Harrogate event: Top author Ian Rankin reveals his Yorkshire roots

Crime writer Ian Rankin.
Crime writer Ian Rankin.

Among the big names coming to Harrogate’s Old Swan Hotel this summer is an old favourite, Ian Rankin.

Appearing in this year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate on Saturday, July 22, the Scottish writer is celebrating the 30-year reign of John Rebus as Britain’s most successful fictional detective inspector.

Rankin has sold more than 20 million books. His first novel had an advance of £200, but he’s been ranked as one of the most successful authors of all time, with an estate worth millions.

His latest, Rather Be the Devil, sees Rebus, now in his late sixties, not at best physical peak.

But there’s no doubting Rankin’s creative power or his love of Harrogate, partly because this writer, who is synonymous with Edinburgh has strong Yorkshire roots.

Talking to Ann Chadwick, Ian Rankin said: “I’m looking forward to coming back. The nice thing about Harrogate is everyone is focussed on one setting, that one hotel, it’s not a big city, so when you walk around the streets you do bump into fans and see them in bars and restaurants and get the chance to chat.

“I’ve also got family round that way so I’m going to try and catch up with them.

“I’m half Yorkshire. My mum was born and brought up in Bradford, her maiden name was Vickers, and her dad ran a pub – this was way before my time so I don’t know its name – I think it got knocked down and turned into a carpark in the 60s, but we used to go to Bradford for summer holidays.

“Whenever I’m in Yorkshire, I try catch up with family because my mum was born and brought up in Bradford, so I’ve got cousins and aunts and uncles in the neighbourhood.”

Although Ranking took a break from writing for a year after the death of his friend and fellow author Iain Banks, he says he is as much in love with the act of writing as he was in his student days at the University of Edinburgh.

He said: “Crime writing is fantastically therapeutic. If I walk out the house and someone nearly runs me over, some cars going too fast, I can just write about it and kill the driver

“For me writing is still the best way of exploring the world, making sense of the world and asking questions of the world.

“Basically all crime fiction boils down to a simple question, which is why do human beings keep doing terrible things, and that’s a really easy question to ask and almost impossible question to answer, but that doesn’t mean to say we shouldn’t be asking it.”

While Rankin is imagining his revenges on paper, he likes to listen to music, some of it classic rock but at other times quite gentle sounds for a writer who dwells on the more dangerous and seamier side of life.

Ian said: “I always have music playing when I write but it tends to be instrumental music, I don’t want to be listening to the lyrics, I want to be doing my own writing so I’ll listen to some jazz maybe, or Brian Eno’s ambient music is very good for writing music to, certain electronic bands.

“Boards of Canada are a Scottish two-piece band, and they do quiet, melodic instrumental which is great to write to.”

As for his greatest creation, Rebus, despite ‘killing him off’ once, the popular author has no intention at the moment of repeating the deed.

He said: “I’ve got no plans to kill him off anytime soon, I never know when I start writing a new book what the ending is going to be, so I never know if he’s going to be alive or dead at the end of the next book.”

Ian Rankin at Theakstond Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, Saturday, July 22, 10.30am.