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« Ian Rankin at the Bluma Appel Salon- November 18th, 2015 »

I have an extensive list of favourite authors whose work I admire and wait for eagerly after I reserve their new release on the public library’s online system. I do not buy many books anymore; despite a wrap-around, built-in shelving unit in our large basement, we have exhausted almost every available corner for our collection of literary treasures. Wednesday night, Ian Rankin’s recent release, “Even Dogs in the Wild”, was squeezed in between some other special books after I came home from his Q and A with fellow crime writer Linwood Barclay at the Toronto Reference Library’s Bluma Appel Salon with a signed copy.

The home library. Always room for one more special book…

My favourite corner of the home library: Klein, Rice, Rankin, and Townshend…

There are many musical groups who are both my contemporaries and artists I have followed from the very beginning of their careers, but Ian Rankin is the only author I can add to that category. I picked up “Knots and Crosses” when it was first published because I was (and still am) always looking for new detective fiction: I have had a lifelong love affair with the genre, from my first Nancy Drew as a child to discovering Poirot as a teenager, but it was the references to music and Rebus’ cranky character that grabbed me as a young adult in university and has yet to let me go almost thirty years later. I picked up every new book as soon at it came out, and remember thinking that it was possible for authors of our generation to become successful because he had done it. It inspired me to dust off an old manuscript I’d written in my late teens and eventually led me to publish my rock fiction novels four years ago.

The book that reeled me into Rebus’ world back in 1987.

The interview with Linwood Barclay was enjoyable on many levels: the humour flowed with ease between them as it does when friends are chatting, and I found Ian to be as natural a storyteller in person as he is on the page. Linwood was exceptional as an interviewer: he let Ian offer personal anecdotes effortlessly, rarely stopping except to add his own details or a personal connection to the story being shared with the capacity crowd. The format worked really well, and people were treated to a highly informative and entertaining dialogue between the two men. I laughed uproariously when they discussed Ian’s reticence for sex scenes and gruesome descriptions of violence in the Rebus novels: they referred to author Lawrence Block’s recent work for including so many anal sex scenes that it could read as a manual. Ian Rankin later tweeted that we had been a raucous crowd, but I would argue we were led there by the conversation, which was, like all good banter, peppered here and there with mild cursing that Rankin successfully curbed with a self-bleeping gesture except for one or two slip-ups. I was glad to see that I did not imagine my recently-made Scottish friends having a disproportionate tendency towards potty mouth language, but that this is true of literate, PhD students with a wide vocabulary as well. My cursing Scottish pals, I hasten to add, are likewise well-educated, highly intelligent, and in possession of a vast bank of words.

A capacity crowd at the Bluma Appel Salon on Wednesday night. Fifth row and second to the right is where I am hiding in black next to my friend Carol all decked in white.

As a fan of his work and someone who adores both the city of Edinburgh and music, I appreciated his insights into his characters and locales, chuckling at his references to Scotland’s annoying motorway “average speed cameras”, which we experienced during our recent trips there. I laughed and felt the collective but distant groan of Scottish police CIDs when he shared the story about their retirement ages being upped by a government official and fan of his work so that his fictional John Rebus could stay on at his imaginary post a few years longer. I really hope that was a spun yarn and not something that really happened…

The twentieth Rebus novel. What an incredible run that continues to this day.

As a writer, I was fascinated by the way he completes his initial draft, which in some way mirrored my own process of getting the story down first and then researching particular facts to make everything within the narrative accurate. His retelling of imitating Rebus’ drive to Ullapool and back from the far north down to Edinburgh in one day is not unlike some of the recreations I experienced to ensure that my book details were exact, and it was a relief to hear that I am not alone in being so meticulous.

There were also poignant moments, and the one that struck me in particular was when Linwood asked Ian about his recent sabbatical. Ian spoke of mortality and the recent loss of some dear friends, including fellow Scots writer Iain Banks. When asked if he’d read his posthumously published last novel, “The Quarry”, he replied that it still sat on his nightstand because, “as long as it remains there unread, there is still another book of his to read, and he is still not dead to me.” What a powerful, touching moment that was.

One of my favourite exchanges came when we were invited to ask questions and a Scottish gentleman asked him if a certain Edinburgh club owner (no last name, only a last initial mentioned) was the real life inspiration for Big Ger Cafferty’s character. Rankin laughed and qualified his answer by stating it depended on whether not the man was still alive. I asked whether or not Rankin could see himself crossing into new genres, something I genuinely have been wondering about since so many others are doing it very successfully. I was particularly thinking of J.K. Rowling, whose current series is one of my favourites. Ian’s answer, after joking about a slim volume called “The Rebus Cookbook”: a firm no. That’s my rock fiction writing career safe from a more talented invasion then.

At the end of the evening, Ian signed personalized copies for the long line of fans. He was attentive and patient with everyone who waited to speak to him, and I was delighted to finally meet him and tell him how much I have enjoyed reading his work for almost three decades now. I meant to tell him how he had inspired me to find the motivation to write again, but our brief conversation went elsewhere instead. He was gracious enough to let my friend take a photograph of us together, and I must say, my generation is pretty photogenic for a group now middle-aged.

Yours truly with the man of the hour.

I now need to go buy another copy of the new Rebus novel, and had I been thinking clearly, should have done so at the venue itself. My habitual reading sanctuary is the bathtub, where bubbles and essential oils have ruined many a copy of the library loans. There is no chance I am doing this to the treasure placed in my hands on Wednesday night.

Too precious for the water.

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