When they walk in Ian Rankin is busy pointing out that Phil Jupitus is dressed in a very smart suit, complete with twirled moustache. He is apparently dressed in character as Arthur Conan Doyle for one of his Fringe shows. Rankin jokes that he feels underdressed and invisible. Jupitus responds by laughing that most people are invisible when they’re on stage with a whale in a suit.
The session then begins with Rankin reading from his book that comes out in November. In the section he reads someone has taken a shot at the gangster, Cafferty, who can’t necessarily call the cops but he can call Rebus because Rebus is now retired, again. At first is seems there is only a broken window but Rebus then notices that two paintings have been moved, the larger one swapped with the smaller to cover a bullet hole in the wall. It’s clear that Cafferty doesn’t know who is threatening him, which as Rebus says to Siobhan outside, is why he’s so spooked. It certainly sounds like the start to an interesting story.
Rankin and Jupitus then discuss that there is an interesting co-dependency in the relationship between Rebus and Cafferty, even though they might well destroy each other. Rankin hadn’t initially intended for the gangster to become a recurring character but then he found that he and Rebus had an interesting chemistry so he kept coming back. He does find that sometimes things go into the books that he doesn’t notice until he goes back to edit. He also doesn’t always know how Rebus will react to something. He didn’t know that Rebus had a granddaughter or how he would respond to meeting her until it was actually on the page. Part of the reason he writes a book is to find out what happens. He once planned out a book too fully and both he and his editor liked the story but by that point he knew what happened so then didn’t need to write it.
Jupitus mentions that Rankin had a year off last year, no book, no book festival, nothing. Rankin said he’d spent the previous few years suddenly finding that friends were dropping dead in their fifties. At one point he’d seen Iain Banks at the funeral of a mutual friend and found it odd that he didn’t stay for the wake, only to get an email from Banks a week or so later breaking the news of his cancer diagnosis. Rankin’s wife then suggested that he step out of the hamster wheel and take some time off to travel and have fun.
The year out left him oddly energised and when he signed a new contract and started a new book in November he raced through 30,000 words in ten days. During the year he’d only written a few short stories if and when he felt like it. They took him right back to before his first book festival in 1985 when he was only writing for himself and could follow any idea he had to completion rather than having to write down and then set aside anything that wasn’t suitable for Rebus. As a student at the University of Edinburgh he was often writing short stories and sending them out, getting some published in magazines or read out on the radio and winning competitions with others. Short stories are a different ball game to novels. You can sit down and have something tangible and done in just a day or two whereas with a novel you have to settle in for a marathon that lasts months. Short stories are also an experiment in form and function and can have far more variation in tone and style than a series of novels can.
As a student he also wrote his PhD on Muriel Spark. At one point he was given her address but never made contact. Now there are students doing their dissertations on his work and many do contact him, often popping up to ask a few questions on Twitter. He finds it a little bizarre, especially since they send them to him and he finds sections discussing topics like ‘why are there so many trestle tables in Rankin’s work?’ or ‘why are there so many red cars?’. This reminds him that in one of the early books there was a typo that everyone missed and so for quite a while it featured a ‘trellis table’.
Jupitus mentions the ever changing nature of Police Scotland and Rankin sighs. Every time he does some research for a novel he finds that things have changed. He was recently at Police Scotland headquarters and every question he asked that began with ‘Do you still…?’ was answered with a no. It was only after he’d started writing about Malcolm Fox that he discovered that no one stays in Internal Affairs for their whole career, they do four or five years and then move on. The reason for Rebus’ second retirement is similar. First he reached 60 so Rankin had him retire, then Police Scotland changed the retirement age so he came back and now he’s reached retirement again. Jupitus wonders if the Police talk to each other and joke about what they’re going to tell Rankin next as if their constant restructuring is a game. Though judging by the comments Ben Aaronovitch made about the Met in his event, it seems as though constant reorganisation afflicts every police force in Britain.
Someone asks about the Oxford Bar and Rankin explains that when he was a postgrad student he had a flatmate who was a part time bartender there. He suggested that Rankin come along and he found that he liked it. There were a few cops in there who were regulars, it didn’t have any decorative frills, and although it is central it’s almost impossible to find. It has however led to Rebus fans from all over the world seeking it out in order to go in, look around and then leave. Unsurprisingly the owner is thoroughly unimpressed.