Stuart Kelly: Rankin scrabbles sci-fi

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So what is new? Well, Ian Rankin having a new book out isn't exactly unusual, but his generosity with events means that the audience gets their bang for their buck however many times they've heard him before. His event with James Robertson and A L Kennedy, to launch a new anthology, Crimespotting, in support of the One City Trust was a case in point. Having a crime writer beside non-genre writers meant there were some interesting sparks: Kennedy praised Dorothy Sayers and the post-traum

Another of Rankin's events was hosted by the Culture Minister, Mike Russell. A member of the audience asked if it was true, as Alexander McCall Smith had claimed, that Rankin didn't consider himself a crime novelist. "He's talking out of his arse" retorted Rankin, and wondered if McCall Smith was "making it up, winding me up". And, sad to report, Rankin said he'd never write a sci-fi novel, since many of them were "like a bad scrabble set", with every character having too many letters x and z in their names. Having chaired Rankin, it was the minister's turn to do his own event. Part of the Poetry Library's Selected Works series, Robyn Marsack quizzed Russell on ten of his favourite poems, ranging from Neruda and Tennyson to Alastair Reid and Iain Crichton Smith. Of course, Burns was going to get a mention, but I doubt many people expected Death And Dr Hornbrook. Even fewer would have expected Russell's comment that its opening lines should be "carved above the door of this book festival" – those lines being "Some books are lies frae end to end / And some great lies were never penn'd".

Critics spark discomfort

An elegiac air hung over Martin Stannard's event, where he read from his biography of Muriel Spark, below. I sat sandwiched between three other journalists: not the most comfortable position, especially when one scribbler asked Stannard what he made of his book's Scottish reception, in the full knowledge that the other two critics there had been less than fulsome. "Nobody's grabbed me by the lapels yet" Stannard answered graciously, and talked instead about the ambiguity of Edinburgh wanting to "own" Spark, when she herself had found it necessary to leave the place. The two critics, Spark-like, left rather quickly.

The graveyard shift

Neil Gaiman's event was another novelty. The audience, for once, wasn't predominated by those of a certain age. Gaiman, below, read from The Graveyard Book, his prize-winning tome that has been in gestation for a quarter of a century, and revealed that he is directing a silent movie that will be broadcast by Sky at Christmas. He'd already talked about it on Twitter, much to the annoyance of the publicists who wanted to make a proper announcement. Here's hoping a film version of The Graveyard Book isn't too far behind.

End of the Raj

By far the dullest event so far was Raj Persaud putting Sir Menzies Campbell in the psychiatrist's chair. Persaud – who pulled out last year over revelations of plagiarism – didn't even ask about the "ageism" that cost Ming his leadership. Campbell self-deprecatingly said he was one of the few people whose act of teenage rebellion was joining the Liberal Party. That seemed to summarise the event: next year, let's have a more insightful interviewer.

All shook up

My personal highlight so far was chairing the wonderful Willie McIlvanney for an event to celebrate the publication of the Scotland on Sunday anthology, Headshook, in which Willie and two dozen other Scottish authors responded creatively to the idea of Scotland's future. McIlvanney probably crams more into a session than any other writer - he revealed how he turned down an OBE (his brother already had one, he grinned), he commented on the release of al-Megrahi (his sympathies were with Jim Swire), he derided politicians (if politicians are called sh***s, he said, then the sh***s should sue), analysed the failure of Marxism and hinted that he might revisit his classic character Laidlaw. Later on he asked me if I thought he could combine Proust and detective fiction. If anyone can, it's him.

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