hardly in the ballpark of Eminem owning a

Britney tattoo or Ian Paisley having Neil Lennon on his Christmas card list. But the crime writer‘s battle with Harry Potter‘s creator for the hearts and pockets of the Scottish book- buying public is as close to local literary rivalry as it gets.

livery week. the charts produced by the Scottish Publishers Association show the pair dominating the top twenty. Rowling‘s quartet of Hogwarts adventures have enjoyed permanent residence in the top ten since the fourth was released to unprecedented fervour


last spring. Rankin‘s previous feat of eight Rebus tales in the top ten. meanwhile. nearly prompted him to have the list framed.

Yet last Christmas. Rankin and his eight- year-old son Jack began a sixteen-hour drive from Edinburgh on the way to France which cemented their passion for Potter. ‘We listened to the first book on tape all the way through; eight hours of Stephen Fry. And as soon as it finished my son asked to listen to it again. We did and we‘re hooked.‘

Like Rankin. Rowling‘s success comes down to an uncanny knack of telling a rollicking tale. But it‘s much more than that. ‘In some ways. it‘s quite sad that in 2001 we‘re still having books about wizards set in boarding schools. but kids absolutely love it.‘ says Rankin. ‘As normal and ordinary as they feel themselves to be. they might just be like Harry Potter; we all grow up wanting to be superheroes and I then started to write about it all in comic books but I was crap at art. Couldn‘t draw the pension my dad used to tell me.‘

Rankin‘s route to a comfortable old age began in earnest at the height of the Thatcherism he despised. Having left his Fife homestead of Cardenden (or ‘Car Dead End‘ as he calls it). he completed a degree in English Literature at Edinburgh University. and used the funding for a PhD on Muriel Spark to write books. One of which was Knots And Crosses. his first Rebus novel. published in I987. Soon after. he moved to London with his civil servant wife. got an agent. reviewed a little and dabbled in the kind of metropolitan schmoozing needed to get his name known.

His writing then was shifting between the poetry he initially thought would make his name. spy novels. airport thrillers under the moniker Jack Harvey. and an attempt to replicate the tough city crime he himself loved reading; Rankin‘s inspirations in this genre

Ian Rankin loves IK. Rowling. Granted. it‘s

were Lawrence Block and James Ellroy. ‘They painted these gorgeous black portraits of the city and when I moved to Edinburgh as a student. I thought this was a strange. complex. twisted city that meant different things to different people.

‘I write books to try and get a handle on that and once I know the city inside out. I‘ll stop writing them but Rebus still has a few more books in him. Plus. I‘ve got the kind of publishing deals that mean I can get the carpets done and a new fireplace: get those ugly doors off the cabinet. If the telly was any bigger I could hide the cabinet.‘

Scottish Book Special

the first place.‘ he says. ‘I can‘t get my head round the fact that l have got no time to write a book. Partly I‘ve taken on too many projects in the recent past. but once they‘re out of the way I‘m just going to turn everything down. apart from charities or schools or libraries. When I started off wanting to be a writer. as a fledgling I would have been one of those in the audience wanting writers to come and tell us how to do it.‘

For those who want to know how to do contemporary crime. a reading of The Falls. the twelfth Rebus adventure. is as good an education as any. The student daughter of a

As Inspector Rebus sets out on his twelfth investigation, IAN RANKIN invites us round to talk about John Hannah, Harry Potter and learning how to say no. Words: Brian Donaldson Photograph: Jonathan Littlejohn

The telly is indeed a Whopper. with DVDs of A Cloekwork Orange and Analyze This resting near the Harry Potter board game and an Eminem CD. The drinks cabinet is indeed modest. He may not have touched a drop before we meet (it‘s 9.30am). but he looks the way you‘d imagine John Rebus to feel after an all-too-often night on the Laphroaig. ‘I should have been with Prince Charles today. celebrating The Archers" 50th anniversary.‘

It‘s not the only big media bash he‘s been asked along to recently. ‘Andrew Neil sent an invitation to The Dorchester Hotel to celebrate The Seotsman‘s increase in sales or something. I thought: “Fuck me. that‘s a long way to go for a drink“.‘ Rankin didn‘t show. He‘s also turned down Melvyn Bragg.

On the mantelpiece is propped a card from John Hannah to Rankin‘s son Jack: ‘Happy Trails‘. it wishes. Hannah. however. has had a night on Rankin‘s town. This was more the author‘s kind of do: a few pints and several whiskies on the way to getting to the bottom of John Rebus. Research for Hannah. A blast for Rankin.

This session set the writer‘s initial reservations to rest; Hannah seemed too young, too good-looking, too thin to play Rebus (Brian Cox had been suggested as the man for the role some years back). But Hannah‘s enthusiasm and laconic performance in last year‘s televised adaptation of Black And Blue, meant that Rankin and his followers were able to live with the producers‘ choice.

But you shouldn‘t take this beer-buddy picking and choosing as evidence of someone whose head has swollen as large as the volumes of books which depart UK’s bookshops bearing the mantle of ‘Rankin And Rebus: Number One‘. Rankin is simply a man who has begun to learn to say ‘no‘.

‘The better known you get, the less time you have for the writing that got you known in


wealthy financier has gone missing and the finger of suspicion is thrust firmly in the face of her boyfriend. Things get complicated when a tiny coffin with a carved wooden doll within is found in her home village. a symbolic act linked to similarly mysterious finds over a long period of time; throw in her involvement in internet role-playing and you have a typically tangled Rebus story. a formula which has ensured a faithful following for the series.

If it ain‘t broke and all that. However. one difference to the series that regulars will pick up on in The Falls is a new. improved role for DC Siobhan Clarke. ‘Maybe subconsciously. l was planning for Rebus‘ retirement and here was a get-out clause. I could maybe do the series with Siobhan; like Taggar! without Taggart.‘

So, does all this mean that Rankin is about to pension off the man who has helped him to a level of celebrity where he is routinely getting on television panels such as Question Time (‘a fix’) and Late Review (‘I got into trouble for growling at Bonnie Greer‘)? Well. maybe.

‘I know that there are other books I want to write apart from Rebus; I don‘t want to spend the rest of my life writing about this guy. you know, but I haven‘t thought what I‘ll do with him. It‘ll just depend on how I feel on the day when I get to the final pages of the final book.

‘Maybe his voice will have disappeared before then and I‘ll have run out of things to say about him or run out of sides of his character to examine; maybe he‘ll stop fascinating me or I‘ll stop fascinating him? I don‘t always know who’s in control when I‘m writing the books. I hope mine will accept when it‘s time to write about something else. If I‘m capable of writing something different remains to be seen.’

The Falls Is published by Orion on Fri 23 Mar priced £16.99.

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15-29 Mar 2001 1’". LIST 18