Once Upon A Time there were only two types of Scottish detectives: those based in Edinburgh, and those based in Glasgow. Oh, yes, Hamish Macbeth worked in Loch Dubh, up in the Highlands, but then the TV people made him Glaswegian and all was right with the world again.
Even now, you can’t throw half a brick in either city without braining half a dozen fictional detectives. But then A TERRIBLE THING HAPPENED! Jumped up wee horrors started to write crime fiction based in their own home towns, and all of Scotland became fair game for these monsters. And as the stain of non-Central-Belt crime fiction spread something very strange happened–crime fiction festivals started springing up all over the place.
Being one of the aforementioned jumped up wee horrors, I’m more than a little pleased about that.
Crime fiction has many things to recommend it, especially its ability to refract the worries and fears of society through the prism of where it’s set, meaning a murder in Inverness can expose very different things to one in Kirkcaldy. And the more stories we see based in other parts of Scotland, the more we’ll get to see. Success breeds success, in the world of fiction as much as it does everywhere else.
Take Aberdeen, for example. When I started writing, all those many, hairy years ago, Aberdeen didn’t exactly have a thriving literary scene. Things have changed a fair bit since then–so much so that a whole raft of both new and aspiring local writers will be appearing at the city’s excellent crime writing festival, Granite Noir, at the end of February.
I have to declare a vested interest at this point: I’m the festival’s Ambassador (which doesn’t involve as much Ferrero Rocher as you’d think), so clearly I’m biased, but it really is a great festival. This is only Granite Noir’s third year, but the programme includes international guests, high-profile interviewers, films, music, events for kids and grownups, with both fiction and non-fiction getting an outing.
It’s nearly six years since Aberdeen’s bid to become UK City of Culture was knocked back, the feedback from the judging committee including the depressing observation that Aberdeen had "limited" artistic and cultural expertise. Well, we took that as a challenge, and Granite Noir is evidence that the city’s expertise is improving all the time. Let’s face it, any festival where you can rub shoulders with Scotland’s First Minister, eat black ice cream, solve a locked room mystery, and learn about pirates has to be a good thing.
I’ve got my fingers crossed that our crime fiction festival will soon be joined by a children’s book festival. Then why not one for romantic fiction? Science fiction? Non-fiction? Why not celebrate the books that people love to read and make a connection with the people who write them? Why not enrich our communities not just artistically, but financially as well? Increasing numbers of people are visiting the city, drawn by the lure of good books and being amongst the people who love them.
The Aberdeen Tourist Office might express surprise that I’m banging on about how great it is people are visiting the Granite City. After all, I’ve spent thirteen novels telling everyone that all it ever does up here is rain–the sodden landscape is liberally sprinkled with dead bodies. But, let’s face it, I’m writing crime fiction; if nothing bad happened in the books, no one would want to read them. And the city lends itself so well to crime fiction. Being built of grey granite, the whole place changes with the weather; on a sunny day the buildings sparkle, the people stand up straighter, they smile more. Then fifteen minutes later, it’s chucking it down and the whole atmosphere changes with it. The people change too. Haar rolls in from the North Sea, smoothing everything in a blanket of mistrust. Wind whips down Union Street curling everyone in on themselves… And as it’s the north east of Scotland we’re talking about here, these metropolitan mood swings can take place hundreds of times in a single day. Ian Rankin describes Edinburgh as bipolar, but Aberdeen is schizophrenic, and that’s what makes it such a perfect place for crime fiction.
Stuart MacBride is the Festival Ambassador for Aberdeen’s Granite Noir which runs from 22-24 February. His latest novel The Blood Road is available now in paperback.