An interview with the queen of Scottish crime fiction: Val McDermid

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Bestselling Scottish crime writer, Val McDermid, recently visited South Africa and discussed her writing with Margie Orford in Cape Town. Naomi Meyer asked her about her new book, her trip and South African crime (fiction).

Hi Val, and thank you for the opportunity to have a chat. You recently had a book launch in South Africa. Was it your first visit to South Africa and how did you experience the country?

This was my first trip to South Africa, and it was memorable in so many ways. It's a beautiful country, and I was lucky enough to have a bit of free time to see some of it. Highlights for me included the views from Table Mountain, a very moving tour of Robben Island, the dolphins and shark we saw in Table Bay, the high seas at Kalk Bay and the readers I had the chance to meet and talk with. It's always fascinating to get a glimpse into other people's lives and this trip was particularly interesting.

Of course thrillers are popular everywhere in the word. South Africans love reading crime (isn't it ironic in this dangerous country?). You reveal on your website that you enjoy reading crime fiction yourself. Why do you think the genre is so popular?

I think crime fiction allows us the thrill of being scared in a safe way - we know the detective will save the day, so we can enjoy the excitement of the case and the chase. Also, it gives us a window on other lives, other cultures and allows us fresh experiences. And of course, we can fantasise about what we'd like to do to the people who annoy us!
As a reader, what I'm always looking for is a good story well-told. For that to work, there have to be characters at the heart of the book that make me care about their fate. I read a lot of crime fiction but I read other fiction as well.

You often use Scotland as setting – inevitably involving Scottish society and commenting on Scotland and Britain as a whole ... But do you think crime writers are being taken seriously in general?

Crime fiction has transformed itself in the past twenty years or so and discerning readers have noticed that. Readers who know their stuff know that there is some terrific writing in this genre, books that shine a light on the society we live in, stories that make us confront the less appealing side of human behaviour. There is still some snobbishness around, but I believe it mostly comes from people who haven't actually read the best the genre has to offer. As we all know, most prejudice is based on ignorance ...

Please tell our readers about your latest book, which was launched at Kalk Bay Books in Cape Town.

My latest book, The Vanishing Point, deals with the abduction of a child from the middle of a busy airport. Tracking him down means tracking back through his history to unravel what has happened and why. It's a race against time, set against our society's obsession with celebrity culture. It's very different from my other books, but as always, I guarantee you a gripping read!

 I stumbled upon your interview with Sofie Gråbøl from the Danish crime series Forbrydelsen (The Killing) on YouTube.

You refer back to the television series Murder, she wrote and discuss how female protagonists have transformed themselves in in crime fiction. Which crime character is your favourite of all time?

That's an impossible question! How can I choose between Andy Dalziel, Miss Marple, VI Warshawski, Patrick Kenzie, Joe O'Loughlin, Alan Grant and all the others I love so much ...? 

Are you familiar with South African crime fiction? And would the Scottish read South African books at all, in your opinion?

I've been reading Deon Meyer for a long time. He's probably the best-known contemporary South African crime writer, with Margie Orford a close second. They are both beginning to find an audience in the UK. And I suspect that with her next novel, Lauren Beukes is going to make a huge impact over here.

British readers have grown increasingly interested in foreign settings in their crime fiction. They're as likely to read about South Africa as anywhere else as long as the books are interesting!



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