Best-selling author Ian Rankin has revealed how he completely disowned his latest book when it was first published nearly 30 years ago, after being asked to rewrite it so often it no longer felt like his own work.
Ian Rankin – who will relaunch espionage thriller Westwind, which has been out of print since its first edition of just 1,000 copies in 1990, in Edinburgh next week – has admitted he did not want the book “to see the light of day again” after its original release.
However, he has now revamped the manuscript for the book, which is billed by his current publisher, Orion, as “a masterclass in cat-and-mouse espionage suspense”.
Set in “an alternative 1990” when Britain is “torn” between its loyalties to the United States and its European neighbours, it is being released on Thursday. Rankin’s most recent Inspector Rebus novel, In a House of Lies, sold more than 260,000 copies in the UK.
Westwind charts the events which unfold when a space shuttle crashes in America, killing all but one crew member, who is British and becomes vilified by the press and protesters.
Edinburgh-based Rankin, who was urged to revisit the book by a fan on Twitter, has recalled he was “starting to lose belief in my abilities” and “doubting my future as a publishable writer” when Westwind was originally published.
Writing in the introduction to the new edition, he recalls how Westwind took three years to write, coming after the release of the first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, and was virtually ignored on its release.
However, the Fife-born author said the book now seems “prescient”, as it is set against a backdrop of American troops being pulled out of Europe, rising international tensions and satellites circling the Earth which are “potentially being used to spy on everyone and everything”.
In the new introduction, Rankin said he had begun writing Westwind as a “satellite novel” in 1987, the same year Knots and Crosses was released, while he was finishing a spy thriller, Watchman.
Rankin, who was living in London at the time and working as a college secretary, recalled: “Knots & Crosses had been a fairly traditional whodunnit. Watchman was a spy novel influenced by Graham Greene’s The Human Factor.
“Westwind, on the other hand, would start with a space shuttle plummeting to earth and a malfunction satellite.
“It seems to me now that I was feeling my way towards what kind of writer I wanted to be. High on the list was: successful enough to give up the day job. I’d tried the crime novel and the spy novel and now I was going to attempt to write the sort of high-tech thriller that sold by the pallet-load in airports and railway stations.
“So it was that I visited my local library on Tottenham Court Road and asked for anything they could give me to do with space shuttles and how satellites work.”
"It felt like it wasn't my book at all"
Rankin, who will relaunch Westwind at the National Library of Scotland on Wednesday, recalled how he faced demands to make “major revisions” and tone down the humorous tone in Westwind before it was finally released in March 1990.
He added: “Not that anyone noticed. There was one hardcover printing, one paperback and in large format for readers with limited sight.
"It didn’t sell to the USA and no foreign-language publisher wanted it.
“What’s more, the book had taken so long to get into print and been through so many permutations and revisions that I could muster very little enthusiasm for it myself.
“Every time my agent or editor had asked me to rework it, I had acquiesced, until it felt like it wasn’t really my book at all - certainly not the one I’d set out to write.
“So I decided that it would rest in a dark corner of my consciousness, never to see the light of day again.”
Rankin would go on to sell more than 20 million copies of his books in the UK alone, while Rebus series has been translated into 36 languages.
Rankin said he had enjoyed reading Westwind when he finally returned to the book, adding: “The characters came to life, the plot was pacey, the villains were scary and the heroes believable.
“I’ve given the original printex text a polish, hopefully ridding it of those flawed sentences and scenes. A few words have been added here and here, but it’s essentially the same book that it always was.
"Just thirty years older and a little bit wiser.”
When the new version of Westwind was announced in July, Rankin said: “I have Twitter to thank for the Westwind reissue - a while back someone told me they’d read it and it wasn’t half bad. So I dug it out and read it myself. And they were right.”