Interview: Quintin Jardine on the inspiration behind his Edinburgh crime writing

Quintin Jardine, the creator of one of Edinburgh's most popular fictional cops, talks about his writing and his inspiration.

Wednesday, 4th January 2017, 9:03 am
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 11:42 am
Author Quintin Jardine has played his part in raising the fictional body count for the Capital.

Edinburgh has had its fair share of authors through the centuries. Today it is crime that seems to be our niche. Rankin, McCall Smith and Rowling are adding mystery and murder to our bookshelves and Kindles at a prodigious rate.

Quintin Jardine is another author who has played his part in raising the fictional body count for the Capital.

He has just sent off the manuscript for his 28th Bob Skinner novel.

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That outing for the Edinburgh cop who has risen through the detective ranks to chief constable and then fallen out with his political masters over the creation of a single police force, will appear next autumn.

Before that, Game Over will be published in April or May and Private Investigations has recently appeared in paperback.

“I am doing an extra Skinner for the next two years, so I have given myself a bit of a schedule,” says Jardine.

“Finishing a book in October is a bit unusual,” he adds.

“I am going to try to kick start my body clock for the next one because normally I would have taken about four months off, but this time I am going to try to get into this at the beginning of November.”

Jardine is sitting in his sunny window-lined office at his home in Gullane. There is a TV on the wall, the biggest iMac you can buy, various paintings and a couple of political caricatures by Emilio Coia.

He writes here as well as at his home in L’Escala in Catalonia where he and his wife Eileen spend part of the year and some of his grandchildren live.

“Up till now I’ve probably done more work in Spain. I am going to try to reverse that. It is not much fun for Eileen when we are out in Spain and I’m locked away for hours.

“I’m a bear when I’m writing: you don’t want to live with me, especially as it gets going.”

It was in Spain that Jardine started writing. “I was challenged to write a book. My [late] wife had seen the start of a few ideas creeping out of my head but not getting much further.

“The story is that I am on holiday. I’d read a book and at the end I just tossed it and said ‘I could do better myself’ and she said ‘it’s time you did’.

“If you’d known her, you would know it was not a suggestion, so I went out and bought some pens and pads and started to write.

“Maybe in the age of modern IT, I might have got started earlier. It was a tedious process initially,” he says.

Skinner’s Rules was published in 1993 and it was the first of 45 books for the former journalist and media relations consultant, who turned to writing full-time in 1998-1999.

Over the years, Spain has featured in Jardine’s writing. The Last Resort (the 25th Skinner novel) romps across the country as the cop decides on his future in the single police force era.

In spite of living there for more than 25 years, Jardine’s Spanish is limited. “I can converse up to a point, but on the phone I am useless. Kenny Dalglish [the footballer] came up with a perfect definition of ‘restaurant Spanish’ – mine is restaurant Spanish.”

Jardine’s most recent self-published online short story is set in the country he clearly loves.

“I have a friend Philippe out in Spain. I have known him a very long time and he runs a beach bar and we go in quite a lot.

“I’ve given the beach bar name checks in a couple of the Primavera Blackstone books. When we were there this summer Philippe asks ‘when am I going to get a name check in a book? Never mind the bar’.

“I said; ‘To tell you the truth, the only reason you haven’t been name checked till now is that I can’t spell your name’.”

Now there is a story based around the beach bar called The Last Chickenpig.

In this and its predecessor, Born to be Wild, Jardine rekindles the Oz Blackstone character who featured in nine books before being killed off in 2005.

“For years people have been saying to me ‘when are you going to bring back Oz?’ ”

With a Skinner dispatched to his publisher, Jardine started to toy with an idea: “If Oz wasn’t dead, how do you get him to be not dead? So I sat down and began to play with it ... and it turned into an 8,000-word short story, Born to be Wild.

“The stories are something I have been doing on my holidays – basically between Skinners.”

As someone who writes, but hasn’t written a book, the question of where inspiration comes from was always going to be in my mind.

From the anecdotes Jardine tells as we chat, it is obvious he is like a sponge absorbing experiences and storing them away. Some then appear on the page as a vignette, others give him the basis for a full book.

“I have a reader who is a footballer. I found out he was a reader because he gave me a name check in his autobiography. He was a manager, so I called him at the club he was with and we had a chat.

“He said to me ‘listen there is a great story in football’ and I said ‘why don’t you do it?’ He said ‘no it is not for me.’

“Well, the next Skinner is called Game Over and there are footballers in it. “Things like that get planted in your head.”

Matthew’s Tale, a stand-alone historical novel set in the Napoleonic Wars, again started off in real life.

“My aunt, who has been dead for many years, was a great keeper of stories. She took me round to introduce me to the Flemings in the family from Lanarkshire.

“There was a story that one was press-ganged – or conscripted in some way or another – during the Napoleonic Wars.

“This ancestor went off to fight and promised his sweetheart he would be back home safe.

“He did indeed come home safe and when he walked in, his sweetheart was married to somebody else.

“That bit of family history struck in my head and that is where Matthew got started I just took it on from there.”

Jardine’s policeman Skinner is firmly rooted in Edinburgh and the joy for the reader is spotting the familiar landmarks of the city.

Nowadays Jardine rarely comes into the Capital from East Lothian, but he spent the 1970s and 1980s working in the city, first for the Scottish Office, then for the Scottish Tories and finally as an independent PR consultant.

“I moved to Edinburgh in 1971 and it was a completely different place. The St James Centre – which is in the process of being demolished – they were just finishing that off.

“I worked in the old St Andrew’s House and we were the first to work in New St Andrew’s House.

“Back then there were no parking metres. You drove to work, found a place to park and you parked – that was it.

“We used to park up Regent Road. The entire workforce of New St Andrew’s House parked up there: it didn’t cause anybody any problems.

“But the council decided they were going to stick parking metres up so they did and then spent all the money from the parking metres employing traffic wardens.

“I never saw the sense in it; I still don’t actually.”

At the end of the week, it might have be Darling’s Hotel in Waterloo Place they went to, or restaurants like Clarindas, Bar Italia, a hamburger place on Thistle Street, Hendersons, Vito’s, Bar Roma ...

“You have to remember I lived in Gullane so I didn’t do a lot of eating out,” he says.

“I probably didn’t go to many concerts, but when I did, it was to the Usher Hall.”

There was Graham Parker and the Rumour in 1977. “It was a brilliant concert,” says Jardine.

“The place wasn’t full or anything like it as they weren’t big news in Edinburgh, but they had a support band Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. They were amazing – they blew the main act off the stage.

“I saw Thin Lizzy, Don Mclean and Neil Sedaka who was absolutely brilliant. Just him on a piano reworking the early rock ‘n’ roll stuff and doing them as ballads – him and his piano on stage and he could play the piano as well.”

What about keeping in touch with Edinburgh today, I ask.

“It is something I should do more. Skinner is not as rooted as he used to be.

“The next one will be mainly set in Edinburgh, although it will get out and about.

“Last Resort was partly in Edinburgh: but he’s become more international maybe.

“The one I’m going to start next is going to be set in the west. The one I’ve just finished is not set in Scotland at all.”

So just how much of Quintin Jardine is there in the fictional Bob Skinner?

“Skinner is not all me,” Jardine stresses. “We have the same background – except my father was a teacher not a lawyer. We were both brought up in Motherwell.

“When Skinner was created, he and I were the same age, but now he’s 16 years younger than me,” says the 71-year-old.

Jardine does however share Skinner’s dislike of Scotland’s single police force and like other Edinburgh crime writers has been on the record with his views before.

“We’re stuck with Police Scotland until we get someone with the b***s to break it up,” he tells me now.

“I have used this line in one of the next Skinner books: ‘When politicians start putting pennies above public safety, we’ve got a problem and that is what happened with Police Scotland’.”

And Jardine obviously has more insight into policing than most.

“I spent a career getting to know people in the three different areas of policing.

“You meet cops as a journalist. That’s how I started out in life ... I can still remember the names of half the cops in Motherwell.”

At the Scottish Office he worked on publicity campaigns with assistant chief constables and then in politics he was meeting Special Branch officers.

Jardine has certainly made good use of all that inside knowledge in his books, but he emphasises that he is above all a storyteller.

“At the end of the day we all make it up, bear that in mind.”

This article appears in the winter issue of EH50, the Edinburgh Evening News magazine for the over 50s in the Capital. Read the full e-mag here.