Exit Music - Interview with Ian Rankin

Few Scottish readers need any introduction to the man James Ellroy called the 'King of Tartan Noir' but for those of you living in an underground bunker, cut off from the outside world, Ian Rankin has a new book out this month. Exit Music, the 17th installment in the Rebus detective series sees Rankin's boozy, hard-bitten protagonist reach retirement age. BooksfromScotland sent TONY BLACK along to talk to Rankin about the book, the state of Scottish writing, and the country in general.

Ian Rankin

Tony Black: Edinburgh has Rebus tours, there's a Rebus beer and whisky; in Waterstone's the other day I saw a Rebus's Edinburgh calendar - what's the worst tie-in you've had put to you?

Ian Rankin: I wasn't sure about that Rebus calendar, to be honest. I've seen Rebus tea-towels and umbrellas and a Rebus-themed iPod...

How do you feel about the massive media frenzy that surrounded the possible end of the Rebus series?

The end-of-Rebus media frenzy was exhilarating, but it happened in August (a quiet news month). Might not have been noticed in some other months. It has reminded me that fans care deeply about this character I've created, so I need to be careful how I deal with what remains of his life.

There's been a lot of talk about the crisis in Scottish culture lately - the threat from a Waterstone's monopoly and the reduction of Scottish TV content - as one of the nation's greatest contributors to our culture, do you think it is genuinely under threat?

I don't think Scottish culture is under threat - quite the reverse. We seem to have more Scottish writers and artists than ever before doing work which is renowned world-wide. What we need to be wary of is any sign of a 'new insularism', where Scottish content is thought of as being of interest only to a Scottish audience.

Exit Music - Ian Rankin

Exit Music

The Rebus television series is one of the few Scottish successes of late - do you agree with First Minister Alex Salmond's moves to re-address the balance?

Broadcasting is an easy bullseye for the First Minister. If you asked any nation: would you like to see more of your programmes on TV? - the answer would be yes. We could reduce the argument further and say Scottish TV is too Glasgow-centric, and eventually we would end up arguing over nothing at all. I'm happy for Scottish success stories, and would like to see more of them, but I think that means us being more outward-looking rather than inward-looking. (e.g.: looking for co-productions with other countries.)

In the past you have said the Scottish Parliament was populated by “idiots” have you any more confidence in the new SNP administration and its drive for independence?

Well, if I said idiots, it was an exaggeration for comic effect. There have always been good people at Holyrood. That's not to say there haven't been some second-raters, too, and I certainly get the sense that a lot of Westminster talent decided not to return north of the border at the advent of devolution. The SNP win has shaken everything up and made for interesting times. Labour is having to learn that it can't be complacent. Salmond is charismatic, witty and a bare-knuckle debater. What we're looking for now is some substance, but the first 100 days have produced few if any banana skins...

Tartan Noir has been called “essentially ersatz”, the implication being that it's a marketing gimmick, do you agree?

I've not heard that 'ersatz' criticism. I think Scottish crime fiction is as real(istic) (as opposed to ersatz) as any other nation's crime fiction. In my own books I deal with 'what if' scenarios: these things may not be happening in the real world, but the potential for them to happen certainly exists. I don't feel this equates with 'ersatz'.

I've asked you before, so I know you think the state of Scottish crime writing is very healthy, but, has it peaked or is there more to come?

I don't think we've peaked, but how would I know? All I can say is, the current practitioners seem to be firing on all cylinders, and new voices like Allan Guthrie and Stuart McBride and Alex Gray and Lin Anderson keep appearing. I'd like to see more attention paid to the less-noir-writers and I'd also be interested in reading crime fiction from other communities within Scotland, but the scene seems healthy.

And, what's still to come for Ian Rankin?

I've got a wheen of work on the horizon: a comic book for Vertigo Comics in New York; beefing up my recent New York Times serial into a fully-fledged novel; an opera libretto; and two further books which I'm contracted to write but don't have any ideas for as yet.

Exit Music is published by Orion on September 6.

Tony Black's first novel PAYING FOR IT is to be published by Random House in 2008. Ken Bruen kindly praised the book, saying it "blasts off the page like a triple malt... one adrenaline-pumped novel that is as moving and compassionate as it is so stylishly written". More of his writing can be found online at: Scotsman.com, Shots Magazine, Thug Lit, Pulp Pusher and is forthcoming in Demolition and Out of the Gutter. Black lives and works in Edinburgh. Reach him at: t_black_uk@yahoo.co.uk