IAN Rankin has told how he immersed himself in early 1970s Glasgow during the pandemic as he worked on completing William McIlvanney’s final novel.

The Rebus author was asked to finish McIlvanney’s last work – featuring his popular detective character Jack Laidlaw – from a manuscript found by McIlvanney’s widow Siobhan Lynch.

The Dark Remains was launched at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today.

Confined to his home in the capital during lockdown, Rankin set about trying to learn McIlvanney’s style as well as using the archives of the National Library of Scotland, old photographs and maps of Glasgow to bring Laidlaw back to life.

Rankin said: “I re-read all the Laidlaw novels three or four times and tried to learn his writing style so I could mimic it. I’ve built in as much of Willie’s Glasgow as I possibly could.

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“Hopefully it is his Glasgow. He painted a picture of the city and I just stuck to that. He’d written some nice descriptive stuff in his notes that I was able to use.

“Luckily, the National Library of Scotland opened up in time for me to go in and look at the Glasgow Herald.

“I pulled out a year’s worth of them out for 1972 – I only knew that the book was set then as the notes had referenced The Godfather, which was released that year. For me, writing about Glasgow in 1972 was lovely and an escape from the pandemic. It was a much simpler world.

“Although it was a world of criminals, there were no mobile phones and drugs were not quite yet the scourge they would become.

“It absolutely helped me last year. I was writing all the time during the pandemic. I could live in this fictional world that made sense in a way that the real world wasn’t making sense. It did feel like going back in time. I had to remind myself that nobody had a mobile phone or a computer at home.

“Pubs closed a lot earlier than they do now and you couldn’t get a drink on a Sunday unless you were in a hotel. That’s why I tend to set my books in the present – they’re much easier to write.”

Rankin first met McIlvanney at the book festival in 1985 shortly after starting work on what would become the first Rebus novel. At the time, Rankin said, he told McIlvanney the book was going to be “like Laidlaw but set in Edinburgh”.

He was delighted to be asked by publishers Canongate to finish The Dark Remains because the author had such an influence on him.

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Rankin said: “Canongate told me they had a manuscript that Siobhan had put together by typing up Willie’s handwritten notes and that she wanted to know if I thought there was enough there to make a novel. I said I’d take a look at it. It was all a surprise to me – I hadn’t heard anything at all about it.

“I don’t think I would have tried it with any other writer, but because I’m such a huge fan of Willie and he was such an influence on me I thought I’d give it a go. It was very important to me that this book was a McIlvanney – his voice, his world and his characters. It was an absolutely fascinating process going through his notes because I was inside his head.

“I wanted new readers to find him and I wanted old readers to rediscover him. Hopefully if people come to this book they will seek out the other Laidlaw novels and then his other books. The best scenario I can think of is that a whole new generation of readers find his work.”