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Interview with Ian Rankin
by Jon Jordan

Jon:  For people who may live in a cave and not read any of your books yet, could you give a brief rundown of the series?

Ian:  John Rebus is a police detective working in contemporary Edinburgh and exposing a side of that elegant city which tourists and visitors never see. He's a loner, a fighter, not much of a lover. The job is his only salvation. The city itself is a central character in the series, and beyond that each book tries to focus on one part of modern-day Scotland, so that the series itself becomes a jigsaw, laying out where the country's going, and how it got to where it is.

Jon:  Is there any of Ian Rankin in John Rebus?

Ian:  A bit. The music; the loner; the drinking... But I'm nicer than him; maybe not quite so fucked up. Long time ago, he was a cipher merely, a way of telling my stories, then he started infecting me... now there's more of him in me than ever before. Addictive poison.

Jon:  A lot of authors have had some strange jobs before they get published. What kind of things have you done before you were able to write full time?

Ian:  Lots of weird jobs. I looked after pigs, but killed one by ODing it with alcohol. I collected tax from people, that was fun. I sang in a punk band, worked as a secretary in the National Folktale Centre in London; was a hi-fi/music journalist. I worked as an alcohol researcher (asking kids about their drinking habits). Lots of strange shit.

Jon:  I really like the music references in the books.  Is music a large part of who you are?

Ian:  I'm listening to some new stuff right now, bought this afternoon: Arab Strap (Scottish band; you can't dance to them); Mogwai (Scottish band; you can't dance to them either). Also today bought secondhand CDs of Prefab Sprout and Hal Ketchum - I already have both albums on tape, but am a sucker for CDs. Music is the best of me. My wife hates my musical taste; so do most of my friends.

Jon:  Are you involved in the TV production of your books, or are you just an observer hoping it doesn't get to far off track?

Ian:  I have nothing to do with the TV. The actor, John Hannah, and I went out with the producer one night and got absolutely guttered. That's the extent of my involvement. I wish them well, I think it'll be great, but it's not my Rebus. My Rebus stays with me and inside me.

Jon:  As a father who writes I would guess that you get to spend more time with your kids than most fathers.  Do you think that people in general should try to spend more time with their kids?

Ian:  I spend little time with my kids: too busy touring or writing. They come home from school, I'm busy in my office. I should spend more time with them; everyone should spend more time with their kids. On the other hand, adults need space and time to themselves. That's why I like pubs: no kids...

Jon:  You seem to be a very open and honest person.  Is there any thing about you that people would be surprised to find out?

Ian:  I have my little secrets; bad behaviour under the influence of bad influences. Jeez, we all need a few skeletons, especially the Protestants among us. Keep feeding that guilt, keep piling it on.

Jon:  How much control do you have on the final books? Do you have any say in the artwork and the editing that is done?

Ian:  I get a little bit of say on artwork, then the publisher usually ignores me. Actually, that's true in UK; in US, I only usually see finished artwork, so I have even less say. Editing... I trust my editor, am usually fairly amenable to change. I'm not a prima donna.

Jon:  If you could go back in time and have a chat with a 18 year old Ian, what would you say?

Ian:  I'd say get out more; I'd say cheer up; I'd say don't waste your time on poetry thinking it'll get you a harem... head straight for crime fiction. That's where the meat is.

Jon:  I have found that authors are much more approachable than people in other parts of the entertainment industry.  Why do you think this is?

Ian:  Authors are human beings. Other media types are not. Actors play parts; they don't have to feel things; they're all surface (in many cases). Writers reach into their own souls and those of their characters. They feel. Musicians are in another sphere entirely, somewhere non-musos cannot wander into. Mind you, some writers I've come across, you wouldn't wipe your arse on them....

Jon:  Raymond Chandler died before finishing his last Marlowe book.  Robert Parker finished it, then wrote another.  Would you ever consider writing someone else's character?

Ian:  I don't think so... unless the money on offer was vast. I certainly wouldn't want anyone finishing one of MY books

Jon:  Would you ever consider getting involved in the movie business?

Ian:  I'd like to try a film or TV script (in fact, I'm about to embark on a TV drama, if my nerve holds). Thing is, it's writing by committee, and that's not the way I've ever written. Film execs want to know everything about the plot/story BEFORE you start writing, and essentially I make things up as I go along; I'm not organized enough to make it as a script writer. Plus all those rewrites... ugh!

Jon:  Are you a practical joker?

Ian:  Now and then. When some friends were away once, I stole a 'For Sale' sign and put it up next to their house as a homecoming gift. But practical jokes take effort, and these days I try to keep all effort to a minimum....

Jon:  What would be a perfect weekend for you?

Ian:  Perfect weekend: out on the bevvy (alcohol) with some pals, maybe hit some record shops, go see a football match, then sober up in the evening, a bath and a shave, and out for a meal with my wife. That's the Saturday. Sunday, I'd stay in bed late, then assassinate the royal family.

Jon:  What is the weirdest experience you ever had with a fan?

Ian:  I've had a few. The 'fan' who painted the name WOLFMAN (name of one of my serial killers) at the scene of one of the murders. The fan who's a dentist and sent me check-lists of all the mentions of teeth in the Rebus books (she's a very nice lady, as it turns out, but I didn't know that then). Strange rambling letters from a German woman....

Jon:  Are there any movies you have seen that have left a real lasting impression on you?

Ian:  I don't know. Instead, here are some films I love: The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Big Chill, Toy Story, Singles, Terminator, Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner....

Jon:  Aside from writing and touring, what occupies your time?

Ian:  Reading, listening to music, pub life. My two kids take up some time, too.

Jon:  What are some of your pet peeves?

Ian:  Noisy neighbours - I imagine taking an AK-47 to them. Religious bigotry (as in Catholics v Protestants).

Jon:  Do you ever start a book, and have something happen to change the direction from what you had planned?

Ian:  Happens all the time. Like with the one I finished a couple of months back. Was going to be first book in a trilogy aout Scottish parliament... but the guy who was going to be in all three books (making it a trilogy), well, I bumped him off on page 50. Didn't want to; the story made me do it. No idea who killed him or why.

Jon:  What is the one thing always in your icebox?

Ian:  $200,000 worth of cocaine and a 9mm Beretta.

 

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