‘I also plan to tell a series of damn good stories with some dead bodies along the way!’

Val McDermid checks in with Books From Scotland to tell us about her favourite books in celebration of her new book, 1979, the first in a quintet of books spanning decades.

By Val McDermid
Published by Little, Brown


The book as . . . memory. What is your first memory of books and reading?
I had measles when I was five. We were supposed to subsist in darkened rooms lest we damage our eyes, and I remember my mum sitting on a chair outside my bedroom door reading me The Wind in the Willows.

The book as . . . your work. Tell us about your latest book 1979. What do you want to explore in starting a new series? 
1979 is the first in a planned quintet of books, each spaced a decade apart, but with the same protagonist. Over the span of the books, I want to look at the changes – social, political, technological, legal – that have altered our lives, and how the past resonates with the present. And I also plan to tell a series of damn good stories with some dead bodies along the way!

The book as . . . inspiration. What is your favourite book that has informed how you see yourself?
My first encounter with feminism was Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics which explores the terrain of literary criticism seen through what was a completely different lens for me. It changed the way I look at the world, and it changed my future.

The book as . . . an object. What is your favourite beautiful book? 
I have a Folio Society edition of Treasure Island which I love. The vivid illustrations awaken my imagination all over again every time.

The book as . . . a relationship. What is your favourite book that bonded you to someone else?
When my son was small, we’d make up stories and sing songs on car journeys. One of the stories I made up was about my mum – I pretended she’d been a pirate. My son loved the story, and eventually I turned it into a picture book, illustrated by Arthur Robins – My Granny is a Pirate. It’s a lasting bond between us.

The book as . . . rebellion. What is your favourite book that felt like it revealed a secret truth to you?
My family were quite left wing in their politics and I had to work hard to shock them. Bernadette Devlin was a firebrand Irish nationalist and the youngest MP in parliament at 21. I bought her book, The Price of My Soul, when it came out, primarily to annoy my dad. But reading it opened my eyes to some of the shocking things that were going on in my own country, just across the Irish Sea. It was a political rite of passage for me.

The book as . . . a destination. What is your favourite book set in a place unknown to you?
When I started reading Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels, I’d never been to Sicily. I loved the setting so much – and the descriptions of the food – that I was almost afraid to visit! Thankfully I overcame my trepidation

The book as . . . the future. What are you looking forward to reading next?
I’m thinking about my next book, which is set in 1989. I’ve got a shelf of novels from 1988 and 1989 that I’m going to plunge into for the full flavour of the time!

1979 by Val McDermid is published by Little Brown, priced £20

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‘Some bizzum’s been sittin in ma chair.’