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Rebus author Rankin on life, writing & what's next for his famous character

Critically-acclaimed crime writer Ian Rankin gave a fascinating insight into his life and career during a special event at Liverpool Hope University.

Rankin, who is best known for the global-hit Inspector Rebus series, discussed the role of the writer in the modern world, tips for aspiring authors and his future book plans.

The Scot was at Hope Park for The Gerard Manley Hopkins Memorial Event on Tuesday (March 26) organised by the University's Department of English.

He took part in a 90-minute Q&A with friend and fellow novelist Dr Paul Johnston, who is a creative writing lecturer at Hope.

Rankin, whose latest Rebus novel is called ‘In a House of Lies’, is the recipient of four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards, including the Diamond Dagger, the UK’s most prestigious award for crime fiction.

He told the audience that his next book should be completed by summer 2020, although he had “no idea” yet what it would be about.

Rankin also revealed he has been commissioned to write the opening chapter of a sequel to 1954 classic novel Lord of the Flies, as part of a special project by BBC Radio 3.

He also recalled filming a 2002 TV series for Channel 4 about the concepts of good and evil, ‘Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts’, during which he visited a murderer on death row in America, and went to the Vatican to meet the Diocese of Rome’s chief exorcist.

On his famous protagonist Detective Inspector John Rebus he said: “Rebus is probably my other darker half and Cafferty (an Edinburgh gangster and Rebus’ nemesis) is his darker half.

“The books are much more venal and cynical than I am.”

Reflecting on the process of writing his novels he added: “I don’t kill characters off, the books kill them off. If the book demands if they have to go, even if I like them.

"I’m never sure when I start a book whether Rebus will survive it.”

He explained how his decision to diagnose Rebus with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in recent books effects the character’s plot-lines.

“It’s made me re-think him as a character. He’s given up smoking and almost given up drinking,” he said. “His girlfriend has got him into meditation and Brian Eno music to relax him.

“But he won’t last much longer living in flat which on the top of two-storeys.

“The other thing is giving your character a pet. Don’t! People care a lot more if a pet dies than if a human does in books. They get very angry.

“I’d forgotten I’d given Rebus a dog and my wife handed me back the last draft and said: ‘Shouldn’t Rebus be feeding his dog or taking him for a walk”.”

On his technique for writing a novel he said that his main research comes between the first and second draft.

He added that he would be interested in writing more short stories, possibly involving Rebus, which he said could be set much further North in Scotland.

Published on 27/03/2019