1. Dansette mono record player

The National:

I WOULD have been about 10 years old when my parents got my sister a Dansette record player for her birthday. She was older than me – in her teens – but I think I was the more excited of the two of us. It was the first means of playing music in our house (the radio excepted). This was the early 1970s, and I was getting into music. The Dansette helped a lot. I think my first single purchase was the theme song to the Action Man toy (with a b-side consisting of battle sounds). My first pop purchase was Double Barrel by Dave and Ansel Collins. Then there were all those cheap Music For Pleasure albums that could be bought for the price of a single. I was off and running. Glam (T Rex, Slade, Sweet, Bowie) was waiting around the corner, ready to lift me out of my grey working-class council-house existence.

2. Bowhill Library

WE didn’t have many books in our house – my parents weren’t great readers – but my mum took me to our local library every week. I think I was 12 when the librarian decided I could move from the children’s section to the adult section. This was brilliant news. I was too young to gain entry to the X-certificate films showing at our local fleapit (The Rex), but no one stopped me reading the books they were based on. The Godfather, Shaft, The Exorcist, Jaws, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest ... I would read all these and more, delving into what seemed a taboo and exciting world. The Manic Street Preachers have a line in one of their songs, “libraries gave us power”, and I really believe that’s true for generations of working-class readers, some of whom would become writers.

3. Great teachers

I WAS blessed with a series of great English teachers encouraging me. One (Ron Gillespie), who taught me Higher English at Beath High School in Cowdenbeath, was a huge influence. I remember writing an essay/story called Paradox, narrated by a figure who seems to be President of the USA. Only at the end do we learn he is actually an asylum inmate. Mr Gillespie asked me why I’d called it “Paradox”. I told him it’s just a great-looking word. He advised me to look it up in a dictionary. I used to do the quick crossword in The Courier crossword, and my parents bought me a dictionary to help me look up words. Eventually that dictionary would accompany me to the University of Edinburgh, where I would study literature. I still have it, and still use it.

4. Punk

The National: The SkidsThe Skids

NOT so much for the music – though I did love it – but more for the ethos or philosophy. Stuart Adamson (guitarist in The Skids and later frontman of Big Country) was a couple of years above me at Beath High and a bunch of us would don boilersuits and head to the Pogo-A-Gogo Club in Kirkcaldy on a Sunday night, where The Skids regularly headlined. Just after I’d started university, an old schoolpal, Dave Young, asked me to join his band Dancing Pigs. I’d be on vocals and would write the lyrics. So those poems I’d been writing came in handy! We only played a handful of gigs and recorded about five of our tunes in a proper studio. We sent the tape to John Peel but never heard anything back. That hardly mattered. What was important was that punk told me I could have a go at anything – and SHOULD have a go at anything. Didn’t matter what school I’d been to or whether I had any real talent – life was there for the taking. If you never tried, you’d never know. At university, I bloomed. I attended poetry recitals, sent stuff to every magazine I could get an address for, wrote reviews for the local film club, et cetera.

5. London

The National:

TWO things happened to me in July 1986. My PhD funding ran out, and I got married. My wife Miranda had a civil service job in London, so I joined her there.

We got a flat in Tottenham and I started to negotiate my way around the sprawling, mazey city. Miranda was happy to be the wage-earner while I sat at home trying to become a writer. But my days were loose and baggy; I needed structure. I got a job at the local polytechnic working as a clerical assistant. And I began knocking on doors.

I had a London-based publisher for my first Inspector Rebus novel. I also managed to find a literary agent, with im-pressive offices on Regent Street. I was looking for book reviewing work and trying to get myself invited to parties where I might meet the movers and shakers of the publishing world. I was writing to TV companies and film studies and anyone else who might assist me in my quest for world domination.

I was also green as hell, but I was persistent with it. I nearly cracked a script-writing job on TV show The Bill. Meetings about film projects turned to dust. But I made friends, and it was a lot easier to form a good working relation-ship with publisher and agent when I lived a tube ride away from both. I had a foot in the door, and unless someone sawed that foot off, I wasn’t about to budge.

6. Miranda

I’VE already mentioned my wife Miranda. We met at the University of Edinburgh. She was studying the same course as me. I would borrow her books (and even sometimes her essays – she was a year ahead of me and so much wiser). She had grown up in Belfast during the Troubles. Her family had only just moved there from England when the Troubles started. Her father passed away soon after, and her mother – an indomitable woman – brought up all four kids on her own. I remember my first visit to Belfast around 1981. My dad warned me to keep my wits about me. It was surreal to be stopped at security checkpoints, see armed soldiers everywhere and feel the tension in the air, day and night. But Miranda had flourished there. I’m not sure she was so keen on Edinburgh. After uni, while I stayed to do a PhD on the novelist Muriel Spark, she headed back to Belfast and then got the job in London. I’d never been adventurous – probably because my parents hadn’t been. I think our one foreign holiday was to Malta, and then only because my sister and her RAF husband were living there. Miranda broadened my horizons. We worked on a vineyard in France, hitchhiked around Italy and, after four years in London, it was Miranda who persuaded me we should move to France full-time where we could live on not-very-much money and I could become a full-time writer. That gamble eventually paid off. And she’s still my first reader – if she doesn’t reckon it’s good enough, my publisher doesn’t get to see it.

7. A Clockwork Orange

The National:

LET’S go back to 12-year-old Ian. Something happened the summer I left primary school. When I got to secondary school, all my mates had had their hair chopped short and were wearing black Harrington jackets and Doc Marten boots. They were also passing books around the playground as though they were contraband. These had titles like Skinhead and Suedehead and Bovver Boys and Bovver Girl.

The walls of my village began to be daubed with spray paint. Gangs seemed to spring into existence from nowhere. The Y-Hill (Bowhill) and YCD (Cardenden), and our most feared enemies, the mighty YLM (Young Lochgelly Mental). I wasn’t sure what to make of this but I knew I had to fit in quickly or risk a kicking. And at some point my turn came to be loaned A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. I could tell straight away that this was a very different beast from the pulpy books that appeared on the surface to be its ilk. It was elegantly structured, beautifully written. It used its own language, its characters were well-drawn and there was a moral centre to it, a question the author was asking about violence and free will. Having read it and reread it, I knew I wanted to be a writer. By the way, I have it on my shelf still – I never passed it on.

8. John Rebus

The National: John Hannah as RebusJohn Hannah as Rebus

WHO knew that 30 years after bringing him to life I’d still be writing about him? I certainly didn’t. He was created for just the one book, Knots And Crosses. It was published in 1987 and didn’t exactly create waves. I went on to write a spy novel and a techno-thriller, after which I returned to Rebus because my editor said he liked the character.

I’d also decided that I really liked exploring Edinburgh, trying to make sense of the place. A detective is the perfect urban explorer, having access to the heights and the depths. After that second book (Hide And Seek) I took Rebus to London, so he could dislike it on my behalf. And suddenly I was three books in and I really liked the guy. I wanted to spend more time with him and get to know him better, which entailed writing more books.

Along the way there was TV interest (Rebus was initially played by John Hannah) and there were radio plays. The books started to be translated, then started to sell in better numbers in the USA and Canada. I was being invited on book tours and to literary festivals all around the world. Black And Blue won the Gold Dagger Prize.

I was making a lot more money than previously. I could afford a flat in Edinburgh, and then a house, and then a bigger house. I could provide for my sons. I could give something back to charity. All because of this curmudgeon of a cop, this complex, anarchic character. I’ve known him longer than I’ve known most of my friends. As I’ve grown older, so has he, and now we both find ourselves with aches and pains and health issues. I’ve used him to make sense of the world. I’ve thrown everything at him. And still he wants to stick around, which is fine by me.

9. The computer

IN the late-1980s, while still living in Tottenham, I bought my first computer, an Amstrad. The daisywheel printer that came with it was so noisy that I had to place a cardboard box over it so as not to disturb the neighbours, but I loved it. No more typewriter ribbons. No need for Tipp-Ex or the little white strips that you used to correct mistakes. I could print off multiple copies, meaning no more carbon paper. I could hand my editor a floppy disk rather than a few hundred pages of manuscript.

Editing was much easier, too. I could cut and paste without having to, well, physically cut and paste. Bliss. Though I do sometimes wonder, is it mere coincidence that crime novels began to get fatter and fatter when computers were introduced? These lovely machines make it so easy to just keep writing.

10. Linn Sondek

The National:

I STARTED with a record player and I’m finishing with one. After working in London for a couple of years as a clerical assistant, I got a job on a hi-fi magazine. My magazine, Hi-Fi Review, championed analogue over digital, and we all rated the Linn Sondek as the greatest record deck in the world. I remember visiting Eaglesham just after the Linn factory had opened. Everyone working there was evangelical about making the best equipment money could buy. I ended up digging deep to buy a Linn Sondek of my own. That was in 1989, and I use it to this day. It sounds as good as ever, and I’m immensely proud that it was designed and constructed in Scotland.