“I’ll be signing books at Waterstone’s Kirkcaldy tonight from 5.30, despite feeling like death warmed up.”
Oh dear. That was a slightly ominous Tweet from author Ian Rankin last Friday afternoon, just a few hours before he came to Fife from his home in Edinburgh.
The last thing he’ll be wanting is to speak to a journo beforehand then.
The multi-award winning Cardenden author, whose books have sold in their millions, is back in the Lang Toun to sign copies of his new novel, ‘Saints Of the Shadow Bible’, which is the latest in the series featuring his most famous creation, Edinburgh cop John Rebus.
Happily upon his arrival he dismisses his afternoon malady as “just a bug” and begins to explain why he once again chose to return to Rebus, who he’d first brought out of retirement for last year’s ‘Standing In Another Man’s Grave’.
“It was a story that was right for him, and the police had started to change their retirement age so I thought he could apply to come back in.
“I’d been going to a lot of cop retirement dos and had been talking to a lot of guys who had been in the police in the 70s and 80s so it got me thinking.
“When we first met Rebus it was 1987 - but what was it like before that? How did he learn all the bad tricks of the trade?
“And these guys were telling me stories of things that happened in the 80s in Edinburgh.
“Amazing stuff. I kept on putting it into my phone, having to excuse myself every 10 seconds!
“I was just wanting to think about the way policing has changed. It used to be a lot more like ‘Life On Mars’ and these days there’s so many more protocols, so many changes.”
Rankin tells a story which immediately struck him as being very Rebus-like.
“A cop in England earlier this year took a suspect out for a wee drive and the suspect eventually said ‘I’ll show you where the body is’, took him to a bit of moorland, said ‘the body’s there, do you want to see another one?’, so took him to a second location.
“The policeman took him back to the police station and after that the guy couldn’t get prosecuted, because the correct protocol hadn’t been followed.
“Not only that, but the cop got in trouble. I thought, that’s Rebus!”
As Rebus ages in the series he not only struggles to cope with changes to policing, he struggles to adapt to modern life too, unable to come to grips with the point of Twitter for one. Rankin says that was fun to write.
“There’s one bit where stuff’s been stolen in a house breaking and his boss Siobhan, who used to be his underling, finds out that he’s the only guy who’s still got a network of informers in seedy pubs around the city.
“None of these other shiny, new cops have got that kind of skill. They can use a computer but they’ve not got snitches.
“So she has to go to Rebus and say I’m sorry, but you’re the only guy who has people, and when he goes out to look he finds that half the pubs are gone.
“They’re now wine bars and bistros and half the guys who used to be his snitches are dead.
“So the world is changing really fast, that was interesting. How does he do a police investigation in a world like that?
And does Rebus’s befuddlement perhaps reflect in Rankin himself?
“Yeah! I say in the book he’s a vinyl guy in a digital world and I sometimes feel like that.
“I don’t know how to work a sat nav, I don’t know how to set the Sky box, I’ve got to ask young people to do these things for me, and in some ways I don’t want to know. I’d rather go along with a very simple outlook on life.”
Rankin has now decided to take a year out from working in 2014.
But what if he suddenly came up with the best idea for a book he’s ever had? Would he put it to one side?
“I’d write it! All I’ve said to my publisher is that I won’t be signing a contract so that there’s no deadline for a book.
“I’ve got a book of short stories coming out, most of which have been published before, and the transcript of the play will be coming out next year too, but if I had an idea for a book and I was really up for it I’d write it.
“What’s been happening is that the time to write the book has been getting squeezed, publishers think you can do everything, but you can’t.
“It’s time to get off the hamster wheel and reassess, think about what I want to do next and when I’m good and ready for it I’ll deliver it, not deliver because I have to.”