She’s one of Scotland’s biggest names in crime writing, with over fifteen million novels sold worldwide. You may also have seen her sing with her band The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers (she recently performed at Glastonbury), or captain a victorious team on Celebrity University Challenge. With the Edinburgh International Book Festival Val McDermid brings our attention to another interest: the power of home and the scourge of homelessness. In insightful events featuring Ali Smith, Kamila Shamsie, Nayrouz Qarmout and Karine Polwart among others, McDermid explores the meaning of home for migrants and refugees, as well as the crisis facing the homeless in Britain today. Val took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with The Fountain about the strand she curated, Home/Less as well as her own personal highlights the Book Festival has to offer this year.
TF: You’ve curated a strand for EIBF this year on the topic of refugees and home, Home/Less, what can we expect from this?
Well we are going to be talking about various issues around the question of home and what it means, and what it means to be homeless. We will be talking about the traditional image of homeless if you like, people who are living on the streets or people who are living in uncertain temporary accommodation. We are also going to be talking about what it’s like for refugees to leave their home to make a new one. And what understand by home and what is crucial about having somewhere to call home, somewhere that you feel at home. So it’s going to be a series of discussions dealing with these subjects, some of it from writers who have written about these issues, for example, with refugee tales anthologies, but also some people who have dealt with these experiences direct themselves.
TF: You’ve obviously been involved with the book festival before with your crime books, but how did this curation come about, did it stem from the Message from the Skies events?
It had it’s roots in an event I did with Shelter Scotland back in February. They were drawing to a close with their 50th Anniversary year and they wanted to have a kind of symposium, a provocation I suppose, to what they’re doing and what the future is for them. Looking at the idea of why are we still here after 50 years, we thought this was a temporary thing. Richard Holloway, who has been on the committee of Shelter Scotland for pretty much all of those fifty years, asked me to do one of the provocations, so I did a little thing there. I suppose in the process of doing that I came to understand a much wider sense the size of the problem. And also I heard an extraordinary piece by Danny Dorling talking about the levels of homelessness. In England the figure is 1 in 200 people that is living without a home of any sort or is in accommodation that is not appropriate or is not permanent. And that’s a staggering number. In Scotland it’s the equivalent of one primary school class every day becomes homeless because of issues around temporary accommodation or unsuitable B&Bs or things like that, overcrowding, accommodation isn’t suitable for people because they have illness or disability, the list goes on and on. And we are supposed to be the fifth richest country in the World, and we can’t put a roof over people’s heads, it’s disgraceful.
I foolishly said maybe I could do something with the Book Festival and so, I brought it up with Nick Barley, Director of the Book Festival, and the next thing I knew he said, ” you could curate a strand.” And so, that’s how it came about, and so I suggested some names and the EIBF went out and filled the slots. I think it’s going to be remarkable discussions, we have some very interesting people that are coming to talk to us.
TF: This sounds a rich and significant thread off their own We Need New Stories theme, will we see you doing anymore events with Shelter after this?
I don’t know, we will carry on having discussions, I did a BBC Radio 4 Point of View about homelessness as well, earlier this year, so it is something I am definitely engaged with. Like there are with most things, I am sure there ways we can work out so that we can work together.
TF: And do you have any personal highlights on the programme that you are looking to seeing personally at the EIBF this year?
Yeah, I’m really looking forward to seeing Ali Smith in conversation with Kamilla Shamsie, as I think that will be fascinating hour. And of course there are a few interesting crime-writing events, which I always enjoy. Everything from James Runcie to Mark Billingham, and any in-between. I think it’s always an exciting time of year in Edinburgh, and basically, I’ve found myself that it more of less becomes my office, my home, during the Book Festival. I am also looking forward to listening to Richard Holloway talking about stories we are told, Richard’s a fascinating mind and always has things to say that will make you take stock of your own life and your own work.
TF: And what can we expect from you after the Book Festival, you just recently performed Glastonbury with the Fun Lovin Crime Writers but what is next, a new thriller or a work of non-fiction?
I’m launching a new book at the festival, it’s a new Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, called How The Dead Speak, and then I will be going off to Australia and New Zealand, I am going to New Zealand for a couple of months to take up a post of Visiting Professor at Otago University. It will be two months a year for the next three years working with Professor Liam McIlvanney in Otago, in their Scottish Crime Writing, I’m really looking forward to it.
For more on Val McDermid’s Home/Less strand, click here.