Skye’s crime enthusiasts can look forward to the most famous of fictional detectives, Inspector John Rebus, brushing up on his knowledge of the island next month. The creation of Ian Rankin, now Britain’s leading crime writer, Rebus has shown some little knowledge of Skye in the past. Those who have followed his career, will know that the detective likes his Talisker and has even ventured an opinion about the Gaelic language on the island.
‘Thank you, yes, I’ll have a Talisker,’ Rebus told a French lady who, on asking him if there were many Gaelic speakers left in Scotland, offered him a dram in an Edinburgh pub. ‘And what is that?’ asked the lady, not being familiar with his dram of choice. Rebus, showing all the perception that made his name, thoughtfully offered, ‘Malt whisky, it comes from Skye. There are some Gaelic speakers over there.’ This was as long ago as 1994 and Rankin’s ‘Mortal Causes,’ the sixth book in the Inspector Rebus series.
Now, Ian Rankin, headlining this year’s 6th Annual Skye Book Festival, has told organisers that he is not sure how Rebus would view the cosmopolitan island which Skye has become since that 1994 comment. The Fife-born writer said this week, “Rebus is a homebody and a creature of habit, with a mistrust of change. He is increasingly flummoxed by changes taking place around him. What he would make of present-day Skye is anyone’s guess.”
Skye Book Festival Committee Member, Professor Norman Macdonald, said that Rebus’s views on the island’s Gaelic in the near-quarter century since his earlier observation would certainly be interesting. “He would find, in Sabhal Mor Ostaig, a Gaelic college with an international reputation and he would see Gaelic musicians everywhere, the product of the Feisean movement, which has its headquarters in Portree, our island’s capital.”
Professor Macdonald added that the biggest change of all in Gaelic development was about to happen with the island’s first purpose-built Gaelic medium primary school, with wrap-around pre-school and after-school care, nearing completion, and on course to be opened in Portree in January. “That would certainly give Rebus plenty to ponder,” he said.
Professor Macdonald pointed out that in a more recent novel, ‘The Falls’ published in 2001, Ian Rankin refers to the bottle which Rebus had on the floor of his Edinburgh flat as ‘Talisker, a clean, honed taste. Glass beside it, so [Rebus] poured, toasted the reflection in the window, leaned back and closed his eyes.”
Professor Macdonald, who lives in Portree and is a founding member of the Skye Book Festival, said that these were important allusions to Skye in modern crime literature which he didn’t think had been brought to notice before. He added that it was just a coincidence that the makers of Skye’s most famous product, Talisker Distillery, are again this year important sponsors of the Skye Book Festival.
Iain Rankin added that he was looking forward tremendously to his first visit to the Skye Book Festival, “Like Rebus I grew up in a small and close community,” he said this week as arrangements for his trip to Skye were finalised. “Sometimes that’s hard to replicate in a city, yet whenever local people group together (to solve a problem, say) they find themselves stronger as a result.”
Inclusive tickets for the 3-day Festival, where as many as 14 leading writers can be seen and heard, can be bought from The Aros Centre in Portree. For his evening event on Friday 1st September at 7:30pm, where Ian Rankin will discuss his new Rebus novel, ‘Rather be the Devil’, individual tickets can be purchased through the box office on 01478 613750, the website at www.skyebookfestival.co.uk or in person at The Aros Centre, Viewfield Road, Portree IV51 9EU.
Author: Skye Book Festival Committee Member, Professor Norman Macdonald
Date: 11 May 2017