December 2004

Greetings! It's been a while since I gave an update on my adventures. Blame the publication of Fleshmarket Close and promotional tours of the UK, Canada and Germany. I'm now wiped out and full of flu... so don't expect sparkling prose and ready wit. I need to recharge the batteries before next year's onslaught. Looks like I'll be doing the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow again, along with my friend Jackie Leven... but only if I can write some new material before mid-January. We're hoping to be joined at the performance by Fife-based musician James Yorkston. No fixed date as yet... some time late-January, I think Jackie and I were ready to go touring with our performance-piece 'Jackie Leven Said', but we're going to wait until the CD of our August 2004 show in Edinburgh is released - that should be at the beginning of May, and we're hoping for shows in London, Kirkcaldy (where the story is set) and Perth. The CD, as I may have mentioned before, will be a double, and will feature new Jackie Leven songs including The Haunting of John Rebus. I've also got to factor in a tour of the USA to promote publication of Fleshmarket Alley in February. Oh, and it would be nice to do some writing...

Also on the more imminent horizon, the Sunday Times (Scottish edition) are running a prize draw for a charity dear to my heart. Contributions are invited, along with details of entrants' names and addresses... and the prize for the first name drawn out of the hat will be a cameo appearance in the next Rebus novel. Details can probably be found on the Sunday Times website, or by calling their Glasgow office. The draw will probably be made at the very start of the year, so you haven't got long!

My WebMaster, the redoubtable Anthony K, has sifted your hundreds of recent e-mails and here follow my responses.

Graham Mowbray from Canada wants to know about the 'Mowbray Hound' and whether it's real. This is something I mention in passing in A Question of Blood. The Mowbray Hound, Graham, is a ghostly demon dog which haunts the streets of South Queensferry. I found out about it while researching the town's history for my novel.

A lot of you have been asking about Jackie Leven. Jackie has his own web site, and if my Web Master is feeling generous he will have added a link to it from my web site. Otherwise, you'll have to Google it into existence!

Apropos the plan for a smoking ban in Scotland (from 2006, I think), many of you have been asking how this will affect Rebus. Well, he'll have to step outside to smoke. The pavement outside the Oxford Bar is merrily referred to by regulars as the 'beer garden', and that's where you'll find Rebus.

Liz in Western Australia tells me that her great-grandmother (maiden name Rankin) lived in Fleshmarket Close in the 1890s - this is just the sort of coincidence I love! Rest assured, Liz, I had no inkling of the connection until you pointed it out.

Cassie - I will reply to you personally... don't let those photos fall into the wrong hands!

Millicent asks if my family has any connection with Newfoundland. The answer is: no. Probably lots of Rankins around those parts, as in Nova Scotia (including the members of the famed Rankin Family folk group - on my tour of Canada in October Raylene Rankin opened for me one night in Halifax... a real treat!)

Naomi asks where writers draw the line in tackling sensitive issues such as mental health. I imagine every writer has his or her own boundaries, and these will be different for different people. I recall that when I was writing Dead Souls I recoiled from going too far into the mind of a paedophile character. Maybe that was cowardice; maybe it was self-preservation. Writers tend to be very empathetic creatures, able to think ourselves into a multitude of personae. Dealing as I do sometimes with real-life crimes and unsolved cases, I'm always aware of the moral tightrope I'm walking, and of the real people out there whose lives were touched by the events I'm writing about.

Mike asks about Pilmuir, and rightly guesses that it is a conflation of two real-life Edinburgh districts, Pilton and Muirhouse. I do this often with my rougher areas of town - making them fictional. I do this so as not to offend the actual residents, who may be doing their damnedest to straighten out their environment, and don't need me coming along saying what a crap-hole it is.

Tanya asks about the 'dark museum' mentioned in several of my books. This is the Sir Jules Thorne Museum, and it is situated within Surgeons' Hall, though you actually need to go around the back of the building and enter the public part of the museum through what appears to be a tenement stairwell. Although part is open to the public, you need special permission to visit the 'Black Museum', which contains deformed foetuses in jars and such like. I'd say it's worth a trip, all the same.

Helena is fifteen and wants to try writing short stories. She asks my advice. Well, you need a good idea, maybe with a twist at the end. You need to be savage in your editing - cutting out any words and phrases that aren't absolutely necessary, and you need to persevere - at the start, you'll probably find yourself nicking your narrative voice (and maybe even bits of your characters and plot) from writers you admire. Stick at it, and you'll find your own voice and your own concerns beginning to emerge. And good luck.

Phill asks about my story for the BBC's 'End of Story' contest - was my character Billy Bone based on the Stevenson character from Treasure Island? Absolutely - I liked the name, so I stole it! This is what writers do, from time to time.

Janice (among others) asks if we'll ever see Sammy (Rebus's daughter) again. Answer is, I don't know; depends if I feel a plot or theme requires her attendance.

Christopher asks the same question, but also adds that he loved Fleshmarket Close, and especially the ending. As he puts it: 'Rebus would crawl through fire to get a corkscrew for the night'. I absolutely agree!

I can't possibly begin to address the hundreds of e-mails which poured in from Canada in the aftermath of my October tour there. Thanks to all who took the trouble to write and say how much you enjoyed my events.

Kristine, a Canadian now resident in Costa Rica, spotted something while reading the Peter Robinson novel In a Dry Season. Inspector Banks' son, a musician, tells his dad that he has been 'doing some gigs with the Dancing Pigs'. She asks if this is a nod to the punk band I was in in the late-70s, and the answer is yes! (The Pigs also get a nod in my novel Black and Blue.) Peter is a good friend and we both like our beer and music. In fact, we are touring the USA together in the spring, so lock up your bottle-openers.

Chris in Halifax (Nova Scotia) says an index to the music in the Rebus novels would be useful. If memory serves, this actually exists! A fan put together a site a while back called something like exileonprincesstreet.co.uk - how often it is maintained I can't say, but it might be sueful to provide a link from my own web site - I'll get the Master to look into it.

Chantal asks about a writer I once said I admired who wrote three mystery novels and then stopped. Sounds to me like William McIlvanney. In the 70s/80s he wrote about a Glasgow detective called Laidlaw. These books were a break from Willie's more literary works. He even won the Silver Dagger for the first of them, but decided not to remain as a crime writer and has since written mainstream novels, poetry and journalism. He remains a truly great Scottish writer.

Sreekumar Nair in Mumbai sees comparisons between Edinburgh and that city. I might just have to come to India to investigate the validity of this...

Andy in Saudi Arabia says that reading my books (when he can find them between the displays of Agatha Christie and Lord Archer in his local bookshop) brings back memories of his country of birth. Gordon, currently serving in Iraq, thinks likewise. He can't wait to get home for some Irn Bru and fish suppers - good luck to you, Andy. My wife's brother was in Iraq for six fairly hairy months.

Barry, a retired cop from Calgary, mentions an anecdote I sometiems tell about how a stone stuck between some lawnmower blades helped crack a true-life murder case. My point being that real-life can be as absurd and unrealistic as you like, while novels can't use such amazing coincidences. Barry sees it slightly differently and wonders if maybe it points up that God is on the side of the good guys. Could be, Barry, could be.

Ross in Queensland confirms that the cops can be good guys from time to time. He came to Edinburgh as a Rebus fan and was photographing St Leonard's police station when two cops asked what he was up to. Once he mentioned the Rebus connection, they melted a little. Just goes to show: you have to be careful these days. Two 'Arabic-looking' men were looked on suspiciously when they tried to photograph the new parliament building. Tourists beware!

Shenach in the USA asks whose bright idea it was to retitle Fleshmarket Close, Fleshmarket Alley for that market. Well, it was my editor's suggestion. Apparently the word 'close' would confuse Americans, because you don't have closes there. End of story.

Olive asks about a short story called Who Killed Father Christmas which appeared in the Daily Mail a couple of years ago. You sure it was one of mine, Olive? I've written a few Xmas stories, but not one with that title. 'Sanity Clause' I think I've used. Know what? I really can't remember! Isn't that sad. But a fan of the books is collating a list of my uncollected short stories, and I hope we can put it on the web site before long.

The Reverend Derek Browning (minister of Morningside Parsh Church) refers to a recent newspaper article where I said I hoped Rebus might have his funeral in that kirk. Apparently this could pose a problem, as Rebus isn't a resident in the parish. So I may have to rethink that strategy, though I think the article was about me rather than Rebus, and I still hope to have Hawkwind played at my funeral!

To the families who wrote to me about Angelman Syndrome (following a piece on family holidays which I wrote for the Sunday Times), I'll be contacting you direct with information.

Best wishes to all. Have a cracking Christmas and a vibrant New Year. And don't worry about Rebus... he'll be in the pub Christmas Day, trying his best to ignore the festivities...



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