Yesterday we spent a very happy hour or so in the company of a lot of other people in the beautiful old Baptist Church in Collins Street in Melbourne, listening to Shane Maloney and Ian Rankin chat.
The session was organised by local bookstore Readers Feast, as part of their new Crime and Justice Festival - which Ian Rankin is the International Patron for. This sounds like a fascinating and very exciting idea for a festival - combing crime fiction and issues of social justice.
And it was on this topic that Shane and Ian were bought together, and the discussion did range around a number of areas - including the question of social justice and what triggers crime fiction writers and what messages they are trying to impart / itches they are scratching.
This was a different Ian Rankin session to those that I've listened to on the radio (or had reports of from others who have seen in during his Australian Tour). A general chat between two articulate, amusing writers that flowed around the topic of the gathering, as well as the pifalls and joys of TV using your books as a basis for their work; observations about society in Australia and Scotland; dead fish; cattle and more....
The discussion was very much free flowing with both Shane and Ian asking questions of each other and responding to points made by each other. They talked about Edinburgh as a setting for crime fiction and Ian made mention of a few things, including the dichotomy of living in a city that's very much a tourist destination, but also has long term residents. He talked of the problems in the society that he saw in the early 80's when he first moved to Edinburgh, and some of the triggers that led him to Rebus as a character. He also talked about the nature of Edinburgh as somewhere to live - in a city, that's like a town, which is really a village (I'm paraphrasing). Later on he touched on the intimacy of the community - the stunned amazement of Ian's London based editor to find JK Rowling working on a Harry Potter manuscript - in long hand - in a journal - in a coffee shop and how the editor was compelled by horror to rush and "stand guard" over the manuscript when Rowling left her table for a few moments. He talked about having Alexander MacCall Smith drop in to discuss a plot point in 44 Scotland Street (and deciding to resolve it by making the fictional Ian Rankin a slightly nicer person than the real Ian Rankin (it was something in the book about finding a painting by a new Scottish Master in a junk shop for $5 dollars and not being willing to hand it over - to of all people - the Scottish Conservative Society!)
The also talked about the nature of Rebus as the "old fashioned cop", and how fans relate to him - the men wanting to live his ideal bachelor life (drinking himself to sleep, sleeping where you lay on the couch, getting up without a sign of a major hangover and heading off to work, no obsession with clothes, just doing whatever) and the women who are his fans - who think that they are the woman who can change him. He did say part of the reason he created Siobhan was to have a character that was actually closer to a real-life Scottish police representative than Rebus could ever be brought to be. They also talked - albeit briefly about some current goings on in the Victoria Police which have resulted in a flurry of high-profile resignations and suspensions. It's always interesting to note how authors (and comedians) are such acute observers of their environment - they notice things that perhaps others of us in a strange place wouldn't blink at. It was also instructive to note that these sorts of high profile "scandals" and the associated gossiping can have a very broad impact and I'm sure that the publicist for the festival, whose husband was due to give evidence at the enquiry on the same day (I hasten to add there's no suggestion of anything on his part), was not displeased when Shane Maloney obviously moved the discussion on.
As with any session with these two authors, you expect humour. With Shane it's possibly more expansive, but both authors showed a great capacity for dry and sharp wit. There were many laugh out loud moments. In talking about whether or not fans of their books wrongly identify them with their protaganists, Shane did mention that he'd had hopes when David Wenham took the part of Murray for the TV movies there could be some blurring of the lines of identification (David being a notorious thinking woman's sex symbol around here). Alas the deliniation of TV character and author has yet to be breeched. Ian told a story of somebody in his local bar (it seems the barman there has a pretty high incidence of being able to pick a Rebus fan) who, on being identified as one such fan and having Ian Rankin, sitting in the corner, pointed out to him, seemed underwhelmed to be in the presence of the author. Ian also told a great story of one of his books (Black and Blue) being the only Fiction book in the Scottish Parliament. It seems that the gentleman who eventually became their first Chief Minister (equivalent possibly of our Prime Minister) was given a copy of the book to review. He panned it - he absolutely hated it. When he later died in very close proximity to Ian (and Rebus's) local - The Oxford Bar - he left his entire library to the Scottish Parliament. Hence one bad review lead to one distinguished record.
They both also talked about the trials and tribulations of having your books converted to film / TV. Ian did say that he's not unhappy with Ken Stott's portrayal of Rebus but he doesn't "see" Stott when he thinks of Rebus. To him, Sean Connery 20 years ago is probably the ideal Rebus - but then the books weren't really written then and he thinks Connery was too big a Hollywood star to have been interested. Shane's spoken before about the idealness of David Wenham as Murray. They also talked bout the strangenss of the TV adaptation with Ian mentioning he's done a couple of cameos in the TV series - one in the John Hannah days and one in the espisode based on his book "The Falls". He particularly mentioned this one as he was asked would he like to play the part of "heroic pedestrian" rescuing Rebus's girlfriend Miranda from the "red headed stranger". Bit odd as neither of them were in his book.....
Shane Maloney then explained that as far as he was concerned the book was "the cow" (at this point the entire audience went all quizzical) and the TV / Film is an OXO cube. All an author can do is hope that the OXO cube is a beef one. Don't be surprised if Ian Rankin starts using that definition - he (and the rest of us) were duly impressed once the laughter had stopped..
Questions from the floor lasted for about 15 minutes with a couple of very interesting ones - including a young girl who asked Shane about the importance of including Australian books in your reading. I was really pleased that he stressed our own stories are as vital as are stories from other parts of the world. Personally I think that the greatest strength in Shane (and Peter Temple's writing) is that they both help us make sense of being Australian... but that's another topic for another day.
Finally the opportunity to have a book signed - I must admit I took Fleshmarket Close with me as it's been one of my favourite books of Ian's for a while, and all my copies of Shane's books are already signed. I was really disappointed as my friend in WA had sent me a book of Shane's to be signed and it didn't arrive in the post until today - Andrea I'll hang onto it and see if I can stalk Shane Maloney somewhere else so we can get that dedicated to your daughter.
I did manage to carry on the 4MA tradition and told Ian that Vicki says hi. He said there's one everywhere :) He said to say hi back and hoped she is feeling better - she's been quiet recently so I'll pass that back to 4MA.
An illegal immigrant is found murdered in an Edinburgh housing scheme: a racist attack, or something else entirely? Rebus is drawn into the case, but has other problems: his old police station has closed for business, and his masters would rather he retire than stick around. But Rebus is that most stubborn of creatures. As Rebus investigates, he must visit an asylum seekers' detention centre, deal with the sleazy Edinburgh underworld, and maybe even fall in love... Siobhan meanwhile has problems of her own. A teenager has disappeared from home and Siobhan is drawn into helping the family, which will mean travelling closer than is healthy towards the web of a convicted rapist. Then there's the small matter of the two skeletons - a woman and an infant - found buried beneath a concrete cellar floor in Fleshmarket Close. The scene begins to look like an elaborate stunt - but whose, and for what purpose? And how can it tie to the murder on the unforgiving housing-scheme known as Knoxland?