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Ask Val McDermid how she usually spends Christmas, and you might be shocked by the response. But there is still a delightful twist when it comes to McDermid – that’s the hallmark of her crime novels.
She says, “Our festive traditions are a bit strange,” “People either say, ‘That’s amazingly wonderful’ or ‘That’s crazy.’ The last five Christmases we’ve gone to a clinic in Germany and spent Christmas fasting.”
“Christmas Is Murder,” her recently published short story book, also has a few surprises in store. It’s full of eerie, atmospheric tales and characters jumping off the page: ghosts, famous detectives and villains (more on that in a moment).
McDermid, 65, is still a fun subject for interviews. She can make us laugh with her quick wit and wry observations even when we’re brooding in the midst of the doom of a pandemic.
This isn’t to say that it wasn’t a tough year. But the author of Fives-born has been busy. In August, in her long-running DCI Karen Pirie series, she published Still Life, her 36th novel and the most recent installment.
“I’ve been pretty productive,” she says. “I finished my book this year and edited an anthology in support of the Homeless World Cup. I’ve done various bits and pieces, including one of the Scenes for Survival for the National Theatre of Scotland.”
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McDermid also wrote a foreword released this Tuesday for Afraid Of The Christmas Lights, a crime anthology that collects short stories by Sophie Hannah, Mark Billingham, Harriet Tyce, Jo Furniss, Victoria Selman and others, with all proceeds going to charities for domestic abuse.
“It’s a great collection and has turned out to be quite an expensive affair for me,”It’s a great collection and it turned out to be a pretty expensive affair for me. “There were a few people in it whose work I hadn’t seen before. I read the short stories, liked them and then bought the books.”
To some extent, the job was a diversion, but McDermid acknowledges that 2020’s swirling chaos and gnawing fear were never far from her thoughts. “I’ve been busy and writing in the moment, but it’s felt very strange,” she said.
It was a time when I was going to write anyway at the beginning of the year. It was not that different from my usual life, sitting alone in a room looking at a computer and going on walks to engage my brain.
“What I found, however, was that I was writing slower. I had fewer words on the computer by the end of the day than normal. I think it’s because I still had that gentle hum of anxiety underneath me, like so many of us.
Author Val McDermid, photographed at The Dome, Edinburgh. Photo by Gordon Terris/The
But there has been a distinct glimmer of hope in recent weeks. As we speak, it’s early November and a long time is still coming for news of the first successful coronavirus vaccine. McDermid is hopeful still.
“She says, “It looks like soon there will be a vaccine,” she says. “It looks like fact. I have some links with the Oxford team, and what I learn from them is very encouraging.
“We will reach a point of equilibrium with this disease, and we will return to something like normality. It will probably be that by this time next year we’ll be living more or less normally – maybe a little more cautiously, but more or less normally.”
McDermid lives in Edinburgh with her partner Jo Sharp, a geography professor at the University of St. Andrews. How have they coped with the long months of lockdown and restrictions?
“I’m very lucky,” McDermid says. “I’m with someone I not only love, but like – I think that makes a big difference. I know a lot of relationships are under pressure these days. But being with someone whose company you enjoy is not the worst thing in the world.
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“I’m very aware of how lucky I am. We live in a house and have some outdoor space. There are lots of beautiful places around us to walk. I’m in one of the few professions that has theoretically benefited from the closure because people are buying and reading a lot more books.
“I’m aware that the overwhelming majority of people are not in this