Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Ian Rankin: The Ottawa Interview, Part 2

Editor's note: this is the second installment of a two-part interview. For the first part of the interview, click here.


JN: So after the tour,  will you start writing again?

IR: No, probably not, for various reasons. Number one, I’m on a one-book-every-two-years contract, so I don’t need to deliver a book next year at all. And we’re off to downsizing. We’re moving from a big house to a small apartment. So I’ve got a lot of work to do to get rid of stuff. I’ve got to get my head around that, get the house sold, move into the apartment, and then maybe—I mean, I usually write my books the first half of the year. Take this new book [In a House of Lies]: in January I had nothing. I got an idea for it in January, started writing it in February, it was delivered in June and it published in October.


JN: What kind of workdays does that make for you?

IR: Twelve-hour days, seven days a week. [But] you know, when your story starts flying you’ve got to stick with it. But next year could be different. The first half of the year could be me selling the house and moving into an apartment. So I might not start writing until June [or] July, and two things could happen there: one, I write the next book very quickly and it’s delivered by the end of the year, or I take my time, and I’ve got a year to write the book instead of six months. I don’t know which would be better for me. We’ll see.


JN: Both your sons are young men now. Has either shown an interest in writing as a career?

IR: No. In fact, Jack has just successfully read one of my novels, at the age of twenty-six.  He tried as a teenager and didn’t get on with it, [then] he read my graphic novel a few years ago and said, “It’s ok, dad, but don’t give up the day job.” And now he’s read Strip Jack, which is actually named after him, and I think he quite enjoyed it. But he’s not a crime fiction reader. [These days] young people mostly aren’t. It’s a weird thing, but crime fiction, you mostly get into it late in life. You know what I mean? It’s a genre, a way of looking at the world you only get into when you get some experience.


JN: Coming back to your novels, the relationship between Rebus and Cafferty is one of the great Faustian relationships in literature. And they’re both getting older, and they’re both finding themselves, especially Cafferty in recent years, in some bit of peril. Do you anticipate possibly weaving into that [narrative] a sort of joint intimacy, in the sense that Rebus might, for example, find himself in jeopardy and Cafferty might come to his aid, even in a deadly way?


IR: Well, they’ve both [already] done it. I forget which book it is, but in one of the Rebus novels Cafferty pulls Rebus out of a nightclub fire and saves his life. And in fact in what was meant to be the final Rebus book, Exit Music, Cafferty is in hospital and he flatlines, and Rebus tries to save him. So that’s been done. You know, I’ve never had a plan for their relationship. I start writing a book and I go, “Where are they now, what are they doing? Do they still hate each other? Are they friends? Are they foes?” It’s a mixture. I mean, every cop needs their Moriarty figure, and I don’t think either one of them can imagine a world without the other. They enjoy the sparring, they enjoy the jousting…the games of chess and mind games that they play with each other. And also now, we see them in their mid-to-late sixties, lookin’ around at a changing world that doesn’t make sense to them any more. Modern technology doesn’t make sense to them any more, and by this stage in their lives they are supposed to be retired and shuffled off the stage, and they just refuse to do it. So there’s an extraordinary empathy between them, but possible not quite friendship.


JN: We had lots more to discuss, but we were well past our allotted our time together, so I thanked Ian for making space in his already-crowded schedule. He needed a bit of down time, and I was looking forward to his talk at Christ Church Cathedral that evening, and even more, to our getting together once again, this time for a promised pint at a certain bar in Edinburgh.