City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Book Festival: Kate Atkinson


By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 20 August 2009

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In similar vein to J K Rowling, best selling novelist Kate Atkinson is an adopted Scottish writer, having been brought up in Yorkshire, but for many years she has lived in Edinburgh. Well, this is such a rich, inspiring literary city.

Kate Atkinson shot to fame with her very first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which won the Whitbread book of the Year in 1995, an outstanding achievement.  (I actually interviewed Kate for a BBC radio arts programme on First Novels, broadcast on the night she won the award).

After several novels and short stories, she created a cool, charismatic character Jackson Brodie in "Case Histories", described by Stephen King as "the best mystery of the decade". Unwittingly Atkinson had written a thriller. Brodie returned in "One Good Turn", a delightful light hearted murder story (a new literary genre!), set in Edinburgh during the Festival.  The third Brodie crime novel is "When Will There be Good News", now in paperback which has raced up the Sunday Times best seller charts.

Diana Hope chaired the fascinating and often amusing Meet the Author conversation with Kate Atkinson at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 15th August. After a short reading from her latest Brodie thriller, the discussion began, delving into the way she plots her books. We hear how her multi-layered stories, which blend both comic and tragic events and the relatationships between characters are "symphonic"  in structure. A strong resolution ties the whole puzzle together at the end, but not too neatly.

Atkinson is a literary writer and employs logic, language and a love of childhood fairy stories, in which the bad are punished and the good rewarded. Justice is a key theme in her crime novels.  (Her Good News novel is peppered with snatches of traditional nursery rhymes, each with a dark subtext.) For Jackson Brodie fans, he will return in a new crime novel next year.

She also likes to use Edinburgh as the location, including all the familiar places, shops and streets around where she lives.  A novel set in Paris is also something she would like to tackle.  Perhaps Jackson Brodie could travel to Paris, she adds with a laugh.

Other ideas for future books include an homage to Agatha Christie, creating a classic murder mystery set in a country house.  A question from the floor asks what books she likes to read herself - everything from Jane Austen and Henry James to A S Byatt and a good deal of Australian and American fiction.

Just like the popular Ian Rankin and Val McDermid crime novels now adapted for television, another question asks if Jackson Brodie will be on screen soon?  Apparently, negotiations have been going on for some time but it is possible her wonderful characters will soon be dramatised. And which actor to play Brodie?  Sean Bean is Kate's choice.