The Edinburgh International Book Festival has opened it’s doors today for two weeks of thought-provoking, stimulating discussion, readings, cabaret, music, theatre and much more, all lingering behind this thematic thread of Freedom. Unfortunately this “Freedom” has been constrained as the Home Office have rejected a dozen or so author visas that were scheduled for the festival but this will not dampen spirits. There is still a great deal to look forward to in a culturally rich programme, including an event combining Glasgow-based crime writer Denise Mina alongside Liam McIlvanney, discussing their crime novels.
Denise spoke with The Fountain about the theme of the Book Festival, and how crime fits within this thread, as well as what we can expect from her in the near future.
TF: August is a busy month for most Scottish writers with the second half filled up with Edinburgh Book Festival events and you are not exempt, what can we expect from you this year at the 2018 festival?
Well it’s very exciting for me because I am on with Liam McIlvanney who has written a fantastic crime novel set in Glasgow and there’s a lot of parallels between our work. I am also making a documentary arts programme with Frank Skinner about Boswell and Doctor Johnsons tour around the Highlands in 1776 so we are going to be filming some of it just before we go on stage and maybe filming the event as well, as part of the scene setting. So that sort of kicks all that off. Just shortly after that I am going to Australia and New Zealand representing Scotland from Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s crime writing festival, there’s a few of us going over. It’s going to be really busy but really lovely. I am privileged to get to do these things and the book Festival is always really busy. It’s always a good time to catch up with friends and folk you’ve not seen for ages.
TF: I recently saw you in Paisley at one of Jenny Lindsay’s fantastic events, can we expect more of the same, I mean on the thought-provoking scale?
You know, I really hope so. Jenny Lindsay is doing that pretty much with just two pals, on a shoestring, she’s really amazing. And those provocations are great, you see them everywhere, and I think we’re a wee bit scared of provoking one another or questioning things that are happening and people feel that opinions have to be formed and they don’t have to be formed. I am thinking a lot about the enlightenment because of that programme and one of the amazing things about the enlightenment is that people are arguing over methodologies that fundamentally undermine their religious beliefs. The idea that people could examine things intellectually without feeling that it’s their identity, without feeling that they personally are going to be held responsible for the outcome, that is so important. To pose questions, to pose open questions, that’s what the arts are, they are about posing open questions which lead to more questions. Not giving pat answers. If you’re giving answers, just make t-shirts. You don’t need to be in the arts, it’s much more complicated than that. To be corrected, to have your mind changed by other people in the arts to people that participate in the arts, this is so important.
TF: What are your thoughts on this year’s theme, freedom, and how do you feel Peter Manuel and your gritty Glasgow novels fit within this theme?
Well I think one of the things about crime novels is that they deal really with the nexus of social disruption. I think that things feel very constrained at the moment and with social disruption, there is a promise of freedom. I think the Festival are focusing on freedom within the arts and there are some political strands. But it’s quite a nebulous concept, it’s quite difficult to tie it down but it’s a good time to be talking about positive things in politics and to be talking about being hopeful during a very hopeless and very dark time. I know that they have invited a lot of people from abroad who might not have been able to come otherwise if that had not been the theme of the festival. And I think there are lots of strands of the festival that will be interesting exploring.
TF: Now the title of your last book published was The Long Drop, which got a great deal of acclaim and was super successful, and set in the 195Os refers to the hanging but what would your long drop be in our present bizarre society?
I think that if there is a hard Brexit deal we are all looking at “The Long Drop”. Things feel a bit revolutionary at the moment and like the one per cent cannot sustain their self interest. It feels a lot like Thatcher in ’87, really hopeless, very despairing in politics at the moment.
Me personally? It would probably be having to get a proper job, that would be hell for me.
TF: And what is next on the cards for yourself, another Peter Manuel novel, a play, or a graphic novel?
The next book actually has been a really complicated book to write as it’s about a citizen detective and I am obsessed with true crime podcasts. I think podcast are a brand new artform, they are so new no one is making any money. Everyone’s doing it for the love and it’s like watching rock n roll start, it’s fascinating.
And as a form of storytelling it is very particular to the form. It’s very particular to the technology. Now you are getting multimedia podcasts where you see bits of film and the people but one of the offshoots of the true crime podcasts is that theres a whole phalanx of citizen detectives that have been on Reddit and a lot of them try to solve the crime often with appalling results. I don’t know if you saw about the Boston Bomber, a documentary on Netflix, it was all about this group on Reddit that were trying to track this guy who was photographed at the bomb, they found his mum afterwards, he had killed himself actually and they didn’t know that and he wasn’t found until a few days after the actual bomber was found but this misguided mob of people went after this poor woman and her son so it is about someone who becomes obsessed with the true crime podcast and goes off to try and solve it. But it’s fascinating. It’s called Conviction because it’s all about that, it’s about that absolute belief, it also came out of writing a true crime book. People kept talking about the ethics of true crime. What if you were listening to a true crime podcast and you knew someone in it? You would be absolutely mortified so I could understand where these people were coming from. You can’t just trolley into people’s lives, its dead interesting.
Denise Mina and Liam McIlvanney, Tuesday 14th August, 9:45pm, Spark Theatre on George St