December 2008

That was the year that was…

People tell me that when they retire, they’re busier than ever. I now know how they feel. Rebus has been ‘retired’ throughout 2008, yet I’ve been rushed off my feet. I did start the year in style though, with a memorable holiday in South Africa. February saw the unveiling of my handprints at the City Chambers in Edinburgh. They’re still there, set into the pavement, and soon to be joined by those of J K Rowling (this year’s winner of the Edinburgh Award). The last day of February saw me in Glasgow for the world premiere of 5.15 - five fifteen-minute operas. My own contribution was a joint effort with composer and musician Craig Armstrong. It was weird to sit in the audience and watch the performers give flesh and form to my words. The woman next to me even cried at one point! A week later I saw the show again in Edinburgh. I didn’t see anybody cry, but that’s Edinburghers for you.

I was busy writing, too - tweaking my New York Times serial ‘Doors Open’ into a full-length novel. That turned out to be fun, as I’d had to leave a lot of stuff out first time round. I was able to give the characters room to breathe and develop, and was also able to give more details of the heist and its ramifications. It wasn’t until my publisher told me, however, that I became aware that I’d written that rarest of beasts - a crime story with no corpses. This wouldn’t be true of the piece I got down to work on a little later in the year. ‘A Cool Head’ will be published in March 2009 as part of the Quick Reads initiative. I got the original idea for it at a Beach Boys concert in May. They sang about keeping a cool head and a warm heart, and I started to wonder what would happen if you were exactly the opposite - hot-headed with a heart as cold as stone.

I wrote a few other things, too - a short story for a collection of Edinburgh-based crime capers to be published in 2009; and the press release for the Mogwai album ‘The Hawk is Howling’. Various film and TV projects were mooted, but seemed to go nowhere (though as I write, one looks much more promising). For The Times, I interviewed First Minister Alex Salmond on the anniversary of his coming to power.

Festivals I attended included Scarborough, Bristol Crime Scene, Edinburgh (natch), Dublin, Borders (Melrose), Aarhus (Denmark) and Cheltenham. I also managed to complete (and pass) a 12-week Open University course called ‘Listening to Music’, which convinced me that for the past 40 years I’ve been hearing music (passively) rather than actively participating as a listener. It also convinced me that I was happier in my ignorance.

August’s Edinburgh Festival saw me enjoying (as a punter) Ed Byrne, Mark Thomas, Bert Jansch and Stewart Lee. A piece of Japanese theatre left me bemused. I chaired events at the Book Festival with Gordon Brown, Rick Wakeman and Alexander McCall Smith… though I was too busy laughing at Mr Wakeman’s anecdotes to do much actual chairing. My biggest regret is that I turned up for the later of two sold-out shows by guitarist John Renbourn, only to find that I was holding a ticket for the earlier.

Meantime, the paperback of ‘Exit Music’ reached number one in the UK chart, and when ‘Doors Open’ appeared in hardback in September it completed the double - which was highly gratifying for a non-Rebus book, and gives me hope for the future! I toured the UK for a week in September with ‘Doors Open’, then headed off to the USA for the ‘Exit Music’ tour. I’d been to Chicago before, but only for brief stopovers. This time round, I had two days there and loved the place to bits. My local guide steered me towards a restaurant called Gene and Georgetti’s, which boasted a colourful clientele and steaks the size of houses.

Once home, I had to curate one of the weekends at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. I had loosely themed my weekend around the year 1968, and it was due to start with a bang - Tony Benn (a Labour minister in ’68) in conversation with Tariq Ali. Alas, Mr Ali was just rising from his bed in London twenty minutes before the lights went up. Honourable mention therefore to Professor A C Grayling (an undergraduate student in ’68) for taking his place and bringing my heart-rate down. I had a lot of fun thereafter, interviewing Jack Vettriano at one event and Jilly Cooper at another and chairing a session on music.

As I write, I have one final festival to attend (Comica in London, where I’ll be talking about my graphic novel ‘Dark Entries’, which now has a publication date of September 09). I’ll also be doing a couple of pre-Christmas book signings (Edinburgh Costco, 1pm, Saturday 29 November; Dunfermline Waterstone’s, 12.30pm, Monday 1 December). And then… well, there’s the little matter of a new novel, which I’ve promised my publishers by June 2009. I’ve not got much, but I’ve got a working title, and that’s a start.

Ian’s Awards 2008:

Album of the Year - Elbow, ‘The Seldom-Seen Kid’. Honourable mentions to The Pictish Trail and Ron Sexsmith.

Album Reissue of the Year - The Passions, ‘Thirty Thousand Feet Over China’.

Theatrical Event of the Year - ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, Edinburgh Lyceum.

Best Film - ‘The Dark Knight’. Honourable mention to ‘In Bruges’.

Gig of the Year - The Beach Boys, Edinburgh Playhouse. Honourable mentions to Bert Jansch, Eric Bibb, Wishbone Ash.

Biggest Disappointment - Tom Waits, Edinburgh Playhouse. (So much better at the same venue 20-odd years ago.)

Discovery of the Year - Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager novels.

Book of the Year - nothing grabbed me, which is why you won’t see me contributing to any of the round-ups in the broadsheets.

Hey, that’s it for 2008. 2009 already looks busy. Happy New Year to you when it comes. Just don’t go knocking on Rebus’s door with cheer in your heart and a tin of shortbread in your paw. He won’t be answering. Trust me.


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