Monday, February 20, 2017

Jekyll and Hyde

This April Edinburgh is hosting the Crime Writers Association annual conference and as one of the organising committee I've had to be very hard at work making arrangements for this to be positively the best conference ever.

The city itself is a great advantage, of course, and having Ian Rankin and Alexander MacCall Smith to welcome the delegates certainly helps. But we thought long and hard over our USP. It was our chair, Aly Monroe – a recent visitor to Type M – who came up with the theme: The Jekyll and Hyde City.

Like most cities, Edinburgh has two faces: the City of Culture, respectable and even prim, the place where little fingers are crooked above the tea-cup handle and the inhabitants of the poshest district are said to believe that when someone mentions 'sex' they're talking about what the coalman brings the coal in, and then the rough and violent housing schemes that were the background for Irvine Welsh's hugely successful novel Trainspotting. (The film was ranked one of the best British films of all time and its sequel is coming out just now).

So talks from the creator of Rebus, the cynical, hard-boiled detective, and the chronicler of 44 Scotland Street and other demurely middle-class tales, will provide a perfect introduction to our double-natured city.

There is, of course, another reason why it is a particularly apposite theme for Edinburgh. The tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has never been out of print since Robert Louis Stevenson wrote it and numerous films and plays have been based on it, but the background to the novel is perhaps not quite so well known.

One of Edinburgh's most notorious citizens in the eighteenth century was William Brodie. A respectable cabinet-maker and the deacon of a trade guild by day, he was a gambler (allegedly with loaded dice), a libertine and the leader of a gang of burglars by night. He was eventually caught and hanged, it is said, on a gibbet of his own devising.

It was a story well-known to Robert Louis Stevenson as he grew up in the Georgian New Town and it is believed that what he described to his wife as 'a fine bogey tale' was based on the life of Deacon Brodie. And, in a sinister little twist, in his childhood home there was a wardrobe that had been made by the dead man himself.

When Edwin, Lucy and Susan stepped through the wardrobe they found Narnia. But what, I wonder, did the young Louis find when he stepped through his?

There's a lot more work to do before the conference but we're having a fun time doing it.

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