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A novel idea: Rankin considers Raro romance after Rebus rest

Saturday 9 March 2024 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Features, Weekend


A novel idea: Rankin considers Raro romance after Rebus rest
Renowned Scottish novelist Sir Ian Rankin with some of his books at the Cook Islands Library and Museum yesterday. RASHNEEL KUMAR/24030863

Renowned Scottish novelist Sir Ian Rankin with some of his books at the Cook Islands Library and Museum yesterday. RASHNEEL KUMAR/24030863

International best-selling author Ian Rankin is enjoying a relaxing vacation in Rarotonga, soaking up the beauty of the island and getting inspiration for future writing projects.

Renowned Scottish novelist Sir Ian Rankin is making headlines back home for the upcoming BBC TV crime drama, Rebus, based on his international best-selling Inspector Rebus novels.

But instead of basking in the limelight, he’s far, far away, soaking up the tranquillity and beauty of Rarotonga – a place he discovered two decades ago.

“A nice thing about the island is I can’t get phone reception here so all the media in the UK who’ve wanted to talk to me about this TV show, I can just ignore them,” Rankin says with a smile.

“I can sometimes pick up emails when I’m in a Wi-Fi spot, but otherwise I’ve got no signal on my phone. So, it’s a good place to shut off and relax and pretend that the world outside doesn’t exist.”

Rankin’s connection to the Cook Islands stretches back two decades. It all began when his wife, Miranda Harvey, visited with a friend, Laura, whose uncle, Archie, served as the Cook Islands’ chief medical officer at the time.

Laura, who had family ties to both Mauke and Rarotonga, frequently visited the islands during her teenage years. Inspired, she organised a trip for a group of artists, including Miranda, to spend a couple of weeks exploring the Cook Islands, capturing its beauty through paintings, drawings, and photographs.

Upon returning to Edinburgh, Miranda couldn’t wait to share her experience, urging Rankin, “We must go there because you’ll love it!”

Finally, after years of contemplating, they embarked on a lengthy journey, starting in San Francisco. They boarded a cruise ship to Auckland via Honolulu, Samoa, and Fiji, before finally landing in the paradise Miranda had raved about, a week ago.

So what was his first impression of Rarotonga?

“Obviously, my wife had shown me photographs and I’d seen the drawings and paintings that she’d done from Rarotonga. And she’d been to Aitutaki and Mauke, so I certainly knew a little bit about them.

“When you arrive here, I mean, it is, on the surface, it is the kind of ideal of a desert island. It looks like an advert. The sea is so blue. You’ve got the little crashing waves coming over the reef. You’ve got lots of palm trees everywhere and coconuts. Everybody who lives here seems very contented.

“When you’re going around on the bus, clockwise or anticlockwise, people are waving. The bus stops for you wherever you happen to be. You can’t get lost.

“The food is fantastic.

“And I’m trying to find out as much as I can about the island and its infrastructure and its politics and its social issues, which is why your newspaper has been important every day.”

One particular thing he loved about Rarotonga is it is “not been overwhelmed by tourism”.

Everybody’s made to feel welcome and it’s not hordes of tourists everywhere, Rankin says.

“And you can always get away. You can find a stretch of beach with nobody on it. You can find a stretch of road with nobody on it.

“I usually go running and back in Edinburgh, where I live, it’s only a few degrees above zero just now. I usually go out running with lots of layers of clothes.

“So the first morning here, I went for a run, it didn’t last long because it was so warm, so sticky. But I was running along. And once you got off that main circuit (road), there’s some empty roads that you can go and you’ll find new places that you wouldn’t find otherwise. And you can hear the sounds of the island, things you don’t get when you’re on a bus or in a car.”

While on this trip, Rankin has been working on a new book to be published in October this year.  On the cruise, they had 17 or 18 days at sea with no stops and he managed to get a lot of writing done.

However, he hasn’t done much writing since they got to New Zealand and Rarotonga and plans to wrap up the book upon his return to Edinburgh.

When asked if there’s a chance a Rarotonga inspired character might get a break in his upcoming book, Rankin replies: “Not in this book. This book is set in a prison in Edinburgh so there’s not much chance of anybody getting to come to Rarotonga.”

“Most of my books have an inspector, a detective in them, and he doesn’t even own a passport.  He doesn’t travel very much.

“But a writer, when he travels, we store up everything. And you never know in the future when you get an idea for a story, or maybe a film, a song lyric. It could be anything. And you go, oh, wait a minute, when I was on Rarotonga, that happened. I met that person. I saw that. I heard that. And that becomes the inspiration.

“Someone once said that as writers what we do is we loiter. So we’re picking up material everywhere we go. We just don’t know it until afterwards. And at some point, in the future, that material is waiting for you.”

Rankin, 63, started writing in the 1980s and his first book “The Flood” was published in 1986.

“I write a first draft very quickly. A first draft of a novel would be 30 or 40 days of writing. So maybe 3000 words a day. But then it’s quite rough.

“So then I need to polish it and polish it and polish it and that can take months. The contract I used to be on with my publisher was for one book every year. So that was how quickly I wrote the books.

“When I was young and poor, I wrote two books a year because I wasn’t making enough money to live on from one book.”

With the Cook Islands leaving a lasting impression on Rankin, he hasn’t ruled out a return trip to write his next novel here.

“Never say never. I mean, my wife would really like to come back again so she might have to drag me with her,” he says. “In an island with not much crime, what do I do? I might have to write a romance novel.”

  • Rashneel Kumar

From small town to global bestseller

Ian Rankin (born April 28, 1960, Cardenden, Fife, Scotland) Scottish best-selling crime novelist, creator of the Inspector Rebus series.

Rankin grew up in a small coal-mining town, where at a young age he displayed a talent for writing poetry. He studied English literature at the University of Edinburgh, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1982. While working on a never-finished Ph.D. in Scottish literature, he began writing the story that would become his first novel, The Flood (1986). It was published by a student-run press in Edinburgh. Set in a small town based on Rankin’s own birthplace, the debut was an exploration of the prejudices and superstitions of a fading community as reflected in its casting out of a young townswoman believed to be a witch.

In 1987 Rankin’s earliest crime novel, Knots & Crosses, introduced the character Inspector John Rebus, a rough-edged former military man serving in Scotland’s territorial police force. Rankin, who claimed to have had no intention of being a genre novelist, strayed for several years afterward from depicting what would become his most popular character, writing two unrelated novels in the interim. In 1990 he released his second book featuring the inspector. Rebus’s career continued to unfold in the ensuing decades, and in 1997 the eighth novel in the series, Black and Blue, became Rankin’s first international best seller. Inspired by the case of an unidentified serial killer thought to have operated in Glasgow in the 1960s, the work was the basis of the first episode of the Rankin-penned Rebus, a 14-part television program based on the book series that aired in the United Kingdom in 2000–07.

In 2007 Rankin published Exit Music, in which Rebus retires. Though Rankin maintained at the time that it was to be the last novel in the series, the superannuated Rebus was on the case again in Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012), Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013), Even Dogs in the Wild (2016), In a House of Lies (2018), and A Song for the Dark Times (2020); the latter was the 23rd installment in the series. The Rebus books gave Rankin an opportunity to depict Scotland, in particular Edinburgh, in high, often bloody colour. Through the authority-flouting inspector’s investigations, which played out in classic police-procedure style, the capital city emerges as a vibrant, textured place, filled with secretive corners and strange historical echoes. The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Short Stories (2014) collected his short fiction featuring the hard-bitten inspector. The play Rebus: Long Shadows, which Rankin wrote with Rona Munro, debuted in 2018.

In addition to his Rebus works, Rankin wrote a handful of thrillers under the name Jack Harvey between 1993 and 1995. He later released The Complaints (2009) and The Impossible Dead (2011), which feature another Scottish cop protagonist, Malcolm Fox; the character subsequently appeared in several books in the Rebus series. Dark Entries (2009) is a graphic novel centring on an occult detective’s investigation of a haunted reality television show set.

Rankin gained international recognition for his work, which was translated into more than 20 languages. His honours included a Raymond Chandler Fulbright fellowship (1991) and the Cartier Diamond Dagger, presented to him by the Crime Writers’ Association in 2005. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2003.

  • Britannica