Q: You will be chairing the debate on national literature. What do you think will be the main themes from this and are you expecting a similarly eventful debate as that between Hugh MacDiarmid and Alexander Trocchi in 1962?

A: Scottish politics being what they are at the present time, I would expect the debate to be lively; after all, when you talk about a national literature, the notion of nationalism is never far away.

Q: Your novels have been labelled ‘Tartan Noir’. How much do you welcome or reject such genre classifications?

A: I don’t mind the classification because in the world of publishing and selling books, it’s useful to have a label that the general public recognises. It’s a useful selling point if the Scots can say we have an identity of our own.

Q: You are going to be bringing Rebus back in your forthcoming novel Standing in Another Man’s Grave. Why did you decide to bring him back?

A: There was a feeling of unfinished business between us, plus this year will be the 25th anniversary of the first book of Rebus.

Q: The Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference sees its purpose as an opportunity to rethink how writers and their writing can play a part in understanding and improving the world. What are your feelings on the role of writers today?

A: The role of the writer is dependent upon the culture in which they operate.  In some countries, writers will be political; in others, they may be at odds with the state and in fear of saying anything contrary to the opinion of the ruling party.

Q: With the current debate around Scottish Independence do you think this is something that we will see coming through as a stronger theme in future Scottish literature?

A: There’s no doubt that writers have been at the forefront of the campaign for independence. And, of course, if you’re writing poetry, novels or plays in Scotland at the moment, there’s always that subtext of Scottish-ness, of what it means. Novels are good at exploring a range of human feelings, but also human interaction; so they are well placed for asking these questions, and maybe coming up with answers.

Q: The 1962 Edinburgh Writers’ Conference took place 50 years ago. If you had been old enough to have attended, which debates of the day do you think you would have been most interested in and who would you have been most excited to see speaking?

A: I would have been very impressed by Alexander Trocchi because he was a counter cultural writer who I enjoyed reading as a teenager. I did my PhD in the novels of Muriel Spark and I would be running along to grab her to sign my copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Q: Was there a topic that wasn’t covered that you think should have been?

A: There is still a feeling that women aren’t as well represented at the frontline of literature as they should be. Reviewers in the newspapers and magazines tend to be males reviewing books by men, and yet women are the backbone of literature and the ones who buy the books.

Q: Over the course of the next year the Conference will be taken around the globe. Which countries perspective are you most looking forward to hearing from?

A: As a novelist I spend a lot of time going on international tours to do talks and signings. There’s a frustration that when an English-speaking author goes to these countries, you find that translations are a one way street. While your books have been translated into many different languages, the writers from those countries haven’t always been translated into English. So there are a lot of writers out there who are unknown in the English speaking world but deserve to be better known.

Q: What do you think a World Writers Conference in 2062 would look like?

A: Incredibly different, but probably still discussing the same things. We’ll still be worried about the future of literature and may still be discussing censorship and freedom of speech. But we’ll be doing it in a much more virtual world. There will still be, I hope, a hunger for literature; but the delivery system may have changed.

Q: What do you think your main characters’ opinions on the National Literature debate would be?

A: Rebus hasn’t read a book in quite a few years! I’m tempted to say he would steer clear of the nationalism debate. He’s a conservative with a small ‘c’  guy, so he would be happy sitting at home reading the thriller novels of Alistair MacLean.

Q: Who do you think would win in a fight between Inspector Rebus andRentonfrom Trainspotting?

A: Rebus is in his sixties now and not as physically able as he used to be. But if you’re talking about the Rebus of the early books, then he would definitely kick the young man’s arse, no doubt about it. If you’re talking about Begbie however, the unpredictable nutcase in Trainspotting, he might have the beating of Rebus.

Ian Rankin


Please join in the discussion below. You can sign in using your existing Twitter, Facebook, Google or Disqus accounts by clicking on the icons. Alternatively, submit a name and email address to set up an ad-hoc account for your comments..