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While the title of his latest Inspector Rebus novel, A Song For The Dark Times, may appear premonitory, Ian Rankin says it was conceived long before the Coronavirus pandemic gripped the world.

Speaking to Tony Mulliken at an online session held as part of the Sharjah International Book Fair 2020 on the ‘Sharjah Reads’ virtual platform, the UK’s most widely read crime novelist said: “It felt to me in the middle of 2019 that the world was struggling – be it with Brexit or the bushfires in Australia and various other unpleasant circumstances. That was the impetus for A Song For The Dark Times”.

These elements came out in the book released this September, in the form of a fictional internment camp on the north coast of Scotland that is the focus of local historians and part of the new mystery his regular character John Rebus is trying to solve. He explained: “Through this, I discuss parallels between the way the world was in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and where we might be heading now.”

Rankin said it was precisely this ‘freedom to explore themes and write about real people and real places without whitewashing’, that drew him to the crime genre and eventually got him addicted to writing crime novels. “That is the only reason I write my books – I get to discuss about real political issues, explore big moral themes and portray [in my new book] Edinburgh in its true colours – a city that has light and shade, where there is the potential for terrible things to happen just below the surface.”

Rankin who has more than 43 publications to his credit, of which 23 are Rebus novels, churns out his manuscripts in a fairly fast-paced manner. “I got the idea for A Song… last September, started writing it in October and finished the first draft by January this year,” he revealed. “I completed the second and third drafts during the lockdown.”

He writes when an idea strikes him, and is not worried when he completes a novel. “I don’t have any idea right now to work on, but it can strike me tomorrow,” he said. “I get the theme first, then work on the plot to flesh it out, and then decide which character or characters I need to tell the story. Only then, I know if it is going to be a Rebus book or something else.”

“I have no intention of retiring Rebus, though I did try to pension him off after he turned 60,” joked Rankin. “But now that he is retired officially from the police force, how does he get involved in investigating cases? That is the challenge that keeps me going. I keep writing the books because he is such an intriguing character and I want to know more about him.”