You’d think with the 17 day extravaganza that is the Edinburgh Book Festival only 3 days away that I would be happy waiting until Saturday to drive into Edinburgh. Not so. There are too many roadworks on my access routes to Edinburgh this summer. I needed a dry run. What I got was a very wet run.
Venue: Blackwell’s on South Bridge which claims to be Edinburgh’s oldest bookshop (does anyone know when it was established?). Event: Lee Wanner who has compiled a series of interviews with 9 contemporary Scottish crime novelists is being interviewed by Paul Johnston, one of the authors Lee Wanner interviews in the book. To add further intrigue: Lee Wanner is German. He speaks English with a very strong Irish accent. He is studying for a PhD in Crime Fiction. Paul Johnston is Scottish. He lives on a Greek island. He has written 12 published crime novels and now finds himself studying for a PhD in Creative Writing.
Here’s the two of them plotting what turned out in parts to be an academic and very literary session on crime fiction.
The discussion included tropes in crime fiction, unreliable narration, intertextuality, literary antecedents including the anti-establishmentarianism of Arthur Conan-Doyle, subversion …..
and a sparring match between interviewers. Paul Johnston, veteran interviewer of 200 Edinburgh Book Festival events and Lee Wanner, new kid on the block, whose book includes an appendix on how to conduct a dead sharp interview. The tenor of the session was set with Wanner insisting on German punctuality at the start and pulling Johnston up whenever there was a chink in his interviewing technique. That’s right, Paul, ask and question and answer it yourself. Q: Do you think there’s a unique angle in Scottish Crime Writing? A. Yes, absolutely. (Pause) And that, Paul, is the danger of asking a closed question.
To be fair Johnston was in informal, conversational mode and he took the ribbing with good grace. Neither was Wanner being malicious. He has a lot to thank Johnston for.
A 3-hour interview with Johnston in the (in)famous Oxford Bar over a number of pints sowed the seeds of his book. To that interview have been added 8 more, authors from across the spectrum of Scottish Crime Writing. Here’s the full line-up: Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, Karen Campbell, Neil Forsyth, Christopher Brookmyre, Paul Johnston, Alice Thompson, Allan Guthrie, Louise Welsh. It’s fascinating and revealing reading. Is there such a thing as Tartan Noir? What is noir? – there are as many answers to that as there are interviews in the book! What is it that makes Scottish Crime Writing unique? Is it possible for a cop to have a happy home life? Why is Rebus divorced? (The answer will surprise you.) How graphicaly should violence be depicted? (Paul Johnston goes existential in response.) Why is Karen Campbell unhappy that her first novel was categorised as crime fiction? Why is the literary author Louise Welsh delighted that her novels are found on the crime shelves? How passionate are the authors about the quality of their writing? Stuart McBride waxes metaphorical on this arguing that crime fiction is not the burger van to literary fiction’s 5-star restaurant, despite the impression that John Banville’s (aka Benjamin Black’s) careless attitude to writing crime fiction might give.
Indeed Mr Banville doesn’t cut a popular figure in these pages, which is ironic because his blurb proclaims Wanner the perfect interrogator. So there you go. If you enjoy crime fiction, you’ll really enjoy this. There’s no requirement to be Scottish.