Out of Bounds is your 30th novel, how has getting older affected your writing and how you think about writing?
I’d like to think that I’ve become a better writer; that I’ve learned from my own mistakes and those of others! It’s also altered the things I know I don’t know. When I was younger, I could only imagine how older people viewed themselves and the world. Now, I can only imagine how younger people view the vastly different world they inhabit… But my powers of observation and imagination are as strong as ever, so it doesn’t really worry me.
How have your rituals around writing changed over the years?
I don’t really have rituals around writing. I don’t have to be in a particular room, I don’t use particular writing materials. I do like to work with music but these days music is as portable as the means of writing.
My process changed dramatically about a dozen years ago. I shifted from being a detailed outliner to a much looser preparation. I didn’t set out to make that change – it happened to me. The old process stopped working abruptly and left me floundering to find a new way of working, which thankfully I managed to do. Now when I sit down to write a new book, I have a broad idea of the story arc and some of the key scenes along the way. I have a pretty clear idea of whose story it is and what kind of people they are but that’s about it.
In terms of characters, probably. Because I’ve seen more and experienced more of the world. My perspective is wider than it was when I started writing fiction in 20s. But I’m not drawn to issues. It’s story that drives me. However, because I’m someone who has an active interest in the world around me and the society I live in, current preoccupations, issues and social trends inevitably find their way into my work. But I never sit down and say, ‘Hmm. It’s about time I did a novel about internet trolling,’ or whatever.
How do you approach ageing yourself?
I’ve become more conscious of trying to take better physical care of myself. I’ve come to realise I’m not invincible. So I’ve embarked on a programme of changing my eating habits and taking more exercise. Nothing too drastic, but I’ve lost 15kg this year and I go off to the gym and listen to talking books on the treadmill!
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
Titanium knees! I had early-onset osteoarthritis in my knees and I had them both replaced eleven years ago. Best investment I ever made.
How free do you feel?
I still have a teenage son so those bonds of commitment continue to place some limitations on me in terms of time and place. But in general, the obligations of love and friendship are a small trade-off for the joy they bring, My work commitments are the area where I have most control, and everyone around me tells me I do too much, but mostly I only say yes to things I know I’ll enjoy. So in general, I feel content with my lot. (which is not the same as ‘complacent’. There are still challenges that appeal to me!)
Do you have a philosophy of dying?
Both my parents died suddenly and swiftly. I would like that kind of death for myself. It’s hard on those suddenly bereaved, but in the long run, easier than watching someone you love decline and fail, in pain and among strangers.
Have you used any of your plots to examine ageing?
Not that I can think of. But as I said, I’m not driven by issues or themes but by story.
Have you planned your funeral?
Only in the loosest terms.
What would your ideal old people’s home look like?
A big house with a view of the sea, full of feisty women talking, playing bridge, swapping reading suggestions. Wonderful tasty food and good red wine. That’d do it.
Tell us about your love of walking on the beach.
There’s something about walking by water that seems to loosen up my creativity. The rhythm of waves on a shore, the flow of a river estuary in and out of the sea; when I need kickstarting, that’s what always does it for me.
Out of Bounds, Val McDermid’s 30th novel, is available to buy or download from 25th August.
You can read an excerpt from the book here.