I discovered one of my favourite authors by accident.
It was 1991, I’d just moved down to London, and was looking for something new to read one evening. A housemate offered up his small collection of books, and a couple stood out to me for their rather cool black and white, graphical cover designs.
Both were by a bloke I’d never heard of: Iain Banks. One was called The Wasp Factory, the other Espedair Street. I chose The Wasp Factory.
It blew my mind.
It shocked me.
Some bits, when I was reading it on the bus, made me look nervously – and a tad guiltily – over my shoulder.
I loved it.
I wanted more.
So I read Espedair Street.
Totally different. But the same dark humour, lighter belly laughs, shocking twists, sadness, joy and pure unusualness.
And so began my Iain Banks addiction. I discovered he was also Iain M. Banks, and despite not being much of a fan of science fiction I couldn’t get enough of The Culture, and his vision and insight. I still want a drone. I’m sure they’ll become reality at some point – I’ll wager Apple will get there first…
Iain Banks, in whatever guise, has baffled me, made me laugh out loud and giggle guiltily, disturbed me, made me cry, made me throw a book across the room in frustration, then scuttle after it, pick it up, and carry on reading.
He increased my desire to want to write, along with John Irving, Charles Dickens, Terry Pratchett, E. Nesbit, Stephen King and others.
He made me realise that things I’d thought were taboo can be written about. And with a humerous twist.
He became the first author I ‘followed’ – in that I’d buy him in hardback as soon as a new book was released – a privilege later also assigned to John Irving, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. A select few.
He was on my (very short) list of Writers to Meet – if only to giggle embarassedly at and get a book signed. I achieved this with John Irving and Terry Pratchett (and more recently – sort of – with Ian Rankin, but that was random and I was too shy to ask him to sign a beermat!), and I’m heartbroken to have missed the opportunity with Mr Banks.
Lately I introduced my partner to him – as he’s a musician and a whisky-lover, I pushed Espedair Street and Raw Spirit his way. He’s not a big novel reader, so I was chuffed he read Espedair Street, and enjoyed it. Raw Spirit, with its whisky and cars, was more up his street. I hope he tries more… (Iain Banks books, not whisky and cars…)
In April when I read his announcement, it made me cry.
Now, too soon, he’s left us. Us, his readers, who hang on to his every word, who read his books again and again, and itch for the arrival of the latest outpouring from his incredible imagination. Ah, the selfishness of “us readers” – most importantly of course, he’s left his Adele, his family, his friends…
Some of the words from his fellow writers have been beautiful; in particular Val McDermid voiced via Twitter what I think a lot of his fans were thinking: “Iain Banks, RIP. Grateful for what he left us, angry for what he’ll miss and we’ll miss.”
I wonder how many people in the world picked up one of his books, poured themselves a drink, and raised their glass to him on Sunday? A lot, if the amount of photos tweeted to Ian Rankin after he tweeted a photo of a-book-and-a-wee-dram is anything to go by.
There’s only one left.
There’s only one left.
Part of me wants to run away to a wee cottage in the wilds of Scotland on my own to read it with a bottle of whisky. But I don’t really like whisky, and I’d miss my other half. So I’ll probably read it on trains, at home, and perhaps take myself to the local pub for the last few chapters, with a pint of Deuchars (and a tissue) for company.
So. Please join me in expressing deepest condolences to his family and friends.
And when you have a moment, raise a glass and drink to his honour; to the wonderful worlds he created, to the words he’s left us. To his raw spirit.
As Ian Rankin put it so perfectly, “Away the crow road far too soon…”
Goodbye Mr Banks, and thank you. Thank you for retractables, for champagne hedgehogs, and for Every Single Word.