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Last night I watched Ian Rankin talk about his writing process on BBC 1’s Imagine with Alan Yentob.

Ian Rankin isn’t an author I’ve spent a lot of time reading. He writes the type of crime that is a bit tougher and grittier than I am used to – I’m a bit more traditional in my tastes and easily disturbed by too much reality and terror. It wasn’t an obvious documentary for me to watch, then, but I am thrilled I did.

Ian talks honestly about his writing method and we see his journey from the beginning of the year where he starts out writing his new book, a revisit to Rebus, to the submission of his final draft to the publishers.

As a musician I find it immensely frustrating when people tell me that I’m ‘lucky’ to play the piano. There is no luck in it, only hard graft over many years. All other art forms, sports and academic disciplines are the same. Ian Rankin is indeed lucky to be a successful and well off author, but his luck is created by many years of sitting at his computer and working, accepting criticism from editors and publishers, redrafting and trying again. To reduce that process to mere ‘luck’ is doing Ian Rankin and every other author a disservice.

I think that with art, music, literature, dance and sport so readily accessible to the consumer and with something new on the scene every week of the year, it must seem as though the practitioners of these disciplines just churn things out in a few days. It is so valuable for us to really witness and understand the effort that goes into creating a novel or a symphony or a pop record. Only then do we start to truly value the people who create it and consider their time worth spending money on as a society.

With arts education being squeezed in schools – the arts are not going to be represented in the English Baccalaureate when it is introduced – it is more important than ever that creators show just how hard they really work and open up their process to others. Hopefully by doing so we can bring an end to the sort of ‘talent show’ where people with often many years work behind their skill are chewed up and spat out by judges and the general public because for some reason they’re unacceptable.

Imagine is available on BBC iPlayer for the next few weeks and is well worth catching, even just for the reassuring images of Ian Rankin tearing at his hair and looking as though he hasn’t slept for a week!

Ian Rankin, writer

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