Val McDermid Today
I never imagined when I started on this journey that I would have the success that has come my way. All those novels, radio plays, short stories, non-fiction and even a children’s book make a significant pile that I have every intention of adding to.
I divide my year between writing and promoting my work at home and abroad, and when I’m not travelling, I’m in Edinburgh, where I live with my partner. Most days, I feel like one of the very lucky ones.
Giving Up The Day Job
I didn’t have the practical skills to make a success of writing drama, and the agent I had then didn’t do anything to help me acquire them. In fact, he fired me because I didn’t make him enough money. (so who’s got the last laugh now?) So I decided to turn my hand to writing a crime novel, because I’d always enjoyed reading the genre, and I’d been very excited by the New Wave of American women crime writers, who made me wonder if I could write something similar with a UK setting.
I started writing Report for Murder in 1984, and it was published by The Women’s Press in 1987. The rest is history… I finally gave up the day job in April, 1991, and I’ve been making my living by writing ever since. I was the Manchester Evening News‘ crime reviewer for four years, and I still review regularly for various national newspapers. I also write occasional journalism and broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland.
Becoming A Writer
Meanwhile, I was attempting to become a writer. I wrote my first attempt at a novel when I was working in Devon. The best thing I can say about it was that I actually finished it. It was a typical 21-year-old’s novel – full of tortured human relationships, love, hate, grief, angst, not to mention the meaning of life. It was, naturally enough, rejected by every publishing house in London. But an actor friend who read it thought it would make a good play.
So I turned it into a script and showed it to the director of the Plymouth Theatre Company. And he decided it would fit perfectly a season he had planned of new plays by new writers. So there I was, at 23 a performed playwright. It wasn’t what I had intended, but I was happy with it. I later adapted the play, Like A Happy Ending, for BBC radio. And I was commissioned to write another play, this time for a touring company in Lincolnshire and Humberside.
I had always wanted to write, ever since I realised that real people actually produced all those books in the library. But everyone told me that it was impossible to make a living from writing, that I needed to have a proper job. I knew I wasn’t the sort of person who would be suited to a proper, nine to five job with a neat hierarchical career structure, so I became a journalist.
I spent two years training in Devon, winning a clutch of awards, including Trainee Journalist of the Year, then for fourteen years I worked on national newspapers in Glasgow and Manchester, ending up as Northern Bureau Chief of a national Sunday tabloid – a title that sounds far grander than the reality, I should confess.
Val At University
To everyone’s amazement, including mine, I was accepted to read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford – at 17, one of the youngest undergraduates they’d ever taken on, and the first from a Scottish state school.
survived the culture shock of arriving in a place where no-one understood a word I said, and seized every experience I could get my hands on.
I grew up in Kirkcaldy on the East Coast of Scotland, a small town famous for producing linoleum and for being the birthplace of the economist Adam Smith. It was at the heart of the Fife coalfield, and I spent a lot of my childhood with my grandparents in the mining village of East Wemyss.