Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Scottish Crime Night

Barbara here. Yesterday was my birthday, and as a special treat to myself, I went with a friend to hear three dangerous but hilarious Scottish crime writers talk about writing, their latest books, politics and the future of the world. Ian Rankin, Denise Mina and Stuart MacBride were in town participating in the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, which runs for two weeks and holds a wide variety of author events sprinkled throughout the city. The Scots were being interviewed in the dank, soaring, century-old Knox Presbyterian Church, surely an inspired choice, and were proceeded to the altar by a bagpiper in full regalia.

Politics, humour, history, memoir, poetry and fiction are all given their due in this annual festival. It’s wonderful to see crime fiction being given a place at the literary banquet table, when so often in Canada it’s not on the invitation list. I won’t quibble (too loudly) with the fact that the organizers reached all the way across the pond for the invitees, rather than turning to some of the extraordinary homegrown talent that has been growing year by year here in Canada. I was delighted to hear these writers talk and to hear how much we have in common, no matter where we come from and how we pronounce our rrr’s. I had met Ian Rankin and Denise Mina before, when they attended our own Canadian mystery conference gruesomely named Bloody Words. No one would mistake that for a genteel literary gathering.

This time they spoke to a packed audience of probably three hundred, who laughed and applauded their wit, their compassion and their insight. They are all three tough, gritty writers who delve into the darkest parts of our souls and don’t shy away from brutal truths, but they also infuse their works with humour, much as Shakespeare did, as a release, a counterbalance, a message of hope amid the darkness. UK writers seems to use humour and wit so much more elegantly and subtly than we do over here. It is not a question of funny vs. dark, cozy vs. noir, but both put together in a complex, layered whole. Humour makes the darkness bearable, and lifts your spirits just at the moment it’s most needed.

Mina writes about Glasgow, Rankin about Edinburgh and MacBride about Aderdeen. To each of them, a sense of real place is very important to their books. They want to show their own city in all its vivid realism, warts and all, because they think crime fiction perhaps more than any other writing deals with social issues on a realistic level, not through metaphors or fables but through real stories of the day. Crime writers are the chroniclers of communities and the individuals in them, showing society in all its layers, in all its darkness and light. Rankin encourages everyone to write about the community they know best, and that vivid realism will resonate with others around the world.

As I watched their effortless banter, their easy shift from serious to jocular, I sensed between them that mutual respect and camaraderie that I have encountered so often among my own crime writer friends. Crime writers are a friendly and supportive lot. We can be competitive and jealous, but generally we sense that we are all on this adventure together and that helping each other succeed is more important than backbiting or backstabbing. Maybe it’s because we’re all underdogs together, maybe it’s because we get our aggressions out on the page, but whatever the reason, I hope it never changes.

4 comments:

Donis Casey said...

Happy Birthday!

academic writer needed uk said...

my congratulations! And very interesting write post. as always))

Aline Templeton said...

So glad you enjoyed hearing my fellow Scots. I don't know Denise very well, but Ian and Stuart are both great guys. And perhaps people who liked them will move on to demanding more events, from local crime-writers!
Aline

Aline Templeton said...

So glad you enjoyed hearing my fellow Scots. I don't know Denise very well, but Ian and Stuart are both great guys. And perhaps people who liked them will move on to demanding more events, from local crime-writers!
Aline