SHOCK news; Val McDermid has come up with a tale that doesn’t involve dismembered body parts, sexual abuse and acts of violence so heinous readers in bed are compelled to pull duvets over heads.
McDermid’s new story is in fact a play, Margaret Saves Scotland, and will be performed at Glasgow’s Oran Mor theatre where duvets are indeed thin on the ground. It’s a huge shift in writing platform for the crime writer who can claim to have had over 10m books published in 30 languages.
So what has prompted the Fife-born writer to turn her imagination to a fairly small stage in a basement theatre in Glasgow’s West End? Why is McDermid suddenly challenged by the need to compete with the pie and pint that comes with the entrance ticket?
The former journalist explains her story idea has been fermenting for some time. “The jumping off point for the play was the death of my friend Margaret Myles a couple of years ago,” she explains. “Margaret (who grew up in the north of England) had told me when she was a little girl she fell in love with Scotland. And this little girl determined that if Scotland were to become a great nation again all it needed was a great leader.
“So when she was nine she ran away from her home in Yorkshire to go and save Scotland.”
Margaret didn’t make it, perhaps not surprisingly. McDermid smiles in recall; “She said later her great mistake was in taking Brenda with her. It transpired that her pal Brenda was a bit of a wimp and when she lost her shoe in the river that was it and they headed for home.”
McDermid loved the anecdote, and knew she had to develop it. “The play is a tribute to Margaret’s memory, but it’s also an exercise in ‘what if?’ possibility. What if Margaret had made it to Scotland?’
The play feeds into the confusion Scotland suffers from at the moment; where are we going? What will happen to us post Brexit? Who will save us from ourselves?
“I hope it does feed into the national conversation, either overtly or subconsciously,” says the writer. “And like everyone in Scotland we’re wondering where we’re going and what’s going to happen. But this is not a political piece.”
The Scottish author was once described as the ‘leading pathologist of everyday evil’.
Scottish crime writer Val McDermid has said she believes terrorists are not evil.
The best-selling author, once described as the “leading pathologist of every-day evil”, said nobody is “all good or all bad”.
Kirkcaldy-born McDermid warned making such judgements “gives you the licence to act at will” and leaves “no room for redemption”.
“People sometimes characterise terrorists as being evil; they are not evil,” she said in an interview with Indian news website Scroll.in.
“They are people who have done a terrible thing. But they probably love their young ones, they probably love their wives. They are not the guys painted in pictures.”
She added: “I think it’s very dangerous for us to go down those routes of categorising them as evil because then that gives you the licence to act at will and there is no room for humanity, humane behaviour for redemption, to change.
“So I really believe that there is some evil within us and some good, and all we can do is to try to keep that balance on the side of the angels I suppose.”
McDermid has reportedly sold more than ten million books in 30 languages and is best known for her Tony Hill series, the basis for the TV show Wire in the Blood.
Glasgow’s annual book festival, Aye Write!, is getting underway. Now in its 11th year, big name writers making appearances include the philosopher AC Grayling, broadcast journalist Robert Peston, crime writer Val McDermid and the mountaineer Chris Bonington.
The name of the festival is a play on “aye right”, a sarcastic Scottish way of saying no. This encapsulates much about the literary outlook in this part of the world – a vernacular defensiveness, a strident overcompensation in the face of imagined English snootiness about Glaswegian speech. A neutral might conclude that the arts in Scotland exist in a state of perma-froth at presumed metropolitan condescension.
If support for Scottish independence can be considered a proxy for such froth, there is certainly much in evidence. At the time of the 2014 independence referendum, the Scottish literary scene was near unanimously in favour of a Yes vote – nowhere close to the 55-45 split among the wider population.
This normally disputatious crowd felt overwhelmingly that the Union was inimical to Scottish culture and that the literary tradition would best flourish with independence. Little has changed since. Don’t expect much enthusiasm from them about Theresa May’s Britain at this year’s festival.