Ian Rankin: The frustrations and joys that come with being a parent of special needs children fuel Ian’s writing

Crime author Ian Rankin (Image: PA Images)

Although he prefers not to get involved in politics, Ian joined Jo Whiley (whose sister Frances is a learner disabled) and raised concerns that the government had “forgotten” vulnerable people as it opened up.

He spoke by telephone from Edinburgh and explained that it was disappointing when people began to get jabs, as special needs individuals were not prioritized. They might have thought that because they are mostly in care homes, they would be safer.

Kit’s safety was a positive for us. All the staff at the home tried their best and there was literally zero cases. There is now a problem with young disabled persons under 18, whose parents have to insist that they get jabs. Many are locked up because they are too fragile to leave the house.

The bestselling author from Scotland channeled his frustrations and anxieties into The Dark Remains, his latest book. This was not the first time.

Miranda and Ian lived in France during the 1990s. They suspected that their two-year old son was not growing properly.

They would meet with consultants and specialists, and after a few baffling conversations they would be back home. Ian would then climb the stairs into his attic and vent his frustration on Rebus.

My head was full with questions about Kit. “We couldn’t understand doctors as they spoke in medical French. So I decided to dump everything on Rebus. All the frustration went onto him in a large, complicated, and angry book.” he says.

Black And Blue is frequently referred to as Ian’s first novel. It was his first book to be broadcast, with John Hannah playing the tough-loving, hard-drinking detective. To this day, it remains a favorite of fans.

He continued: “By 1998’s The Hanging Garden, we had been told Kit wouldn’t be able to walk. So the first thing that happens, Sam Rebus’s little girl is injured in an accident that left her disabled and is forced into a wheelchair. This was the case of “I must deal with disabled kids, you have to deal avec disabled kids.” Let’s find out how it goes for you. I was not trying to be spiteful, but that was just how it worked for me.

If you have a family member with a disability, it’s important to keep fighting – bureaucracy is always threatening. I have met many families with children who are special needs. They work tirelessly to provide the best possible life for their child, whether it’s through therapy or an electric wheelchair.

“I have much respect for writers. I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many heroes. But, even though my books are successful in some ways, we are able to get any equipment Kit requires. However, I feel that there are still so many families who do not have this luxury and have to worry about funding.

It’s hard for many reasons. But the one thing that unites you is your love. There’s so much love out there, and families know that they have it. They will go to any lengths for their children because they care.

Some normalcy has been restored since his family was double-jabbed just a few months back. Ian says that Kit can now go for a walk if we have negative lateral flow tests. He’s an adorable kid. Kit still lives a restricted life despite having financially stable parents and a well-known public image. Ian is concerned that Kit’s son is only getting a fraction of his treatments and thinks his experience may be the beginning of a long list of therapies for people with disabilities.

We are very lucky, Kit is a great caretaker. The clients all were very well taken care of. Kit is still getting the same therapies, but he was not receiving them for a full year. The family would go swimming, or have someone come in to do foot massages or indoor skiing. All of this was lost.

Ian Rankin at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards in 2013 (Image: PA Images)

Kit is happy as long as he has people to support him. However, some clients weren’t going places they were expecting like church or footy matches. They found it quite distressing.

Ian is not one to fuss about his lockdown experience. The Dark Remains is a story with a remarkable origin. It was inspired by notes made by William McIlvanney (whom many refer to as the “godfather of Tartan noir” for his Inspector Laidlaw books).

McIlvanney was awarded the 1975 Whitbread Award for Docherty. But, for most, it’s for his trilogy – Laidlaw and The Papers Of Tony Veitch – that McIlvanney is remembered for. His triology is set in the gritty Glasgow world of crime and features the detective he adopted.

Ian explains that Willie was an important writer to many of us who went on to become crime writers in Scotland. He was self-taught and working class. He’d already won the Whitbread Award and went on to write these crime novels. It was okay for him to write crime fiction. McIlvanney must have written it.

Willie was a writer. His writing style is rich in metaphors and images. But he also embodied the Laidlaw character. He is an intellectual. In between cases, he reads complicated philosophers.

I wouldn’t do this for another writer. Willie is someone I love deeply and I wanted to do my best for him. I hope the book brings new readers. “

In 1985, Ian was a student of literature and ran up to McIlvanney at Edinburgh Book Fair with a copy of one his books. He told McIlvanney that he was creating his novel, “a little like Laidlaw, but set in Edinburgh”. Ian signed Ian’s paperback, “Good Luck with the Edinburgh Laidlaw.”

Ian continues, “And then our paths didn’t really cross until we were a published author.” I returned to the UK for a book tour with Black And Blue. Willie showed up to my reading. No chairs were available. It was as if he had been seated on the ground.

McIlvaney was beginning to lose popularity, even though Ian rose in the Rebus book charts with each new bestseller – last year’s A Song For The Dark Times was his 23rth appearance.

His agent said to him that he would be rich if he continued writing them. He wanted to share the stories that he loved, but they couldn’t be constrained within the confines of crime. He wrote many more poetry, prose, reviews, and novels.

After the 1991 publication of The Laidlaw Books, copies traded for more money and eventually they disappeared from print. They were then reprinted in 2013 two years after their author died at 79.

Ian says that he began to understand the importance of those books after they were reissued. I interviewed him at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. He said that he was not interested in coming to Harrogate Crime Writing Festival at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning.

The crime writer’s 27-year-old son has Angelman syndrome, a rare genetic condition (Image: PA Images)

We walked in the ballroom to find that there were 800 persons there. There was only enough room for everyone. He was almost up, and it dawned on me that he was still important in crime fiction in Scotland as well as in British.

When Canongate inquired if Ian would like to take a closer look at his latest Rebus, Ian was just finishing it. The notes were 100 pages long and included lines like: “I believe this is the word, but I cannot read his handwriting!”

Ian says that Willie thought about ending Laidlaw by writing a prequel or a sequel. These were to be Laidlaw’s last and first cases, but not enough time to complete the second. After much thought, Ian decided that he would try the prequel set in Glasgow, 1972.

He admits that he had never written historical fiction before. He asked, “How much did a newspaper cost? How much was it for a pint?” It’s hard to say. It was 12 years ago. The Laidlaw books were my first introduction to Willie. I kept reading them until I was 12. Next, I visited the library to look at the Glasgow newspaper from 1972 in as many detail as I could. I also had street maps for that period.

This book has received rave reviews and is completely unique. The book introduces Ian, an unconventional detective who is also a member of the criminal bosses that he encounters in his investigation into the assassination of a corrupt lawyer. It is interesting to note that Ian found it difficult to set the crime scene in Glasgow. Rebus is a skeptic who doesn’t get it. He laughs. I’m far from my comfort zone. Edinburgh is more straight-laced. In Glasgow, strangers are more likely to chat with you at the bus stop or chip shop than they are in Edinburgh.

You don’t want the wrong things to be said in the wrong place. Willie would be proud to say that you could end up with a knife and a headbutt. The novel, despite Willie’s initial reservations, is a triumph that can only enhance the glowing reputation of the authors.

McIlvanney is impressed by Ian’s style of writing. He says, “The most compliments I have received was from Siobhan, who sent me a letter that said, ‘I couldn’t see the join. It stopped being Willie, and started becoming you.’ This tells me that I captured his voice. It was a joy. I was delighted when she added, “It was almost like he was there with me.”

  • Now available: The Dark Remains, William McIlvanney & Ian Rankin (Canongate PS20). Express Bookshop can be reached at 020 3176 3832 for free delivery

Publication Date: Mon, 06/09/2021 12:00 PM +0000

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