How We Met: Ian Rankin & James Yorkston

'Because he was a Fifer, there was a certain brotherhood between us'

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The Independent Online

Ian Rankin, 52

The award-winning crime writer (left in picture) is best known for his 18 novels featuring the detective Inspector Rebus, played by Ken Stott on TV. He lives in Edinburgh with his wife and two sons.

We met at a festival called Homegame, in a Fife fishing village in 2009. It's run by a local musical collective he's part of, called Fence. He was playing sets and wandering around and I went up and told him I was a big fan. What I hadn't realised, listening to him sing on CD, was that he's Scottish – I thought he was English! Turns out he grew up in Fife, 15 miles from me, which was a big connection, as Fifers are very close-knit.

I'm a huge fan of his music. I'd say it's nu-folk, though James is going to punch me for saying that; there's acoustic guitars there, though he's louder and rockier live than you might expect.

Like a lot of musicians he's shy off stage; ironically [as an author], I'm more of a performer than him. But he has a great sense of humour in everything he does. Inside the box-set of his latest album [I Was a Cat from a Book] were some checkers pieces. So I asked, "What are they for?" He said, "You work it out!" Eventually I realised that opening up the gatefold produced a backgammon board.

James has been to my house in Edinburgh, bringing his guitar and playing new songs in my living-room. It was lovely to sit there, but at the same time I'm thinking, I wish this was in my genes. I'm jealous, as I have no musical ability. We talk about a lot of stuff, but we both know certain things you don't talk about if you want to remain friends – football and politics.

We've spoken about his childhood, about nearly getting out of the music industry as his albums weren't selling. A lot of writers have that problem, too: a career filled with doubt about your own abilities. But James isn't going to jump through hoops to get into the charts or aim to create a certain sound just because it's considered pop.

I was asked to curate a music festival in Aberfeldy a couple of years ago, and I asked James to headline a night. I thought he do a nu-folk solo show, but he turned up with an Indian musician playing the sitar and they did an intense instrumental set – it was hypnotic, and totally unlike what I was expecting.

James Yorkston, 41

A Scottish folk musician and member of contemporary music group the Fence Collective, Yorkston lives in Fife.

I'm not a huge fan of crime fiction – I was always busy reading more pretentious stuff such as Chekhov. Several years ago, though, I got a call from a friend saying, "You're in one of Ian Rankin's books!" I went into my local bookshop to find it, but his section had a dozen books on the shelf and I didn't have a clue which one, so it took a while! Anyway, it was [2004 novel] Fleshmarket Close and Rebus was listening to one of my albums. So I bought it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ian is a real music head and has a great reputation in the [Scottish] east-coast music scene, regularly turning up to gigs and festivals. At first I found it rather amusing as after a few drinks he looks so much like [Yorkston's fellow Domino Records artist] Tom Bauchop, so I always thought he was friendly face – and because he was a Fifer, there was a certain brotherhood between us.

He's cool, down-to-earth and has a lot of respect for all musicians. He's way more successful than me. Sometimes people question why I'm doing something so daft when I could have been a doctor. But with Ian, I love how he can see the value in it.

I don't read crime drama outside Ian's books, but he's such a good read for me as his work's based in Edinburgh, has all these musical references and it's effortless to read. I love the way he builds up the tension and puts in the red herrings. I can see why he's stayed with Rebus; he's multifaceted. And in my mind Rankin looks like Rebus, except Rebus is fatter and older. I've just read his most recent book and loved it. I sent him a small appraisal of it this morning, but he ignored it and talked about something different.

Making a living as a musician is tricky and I need all the help I can get. So I was grateful when he came to help me launch my own book [It's Lovely to be Here: the Touring Diaries of a Scottish Gent] in Edinburgh. The event sold out quickly as most people were buying tickets because he was there. But during his talk there was no mention of his own work; he only talked about me and my book.

Unless I've had a double espresso, Ian's generally a more confident person than me; I think it may be the confidence that success brings, while I'm more of a cult name. But I'm not angry about it; it's a privilege knowing him, and I have enough to look after my family.

'I Was a Cat from a Book' (Domino Records) is out now. Ian Rankin's latest Rebus mystery, 'Standing in Another Man's Grave', (£18.99, Orion) is out now