Ian Rankin
Suzi Robinson, William New


The party to celebrate the launch of PEN New Fiction 2 took place on Wednesday January 21, 1987. I was both excited and nervous about the prospect of talking to my fellow writers, not to mention the possibility of meeting agents and publishers. I’m not sure I should have been nervous. I’d read forty books in the previous year, including several by contemporary novelists; and I’d re-written a novel of my own. Really I should have been able to talk about anything, not just the stressful temp job I was lumbered with at the time.

I still have the invite which states that ‘contributors who wish to bring a friend should apply for a second ticket at £4.50’. Bravely, I went on my own. I don’t recall much about the evening, but I do remember one contributor going around getting others to sign their story in her copy of the book. I thought this was a good idea so I asked her to sign my book in return: Suzi Robinson. I must now ask Suzi – she works in advertising and I’ve traced her business email – who exactly signed her book, as that strikes me as a practical way – perhaps the only way - of finding out who was there that night.

I don’t think I liked Suzi’s story when I first read it. I do now. She wrote in the first person, of this woman who had had a shock and had been ill for a long time. One Wednesday afternoon she went for a walk in whatever urban area she lived in and came across a shop she hadn’t noticed before. There was no sign over the door but she knew it sold words.


The floor of the shop was covered in letter-shaped wood shavings. She picked up a capital ‘T’ and a small ‘g’ and put them in her pocket. Which is a detail I’ll return to.

The woman told the shopkeeper that she wanted to buy words so that she could tell her story. She wanted to get across that she had lost her life and was waiting for death. But that because she had lost her life the prospect of death didn’t matter.

She explained to the shopkeeper that she already had some words, which she’d found in an old shoebox under her bed, but that she needed more. The shopkeeper began by fetching down a box marked ‘LO’, and taking out of it ‘loss’ and ‘love’.

Holding up the word ‘loss’ to her eye, and looking through the hollow ’o’, the woman saw a nursery with lots of stuffed toys. And then the picture faded.

She picked up the word ‘love’ and looked through the ‘o’ in it and saw a picture of a boy and a dog playing in a field. The dog then ran onto the road followed by the boy. The woman wanted to shout a warning but the words wouldn’t come.

The shopkeeper explained that he sold words by the hundred, with a minimum order of 200. But that they were all the same price and could be mixed up in any way she wanted. The woman took her selection home in a plain brown bag.

At home, she removed from her pocket the letters she picked up from the floor of the shop. As well as the capital ‘T’ there was a small ‘b’ and a ‘y’. No explanation is given as to how a small ‘g’ became a ‘b’ and a ‘y’. Is it an allusion to a boy and a girl? Could the woman’s shock and her illness have been to do with the loss of a child?

It strikes me that what Suzi Robinson was doing on the night of the PEN party was collecting more names. Boys’ names and girls’ names. I wonder if she put them to any use.


Perhaps she has kept the box all those years so that I can make use of them. Nice thought. Two members of The Class of ‘87, combining their talents. Well, that would be a start. I will write to her shortly.

In the meantime, Suzi Robinson has an Amazon page. This tells the world that she started writing stories at the age of seven and knew that she would be a writer when she grew up. It seems that Suzi hasn’t had much luck in achieving that ambition. The teenage magazines alluded to on Amazon may be the ones
which are mentioned in her biographical note from way back in 1987. Indeed, I’m sure she hasn’t had any luck in getting things out into the world, 30 years on from its appearance, PEN New Fiction 2 is the only mainstream publishing reference given on her Amazon page.

However, the page goes on to say that she is also an advertising copywriter and that it was while working on a campaign for a new pet food that the idea for her first novel,
The Best Ever Cat Food Formula, popped into her head. In April 2014, that book was published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, which is an Amazon company.

There are eight, friendly reviews on Amazon, which means Suzi has chums. But the book is only Amazon’s 3 millionth ranked top-seller, which means Suzi Robinson doesn’t have a readership.

Of course she has a readership. I will buy a copy of the book and write about it in these pages. It’s a book about cat food though, or at least it might be. Maybe I will just ask her to send me a signed copy when I write to her, in return for a book of my own:
Evelyn Waugh: Pedigree Chum.

I must start that letter now. I will be asking whether the shop that sold her the letters all those years ago now has a sign over its front window. And whether that sign reads: CREATESPACE INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING PLATFORM.

Dear Suzi,
I've been commissioned to research a book about the subsequent writing lives of those who contributed to
PEN New Fiction 2.


Firstly, I'd like to say how much I enjoyed reading your story this time around. Can I ask if the shock and illness that your protagonist refers to is autobiographical? Do the letters picked up from the floor of the shop allude to a girl, to begin with, and then a boy at the end? Come to think of it, you may be thinking of cats, what with their beautifully curled tails.

The theme of the shop selling words reminds me of the time in the mid-nineties, several years after
PEN New Fiction 2 came out and with no other publishing credits to my name, just piles of overworked manuscripts in my bedsit, I gave up on my introspective writing process and decided to give myself a break. I took to exploring the city. I soon discovered the contemporary art world. Each gallery was a white cube filled with mysterious delights. If you like, I found words in these shops. Soon I had a whole book out of the words I’d come across in shops all across London, from smart West End galleries to alternative East End spaces. And as soon as I showed the book to a publisher, it was accepted. At last, Personal Delivery by Duncan McLaren, aged 39 and three-quarters.

I'm pleased to see that you published a cat-themed novel last year and I'd very much like to read it. Could I swop it for a copy of either my book about Enid Blyton or my most recent book about Evelyn Waugh? Both Enid and Evelyn have beautifully curled tails.

If I remember rightly, you had the presence of mind to go around with a copy of
New Fiction 2 collecting signatures of contributors at the party celebrating the book's launch. What a splendid box of words that must be!  Could you possibly let me have a list of the names of those who signed your book? It may be the best way of finding out who was there that night. By the way, what do you remember of that occasion?

Back in 1987 I especially liked William New's disjointed and Beckett-influenced piece, but he seems to have disappeared without trace. Was there any story or stories in the volume that you recall particularly liking? It would also be good to hear what your literary aspirations were then, and how those have changed over the years. Do you have a stack of unpublished manuscripts in a cupboard? What has your experience been of CreateSpace? I imagine it feels good to have a book out there with your name on it.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes, Duncan McLaren


Note that I haven’t come out and asked Suzi how she feels about the no-show of her writing career. That is not the way to go about gathering information from sensitive souls or from anyone else for that matter.


The night of the PEN party, January 1987. We all had a book each by then, if I remember rightly. The one each contributor was given free. So I’d been able to read most of the stories and the one I admired most, as I mentioned to Suzi, was ‘Six Heated Tales’ by William New. Why did I like it? It wasn’t just the Samuel Beckett influence. It was the humour, the word-play, the alcohol consumption and the sexual allusion.

In the first Heated Tale a man is walking in the country with his secretary. A three-letter word is in the air:

‘And as our hands touched, that was our first of skin barring the occasional letter passed in the way of business, a bird got up in the field behind us and span in the air, uttering long whoops. Who-oop. Whoo-oo-op. I am unable to imitate. Like little fast sirens wheeling. No, I cannot do it.’

Poor bloke. Just as he managed to get hold of her hand, nature went berserk. A snipe or a woodcock (for I too know a thing or two about birds in flight) took to the sky.

‘Miss Sspt laughed at its motions but it was then that my stomach unbuckled and a pain came into my eyes as I watched, into my ears as I listened. That has rarely left me since.
Some black and white creature.
Not a natural thing I fear.’

‘H hs cm p qck gnst th fr f lf
T brnd’


Putting the vowels back into those last two sentences you get: ‘He has come up quick against the fire of life. It burned.’

Not too hard to at least begin to interpret this work, despite the disjointedness. The protagonist fancies his secretary. As soon as he touches her something outrageous happens to thwart his one-track mind, and she bursts out laughing. Leaving him feeling that he has come up hard against the futility of life.

Oh yes, I identified with the feelings of William New’s protagonist in 1987, when I was 30. And I identify with them still, now that - thirty years later - I am on the far side of sexual aspiration. What had seemed like a constant temptation and frustration then, feels like a complete time waster that I steer clear of now.

And so to another of the Heated Tales:

‘But when I came to her window (it was only soos ghost) a white face plus red holes in it, six in pairs plus one alone, plus tassels for hair sticking round about.
No good to me.
No good
for me.
That’s that.

‘Only I might have flamed a bit, for a little bit on the pavement outside afterwards, as far as I can remember. ‘

After the PEN party that night in January ‘87, I suggested to those I’d been talking to, including William New, that we go on to a pub to continue our conversations. And I have this vague memory of William, in a long black coat and carrying an umbrella, saying something quaintly old-fashioned like: “Verily we shall take ourselves off to licensed premises so that the merriment may continue.”

And as it happens, the fourth Heated Tale takes place in a pub called The Fountain. I’m going to quote this as it seems apposite:

‘In the bar I found all my friends lined up at drinks Pete and Mich.
And they were all well pissed pete.
Said to Mich.


I had known they would be there, for I had seen their bikes outside, but they were not real bikers, Pete and Mich, what were they they were imitations of it.
Their bikes outside where children, halting from their URGENT PLAY, had gathered in curious knots to view.
Hello my men (he shouts) my bonny men room for a little one I said why aye they said sit yourself down chiff.
I said I see yr bike mich and he said if those kids are buggering with it yall pull their fir-king legs off.
Mich said Pete says he’s going to dip the new barmaid aren’t you pete oh, he said, I’ll dip her alrit.
Don’t you worry.
There’s been a bit of the old eyecontact.
I’ll say.
This time next week, I’ll have been through her.’

William New also had a story in
PEN New Fiction 1, though in that anthology he is called J. New. This was also his name when another piece from his unpublished collection of stories, Gesta Daemonorum, appeared in the literary magazine Panurge later in 1987. Though the biographical note suggests it’s the same New, born in South Shields in 1952.

But where the frigging frick is he now? There is nothing on Google, not even for William J New. No Amazon page for William New or J New or William J New.

Does he have manuscripts tucked away in the loft labelled respectively,
Untitled, Unfinished, Unwritten and Unconceived? (Anything would be better than Gesta Daemonorum.) I simply must find out.

The sixth Heated Tale ends enigmatically with the following:

‘Ssi oot doog rif ad stnc, eh nirg.
Lord a moral man to speak: I hev bin translated.’


Re-reading this story about a week ago, I couldn’t work out what the first of these two lines meant. That is, until I consulted the copy of the book I had on me that night of the launch, which contains the signatures of Suzi Robinson and Ralph Goldswain on the first pages of their stories, and the following penciled words under the ambiguous line: ‘Ssi oot doog rif ad stnc, eh nirg.’

‘It’s too good fir da cunts, he grin.’

The rules being that each word is spelt backwards and one word needs its vowel putting back. Though for that to work one has to accept that an accidental spelling mistake has been introduced into the first word, which should have been printed ‘Sti’ rather than ‘Ssi’. What gives that credence is that there are a fair number of typographical errors in the anthology, at least one per story.

On reflection, it’s a pity about the misogynistic use of a word for female genitalia in that aforementioned sentence. But it’s the way people often thought and spoke in those days. Feminism may not have brought equality for women yet, but it has had an impact on men’s use of language.

For now, ‘It’s too good for da cunts,’ will have to do as William New’s epitaph. Yes, unless I hear to the contrary, I’ll be assuming that’s what it says on the gravestone that stands over a coffin containing a long black coat, an umbrella and
Gesta Daemonorum.


I’m sitting in a lecture theatre at 5.15pm, three-quarters of an hour before an event is scheduled to begin. Why? Because such is Ian Rankin’s fame that not only is this 750-seat venue a sell-out, anyone who wants to be here in the main theatre watching him being interviewed in the flesh has been advised to get here early as the majority of seats are in adjacent theatres where the event is to be transmitted live.


Ian Rankin is the contributor to PEN New Fiction who has made it big, dwarfing the sales of all the other authors put together. The poster on the door tells us that he has sold 30 million copies of his books. He has a new novel just published in November, Even Dogs in the Wild. Earlier this week he announced on his Twitter stream that it was the top selling hardback for the third week running, somehow succeeding to seem modest in the process. Amazon has had it in its top 50 best sellers both times I’ve checked in the last week.

This Tuesday,
Even Dogs in the Wild had 146 reviews from customers on Amazon, three days later, there are 171 reviews. The vast majority are 5-star. He’s got a single 1-star review, but when you look that up, the review says, ‘Excellent book as usual by Ian Rankin. I rate it five stars.’ In other words, the satisfied customer simply pushed the wrong button.

I’ve read one of Rankin’s books over the last week,
Fleshmarket Close, a hardback which I picked up in a charity shop in 2004 and presented (so the inscription says) to my mother, father and brother as a Christmas present in the hope that one of them would read it. I don’t think any of them did. But I really enjoyed it this week, principally in Perth Royal Infirmary either by Dad’s bedside or in the café. Great Edinburgh background, a plot that engages from the beginning and a main character that one can enjoy being in the head of. I give it five stars. Woops, my finger slipped. Sorry, Ian.

Let’s dig down a bit into Rankin’s success as the room continues to fill with his readers. I can’t help observe in passing that although there are as many women as men, every single person in the room is white. Many are white-haired, but not all.

I have a copy of
PEN New Fiction 2 with me, the one signed by Suzi Robinson. Ian Rankin’s story is third from the top of the list of stories. There are close connections between Allan Massie (the book’s editor), Giles Gordon (who was Allan Massie’s literary agent and whose story heads the book’s running order) and Ian Rankin. Here is Massie on Rankin: “I first met Ian Rankin in 1983 when I held a fellowship in creative writing at Edinburgh University. He was working on a PhD thesis on Muriel Spark and supporting himself with a part-time job as a clerk in the Inland Revenue. He used to bring short stories for me to read, criticise and advise on. They were sensitive and perceptive stories mostly about childhood in the old mining communities of Fife. Some years later, he turned, sensibly, to crime, and after he had published one novel, I recommended him to my then editor, Euan Cameron at the Bodley Head. Euan took him on, and Ian has never looked back.”


Massie and Rankin were both at Giles Gordon’s funeral where Rankin was quoted as saying about the dead man: "He was great to meet up for lunch with, as he was a fountain of good gossip. Although he was never my agent, he worked for my publishers, and I’ve known him for years through Allan Massie from as far back as university days. Allan was right when he said that Giles always kept something of the boy about him. He was such a big part of life here that he will be sorely missed."

Am I making a point here? Just that I’d like to think that Allan Massie didn’t determine the running order of the book, as his Edinburgh mates (literary agent and star pupil) are up there in two of the three most prominent places. These are the stories that people would be most likely to read. On the other hand, Giles Gordon had published several collections of short stories by 1987 and had a reputation in the field. While Ian Rankin was obviously a huge talent in the making. So, purely from a professional standpoint, they deserved a prominent position. Anyway, it’s something I’ll try and raise with Allan Massie, if and when I manage to communicate with him.

What about Ian Rankin’s story itself? It’s called ‘The Wall’ and it’s an intriguing piece of writing. An investigation is going on and the investigator is ‘Ian Rankin’, language expert, specialising in enabling the dumb to speak. (Rankin’s first novel,
Knots and Crosses, starring the police detective, Rebus, was published in the same year, 1987, and I wonder if this short story helped Rankin decide how to name and frame the protagonist in his novel.)

The protagonist sets out to a tiny island off the West coast of Scotland in order to coax the final chapter out of a professor who’s been writing a three-volume work,
Mankind and the Images of God. Throughout the story the metaphor of a wall and a view is used. What is preferable, the view of a wall or the view beyond that wall? Well, it depends what the view is like. And it depends on what impact the wall has on the person perceiving it.

All this week on
Radio 3, Rankin has been talking about the part that classical music has played in his life. On Monday morning, he made a point of stressing that when he’s sitting at his computer he must be facing a blank wall. No view of the outside world and no pictures on the wall, so that he can concentrate on what he sees in his mind’s eye.


The last paragraph in ‘The Wall’, concerning the professor who has come to a conclusion about God that discomforts him, reads: ‘There are some walls you’d rather not have knocked down, Frederick Copeland, his view fixed, knows that, whatever he knows.’

So that’s a ‘wall’ being used in two ways. First, by the professor, whose wall is a view of the landscape, so that he can’t see the interior view, which is a bleak perspective. Second, by the author, who looks onto a featureless wall so that he focuses on an inner life. But what if the author and the professor were one and the same? In a sense they are, in that neither is seeing what’s really out there in all its complexity.

The room is full. The audience is applauding. Ian Rankin sits down at a table and pours himself a glass of water. I’m so glad I’m here and not in a neighbouring theatre. That is, there is no wall between me and the author I’ve come to see and hear.

This is billed as a Christmas lecture, a joint venture between the University of Dundee and Dundee Council. But the format is as in a typical literary festival event, and the interviewer asks Rankin in what way the Fife boy has become the Edinburgh man.

Rankin talks candidly about his working class childhood, the importance of comics and pop music and his over-riding habit of feeling at home in his bedroom playing by himself: reading, drawing, writing, listening to music. As with other writers, he tells us, he feels that when he became an adult and was asked to put away so-called childish things, he simply said: “No thanks.”

Above all he finds the act of writing therapeutic; he believes it helps keep him young.

The interview is interspersed with a couple of readings from his new book. He’s in the middle of a world tour to promote
Even Dogs in the Wild. He was in Canada last week and he’ll be in America at the end of January. However, he has promised a new novel to his publishers by June and he does not yet know what that book will be about. Panic will set in shortly. And if his past experience of this panic is anything to go by, he will only then find his theme and the means to go about exploring it.


That’s a bit of a paradox. I get the feeling from perusing the five-star reviews on Amazon that members of the public know what they’re going to get from an Ian Rankin book. And yet the author has no idea what the book will be about until he sits down to write it, and then he largely makes it up as he goes along.

Audience and author spend an entertaining and informative hour together. At the end of which, Rankin takes a few questions, some from the floor and some that have been written on cards by individuals in the secondary theatres. To round off, a cheerful man from the university stands up to thank our speaker and to remind us that the event has been co-hosted by Dundee Council. Drinks and mince pies have been provided in the foyer where we are invited to adjourn to. Ian Rankin will be signing copies of his new book for anyone interested in acquiring a very special Christmas present.

In the foyer, a long queue of punters soon assembles, everyone carrying at least one copy of
Even Dogs in the Wild. I have a glass of apple juice and a chat with an artist I know. Of course, I can’t resist telling her about my current project and she seems ready enough to listen.

“Would you like to hear a sample of Ian Rankin’s style of 30 years back?”

“OK then.”

“Here goes,” and I flick through to the bit I have in mind:

Don’t talk to me abt frigg-in animals.
There wuss an animals, ten times, an hundred times.
Fuck in hell!
Worse than
the frigging beasts of the FIELD!”

Deirdre asks if the extract is in fact from my own short story.

I carry on reading from William New’s Heated Tale until Deirdre says: “Do you know, I think I prefer his pre-Rebus style. Much dafter.”


Thirty minutes into the book signing, the queue seems just as long. I pick up a glass of white wine and saunter over towards where Ian Rankin sits and I watch him at work. He finds out whom the book he is about to sign is intended for and writes the name at the top of the title page. Below the title he adds a few words such as: ‘With best wishes’. Then, after a flourish of a signature that embraces the dog and star motif of Orion Books, he adds a knots-and-crosses game, a hanged man doodle or a smiley face. Does he do these motifs at random, or does something about each punter inspire one squiggle rather than another? I don’t know.

Nearly there. On average Rankin’s taking 30 seconds per signed book, and he’s been sat there for an hour. That’s 120 books so far. To put this in perspective, I should say that I gave a talk in Appledore during that seaside town’s book festival to an audience of 30-odd. At the signing, set up exactly as here, one person sidled forward and asked me to sign her book. I expect she felt sorry for me. Christ, it ain’t easy. It ain’t anything like as easy as Ian Rankin is making it look.

Next thing I know I’ve got the author’s undivided attention.

I ask Ian if he’ll sign his short story, and I hold my copy of
PEN New Fiction 2 out for him, as Suzi may have held her copy out to him thirty years ago.

“This is a right old book,” he says, studying the dust-jacket.

I tell him I’ve been commissioned to write about what’s happened to all of the writers in the anthology.

“Well, for a start I’ve got rid of the ‘J’,” says Ian, who is marked down as ‘Ian J Rankin’ at the head of his story.

Mentally, I put the ‘J’ carefully in my jacket pocket as Ian moves his hand over the slightly yellowing paper of the open book. Why? Because it might come in handy later when I make a more determined effort to trace William New.


PEN - Version 11

After signing his name and scrawling the hangman motif (gee, thanks, Ian), he adds: “I remember that I never got paid for this.”

Quick calculation. 30 million books sold at an average retail price of £10. 10% going to the author. Giving £30 million to be added to the bank account of Ian Rankin. One would have thought that the £100 due from PEN in 1987 could be quietly forgotten about. Apparently not. However, I seem to remember that the advance he got for his first published novel was only £200, so I do understand.

“None of us did, as far as I know.”

“The publisher went bust, was it?”

“No, the Arts Council reneged on their side of the financial arrangement. At least that’s what the publisher told us.”

He turns to the contents page and asks which one I am. I say my name as I point to it, and casually mention that one of our fellow contributors is presently in prison.

“Which one?”

Having craftily predicted this question from the crime novelist still in search of his next storyline, I answer teasingly: “Oh, a little research by Rebus would soon uncover that.”


Ian smiles and hands me the book. I ask if I can email him with a couple of questions about his writing career and he tells me to do that via an Angela who works at Orion and whose email address is on his website.

I thank him and move away so that those who have been waiting behind me with their copies of Ian’s new novel
can get their needs seen to. How about that, though? Even dogs in the lion’s den.

Next morning, I write up the night before which leads me straight on to this:
Hi Angela, Could you kindly forward this email to Ian Rankin, who I spoke to briefly about this project last night at the Dundee event. Thanks in anticipation. Duncan

Dear Ian,

Thanks so much for signing that copy of your early story, 'The Wall', last night. I felt a bit of an impostor with so many people clutching brand new copies of
E.D. in the W.

As I said, I've been commissioned to research a book about the subsequent writing lives of the 32 writers who contributed to PEN New Fiction 2One thing that will have to be put across is that you've sold more books than everyone else put together, an incredible achievement. What would you say that was down to? Did your sales take off at any particular time? Did regularly appearing on the late night BBC arts review program help promote your persona? Or were the TV adaptations the key to the widening popularity of your novels? Has your writing moved in the direction of the reading public's taste, or vice versa? Has word of mouth significantly helped, or have specific publishers' initiatives been more important? Open questions, I know, and you are a very busy man! 


Do you recall going to the London launch of PEN New Fiction 2 in January 1987? Your biographical note at the back of the book suggests you were living there at the time. Another of the contributors went around and got signatures from us all. If she can locate that copy in her basement then I’ll ask her if you’ve signed it and whether the ‘J’ of ‘Ian J Rankin’ was then part of your signature. A peculiar kind of detective work, I admit.

'The Wall' features an investigator called Ian Rankin, based in Glasgow, an academic who finds ways to help the dumb communicate. Did this scenario help you to reject certain options when deciding on aspects of the protagonist in Knots and Crosses? The novel was published the same year as the short story but I assume was written after it. (The stories had to be submitted by December 15, 1985.)

In the story you really go to town on 'wall' and 'view' as metaphors. Is it fitting to remove the wall to see the view? Well, that depends if the view is true or pleasant. And if it's false, or gives false comfort, then it's effectively a barrier to knowledge and may have to be knocked down. Perhaps that's what Rebus does: knocks down walls and rips up views until he gets to a blank wall (in a pub?) that he can use to access an inner view that gives him a true view of the outside world, which he then has to prove! I was listening to your interviews on
Radio 3 this week and recall you mentioning on day one the importance of the blank wall in your own writing process. So perhaps this early story also has some importance in sorting out what you wanted to achieve in your writing.

You mentioned in your talk last night that when growing up you first thought Alice Cooper to be a rough-looking woman. Can you recall what you thought about the appearance of David Bowie?

My last book was a kind of biography of Evelyn Waugh. He was an admirer of early novels of Muriel Spark, whose writing has similar qualities. Have you read any Waugh? Perhaps you were seduced as I was by those Penguin covers that were around all through the Seventies. If so what do you think of him as a writer?

It will be so useful to me if you can respond in some way to anything I've said or alluded to in this mail. 


Good luck with your next book. I hope a story comes to you before the panic you spoke about sets in.

Best wishes, Duncan McLaren

Only after I send this off, do I properly read it over. Fuck, it’s far too reverential. Anyone would think I was writing to Martin Amis asking the great man to confirm my view that Richard Tull couldn’t write for toffee and Gwyn Barry couldn’t write for peanuts!

I don’t ask Ian Rankin what his initial motivation for becoming a writer was. Partly because he told us during his talk. He’d enjoyed drawing and writing when he was a teenager and when the time came to ‘do a proper job’ he found he didn’t want one. Far better carrying on thinking about what he wanted to think about: therapeutic even.

No mission to change the world, then? There is a book called
Rankin’s Scotland, an autobiography published in 2005. This tells us that Ian Rankin set out to write the Rebus books as a way of exploring Edinburgh, the sophisticated city he’d moved to from his working class roots in Fife. Rebus is a Fifer too, though of an older generation. When writing about Rebus, Rankin is both writing about his own childhood and that of his father. And as the books came out, year by year, Ian Rankin realized that they were a means by which he could write about Scottishness in general.

This is how he puts it in the last chapter of
Rankin’s Scotland:

‘The themes I used in most of my books place questions in the minds of their Scottish readers: who are we, where do we come from, how do we feel about racism, sectarianism, Anglophobia, identity, the political process, our place in the wider scheme of things? These debates are continuing and some of their conclusions may be within the remit of the new parliament. Devolution has been centuries in the making; here’s hoping it provides leadership and a new-found confidence. The habits of several lifetimes will be changed only with unceasing effort, but that effort will surely be worthwhile.’


Very good that. The Rebus books and the Scottish parliament together will push the people of Scotland towards a new enlightenment. Way to go, Ian Rankin!


As that email to Ian Rankin suggests, Suzi Robinson has replied to my email. I thought of her last night because Ian Rankin’s talk ended with him mentioning that in his recent books there have been opportunities at an auction for readers to pay for their name to crop up as the name of a character, the fee going to charity. In one book this was extended to the name of a cat. The winner of the auction provided Rankin with a fancy name (something like Aloysius), photographs, and a comprehensive psychological breakdown of the cat. Given that Suzi’s 2014 novel is called The Best Ever Cat Food Formula, and which features talking cats, I wonder if the sponsor might even have been her.

Suzi thanks me for including her in my project. She will do her best to supply all the information I’ve requested but will have to do it gradually as she is recovering from a serious operation and has only just got out of hospital. This reminds me of the position of her protagonist in ‘Half Day Closing’, who had had a shock and been very ill.

She goes on to say about her story: ‘It was not consciously autobiographical. It grew out of a press cutting I had in my stash. A couple of column inches about a young mother seeing her child swept away in a river. I remember wondering about her state of mind and if she would ever recover. The child in my story was always a boy.’

I’d asked her about this because the motive for writing is often catharsis. Something happens to you and to help come to terms with it, you write about the incident, deepening your understanding of it or transforming it into something more acceptable to your psyche.

Suzi goes on to tell me that she’ll provide feedback on CreateSpace at a later date and that she’d like to swop my book on Waugh in return for her novel, which she describes as ‘a pantomime folded into a novel: high action, comic and pleasantly scary for readers aged 9 to 13, plus everyone who likes cats.’


But the line from her email that sticks in my mind is the one where she tells me she’ll have to get down to her basement to find the copy of the book with the PEN author signatures. What will she do with it? I expect she will return to her living room with the box full of words just as her protagonist returned home with a bag of words all those years ago.

On that occasion she went on to tell the story of an unknown mother’s loss. On this occasion? Perhaps she will tell the story of an unknown author’s illness, or her home for stray cats.
Even Cats in the Warm?

One cat is called Suzi. Another William - or ‘J’ for some reason. There are many more cats, as we’ll be learning, and I expect all of them will turn out to have beautifully curling tales.

PEN - Version 10

Next chapter.