Q&A with ian rankin

The crime novelist discusses what he would save in a house fire - and who he would invite on Come Dine With Me

Janette Currie: The Impossible Dead is set in contemporary Scotland with much of the plot looking back to the social and political scene of the 1980s, the same time that you published your first novel The Flood. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Ian Rankin: Don’t drink so much. [There are] a lot of blank spaces back then where memories should be. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t remember all the domestic Scottish terrorism that was going on. A lot of the period 1980-85 seems to have passed me by.

JC: The whole back catalogue has been rebranded. How much input did you have on the final result?

IR: I once tried designing my own book jacket - it was for the original hardback of Strip Jack. [My publisher] Orion went along with it and it was terrible (basically a Lion Rampant flying from the Houses of Parliament). I’m useless at that kind of thing, so I usually go along with the opinion of people who are paid to come up with the right visual treatment. It is frustrating that if you get a really great look, it only stands out from the crowd for a year or two, because people start to copy aspects of it. Orion showed me various possible jacket looks, and we did discuss it a little. I’m happy with the outcome.

JC: The Impossible Dead is set outside of Edinburgh and nicely opens up the possibility of taking the Malcolm Fox series across Scotland. I wonder which Scottish town have you always wanted to visit but haven’t yet found the time?

IR: I’ve visited most of them, at one time or another. But I’ve never been to the Outer Hebrides… so maybe Stornoway. Also, I once visited Falkland (when I was in primary school) and I keep meaning to go back. Johnny Cash claimed he had roots there, you know.

JC: Who would you invite to your Come Dine with Me dinner and what would you serve them?

IR:  I watch that show. I’m not a great cook but I do have a few ‘bankers’: maybe a rich beef and wine stew. Or a chilli con carne. Plenty of good white and red wine. To start: smoked salmon. Cheese and oatcakes for afters. 

Around the table would be arranged: Robert Louis Stevenson (so I can ask him about the first draft of Jekyll and Hyde – the one he’s supposed to have thrown on the fire), Frank Zappa (he might even play a few licks – I never got to see him in concert) and Billie Holiday.    

JC: Your house is on fire! Your family and record collection are safe but you only have time to save one book – what is it?

IR: My first edition hardback of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. My wife bought it for me when I was doing my PhD on Spark. Many years later, I met the lady herself and she signed it for me (at the risk of getting a hand singed, I might also grab my signed and dedicated copy of Keith Richards’ Life in passing…)

JC: If you were paper what would you fold yourself into?

IR: I’d fold the paper in half, then in half again, and cut the edges to make an eight-page blank book, ready to be filled with cartoons, drawings and lines of text.

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin is published by Orion on 13th October.