Tuesday 16 July 2019

Bestselling McDermid stabs her pen into the zeitgeist

Val McDermid talks to Andrea Byrne about Ian Rankin, crime writers, Gordon Brown and football

Andrea Byrne

'It was a media storm," Val McDermid says, quashing rumours that she and fellow Scottish writer Ian Rankin once fell out over something he said in an interview. "The media created it. Ian and I are good friends. We sit in the director's box of the football together, we had a drink together at the book's festival a few weeks back. We are grown-ups, we are perfectly capable of having a disagreement without falling out."

Fall out though they didn't, McDermid was admittedly left "baffled" by Rankin's comments that the most graphically violent novels are written by women and the worst of them are written by lesbians. "At that particular point in the top 10 were writers like Simon Kernick and Stewart McBride, which were both far more graphically violent than anything I can think of," the Scottish-born author says.

However, McDermid, one of Britain's bestselling writers, does concede that male and female crime novelists write differently.

"There is a difference of sensibility and I think that is mostly to do with social conditioning. Women grow up thinking of themselves as potential victims. When women read crime novels and reports of crime in the newspapers, we immediately think in terms of the victim," she says. "Men come at it from a very different angle -- they come from the point of view of what must that have looked like. When women write about violence they write about it from the inside. Men write more from the point of view of observing, and so in that sense I think women probably write scarier books because you're writing it from the point of view of somebody who understands that fear in a visceral kind of way that I think most men don't understand. At the heart of how we write differently is that difference of social experience."

Speaking about the increasing appetite for crime novels, McDermid says, "The crime novel really has become the state-of-the-nation fiction. There's an Irish writer called Alan Glynn, who has just published a novel Winterland -- it's a book about greed and property development, it's astonishingly prescient because if you think how long it takes a book from being written to being published. This is a book that speaks to absolutely now. Good writers -- good crime writers in particular -- have a knack of plugging into the zeitgeist."

McDermid too, has a knack of producing books that are culturally relevant. In Fever of the Bone, McDermid's latest inovel and the sixth drama in the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series broadcast on ITV as Wire in the Blood, teenagers are being stalked on a social networking site and murdered. "I think they (social networking websites) have a very valuable function. There is no doubt they allow people to connect in a way that they couldn't connect before. But there's another side that we need to be aware of -- and that's how easy it is to masquerade. Particularly where kids and young people are concerned, we need to be really careful who they are talking to, what they are doing. A lot of parents don't really understand computers, their kids have a much more sophisticated knowledge of the internet. With my boy, I don't let him online unless I am physically in the room."

Open about her sexuality, McDermid has been married to Kelly, who works as a publisher, for more than three years. "The great thing about it is, Kelly understands the business. She understands the pressures, demands and requirements. She understands that there is a time every year when my head is so far into the book, it's very unlikely that you can get much sense out of me. My little boy realises that this is a very good time to get me to agree to anything," she says, laughin.

McDermid shares custody of her eight-year-old son Cameron (conceived via donor insemination) with her ex-girlfriend. "And that work out OK?" I probe. "It works out!" she replies. "I don't think anyone who is in these kind of shared custody situations finds it an entirely primrose path."

She describes cars as her "one big self-indulgence". Currently, she's driving a BMW 630 convertible. "I'm just about to trade it in though, my kid is getting too big for the back seat," she chuckles in her deep throaty Scottish inflection. "The sacrifices you make for your children..."

A big football enthusiast, McDermid supports first division Scottish club Raith Rovers. Her devotion to the clubs extends so far that she actually sponsors the North Stand. "My dad used to be a scout for the club. He signed some significant players in his time. He is very much part of the club's history. So it's a way of advertising for me, but it also a way of honouring my dad."

The football also allows her to catch up with her old friend Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, who she has known since she was a teenager. Asked how she thinks he will fare in the upcoming election, she says, "It's difficult. Labour have got a tough time of it ... but the thought of those posh, smug gits being in charge again just makes me depressed beyond words. It would be lovely to see the Labour party inject some new energy and freshness into their ideas, but I don't know if that's going to happen."

Over her 22-year career, McDermid has published 23 novels and boasts sales of more than 10 million. But she shows no signs of slowing down.

"Whenever I set out to write a book my intentions are twofold: my job is to entertain my reader, but it's also to intrigue them and make them think, so I want to write a book that keeps you gripped, that makes you want to turn the pages -- to keep reading it until your eyes feel like they're bleeding ... It's a huge privilege just to be able to unleash your imagination".

Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid, Little, Brown Book Group, €15.99

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