Val McDermid returning to Glenrothes for book festival

Val will be appearing twice at the festival.
Val will be appearing twice at the festival.

“I sing and play the shaky egg,” explains Val McDermid, who will be performing double duty at Glenrothes’ new book festival this week.

For as well as speaking about her career on the page, the crime author and Fifer will be taking to the stage to demonstrate her vocal talents at ReimagiNation: Glenrothes.

On Saturday afternoon, Val will be talking about her latest release, Insidious Intent, revealing the ideas behind her work and the secrets of her writing.

And she returns to the Rothes Halls in the evening, helping close the festival as lead singer of Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers.

The band, made up of crime authors – Mark Billingham (guitar, vocals), Doug Johnstone (drums, guitar, vocals), Stuart Neville (guitar, harmonica), Val McDermid (vocals), Chris Brookmyre (guitar, vocals) and Luca Veste (bass) – perform covers of murder-inspired tracks, from Talking Heads to the Beatles.

The band formed last year, and are already building up quite the schedule.

“Stuart, Mark and Bill were in New Orleans at another crime writing convention and they ended up on stage at House of Blues after some drinking, and they came off thinking ‘we should put a band together’,” Val explained.

“It just went from there. We did our first gig at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year and we’ve got 11 gigs in the diary this year. To say this is something we do in our down time, it’s pretty good.”

Despite this success, the band have no plans to release an album.

Val said: “It’s slightly problematic, because we’re doing cover versions. If you’re recording someone else’s songs you have to pay licensing fees.

“And we’re not going to start writing our own songs to get around that. We’re all sensible enough to know that we are not Lennon and McCartney.”

Val is just one of the stars coming to Glenrothes for the book festival.

ReimagiNation: Glenrothes is part of a tour of new towns across Scotland organised by the Edinburgh Book Festival.

As well as hosting famous authors, the event also aims to look at Glenrothes – its history and future as a new town.

“I actually lived in Glenrothes for a year when I was wee – we lived in Woodside,” explained Val. “I was about two-and-a-half.

“I think the organisers wanted someone with a local connection and I was very happy to take part.

“It’s an exciting idea to revisit Glenrothes 70 years into its life as a new town.

“People have preconceptions about places like Glenrothes.

“I think a festival like this will focus people’s minds on the town but I hope it will also have a wider impact, and open people’s eyes to what Glenrothes actually is.

“From Kirkcaldy, it was seen as the jumped-up newcomer. But it was also seen as a place that started off with all these high hopes – it was supposed to be centred around the pit – and I think in some ways the idea of the new town has built around these communities, like pit villages.

“But then the pit never happened, and so it had to reinvent itself a couple of times over.

“I think that has earned it quite a lot of respect. Fife likes people who struggle but manage to come out on top.

“You have places like the Kingdom Centre and the Rothes Halls. It’s thriving. I think people respect that the town has continually been faced with difficulties but has risen above them.”

It’s no secret that working-class areas in Fife like Glenrothes and Levenmouth are often ignored when it comes to events like book festivals.

With Edinburgh to the south and St Andrews in the north, central Fife does not get to host big cultural events often.

“It is a shame,” Val said. “There’s a danger this part of Fife becomes a fly-over zone. You go through here on the road to somewhere else – St Andrews or Dundee.

“I think it’s a shame, because people here are open to these kind of events and want to go to festivals like this. They want to go to book events, theatre. When I go to events in places like this, they are well-attended.”

As well as being a star in Fife and Scotland, Val is in demand across the world.

We meet days after she has returned from the Kolkata Literary Festival in India, along with other Scottish crime writers.

What makes ‘Tartan Noir’ so popular worldwide?

“I think one of the reasons Scottish crime fiction works so well overseas is because Scots understand the dark side of society,” Val says.

“Scottish writers are interested in the opposite sides of the character.

“We understand people who have that sense of being pulled in two directions. That’s really helpful when you’re writing crime fiction.

“Our books work abroad not because of the setting, although some people read them for the setting, but because we understand characters.

“Characters are the same the world over – people behave the same, are motivated by the same things. That’s why the books work so well.

“Amazingly, my books are translated into 40 odd languages.”

And does ‘aye ken’ translate?

“I think the people who struggle most with my Scots are Americans,” she says.

“Sometimes my American publisher puts a wee glossary of Scots terms at the back, so readers can get an insight into the way we speak in Fife.”