Writing advice from Ian Rankin
Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival 2017
Last weekend I was fortunate enough to grab tickets for Bloody Scotland 2017, Scotland’s crime writing festival, in Stirling. Over the course of the weekend I drank champagne and mingled with some of the country’s top crime authors in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle; I saw the announcement of the McIlvanney prize, which was awarded to Denise Mina for her novel, The Last Drop; and I even got to walk in a torchlight procession through Stirling’s Old Town, led by Ian Rankin and Val McDermid – a once in a lifetime experience!
I used the opening evening of the festival to my advantage, as I actually have a scene in my novel which is set in Stirling Castle. So I did some sneaky research while waiting for the prize to be announced, and sat in the corner furiously writing in my notebook, jotting down the sights, sounds, and smells, as well as some notes about how I felt, stepping into the Great Hall. I even managed to come up with a title for the novel, taken from the coat of arms displayed above the throne.
Of course, I couldn’t leave without purchasing a copy of Denise Mina’s book, as well as the Bloody Scotland anthology containing short stories written by all of the authors involved in the festival. I’m almost finished reading The Last Drop already, and I can see why it is a worthy prize winner. Being a bit of a true crime buff, I already knew the story of Peter Manuel, but what I love most about the book is the way the author describes the sights and smells of 1950s Glasgow, so it feels as though I really have been transported there.
The highlight of the weekend, for me, was getting the chance to meet not one, but two, well-known authors and get books signed by them. I took the opportunity to ask for some advice regarding my own novel, and the feedback I received was invaluable.
I asked Ian Rankin how I should go about editing my novel. I wrote the first draft two years ago, and haven’t really done anything with it since. His advice was to let friends read my work, so they can offer critique and point out any parts that need editing. In his talk earlier in the evening, Ian mentioned that his wife is his first port of call when it comes to editing, and recounted a time when she pointed out to him in a recent novel set in the 1970s, that they probably didn’t have hotel key-cards back then!
Ian couldn’t believe that I haven’t shown my novel to anyone, and told me it was ridiculous that I’ve sat all this time without letting anyone see it. I explained that I already feel I know what parts of my novel are lacking, and his reply was “no, you don’t!”
So, later when I met Christopher Brookmyre I thought I would ask him the same question. And his advice was the exact same. Get friends to give feedback, but not just any friends who are going to tell you that your work is excellent. Find friends who read similar things, and who will be brutally honest in their reviews. I told Christopher that Ian Rankin gave the same advice, and he replied “It’s not just a stock answer! It really is the truth!”
So now, I know exactly what I need to do, and I’m feeling motivated to get my novel out there. For me, sharing my work with others is the most nerve-wracking part, as you don’t know whether people will like it or not. But, if I really want to make sure that my writing is of a high standard then it’s a necessary step. In the words of Ian Rankin, “You’ve got to let it go!”
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