Posted by: lmcg1 | November 29, 2013

Ian Rankin and me

Well, it isn’t really quite like that, but I did have my own Ian Rankin moment this week. When the new McNally Robinson Book Store catalogue came out, I browsed through as usual, and there it was! Ian Rankin was coming to talk at the book store on Tuesday, November 26. Lots of exclamation points!!! Ian Rankin is my favourite author, one whom I have been reading for at least 20 years, and whose books I have been collecting for quite a while now. I can’t even remember how I came across him. I love mystery/detective fiction and got into reading the British writers like Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse) and Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey), plus many others. So haunting that part of the library I saw one of Ian Rankin’s books and that had me hooked.

Initially I got them at the library, but liked them so much that I wanted to have my own copies, and then wanted the earlier books too. The first Inspector Rebus novel was Knots and Crosses (1987). I think I saw either his first or second Rebus novel and have been an avid (not quite rabid) reader and collector since. I have a number of special pieces as well as first editions and autographed copies.




So, seeing that he was actually coming to our city, well, not to be missed for sure. The event was free, you just had to be there to get a seat. My friend and I decided we’d get there just before 6 pm, then wait around until 7:30 when it would start. When we got there, we were at the start of the line, and we got to go and sit in the restaurant and wait. Very nice. Then just a few minutes before the talk was to start, they put more chairs up front, so off we went. We were about 10 ft away, great view. Meanwhile, something close to 200 people had been coming in to the store and lining up. Only a few actually made it into the restaurant, so our planning really paid off.

Just before time, this tall man walked in with a couple of other people and sat almost in front of us, and there he was. I felt like a school kid. So much fun. After an introduction by Saskatchewan writer Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin began his talk. It was very interesting and entertaining to say the least. He is an engaging and humorous speaker and had lots of stories to tell, about his writing and his characters.

He talked about how he came to write this series, coming as a result of his interest in Scottish writers that he studied at university. He particularly was interested in Robert Louis Stevenson and the Jekyll and Hyde concept. He talked about Stevenson’s own upbringing and interests which likely led to those stories, including a link, via a cupboard, to Deacon Brodie. All wonderfully gothic. His own love of stories and words lead him to writing. His first book, The Flood, was published by a student press. It was followed the next year by Knots and Crosses in 1987, the first Rebus. As Ian noted, he loves words and also said that this first book was really a student piece (he was a postgrad at this time). He says there are some sentences that even he doesn’t understand, but thought they sounded good. Knots and Crosses (a game), Rebus (a game), and characters such as Holmes (nod to Sherlock) are an indication of the enjoyment he has in writing. One other thing that he does is for each new book, he auctions off a ‘spot’ in the novel – if you win the bid, you get written into the story – for charity.

He also talked about how his relates to his characters, how he really likes Rebus but is sure Rebus would find him boring. About how Sioban started as a minor character but grew through her own strength to become a major one. About how he started out writing the Rebus stories in real time, and Rebus as a 41 year-old Detective Sergeant, not realizing the implications. One of his readers, an Edinburgh policeman, got in touch one day, asking what he intended to do with Rebus next year when he turned 60. It turned out that at the time, police officers were required to retire at 60, unbeknownst to the writer. Hence the retirement of Rebus. Then Ian found out about the cold case squad which was just being set up, so he was able to bring him back later. On the this BBC website, it is interesting because it shows the ‘Bible John’ case, which figures into the Rebus stories. Recently, the retirement requirement was removed and allowed Rebus’ application to rejoin the force, albeit right where he was when the stories began, as a DS. Also, when he started his first story, he knew nothing about policing etc, so wrote a letter to the Chief Superintendent outlining what he was doing. He immediately got an interview with two police, who suggested he undergo an interview like a suspect. It turned out that there was a real case, very much like he was writing about, and they considered him as a suspect for a period of time, thinking that he had come in to play games with them. So serendipity has played an real part in the stories as well.

There was another interesting twist, in that there is really a John Rebus in Edinburgh, who got in touch with Ian after the stories gained popularity. Ian had just made up the name, because of the puzzle connection. Turns out that the real Rebus was in the local phone book, lived on Rankin Avenue and had a Polish ancestry. If you know the stories, that is the connection to the Polish community.

Ian talked about how he collects snippets of newspapers, ideas, words etc and puts them into a file, and when it is time to write, he pulls it all out, spreads it around and gets his ideas for the next story. I found this interesting as it was again like putting out puzzle pieces and solving them. Someone asked if he always knew how the book would end when he started to write. Exactly the opposite, it turns out. He has no idea how the story will end, lets the story and characters determine the outcome. And what was the hardest part? Page 65. Why page 65? Well, in the first part of the story, the criminal event happens, all the procedural things get underway, and the events and characters are set up, and by that time it is page 65. Then the real story has to begin.

He had a funny story about the previous Rebus novel, Standing in Another Man’s Grave. He said that although he loves music, he has a bad ear for lyrics and often falls prey to the mondegreen. He had been listening to a song by a Scottish musician, Jackie Leven (with whom he did a musical collaboration) and thought the line was “standing in another man’s grave”. The actual live was “standing in another man’s rain”. Also, his publisher didn’t like the title, saying it was too long. Ian came back that is was no longer than ‘Girl with a Dragon Tattoo’, which wasn’t the best rejoinder, because his publisher had turned down GWDT. In the end, the title went as first written.

Ian has a lot of other interests too, like music, and has done all kinds of collaborative projects with people. Check out his website for an overview.

So here is a photo of the talk. He went on for over an hour and it was not only entertaining but interesting to hear about the writer’s life. He said that writers are children who still play with their invisible friends.




After the presentation, he signed copies of his newest book, Saints of the Shadow Bible. I had ordered a copy from the UK (I like to get the hardback version from the UK) before I even knew Ian was coming here, and luckily it arrived a few days beforehand, so I was able to get it signed.

When it was my turn, I said to Ian, “I haven’t lined up for anything like this since the Beatles in 1964”. He said, “You saw the Beatles live? Where? I never got to see them and always wanted to”. When he signed my copy, under the signature, he started to draw a knots and crosses. I said, “A knots and crosses – thank you  so much!” and he said, “Would you like a hangman too?”, and started to draw one. So I got an extra special, to me, autograph.



And then, to top it off, he saw my camera and said, here let’s take a photo!!

ian and mesm

So, a thoroughly enjoyable time with my favourite writer, who gave me my favourite Ian Rankin moment. Thank you Mr Rankin!



  1. He sounds like a very interesting and textured person! What a lovely experience!

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