AS she prepares to release her 30th novel this week, there’s little doubt that Val McDermid is one of Scotland’s most prolific writers.
Throw in non-fiction releases, a kids’ book, short story collections, some plays and radio dramas – all in less than 30 years – and you would be right in thinking the ideas run thick and fast.
But there was one time in her career when Val suffered writers’ block – and the experience left her so frazzled she made sure it would never happen again. “About 12 years ago I changed my novel-writing process quite dramatically,” explained Val, from Kirkcaldy.
Tartan noir queen Val McDermid on her love for her son, playing folk clubs with Billy Connolly – and experiencing profound heartbreak
At 16 I was preparing for my Oxford entrance exam. I was very driven. I pushed myself in everything. I played hockey for the 1st 11 in the East of Scotland. I played guitar and sang in folk clubs. I won debating prizes. Everything I did, I wanted to do really well.
I was very much of the working class generation where we thought education was the key to doing well in life. My parents were bright people who passed their exams to go to high school but had to leave at 14 because their families couldn’t afford it. They never got to reach their potential. So they very much encouraged me not be trapped by circumstances. But they had mixed feelings about my going to Oxford. It was a long way away from Kirkcaldy – the only time we’d gone to England was a weekend in Blackpool. And it was a long way intellectually as well. So I think they were really a bit nervous for me, as well as very proud. But I think they saw that I was always going to go my own way.
Is fiction the best way to access the truth? Award-winning Scottish crime writer Val McDermid explores the relationship between fiction, video games and real-life crime documentary. She talks to Ken MacLeod and Richard K Morgan, whose science fiction novels offer a commentary on current political events. She meets Malath Abbas, the designer of Killbox, a new game about the ethics of drone warfare, and Lucas Pope, whose Bafta-winning Papers Please examines the moral and political decisions faced by an immigration officer. McDermid discusses the importance and the pitfalls of covering real-life crime with veteran documentary maker and criminologist Roger Graef.