Dr Val McDermid - English, 1972

Val comes from Kirkcaldy, Fife, and came up to read English at St Hilda’s in 1972 (she is now an Honorary Fellow of the College). She was the first ever student from a state school in Scotland to come to St Hilda's. Following graduation she became a journalist, and worked briefly as a dramatist. Her first success as a novelist came with 'Report for Murder', first published in 1987. Widely acknowledged now as the 'Queen of Crime', Val has collected many awards for crime fiction, including; the Portico Prize for Fiction, the LA Times Book Prize, the Lambda Literary Pioneer Award and the Cartier Diamond Dagger. With more than 30 novels to her credit, Val has sold over 16 million books across the globe and has been translated into 40 languages. She is best known for her 'Wire in the Blood' series, featuring clinical psychologist Dr Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan. Val's other works include short stories, non-fiction, a prize-winning children’s book and anthologies. Her forthcoming play (2020) 'And Midnight Never Come', was commissioned by the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh and deals with the notoriously controversial circumstances of the death of Christopher Marlowe.

Now based in Edinburgh, Val is a regular broadcaster for BBC radio, including appearances on BBC's Question Time, and a feared opponent in quiz shows - leading the Scottish team to victory in Radio 4's Round Britain Quiz. Val also captained the St Hilda's alumnae University Challenge team to victory in 2016. As lead singer for the band, Funlovin' Crime Writers, Val has performed at Glastonbury and at leading venues around the country. She holds honorary degrees from the universities of Sunderland, Northampton, Dundee and Bath Spa. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Val was a Man Booker Prize Judge in 2018. Since 2019, Val has been Visiting Professor of Scottish Studies and Crime Fiction at Otago University in New Zealand.

Reflections on my time at St Hilda’s

Coming to St Hilda’s changed my life. It’s a big claim, but there’s no doubt in my mind that those three years made a major contribution to making possible the career success I’ve enjoyed since.

I grew up in a working class mining community in Fife.  When I wanted to apply for Oxford, I was told by my teachers that people like us didn’t go to Oxford. Luckily, I grew up in a family where I’d been trained to think that I was as good as anyone else, so I stuck my neck out at the age of 16 and was accepted by St Hilda’s. 

I’d feared I might face snobbery.  I was wrong. I found myself in a community where people were judged on the quality of their minds, not their backgrounds.  The only social problem I had was that nobody could understand my accent. Once I’d learned to speak English, I was fine.

 I have so many strong and abiding memories of my years at SHC, it’s hard to know where to start or how to stop. I learned how to think for myself; how to hold my own in any situation; and, as JCR president, how to juggle politics and pragmatism.  But most important to me are the friendships forged during those three years, friendships that have sustained me and brightened my life.

Dr Val McDermid