Harrogate Dispatches #2: Ian Rankin

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Chair Elly Griffiths and the Harrogate team really have put together a terrific line-up for this year’s Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival, and the fun continued this morning when one of the UK best-loved and best-selling crime writers, Ian Rankin, took to the stage of the Royal Hall concert hall here in Harrogate.

Rankin has been a constant in crime fiction fans’ lives (as well TV crime drama) for 30 years, thanks to his DI John Rebus creation – that gruff, Edinburgh-based detective. To kick things off Rankin remembered the late, great William McIllvaney, who he had interviewed at the festival before. Indeed, the first time I attended this festival – seven years ago – Rankin was a headlining guest that year, too.

Rankin was asked about the development of the character, and the fact that he seemed to be perpetually in his 60s, to which Rankin described his character as the ‘Han Solo of crime’ – ie. he was cryogenically frozen in way.

But he did say that he sees each new book as a stand-alone.  Yes, part of a long-running series, but a new, fresh story. It’s the world around him that changes, his interaction with it and the people who inhabit it and interact with him. Indeed, Rankin’s stories seem to now address how Rebus fits in with a world he hardly recognises. And not just Rebus, but also his nemesis – the ying to his yang – gangster, Gerald Cafferty. Rankin explained that Cafferty is the Hyde to Rebus’s Jekyll, two sides of the same coin; and two people, although at the opposite ends of the criminal spectrum, who could not live without each other.

So the challenge for Rankin now, he says, is to figure out how Rebus (now an older man, suffering from COPD and other ailments associated with a lifetime of smoking and heavy drinking) reacts to situations in a world that has fast outgrown him, and not only that but how the world itself reacts to a character that employs the old ways.

One other interesting nugget: Rankin, while discussing the nature of evil, said that he had been approached by none other than Ian Brady for an interview for a Channel 4 TV series he was making (Rankin, not Brady). Rankin said he flatly refused because “once he gets inside your head he doesn’t get out. You can’t unmeet him.”

NB: I write this really quickly, so forgive any typos and strangely-written sentences (no change there, then, I here you guffaw

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