Granite Noir: In Conversation with Two Celebrated Scottish Crime Writers

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Have you ever wondered what Ian Rankin has been binge-watching during lockdown? Or where Stuart MacBride gets his inspiration from?


Crime fiction fans rejoice. The answers to these questions came from the kick-off event – chaired by Fiona Stalker – of Granite Noir, Aberdeen’s literary crime writing festival, which for the first time in its five-year history went virtual. 


Ian Rankin is known for his Detective Inspector Rebus novel series, set in and around Edinburgh.


Stuart MacBride’s sixteen published novels featuring Detective Sergeant Logan McRae, are set in Aberdeen.


Their discussion ranged from the macabre (storylines and getting violence out of their heads), the political (police brutality), to the surge in popularity of the crime fiction genre. 


They reasoned that a complete top to bottom package of society, its depth and breadth, can be provided through crime novel characters.


And for the police, who spend 90% of their time with 10% of the population, dark humour is an escape.


“I will never work my way through all the ideas I want to write about”, said MacBride, appearing in front of a green screen of his own cat. He has a noticeboard “festooned” with Post It notes. Ian has a slightly more organised folder.


Supermarket aisles provide MacBride’s unlikely inspiration. From snippets of people’s conversations, to how they dress.


Rankin agreed that mixing with people, listening to conversations so they can, “steal their souls”, provides writers with the material they need. Something which Covid has taken…for now.


The pandemic was a topic among the trio, not least because of how it has affected the festival itself. 

To see a character’s creator in the flesh for example, is “thrilling”. 


Ian added that during live events you get to hear what no one else hears. “If everybody can watch everything, nothing is special”, he said.


In response to a question as to whether either writer would embark on a crime story based around the pandemic, Stuart’s answer was an emphatic, “no”.


As with many traumatic events in history, they agreed that, if at all, it was best to write about when the dust settles. Fiona queried that it might be “too soon” after a “collective trauma”. 


Rankin echoed this, saying there would not be an audience for it. He told how he and his wife had cycled to an empty Princes Street during the first lockdown because it was unlikely to appear like that again.  He found it eery, and jokingly suggested it may have made a good scene for a heist.


To the important question of lockdown TV… Ian has turned to Broadchurch, The Bridge (“fine, farfetched and bordering on ridiculous”), Call My Agent! (“a lot of fun”) but no Scandi Noir.


Lastly, the question, or possibly the dream, on everyone’s keyboards was what they would do when lockdown ends. 


Ian’s choice was to walk to the Oxford Bar on Edinburgh’s Young Street and buy everyone a pint. For anyone unfamiliar with his works, the Oxford, or Ox, is John Rebus’ favourite pub. On his 60th birthday last April, Ian went to the Ox with an empty glass and beer can in his pocket, stood outside the locked bar, poured himself the drink and enjoyed it in the fresh air.


Stuart said his first jaunt will be to his local fish shop. When everyone has been vaccinated and everything is safe however, he wants to go to Aberdeen, visit The Manchurian Chinese restaurant and eat dim sum with his friends and enjoy some drinks.


As Fiona thanked them for their time and they raised their near empty glasses to camera, I thought, I’ll cheers to that.


Catch ‘Ian Rankin and Stuart MacBride - Granite Noir 2021’ on YouTube


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