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Writer Lin marks book 17 – 'I never realised I'd still be with Rhona 20 years on'

By Margaret Chrystall

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The latest book in Carrbridge crime writer Lin Anderson’s Rhona MacLeod series brings her back to the West Coast this week – where her book was born.

Lin Anderson.
Lin Anderson.

The Wild Coast launches on Thursday, August 3. Before that Lin sets off for Ullapool Bookshop for an author event on Tuesday, August 1 at 6pm, followed by a second at the Highland bookshop in Fort William on Wednesday, August 2. A third date will bring Lin to this year’s Nairn Book & Arts Festival early in September.

The book begins when a lone female visitor arrives at a remote campsite with her campervan and kayak.

But after she unloads the vessel and takes it to the shore, she disappears and a police search begins as a little girl goes missing too.

New thriller The Wild Coast.
New thriller The Wild Coast.

Lin explained where the idea for the book – which starts with one of Lin’s signature atmospheric opening chapters – began.

“We are just going up for the dates in the campervan, as doing that is where the whole idea for the book came from in the first place, swimming and camping.

“We start in Ullapool and then we will come down to Fort William and then I’m at Bute Noir. The day the book is released, I will be there. There is a great bookshop there. And they wanted to put on a small crime festival. It is one of these wonderful things that happens in Scotland in small places. So my events have become a bit of a tour of the west!

I see that image and I know something is wrong and that she is running from something

“The book opens at Arisaig at one of the croft campsites there. They are wonderful, very simple campsites down to wee bays. The place always has a big role to play and I think they have captured that it’s beautiful on the cover, but I’m not sure it isn’t a little bit scary.”

It’s 20 years since Lin came up with the character of Scottish forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod.

“I never realised when I began – the first one came out in 2003 – a lot of people talk about writing a series, but I had never thought of that – I was just mesmerised that I got a book published!

“I loved the world in it and thought ‘There’s more to explore here’. But I never realised I would still be with Rhona 20 years later.

“For me, Rhona has never aged.

“Ian Rankin set his books in a very specific year and his detective Rebus ages. It wasn’t a conscious decision when I started off. I was so intrigued by this world that Rhona worked in and the stories that could be created from that.

“What I tended to do at the beginning was create a world – with things like the place and the weather being very important.

“So if I wrote one set in the summer, the next one would be set in the autumn. Then Christmas.

“For me it was interesting for me to see what would happen. In real-life, many investigations would be running simultaneously, but you can’t really do that.

“You have to focus in on a particular case. Having done that for the first three books, I continue to do that. And I don’t really reference things that are really happening in the world at that time – Ian Rankin does that.

In 2003 – I was teaching computer science for many years – in the world of the first Rhona book, Driftnet, we were already up and online, but not the way we are online now.

“You just gradually find things like mobile phones become important to the plot!”

I don’t know what happens to Rhona, but that’s why I write the book!

Lin doesn’t plan out carefully what is coming Rhona’s way and prefers not plotting out every tiny thing.

“You are just dropping into her world. Rhona is the main person, but there is a gang there and they all have individual lives. I don’t plan a book so I don’t know what will happen to Rhona next.

“I just have an idea for a story – it is usually a very visual idea.

“The opening of this book is a young woman driving a little campervan and her kayak is with her and she drives down onto one of those beaches.

“I see that image and I know something is wrong and that she is running from something.”

The idea for The Wild Coast came when Lin and her husband John first took their campervan out on the West Coast.

Lin remembers: “One of the places we stayed, you paid cash for the night and it has a couple of toilets.

“I was looking out and swimming in the lovely water and thinking ‘There are a lot of individual campers arriving and just spending the night'. And you wouldn’t see them next day because they were going up the way, not on the NC500 necessarily, just taking a West Coast run up and stopping at wee wild places to camp.

“I was very struck in Ullapool at the campsite just prior to the Arisaig one, it’s just outside Ullapool.

“It was the very first time we had gone out in the campervan. And I couldn’t believe how many individual female campers there were, just on their own with a car.

“Everyone talked to each other, it was totally safe and then they would drive off to the next one.

“And I would think to myself ‘Would I do that on my own? I’m not sure’.

“So I thought ‘Let’s investigate’.

“I don’t know what happens to Rhona, but that’s why I write the book! It’s discovering what is going on almost as it happens!"

Lin said: “Ann Cleeves describes that way of writing really well, she describes it as writing as a reader reads.

“You don’t quite know what will happen on the next page.

“That happens to me. But I do know I am going to write a crime novel and Rhona is going to walk into a scene, therefore I am investigating it along with her!”

Writer Lin Anderson in the wood at Carrbridge.
Writer Lin Anderson in the wood at Carrbridge.

Place also comes into play when Lin is writing her books.

“I do most of my writing here,” the writer said speaking from her home in Strathspey.

“I walk in the woods in Carrbridge and find if I wander through it, ideas come to me.

“I think that’s how I ended up writing my last book, the stand-alone The Party House – and that is why the woods in The Party House are distinctly similar!”

Lin revealed that both the Rhona books and The Party House are currently being worked on for TV.

“The Rhona series is being developed by the Forge Entertainment Group at the moment.

“They took over all the books and the first one that they have developed is a mix of Driftnet and Final Cut. Driftnet is the one where you first meet Rhona.

“And the Party House has been optioned though I’m not sure how many parts it is going to be. The broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove’s company Boi313 is the name of the group.”

Lin has nno worries about how her characters and stories will be created for TV.

“I did a masters n screenwriting and know how it works for people, but it is a different world.

“Rhona on the telly will be its own things. Forge have been great at discussing everything with me and I am an executive producer when it comes round to the time of moving on to the next stage.”

The writer is not worrying about things in her books being changed to work for the screen.

“I don’t have a problem at all,” she confirmed. “The books are themselves.

“And the thing with TV or film or whatever, everything has to be done visually. You don’t have the luxury of wandering about people’s heads, so it is a totally different thing about how you present the story.”

Lin agrees it is exciting to have the two projects underway.

But she laughed: “You don’t hold your breath! But these things are interesting because if people fall in a big way for a set of characters, the screen setting is good.”

And besides there is a good reason why Lin is not too worried that readers will feel a screen Rhona might not be ‘their’ Rhona.

She laughed: “Rhona has never been described, I have never written what she looks like – so that could be interesting.

“Everybody has their own Rhona. If you ask people, they know her character and think they know what she would do in a particular set of circumstances.

“They all have their own Rhona.

“I remember years ago some advice I was given – leave room for your reader to have their own place in the story, as it were.

“Agatha Christie and Miss Marple – she was any age forever and she was pretty old. so she stayed the same old age.

“And Hercule Poirot never aged!”

Though The Wild Coast is only published on Thursday, Lin is already well into the next case for her forensic scientist and her colleagues.

“I’m a third of the way through the next book, but if I don’t start now I won’t get it in for the deadline.

“I usually hand in in November and that sometimes if I am busy and gallivant too much, it’s December.

“After the turn of the year, I go into edit and stuff like that. I am starting now and am reasonably well in.”

Lin stopped herself.

“I’m thinking that today and I’ll be thinking tomorrow – ‘I’ve no idea!’

“Let Rhona solve it! She has lots of experience, let her do it!”

And here’s a warning.

Receiving the book with its striking sunset-orange cover to research the interview with Lin, I thought I’d just dip into the first page while I had five minutes, just to get a feel for where Rhona found herself after one of Lin’s legendary scene-setting starts …

Fifty pages later I came to, lunchtime was long gone, a murder had been commited, a woman and child seemed to have gone missing and Rhona’s holiday had been cut short as she headed for the West Coast and this latest case.

It’s very hard not to go with her …

The Wild Coast (Pan Macmillan, £18.99) is out on Thursday, August 3. Lin will launch the book with an event at Ullapool Bookshop on Tuesday, August 1 at 6pm. Reserve a place by calling 01854 612918 or emailing: info@ullapoolbookshop.co.uk Also at the Highland Bookshop, Fort William, on Wednesday, August 2, there is a signing, talk and QnA at 7pm. BOOK: and she will hold an event, Wine And Crime: Lin Anderson – The Wild Coast, at Nairn Book & Arts Festival on Saturday, September 2, from 4.30-5.30pm. BOOK:

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