It is strange how you can miss out on a whole area of Scottish culture then finally catch up.
My Mother recently gave me Ian Rankin’s book ‘Doors Open’ (she is a big fan having read everything he has published and seeing him many times at the Edinburgh Book festival) as it was about an art heist in Edinburgh and she thought that I might be interested in the context. I used to work as a handling technician for a short time at the National Galleries in Edinburgh during 1990 so I could see how the plot in the book might transpire. Rankin runs the reader around the Edinburgh environment in a stimulating manner and connects with identifiable locations to make the plot and action believable. So I became somewhat engrossed in the planning and eventual heist and consequences. I would also have made it an inside job (Rankin uses the retiring Art School head in the book as a way in to swap/steal the artwork), many a time I found myself transporting a small Canaletto or Renoir in the back of a black cab to get it down from one artwork store to another, but it actually never crossed my mind to get someone to copy the work and swap it en route… but it could well have worked.
So anyway it was interesting to see the BBC Imagine programme a couple of weeks ago which profiled Rankin’s creative process in writing his new book, “Standing in another man’s grave”. I used this at Gray’s in seminar discussions with the art students to help them to see how the writing process occurs even for an established writer such as Rankin. It is really useful to see how the process can be the same at any stage, but what was interesting for us was the build up, the gathering of notes, research, ideas, contexts and then the moment that there was the need for work to be done and a deadline to make. It is captured in the moment in the programme when Rankin starts to write, all the energy seemed channeled into those first few words which then started to flow, it seems a crucial point to identify and be able to sense it. There are also other interesting elements of the process which seemed to help students such as in the editing and gathering of specifics such as the decision by Rankin in the programme to make the actual journey up the A9 to the beach at Rosemarkie to see the details that he needed to make the action that bit more believable, if you know that particular beach (although he could have just looked at Google Street view but of course it is not the same). Anyway all very interesting and useful to consider when putting together some writing for us all.
While I was driving to work yesterday morning Rankin cropped up as a guest on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Start the Week’, alongside Tom Devine, Joyce McMillan and Alasdair Gray discussing Scottish culture. Maybe the plot of ‘Open Doors’ could now be seen as a metaphor in taking back our culture from the institutions, in respect of the recent 100 artists open letter, including Rankin and the subsequent resignation of Mr Dixon from Creative Scotland, or something, anyway Rankin says he’s starting his new book next Monday …or it might be Tuesday, I am looking forward to it.