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Q & A: Ian Rankin

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The Scene talks to crime writer Ian Rankin about exploring the dark side of Edinburgh, and how the city has become an inspiration to authors.

The Scene: What do you like about Edinburgh?

Ian Rankin: I came here in 1978 to go to university and Edinburgh just got under my skin somehow. I had to write about the place to make sense of it and that process is ongoing. It's like an umbilical cord. I've tried leaving several times but it never quite worked. I lived in London for four years and I lived in France for six years but I always came back. Wherever I've gone in the world I've never felt quite as comfortable as in Edinburgh. It has all the amenities of a city but it's tiny -- the population is about 400,000. When you got up to Arthur's Seat you feel as if you're in the Highlands -- it's a wilderness within the city. I like the fact you can get far from the madding crowd but not so far that you're not within walking distance of a decent pub. You can lose yourself, and walk many miles without seeing another person.

TS: The Edinburgh in the Rebus novels seems much darker than the Edinburgh encountered by the average visitor.

IR: I became a crime writer by accident trying to rewrite Jekyll and Hyde for an Edinburgh audience. Robert Louis Stevenson was one of my inspirations while I was at university doing a PhD on the Scottish novel. I got very interested in Jekyll and Hyde particularly and I got very annoyed that "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" is set in London when it's all about Edinburgh. That's the thing about Edinburgh; it's almost become a cliche but it really is a Jekyll and Hyde city. You've got the old and the new, the rougher parts of town and the very nice civilized parts. In a way it seems quite quiet, quite buttoned up, but there's also ferocity beneath all that. It doesn't seem to put the tourists off. In fact, quite the opposite; you've now got people coming to Edinburgh to look for the Edinburgh of "Trainspotting" or the Edinburgh of Rebus.

TS: Last year Edinburgh was named UNESCO's first City of Literature. What is it about Edinburgh that is so inspiring for authors?

IR: I pick up inspiration everywhere I go in Edinburgh. That's why I like walking. I don't tend to use my car or taxis or public transport, I do walk around town a hell of a lot. I get inspiration from overhearing conversations in pubs, from hearing people telling anecdotes. Sometimes I get approached by people who recognize me and say they've got a great idea -- maybe one time in a hundred that idea is actually quite good. It's hard to live here in Edinburgh and not get a sense that this is a place that has inspired writers down the ages. If you arrive here by train you arrive at Waverley Station, named after a novel by Walter Scott. You've got Robert Louis Stevenson's house. There's a statue of Sherlock Holmes because Arthur Conan-Doyle was born and raised here. It's also the home of J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, and Alexander McCall Smith, who writes the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels, so there's a continuum of creative thought in Edinburgh. There's a buzz about it, a sense that there are stories here waiting to be told.

TS: There seem to be so many layers to the city, all fighting for attention.

IR: One of the problems in Edinburgh is trying to accommodate the new in a city that tourists come to because it's very old. A modern living, breathing city cannot be kept as a museum piece so Edinburgh's had to struggle with making itself a contemporary city. Down by the waterfront in Leith I think they've done a pretty nice job. Irvine Welsh in "Trainspotting" was talking about it being slightly dilapidated and drug-ridden and now the waterfront has been redeveloped and it's now -- parts of it at least - very beautiful. It shows what can be done but you're always fighting against the traditionalists who want everything you build in Edinburgh to look like the castle.

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