Ian Rankin

WORK/LIFE: Ian Rankin — crime novelist

Ian Rankin tells us about his writing life.


Ian Rankin is the UK’s top-selling crime novelist. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh, his first novel starring Inspector Rebus came out in 1987. His most recent Rebus novel (the 22nd!) is Standing in Another Man’s Grave. He’s also presented his own TV series, and has written short stories and a graphic novel.

What are you working on at the moment?

My next book, Saints of the Shadow Bible, is published in November. Right now I am proof-reading it.

Describe your work space.

I live in a Victorian-era house in Edinburgh. My office is one of the bedrooms. Desk, chair, sofa, music system. The laptop computer I use is prehistoric.

How many words do you write in a day?

On a good day I write about 3,000 words. Some days a lot fewer.

Do you first write by hand, or type?

I type. My handwriting is lousy.

What’s your most productive time of day?

I’m not great in the morning. I go buy coffee and a newspaper, and don’t really start work until 11 or 12. I really like writing late at night when the world is quiet — there are fewer distractions.

What do you do when you’re stuck, or not feeling creative?

If I get stuck, I go for a walk. Or sometimes I’ll talk the problem over with my wife. Both of these can be very helpful.

How do you relax?

I do cryptic crosswords, listen to music (vinyl LPs for preference), and I like going to the pub.

If your 15-year-old self could see you now, what do you think he would say?

He’d say: so you never did become a rock star then. But at 15 I also wanted to be a writer, so he’d probably be happy enough at the outcome.

Who and what has influenced your writing?

Current events influence the themes of my books. I get inspiration from news stories. And crime writers such as Ruth Rendell, James Ellroy and William McIlvanney have influenced my plots and writing style.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

The best piece of advice I’ve been given? A writer once told me, early in my career, that there was no shame in writing crime fiction rather than trying to pen “literary” novels.

Your favourite ritual?

There are certain albums I always listen to when I write, including Brian Eno’s Music for Airports and Tangerine Dream’s Ricochet.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

I find plotting difficult. So many plots, sub-plots, characters and red herrings — trying to keep all the connections in your head can be a nightmare.

What do you dislike most about yourself?

I can be moody.

What are you afraid of?

I’m scared of heights.

What are you proudest of having written?

Black and Blue was the first novel of mine where I felt I’d done myself justice.

Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin will be appearing at a number of events at the upcoming Open Book Festival (7 – 11 September) in Cape Town. Find out more about the talks he’ll be at here.



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