’ (Bruntsfield area)!
Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature