Ian Rankin's favourite culture snacks

Rankin with painting by John Bellany

What do Frank Zappa, Jack Vettriano and Futurama have in common? They’re all essential components of Ian Rankin’s cultural life. Our guest editor rakes through his books, DVDs and vinyl to shed light on some of his favourite things Interview: Mark Robertson

My 15-year-old son and I have a weekly pilgrimage where we go into HMV, Virgin, Game, Game Station and Waterstone’s. He gets his games and magazines and I get my CDs, DVDs, books, magazines, newspapers. That’s all I spend my money on. That and paintings. With the exceptions of the paintings, it’s pretty much what I bought when I was a student.

Unsurprisingly, I read a lot of crime fiction. Subconsciously maybe I’m keeping an eye on the field or looking for the next big thing. It’s hard to say if writers can actually switch off when they read. I try not to pick books apart. I spent seven years as an English literature student and it can destroy the pleasure if you’re reading with a blue editing pencil in your mind. I’m always getting recommendations. I was in London signing my new one for a crime specialist bookstore, and they were telling me, ‘Have you read this one and have you heard of so and so’. I’ve come home with a book by an American called Laura Lippman, called No Good Deeds. I always have two or three on the go. At the moment I’m reading David Peace’s Tokyo Year Zero, a new crime novel set in Japan in 1946 and the new James Lee Burke book, Tin Roof Blowdown, set in New Orleans the night of Hurricane Katrina. I’m about 60 pages through and it’s really angry and passionate – a staggering book. I’ve just read Margaret Attwood’s book about writing, but that’s technically work, because she interviewed me in Toronto in October for an Amnesty International Benefit.

I follow authors: Denise Mina, James Elroy, Val McDermid, Ruth Rendell – I buy everything they write. I also read a lot of Scottish and Edinburgh history, and music biographies as I like to know what’s happening behind the scenes.

When I was a kid with measles or chicken pox I would read Alistair MacLean novels. I loved them and had no idea he was Scottish, a native Gaelic speaker, in fact. Frustratingly, you can’t find his books anymore, they’re out of print. It makes you feel really humble. You think, ‘I might be big now, but 20 years from now I may be totally forgotten’.

What was the last album I bought? I got John Cale live, a triple album for a tenner, The New Pornographers, Mother and The Addicts – you can’t go wrong with anything on Chemikal Underground – the new Paul Haig album – hadn’t a clue what to expect, it’s a live album. Actually I prefer his stuff post-Josef K. I like his electronic stuff – film soundtracks for films that don’t exist – I love all of it. I’ve got Feist, Northern Alliance. King Creosote’s new one is excellent. It’s a bit more upbeat, the orchestration’s better, but most importantly, the lyrics and the voice are fantastic. I’ve also just discovered Daniel Patrick Quinn – he’s a new folk singer-songwriter – he sounds like Mark E Smith if The Fall ever turned folky. I got a copy of Steven Lindsay’s Kites; I nicked the title of his first album Exit Music for my last book.

I like jazz too. I’m not that knowledgeable, but I know what I like: Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Eddie Harris who was around in the 60s. When I worked for Hi-Fi Magazine years ago, I reviewed jazz albums, so I had a lot of early Miles Davies and stuff, which I used to stick on expenses. That was fantastic. A lot of the stuff I have is still on vinyl, but almost everything I’ve got on vinyl I’ve also got on CD. I put the vinyl away when the kids came along as I didn’t want them getting scratched.

The last gig I went to was The Skids in Dunfermline. I realised the last time I saw The Skids was in that very hall, in 1979. I’m sure the punters were the same as in 1979 except older and fatter: they could pogo for a few minutes before they broke sweat and had to stop. I just stood at the bar with my fingers in my ears going, ‘Oh it’s awfully loud’. I had allowed myself to forget how many great numbers they had. I took my son to see Scottish pianist Brian Kellock and sax player, Alan Barnes, in August. It was my son’s first jazz gig and he really enjoyed it.

Film, TV and DVD
I don’t get to the cinema very often but the last film I saw was Control. I loved it, but then I love Joy Division and I’d read Ian Curtis’ widow’s book. The film stuck very close to the facts – there wasn’t much mythologising. It’s very much about the band. Not a huge amount of plot, but beautifully shot, beautifully constructed and amazing acting the whole way through.

I tend to do most of my movie and TV watching on DVD. There are certain films I’d watch over and over again, like Withnail and I and Blade Runner. Same goes for Where Eagles Dare. You see it’s on TV on a Saturday afternoon, and you’ll say, ‘Oh I’ll watch five minutes’ and next thing you know you’ve sat through the whole thing. There’s a whole load of box sets of TV series on my shelves. I’m a huge fan of The West Wing and the series that Aaron Sorkin did before that, Sports Night, starring Peter Krause from Six Feet Under. I love Green Wing, I’ll watch that again and again. Similarly, Pinky and the Brain and Futurama.

I buy stuff and it takes me ages to get round to watching it. I’ve got The Wire box set here, and the Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back special edition and there’s times when I’ll see them in the shop and forget I’ve already bought them. I’ve also got a cupboard of VHS tapes of stuff from TV.

I like stand-up. Recently I’ve seen Ross Noble and Frankie Boyle. I saw Rebus McTaggart during the Fringe. He knew I was there and said hello at the end. It was rude and funny but I thought the name was a bit of a misnomer as it was just about a sexist cop, nothing to do with Rebus or Taggart.

Scottish Contemporary and 20th century art is what I tend to collect. I think John Bellany is fantastic, I’ve got three of his paintings. In my office I’ve got a huge Rolling Stones photo from the inside sleeve of Beggar’s Banquet by Michael Joseph. Jack Vettriano just gave me a limited edition print as a gift – in exchange for writing the introduction to a book of his.

Two of my prized possessions are stuck to the door in my office: emails from REM and Pete Townshend. Townshend sent me the first email because my book Fleshmarket Close got a sniffy review and he was fuming because he thought it was a great book. I had no way of getting back to him because it came through his record company so I mentioned The Who in Naming of the Dead. At Rebus’ brother’s funeral, they play the closing track of Quadrophenia. I got another email from Townshend saying, ‘It was so moving, I found it really hard to get to the end of the book.’ The email from REM was actually very sad, it was an invite to dinner before T in the Park but I was on holiday. I got the email on the Monday and they’d left on the Saturday!

I don’t indulge in computer games because of past experiences. I won a Sinclair Spectrum computer – second prize in a short story competition – and I got addicted to Hungry Horace. When we were in student digs in Arden Street my flatmates went to bed and came down in the morning and I was still playing, so I know that once I start I can’t stop.


When I was a kid I used to get The Dandy and The Beano, then I moved onto Tiger, Lion, Victor and Hotspur. Later I graduated onto 2000AD, and gradually, stuff by Alan Moore and the like. I’ve still got a huge amount of comics. I had more but boxes of them got lost when we moved back to Scotland from France. I’ve got Swamp Thing from when Alan Moore took over and Hellblazer right from the start as well as the whole Batman: Dark Knight series and all the spin- offs.

Theatre and Opera
I only go to theatre at the Festival or if I’m reviewing it. If I could get my son into it maybe I’d go more. I saw my mate Phil Jupitus showing his chops as a proper actor in Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee at the Fringe. I started going to opera at the age of 40 and I’ve been to one opera a year. I went to the Wooster Group’s La Didone so I’ve ticked the box this year. Because my wife and I don’t share the same taste in movies or music, we tend to go for a meal instead. For me a night at the pub is as good as anything. Skip the movie, have a night in the pub and watch it on DVD. That way you get the extras and can pause it to go for a pee.

Ian Rankin

Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin OBE is best known as the creator of John Rebus, an Edinburgh-based detective who has been fighting crime his own way since 1987, with a bit of help from Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox. Rankin is other the author of a play, a graphic novel and numerous short stories. He's won the…

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