Published: 05/09/2014 16:18 - Updated: 05/09/2014 16:40

Killer Hare the star of Peter's new body of work

Peter Ranscombe with the skeleton of Hare's partner in crime William Burke.
Peter Ranscombe with the skeleton of Hare's partner in crime William Burke.

FOR one author at Nairn Book & Arts Festival, his weekend appearance is a home town gig.

Peter Ranscombe was brought up in Nairn before leaving for university and a career in journalism, and is delighted to be invited back to the north to talk about his debut novel.

"I was really excited when they asked me," he said.

"The Book Festival started just as I was leaving for university, but it’s been just fantastic to see how it has grown over the years."

Having started his carer with work experience at the Inverness Courier and Highland News, Ranscombe is now based in Edinburgh where he worked previously for the Scotsman and now for Scottish Field, but his first novel re-imagines one of the capital’s more notorious residents, William Hare.

Burke and Hare, both called William and both from the north of Ireland, made their money supplying cadavers to the anatomists of Edinburgh University. Instead of digging up bodies, Burke and Hare’s method was to suffocate their victims and sell the bodies to anatomist Dr Robert Knox.

Yet, although they killed 16 people, only Burke was executed for their crimes after Hare turned King’s Evidence and informed on his former partner.

"Burke and Hare was one of the stories that I grew up with. I have always been interested in history and living in Edinburgh has just developed that interest, because there are so many good tales," Ranscombe explained.

"We know that William Burke was hanged for murder after Hare gave evidence against him, but we don’t know what happened to Hare afterwards. We know he was released from prison and bundled out of Edinburgh on a mail coach. "The last report of Hare was being seen walking out on the Cumbrian moors. I love those little what-ifs in history — the opportunity for writers to come along and create a bit of fiction."

There were rumours about Hare’s fate, including one legend that he was blinded in a lime pit and ended his days as a beggar in London, but Ranscombe’s novel, Hare, follows the killer to Civil War America.

However, he admits he has hardly chosen the most sympathetic of protagonists.

"Hopefully the novel plays with the readers’ expectations," Ranscombe said.

"At points you will be thinking: he’s a murderer and he will always be a murderer. At others the readers are feeling more sympathetic towards him."

Inspiration for the book came suddenly.

Ransombe had been writing a story about wildlife watching in Perthshire and had returned to his hotel room after a dawn safari for a warm bath.

That was when the final scene of the novel popped into his head.

"It’s not unusual for that to happen with me because I write in quite a cinematic way, but what was different was that I had an inkling of how the story got to that point. I don’t know if it’s the hot bath or the sleep deprivation," he said.

However, it has taken a while to get the book ready for publication with 18 months of writing followed by a similar length of time trying to find an agent or publisher.

"The finished book is about five years in the making in total," Ranscombe said.

"I think that’s true for a lot of writers, unless you go down the self-publishing route, which did cross my mind. Even if I’d been five years younger, I might have done that, but because I’d started writing, I was keen to do it the old fashioned way."

Hare may be his first published book, but tucked away in a drawer is a science-fiction thriller set in Antarctica, while he is 3000 words into a second historical novel set towards the end of World War II.

"Having Hare published is literally a childhood dream come true," he said.

"It’s amazing to have ticked that box, but I really hope it doesn’t happen once. I hope it’s the start of a career."

• Peter Ranscombe appears at The Little Theatre, Nairn, at 10am on Sunday 7th September as part of the 11th Nairn Book & Arts Festival.

His talk will be followed by a discussion with fellow Nairn authors David Godden, Sam Derbyshire and B.R.M. Stewart.

Hare will be published by Knox Robinson books on Tuesday 9th December.

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