Author Philip Kerr on being a secret Hibby

Philip Kerr. Pic: John Savage
Philip Kerr. Pic: John Savage
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EDINBURGH author Philip Kerr, cannot hide his delight. He has just been allowed to set foot on the hallowed turf of Easter Road - the ultimate honour for the writer who reveals that, as a schoolboy, growing up in Corstorphine, he was a “secret Hibby”

“It really was an honour to get to walk onto the pitch. I got the impression from the security guard that they don’t let many people do that,” he beams.

The 58-year-old, who now lives in London, continues, “It’s the same at Arsenal, who I also support. I actually launched my book at the Emirates Stadium during a game, I think that was the first time a book launch had ever happened during a live match, but I didn’t get on the pitch there.”

The book in question is January Window. Best know for his best-selling Bernie Gunther ‘Berlin noir’ spy thrillers, January Window sees Kerr kick off a new series of crime thrillers set in the glamorous but murky world of football, featuring amateur sleuth Scott Manson, team coach of London City football club.

In his debut Manson finds his detective skills tested when his team manager is found dead - murdered. The football world seemed the ideal setting for such intrigue says Kerr, adding, “I’m just surprised someone hasn’t done it already.”

“With football, there is so much incentive for murder,” he says. “Players are young, virile, have far too much money, are shagging each other’s wives, there’s corrupt money.... the possibilities are enormous.”

Kerr’s love of football and writing both stem from his childhood in the Capital, even if being a secret Hibby in a family of Hearts supporters made for a complicated life.

He explains, “I was a boarder at Stewart’s Melville and there was a boy in my class called Lawrie Reilly, whose dad was the Hibs’ Famous Five legend Lawrie Reilly. We were all so over-awed that many of us became secret Hibs supporters.

“Being a boarder meant Saturday afternoons were a choice between going to the Jacey News Theatre on Princes Street - it was the most disreputable cinema in Edinburgh, that’s where you went to see smut - or to Easter Road, to see Hibs. I’m happy to say that more often than not, Easter Road won.”

Today, Kerr is a self-confessed life-long Arsenal fan, again a legacy of his days as a secret Hibby.

“Hibs had a player called Peter Marinello,” he recalls. “He was their big star and played so well that Arsenal bought him for £100,000, a lot of money at the time. My parents moved to England around the same time so it seemed a natural fit for me to become an Arsenal fan.”

Kerr was 14 at the time, but it was many years earlier, while at Carrick Knowe Primary, that he set his mind on becoming an author.

“I was lucky, I had an excellent teacher called Miss Wightman when I was six. She was brilliant.

“When I’d come home from school, my mum would sit with me and I’d read to her everyday until I was fluent on my own. Almost simultaneously I decided I wanted to be an author. I could see the possibilities of getting paid to make stuff up. To invent things just seemed like a fantastic way to make a living.”

Five decades on, Kerr has sold more than 40,000 books, and he reveals there is a good reason for his visit to Easter Road... like his creator, Manson will find himself at the Hibs’ ground in the third novel of the series.

“It was definitely a research visit,” he reveals. “Book two, Hand Of God, is already written and comes out in the summer, so I am actually working on book three, which has the working title False Nine, and I can happily share with you the fact that it starts at Easter Road.

“That’s the great thing about writing a character like Scott Manson, a football manager and ex-player, you can shift him around. Managers are semi-itinerant, they go from one club to another. From a writer’s point of view that is fantastic. In book three he’s looking for a new club, and you go where the phone calls takes you when you’re out of a job.”

January Window, by Philip Kerr, now available in hardback, £14.99