As The Impossible Dead, Ian Rankin’s 31st novel is about to be released, the author who put the Tartan in Noir talks to The Independent about process, production and the deadly fear of staring at the blank page.
“No matter how many awards you’ve won or how many sales you’ve got, come the next book it’s still a blank sheet of paper and you’re still panicking like hell that you’ve got nothing new to say,” he admits. “I still panic that the ideas aren’t going to come, it’s not going to be as good as my previous book, I’ve got nothing new to say, people are fed up with me, younger writers are doing better work. There are all kinds of fears that keep pushing at you. Thank God, otherwise you’d just sit back and write any old crap.”
And it certainly doesn’t seem as though the second book to feature Rankin’s creation Malcolm Fox would fit that description. Again from The Independent:
The action in The Impossible Dead is set mostly in Fife, the region just over the Forth Bridge from Edinburgh, and the place where Rankin himself grew up. Like all Rankin’s work, it’s impeccably plotted, and what seems like a simple case of police corruption gradually spreads its tendrils back to the mid-Eighties, a period of recent history involving a brief outbreak of Scottish nationalist terrorism. It’s loosely based on the real-life story of Willie MacRae, an SNP activist with alleged links to extremists, who was found dead in his car one night in suspicious circumstances. This linking of past and present is a familiar theme in Rankin’s work, something that gives it a depth and resonance sometimes lacking in rival crime fiction.
The Independent points out that though Rankin is an international bestselling author now, he was anything but an overnight sensation:
It’s hard to picture these days, but there was a time when Rankin’s name wasn’t ubiquitous at the top of the bestseller list. In fact, Rankin didn’t have any kind of breakthrough until the eighth Rebus novel (and his 15th book in all), Black and Blue, won the Macallan Gold Dagger for fiction in 1997. And even then he didn’t have a bestseller until two years later, with Dead Souls.
“My publishers were taking a punt on me for a long time,” he says. “That probably wouldn’t happen now. I was having panic attacks, I was driving through the French countryside where we lived at the time, screaming at the top of my voice just to get it out my system. I was waking up in the night with this adrenalin rush like a heart attack. It was a pretty horrible time.”
And it was around the time that J. Kingston Pierce interviewed Rankin for January Magazine back in 2000. That interview is here. More recently, Pierce selected Rankin’s new novel as his pick of the week.
The Impossible Dead is out now in the UK and Canada and will be available in the US in November.