Crime writer Val McDermid’s best-known book, the book that gave its name to a TV series, The Wire in The Blood, owes its genesis, in part, to her frustration at being unable to write what she suspected about Jimmy Savile.
Back in the mid-90s, Savile was still a widely-respected TV personality and fundraiser, not the monster we now know him to have been.
However, as a journalist McDermid had come into contact with people who claimed he had abused them.
‘There was never the kind of evidence you could put in the paper or take to court,’ recalls Val.
‘And Savile was very litigious, he had attack lawyers in his back pocket. We never had substantive evidence, that was the problem, and if he got any hint that we were sniffing around we’d get a lawyer’s letter in the post. He didn’t mess about.
‘Having met him, my impression was that he was a deeply unpleasant man, and the thing that astounded me was how the prime minister and the royal family were taken in by this horrible man, really.
‘I wouldn’t have written about it after the fact, I only wrote about it as I did out of a sense of a kind of frustration, knowing that I couldn’t put it in the paper, and that was there at the back of my mind when I started with the idea for the book The Wire in The Blood.’
The other inspiration for the book was Val’s experience in America, interviewing private eyes who had worked on the OJ Simpson murder and Michael Jackson child abuse cases.
‘I thought that celebrity is the shield behind which you can do anything, and when I started thinking about this for a plot, I thought about what I thought I knew about Jimmy Savile, and so I wrote the book because I couldn’t tell that story any other way. And I’ve been kind of vindicated by subsequent events.
‘I wouldn’t write about it now because I don’t believe in needlessly exploiting the suffering of people.’
Dubbed ‘the queen of crime’ and part of the ‘Tartan noir’ genre along with the likes of William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin, Val has sold more than 10m copies of her books.
And she is coming to Portsmouth to talk about her latest book, Out of Bounds, the fourth book to star DCI Karen Pirie.
How does she decide which of her characters to write about?
‘The story decides for me – when I start to have an idea what makes the book, I start to poke around at that and to see where the story is and what I’m interested in. It becomes clear to me quite quickly if it’s one that one of my series characters can investigate, or it’s going to need a whole new cast of characters.
‘Pirie wasn’t ever meant to be a series. She had a small part in The Distant Echo, and then when I was writing A Darker Domain, I thought: “I need a Scottish cold case detective”, and I’ve already got one on the shelf, so I may as well take her down and dust her off, so to speak, because I’m fundamentally quite lazy!
‘Karen wasn’t intended to be a series character, but then I discovered there were lots of things I could do with her.’
Cold cases have proved to be fertile ground for Val’s imagination.
‘We can now investigate cold cases in a way that wasn’t possible before DNA and the advance of other forensic technology that make the analysis of evidence so much more available. There’s evidence from cases 20-30 years ago that couldn’t be analysed at the time, but now we can get answers from it.’
New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
Tuesday, May 23