Val McDermid is a force of nature.She’s a working class girl from Kirkcaldy who got into Oxford at the age of sixteen and was the first student to be accepted from a Scottish state school.
Then she goes and writes nineteen books in three separate series plus another seven non-series books.
We have her to thank for Lindsay Gordon, a lesbian journalist and socialist in Glasgow, Scotland. For criminal profiler, Dr. Tony Hill. For Kate Brannigan, a private investigator in Manchester, England.
Plus, of course, her other extraordinary tales, like “A Place of Execution,” “The Distant Echo” and “The Grave Tattoo.”
She’s won the Portico Prize for Fiction, the Stonewall Writer of the Year, the Barry, the Sherlock, the Dilys, the Macavity, and the Anthony Award for Best Novel, along with being shortlisted for every other crime fiction award program you’ve ever heard of.
Oh, and did I mention that she’s the creator of the highly lauded television series, “Wire In The Blood?”
When I die, I want Val McDermid’s life to flash before my eyes.
Her latest book, “A Darker Domain,” is a superb psychological thriller told only as the granddaughter of two coal miners could do.
It was released in the UK last month and will hit U.S. shelves in January 2009.
Please welcome Val McDermid - both a curmudgeon and the life of the party — and one of the finest crime fiction writers around today. And please thank her for being so gracious in facing our band of inquisitors for this grand finale column…
Name me three books you’d choose if you were stranded on a desert island?
Treasure Island by Robert Louise Stevenson
The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies
No Night is Too Long by Barbara Vine
Are you happy with the TV adaptation of Wire in the Blood?
Yes. It’s hard to see how they could have made a better job of translating the fictional universe in my books to the screen. Robson Green plays Tony Hill with a quirky energy and intelligence; Simone Lahbib is a terrific foil; the scripts are classy and we’ve been lucky to have directors who have given the series the gloss of high production values. They’re not easy viewing, which is fine because the books are not easy reading.
Can you tell us how you felt when you watched the TV version of A PLACE OF EXECUTION, one of my all time favourite novels?
I was very apprehensivewhen I sat down to watch the adaptation. I’d read the script and knew it had done justice to the book; every alteration that Patrick Harbinson had chosen made sense to me; I knew we had a terrific cast; and I am absolute in my certainty that Sandra Jobling and Robson Green, the exec producers, were determined to make something special from a book they love. All the same, I couldn’t be sure it would work for me. But it didn’t take long to grab my by the throat. By the first ad break, I knew I was in the presence of something extraordinary. And I was right. It’s not the same as the book, but in its difference, it’s found something extra.
When you write Tony Hill do you see Robson’s face on the page?
I do. Mostly because he is physically very close to the Tony that was in my head from the beginning. I don’t see Hermione Norris when I summon up Carol, because they are very different physical types. My Carol is much more like the actress Susannah Harker.
Why do you think Wire in the Blood has become so popular around the world?
Because it’s thrilling, it’s well-made, well-acted and well-scripted. It deals with the darkness we all fear and it makes sense of what seems incomprehensible. It touches on the scary places and makes them safe for us.
And because in a lot of the countries where it has been sold, my books are already well-established with readers.
What is it about Scotland that makes it such a fertile breeding ground for crime writers?
It would take a long essay to elucidate that… The short answer is that our religious and political history has made us familiar with the dark, secretive machinations within. We’re occupants of a Janus-faced society that is only really illuminated by gallows humour. And the recent moves towards political independence have forced us to try to understand our roots, our identity and our aspirations with a little more imagination than the standard, ‘We’re not the English.’ Luckily for us, the crime novel provides the perfect vehicle for examining the society we live in. So we get to be entertaining storytellers as well as social critics. It’s just like going to the library when I was a kid — you could take out four books at a time but two of them had to be non-fiction. No such thing as unmitigated pleasure!
Was there any particular writer who was an inspiration to you when you started out?
Ruth Rendell, because she wrote different kinds of books and that made it seem possible for me not to be chained to one series character.
Sara Paretsky because VI Warshawski was the first detective I ever encounted whose life and world seemed to have something in common with the one I lived in. She had a brain and a sense of humour and politics. I loved her.
William McIlvanney, because his novel Laidlaw changed the way it was possible to write about Scotland.
And Robert Louis Stevenson because he could turn his hand to any literary form with distinction.
No sense in beating around the shrub (I refuse to use the commonly accepted word here) - this edition of EVIL E - is, alas - due to health reasons - the final one. My thanks to my fantastic crew, and my daughter, Kelly, for seeing the last three columns through. My thanks to you for stopping by, (in far greater numbers than I’d ever hoped for according to the stats). Your many generous comments, and personal e-mails made it a hell of a lot of fun.
I’ll miss you all, but time now is too precious to not spend with family and those special few who know who they are…
So, instead of saying ‘goodbye’ - I’ll say Aloha instead…