In what has to be the most popular event of Bangor’s Aspects Literary Festival, Colin Bateman, the town’s own favourite novelist, and Scottish crime guru Ian Rankin take to the stage in the festival marquee in front of hundreds of eager fans.
The tone of the discussion is set from the beginning of the evening, with Bateman driving the interview and pressing Rankin on various aspects of his career and the literary world. However, whilst the event is largely geared towards hearing Rankin’s insights, there is plenty on offer for the Bateman fans in the audience.
Indeed, after a quick gag about Wikipedia (a subject which will crop up often throughout the evening), each of the authors begin by reading a chapter from their latest novels.
Bateman takes his turn first, Rankin making a light-hearted quip about dozing off – either due to the nature of the material or, as he puts it, ‘the massive feed and bit of booze’ the duo had enjoyed at dinner.
Bateman’s latest work, Nine Inches, features author and fan favourite character Dan Starkey, returned in his role of journalist-cum-private-eye.
With his twenty-first novel, the author seems to be deliberately courting controversy once again. The book revolves around Starkey helping a long-time acquaintance, oafish ‘Jack Caramac’. Caramac (not his real name) is a local radio presenter, hosting a morning-time phone-in show, a boorish and overweight buffoon that ‘the people’ love to hate.
Whilst not explicitly stated, it is made rather clear that, just like Starkey is a semi-autobiographical character, Caramac may be inspired by a certain famous Belfast figure.
Rankin reads from two sections of his new book, The Impossible Dead, a sequel to 2009’s The Complaints, featuring once again Internal Affairs cop D.I. Malcolm Fox. These books follow the work Rankin is best known for, the world-famous Inspector Rebus novels.
The portions Rankin reads aloud from feature an exposition, and a scene with Fox visiting his elderly father in a nursing home. As ever, the author displays his flair for accurate insight into the world of policing (even if he later admits some of it may not be entirely factually correct), as well as painting pictures of fully fleshed-out, believable characters.
The rest of the evening features Bateman interviewing Rankin on a wealth of topics, the authors often branching off into amusing and informative anecdotes and asides. They seem naturally at ease with one another, and have the rapport of old friends.
One issue discussed is the Rebus television adaptation, for which Bateman once wrote. Rankin has claimed in the past to have never seen an episode of it and tonight he explains why – he does not want to let somebody else’s interpretation of the character change the way he writes him himself (referencing John Thaw’s portrayal of Morse).
This, of course, suggests that we have not heard the last of Inspector Rebus just yet, sure to delight fans of the series.
Other topics include the advent of the Kindle (of which both authors see positive and negative points), the influence of digital books on the marketplace, and Rankin’s work with DC Comics on his graphic novel.
This aspect is particularly interesting, with Rankin explaining how it took him three times as long to write a 200 page comic as it would to write three novels.
The reason for this, he explains, is that in comics the author has to serve as director as well as writer. For every frame in the comic, Rankin provided an extra page of ‘stage directions’. With five frames a page, this adds up to a 1000 page book, which, disparagingly, his son read in under an hour.
Despite the hard work involved, both authors seem to have retained their long-time affinity with the comic world. Rankin calls them as excellent literacy aids for teenage boys.
The night finishes with a brief Q&A session, during which both authors give insights into their writing schedules. In exciting news for Rankin fans, he informs us that he will begin writing his next book on January 6 2012, due to be released by the end of the same year. As of yet Rankin isn’t sure what is going to feature in the book, but jokes that, ‘a writer only needs one good idea a year’.