I had the most awesome opportunity this weekend to attend Bloody Scotland, the first crime writing festival in Scotland. Not only did we get to kick off the festival with a hilarious recreation of authors Alex Gray and Lin Anderson dreaming up the festival, but Ian Rankin gave the keynote address and the three took questions from the audience. Plus, I got to meet and get all three of their autographs after the night. It was surreal.
Instead of standing and giving some sort of address, Gray and Anderson put together a little skit, meant to be a recreation of when they decided to start Bloody Scotland. Part way through Ian Rankin and Craig Robertson came on stage, standing at a little pub table pretending to be in their own conversation. Rankin was later invited to join Gray and Anderson, and from there gave his keynote address. Though it sounds a bit silly to describe, having the three very influential crime authors sitting in chairs just having a nice chat gave the evening, and the beginning of the weekend, a relaxed, comfortable feel. Which is helpful when you open the panel up for questions from the audience.
Rankin made a few great observations about Scottish crime fiction, one of which is that there was no real history of it. Sure, the quintessential detective Sherlock Holmes was written by a Scot based on a Scot, but he was English and lived in London. After Conan Doyle, there were no other writers who stepped forward and took over the mystery game. Not really until literary writer William McIlvanney published Laidlaw in 1977, that is. Rankin noted that without a long-standing tradition, Scottish crime writers are not constrained by outside expectations, and that freedom has allowed perhaps the most creative, diverse set of crime writers from any country.
In addition to his personal views on the history of crime fiction, Rankin shared a bit of his own past with the genre. As many of his fans know, Rankin was a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh when he wrote the first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses. To hear Ian Rankin tell it, it was really McIlvanney who inspired him to go for the crime genre. When Rankin met McIlvanney at a signing, he mentioned that he was working on his own detective, but that he’d be from Edinburgh instead. McIlvanney apparently replied with signing Rankin’s book with the inscription, “Good luck on the Edinburgh Laidlaw.” Not surprisingly, Rankin stated that he still has that book (why would he ever part with it, though?). But one of Rankin’s points that surprised me was he mentioned he wanted to write books that his dad would pick up. He wanted to write something that was accessible, enjoyable to read. Considering he was in the middle of a grueling academic degree, spending his time delving deep into sometimes impenetrable literature, I don’t blame Rankin for not wanting to follow that same path.
- Ian Rankin suggests that before you travel anywhere, read the crime fiction set there. It’ll show you the places to go (and avoid), and it gives you the most accurate depiction of a city.
- Rankin also broke all wannabe writers’ hearts by saying that writing never gets any easier. Because you will always want to improve and top the last thing you did, and you can’t stay stagnant, you’ll agonize over each book. Thanks Ian.
- When offered water after his glass of presumably beer was empty, Rankin just waved his hand and laughed.
- Alex Gray and Lin Anderson have obviously had way too much fun putting Bloody Scotland together.
- Mentions of the Scottish Crime writers as a sort of gang of friends was nice, minus the sad news of fake Amazon reviews by one of their own (to be discussed in another post).