284 - Ian Rankin’s Scotland

Ian Rankin is a highly successful Scottish author whose novels about the Edinburgh Detective Inspector, John Rebus, are international bestsellers. Yet here he acknowledges his debt to another Scottish writer, Alasdair Gray, whose 1981 novel Lanark inspired an entire generation:

Ian Rankin (Scottish accent)
Well, Lanark… Lanark was a huge influence on a whole generation of… of.. of young writers who were all growing up in the mid-to-late ‘70s because, you know, there didn’t seem to be any contemporary novels that had set the world on fire, and then along came Lanark, which was revolutionary, it was weird, it was a mixture of… of realism and science fiction, it was complex structurally and Alasdair Gray himself is a great eccentric: I saw him a few weeks ago at the Edinburgh Book Festival; he’s as eccentric as ever! And it was a big hit. It was a big hit with critics all over the world and so suddenly writers in Scotland thought, “Wow! We’re… allowed to write about that kind of Scotland and we’re allowed to be unusual, quirky, realistic, if we want to be naturalistic, and out of it came lots of writers, from Irvine Welsh, to Iain Banks, James Kelman. We’re all maybe not influenced by it, but its success opened doors to them and meant their work was taken more seriously than might otherwise have been the case.

Ian Rankin then talked about the town where he grew up:

Ian Rankin
Well, more of a village, I mean, it was called Cardenden, but Cardenden was basically an agglomeration of four villages, mining villages, coal mining. And this was in Fife, which is about 30, 40 kilometres north of Edinburgh. And it was like a tribe, you know, it was like a little tribe: we’d all … all the families had moved there in the early 20th century, from the west of Scotland, because coal had been discovered, and so lots of coal miners arrived, and my grandparents, my grandfather had been a coal miner, most of my uncles, my father’s brothers, were coal miners, and it was a very tightly knit community. So two doors away from us was an aunt and uncle, over the back wall, an aunt and uncle, just up the road, an aunt and uncle! And it could… it was quite smothering, quite suffocating as a young… as a child, because I felt different, you know… I was… I had to be chameleon-like and look as though I fitted in, so I would be sort of hanging around with the tough kids down… you know, when I was a teenager, be hanging around with the gangs, but then I’d be going home and writing poetry and song lyrics in my bedroom and not telling anybody that I was doing it, because I didn’t want to look different from the tribe. And it wasn’t really until I got to university that I could come out of my shell and actually say, “Actually, I want to be a writer and I am writing” and… and show people what I was writing. But it was a very safe place to grow up and it was… I mean, there were very good things about it. There were very good things about it , but I did feel a sense of release when I finally went to Edinburgh, to university.

And in conclusion we asked him for his thoughts on Scottish independence:

Ian Rankin
Well, the… the… Nationalist Party finally got into power, having been in existence for the… I don’t know, for the… I don’t know, for the best part of a century. They have a minority administration but they are in power in Scotland. This doesn’t seem to have increased people’s appetite for independence, interestingly. Before they got into power, if you… if you did a poll, you usually found that between 25 and 30 per cent of Scots were pro-independence: the latest polls show 25 to 30 per cent of Scots are in favour of independence! I mean, one big problem for the Nationalists was that they compared Scotland to countries like Ireland and Iceland: small nations which had become very successful. Well, of course, with the financial crash, the world financial crash, some of the biggest casualties were Ireland and Iceland. So… and Scotland, as an independent country, could not have afforded to save the Royal Bank of Scotland from bankruptcy, so the situation would have been chaotic. And so I think a lot of people are saying, “Well, independence for a small country is fine, as long as the financial outlook is secure, but we live in very unstable times, a very unstable world, and… and so maybe we should… you know, maybe it makes sense not to… to go it alone.” So, although people enjoy devolution, they enjoy having a certain level of… of… of… self-government, and they don’t seem to mind having the Nationalists in power, there doesn’t seem to be an appetite for independence. If there was an appetite for independence, then, you know, I would try and help it along, but I’m quite happy with the way things are at the moment.

(Ian Rankin was talking to Mark Worden)