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Ian Rankin: My readers are more worried about Rebus鈥檚 health than mine

Author Sir Ian Rankin has said fans of his Rebus series are more concerned about the health of the book鈥檚 detective than his own.

The Scottish writer, 64, appeared at Saturday鈥檚 Queen鈥檚 Reading Room Festival at Hampton Court Palace in Surrey, alongside other crime authors including Lee Child and Ann Cleeves, as part of a panel about their genre of fiction.

Sir Ian talked about when he goes to John Rebus鈥檚 favourite pub, the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh, and is met with people 鈥渁lways slighted disappointed that the guy they see is not鈥 the 鈥渃omplex, dark and dangerous, brooding鈥 fictional detective.

Sir Ian added: 鈥淭hey鈥檙e much more worried about Rebus鈥檚 health than my health.

鈥淎s long as the books keep coming, they don鈥檛 care. I could have a terrible cold or I could be on the point of death.鈥

He said that when Rebus developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) after years of smoking, fans asked if the detective would be 鈥淥K鈥 living with the condition, and 鈥渄on鈥檛 care鈥 about the author鈥檚 ailments.

He said he had thought the end of his latest book, A Heart Full Of Headstones, which sees Rebus waiting in prison for a trial, would be a 鈥渢errific ending to the series鈥, but fans 鈥渂ullied鈥 him into writing another book, as they needed to know what happens next.

The latest book, Midnight And Blue, is to be released later this year, with the author accidentally giving spoilers at the event, and pointing to what appeared to be Rebus鈥檚 relationship with pathologist Deborah Quant.

British Book Awards 2018 鈥 London
Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series (John Stillwell/PA)

鈥淎nd since she gave evidence against him at his trial… you don鈥檛 find this out until the next book which is published in October, so forget I said that.鈥

He also said he has not yet watched the latest BBC instalment of the 2024 series of Rebus, which is on BBC iPlayer, as he watches 鈥渋n real time鈥.

鈥淪o I鈥檒l be in my hotel room in London tonight at (9.15pm) with my wife because we haven鈥檛 seen it, so we鈥檒l watch episode four tonight,鈥 he added before joking: 鈥淎nd I just hope that the screenwriter has toned down the swearing, he鈥檚 got a very potty mouth.鈥

Elsewhere, Child spoke about how indebted he is to his female readers, who make up an estimated 65% of buyers of his Jack Reacher books.

He told the audience: 鈥淚 think you go into it imagining that women readers are going to want something more soft and human but the reverse is absolutely true and it鈥檚 an age thing as well… the most fearsome readers are older ladies. I call them the killer grannies.

鈥淭hey absolutely love the mayhem and the blood and the broken bones and all of that, which took me by surprise, really… Reacher… wouldn鈥檛 think of himself as specifically a feminist, but he would regard himself as a rational human being.

Ann Cleeves
Ann Cleeves (ARC/NENC/PA)

Child, whose real name is Jim Grant, said his series is post-feminism as it does not matter if the bad guy is male or female because the lead character, a former US army officer, 鈥渨ill break their neck鈥.

鈥淢ale readers are so frustrating because there鈥檚 a huge demographic of men that are, first of all, rich enough to afford to buy books, and secondly, literate enough to read them,鈥 he added. 鈥淏ut they have a terrible bias against fiction.

鈥淭hey prefer to read about some president who died 200 years ago and so getting through to those people is difficult.鈥

The Coventry-born writer also said he sets his books in America as he can take advantage of scale of the country, such as in Die Trying, which sees Reacher 鈥渢hrown into a van and driven 1,500 miles to a remote mountain hideout鈥 while still being in the US.

He added: 鈥淲hat really attracted me to writing about America was, as I say, the audience, they鈥檙e very into crime fiction, they鈥檙e into thrillers, they will take a chance.

鈥淎nd Britain is much more reserved about taking the chance on new things I find.鈥

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