Yesterday I attended the Festival with my Mum on a Saturday Rover ticket. The day kicked off with Special Guest William McIlvanney in conversation with Ian Rankin:
Mr McIlvanney writes about Glasgow but he lives in Kilmarnock. As McIlvanney is known as the father of Tartan Noir, Ian Rankin started by asking if Laidlaw had influenced Taggart. Glen Chandler said that he took the name from a cemetery but he thinks that it definitely influenced it. He also revealed that once Sean Connery was once going to play Laidlow in a film, but that the funding fell through.
William McIlvanney admitted that he did not start out as a crime writer, all three of his first novels won literary awards, then his fourth was a crime novel as he had a voice that wanted to go to dark places, so it had to be a detective novel. Laidlaw had empathy with the perpetrators, was a philosopher and quoted from T. S. Elliot. Laidlaw won the Silver dagger and also with the Tony Veitch novel. His agent once told him that if he wrote one novel a year he would be a millionaire.
Ian asked why the third book is first person, as it is a change from the first three books, and William felt like it was more a personal journey and also there is no murder, just an accidental death. When he wrote Docherty he found out he is descended from miners, so he set it in a fictional place to respect the real people of Kilmarnock.
William McIlvanney then read from The Papers of Tony Veitch ( the section where the two gangs have a summit meeting at a Hotel).
Ian Rankin asked if McIlvanney felt he tackled the code of masculinity in his fiction and he felt that he did, as the working class code interested him as he felt it was a societal way of snuffing out debate or discussion, e.g. the infamous Glasgow Kiss.
He feels that Laidlaw is of a time as the police travel by bus, there are no computers or mobile phones so it is mid-late 70s and is a historical novel as it charts the changes in Glasgow life, but not self consciously. He feels it is not just a story of crime but a celebration of a city. He feels Greta Garbo would never have been alone in Glasgow. Minor characters are allowed to breathe and add a touch of humour, not just as a cipher as he wanted to create a sense of reality, as real lives are going on around the crime.
He believes that Noir is a bad person who cannot escape the nemesis and he admitted he hadn't read much detective fiction, except Chandler, but reads more now he writes it. When he was younger he watched a lot of crime movies, he was still at school when Brando appeared on On the Waterfront.
Strange Loyalties - people are like moles in that they pirate tunnels of purpose. He felt his character's loyalty is to his dead brother, but in some way we all are shaped by it. The move to first person was because he wanted him to be the narrator and be inside his head for the book because of his perceptions and it gave him freedom though it was painful to edit.
He admitted that he has dead projects lying all over the place (he moves onto other things) as he is a wonderful non-finisher of things. A couple of the projects are Laidlaw a prequel, the fabulous beast in the basement that's going to be the big one - the chimera, that book that says exactly what you want to say.
'Every novel is the wreckage of the perfect idea.' He feels writing should be a sharing of our humanity, one with another, to teach us how to be human and he feels Shakespeare does that.
His books came back into print as someone wanted to republish after they fell out of print and Canongate resurrected them. They are books he wrote 30 years ago and he is talking about them again and they are selling again, which he feels is wonderful. He has had many quotes from people saying how important these books are.
They reminisced about when in 1990ish William went into a bookstore and listened to Ian Rankin. Ian then wrote to him and asked about a change from third person to first in his novels asking permission as people would compare them, but as he received no reply he did not.
They then opened the floor up to questions and William admitted he found writing first person liberating as he has a linear narrative, but admitted that it has to be an interesting head.
He feels like the resolution has to be a statement about the society that he lives in rather than just about his dead brother. He gave the example of the story about the Spartan boy. We all have something that pains us but we all have to act like we're okay and he feels like everything is implicitly political.
William started writing at 14 and when he was 17 he read William Saroyan and for long enough he felt he was him. Then it was Hemingway and he used to teach secondary.
He admitted that no writer ever knows how a book will be received, but feels as long as you are an honest broker between your vision and the reader, you will do well.
Both writers agreed that they find it hard to relate to new writers as they say they want the truth, but they don't really want the truth and they both feel that you get the novels after the event, not during. You need the distance to get to look to back at the event and it can't be too soon.
A book signing followed after the event.
More to follow on tomorrow's blog.