In 1979 Val McDermid was a young journalist working for the Daily Record in Glasgow. She was one of only three women on the newsdesk, surrounded by more than two dozen men. Things weren't always easy for McDermid, she was an Oxford University graduate for a start in working-class Glasgow, she was openly a lesbian and not afraid to take a feminist stance against her editors on the odd occasion.
"I was a very strange animal to them," she says from her home in Edinburgh. "But there was a lot I enjoyed about journalism, I did enjoy the camaraderie of the newsroom, I gave as good as I got. It gave me the access to meet people from all walks of life, I got bored easily and I didn't want a job that was the same routine day after day, journalism seemed to fit the bill."
In her 16 years in newspapers she interviewed all sorts of people, from Prince Charles to homeless people, pop stars, bingo winners, the parents of miracle babies.
"All those people fed into my database of characters, so now when I'm thinking about what kind of person do I need to perform this particular role in a book, I can access all those faces and places from the past."
But she swears Allie Burns, cub reporter, heroine of McDermid's latest novel 1979 is not her. But in a way she is.
"This series has been kicking around in my mind for a few years, mainly because people kept asking me to write a memoir but a lot of people would have to die before I could write an honest memoir," she says.
"I thought quite a good way to revisit the experiences of my life would be to write a series of novels with the same protagonist set over a period of time."
Other books kept pushing to the front of the queue, then COVID happened. She finished the sixth Karen Pirie book, Still Life, in lockdown in March 2020, and then was stumped as to where to go next.
"All my books are set in the here and now, they have a contemporary feel to them and I thought I can't write in the here and now because that's constantly changing, yesterday is different from today which will be different from tomorrow."
The series will consist of five books, each set at the end of a decade. She had to start in 1979 to finish the series in 2019, the last "normal" year before the pandemic.
"Once I started working seriously on it I got very excited about the prospect of a series that would look at the changing landscape of our lives since 1979," she says.
"To be able to examine changes in the media, the way we report things, technology, changes in policing and forensics, crime, the relationships between men and women, politics, and the scope is tremendous."
These are all addressed as 1979 unfolds. Allie is working on the Glasgow tabloid, the Daily Clarion, being sent off to cover stories about babies born on trains, but she longs for something bigger.
She teams up with her colleague Danny, who has some secrets of his own, for a story about tax evasion and then they stumble on a terrorist plot centred around the fight for Scottish independence. In both stories, they risk making powerful enemies.
While the characters are very likeable and the crimes and plot are well crafted and suspenseful, it's the setting that lures you in, the world of 1979.
From the smoke-filled newsroom, where journalists seem to spend more time in the pub next door than they do at their desks, to the pop culture of the era. It's a journey back through time.
McDermid, who is a singer of the Fun Lovin' Crime Writers, a band made up of crime authors who've actually played at the music festival Glastonbury, said revisiting a 1979 playlist was a big help in writing the book. She has a suggested playlist in the book and you can find it on Spotify.
"Music was a great time machine," she says. "If you go back and listen to the music you were listening to at the time, it's kind of like, I remember dancing to that at such and such a club, I remember listening to that when I was driving somewhere.
"It kind of plugs into what you were doing and who you were with, and the kinds of things you were up to in terms of work and in your personal life.
"The other thing that was helpful was newspaper archives.
"You can read books about the time, modern histories, books on the economics and politics of the time but some of the stories that people were actually talking about to each other in the pub, or over a meal or whatever, weren't big stories that made it into the history books.
"There were fun stories, interesting stories, mysterious stories that caught people's attention and you'd find those in the archives.
"And newspapers were also helpful to remind you what, say, furniture looked like and what the clothes looked like, because you look at the adverts and see how much it was to have a dinner or how much a new coat was going to cost you."
McDermid spent 16 years in journalism before she turned to full-time writing in her mid-30s.
1979 is her 35th novel and her first new series in 20 years. Now 66, she lives in Edinburgh with her wife Jo Sharp, a professor of geography, she enjoys cooking and music and supports the football club Raith Rovers, where a grandstand is named after her.
She can't decide which decade might be her favourite to visit. Each holds its appeal.
"I am looking forward to writing 1999, the whole Y2K thing, which never happened, but the Scottish parliament was getting underway in 1999.
"It was a very active time for political debate and discussion and that set piece is a great gift to a writer because you can do all sorts of things within that framework."
She's also looking forward to writing about the changes in technology.
"I'm fascinated by how we've gone from an analog world to a completely digital world and what impact that has had on people's personal lives and the professional lives," she says.
"What we do with our spare time, how we communicate, even the band has been doing rehearsals via Zoom.
"And how forensic science has changed tremendously over that period of time. My first book came out in 1987 and it was 1986 when the first case using DNA evidence in the courtrooms actually happened.
"I kind of feel that modern forensics has gone in lockstep with my books so if I need to research what the state of forensics was at that given time, I'll just go and read whatever book I was writing at that time."
She's also looking forward to taking Allie through the years.
"You're not the same person at 60 that you were at 20," she says.
"I don't know if she'll be a journalist for the whole series. Who knows, when she's 60 she might be a crime author playing in a rock band."
- 1979, by Val McDermid. Sphere, $32.99.