If I was ever to create some kind of cult, like the one Iain Banks wrote about in Whit, then all of my Gods would be writers. Banks would be one of the most worshipped. As grandiose as it sounds, the man was, to me at least, a kind of saviour. He was one of the two writers who pulled me back to literature in my late teenage years and led me towards the life I lead today. I suppose I ought to thank him.
In my childhood I read avidly. The books of Dickens, the Point Horror Series, anything with a dragon, an elf, a werewolf, or a vampire. Then, I found football, beer, girls, various other recreational activities that pulled me away from my love of reading and writing. For my sixteenth birthday I was bought The Wasp Factory. I read it. And suddenly I was picking up books again. They were mainly books by Banks and Stephen King (the result of another present for that same birthday, in the shape of The Tommyknockers). Nowadays, I carry a book in my jacket pocket everywhere I go in case there’s a second in which I might get to read a line of it. I studied English Literature and then Creative Writing at university. And I genuinely don’t think any of this would’ve ever been the case if I hadn’t read The Wasp Factory when I did. People talk about books that changed their life. This was mine.
I followed it with The Bridge, Canal Dreams, Complicity, and my two personal favourites Espedair Street and The Crow Road. Each of these novels differs wildly, from the fantasy esque The Bridge, to the mock-rockumentary of Espedair Street, and the wickedly funny and unerringly haunting account of a disintegrating family that is The Crow Road. Each of them is fantastic. Each of them is so vivid that I can still see parts of the story now, years, and in some cases even a full decade after I read them. Other novels I read later, having being delayed due to the wider readership reading Banks led me to. Dead Air stands out for me as one of the most underrated novels I’ve ever read. It’s hilarious, disturbing, and very, very real, as is nearly everything I’ve ever read by him.
I was shocked and distressed when Banks released details of his illness earlier this year and if I hadn’t been at my desk at work I think I might’ve cried. I read of his death in a tiny column in a paper I found on the back of a bus last Monday. I was on my way home from a festival. I was delicate from a weekend of drinking wine in the sun, and I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I sat on the back seat of that bumpy double decker and shed more than a single tear. Some great memories are tied up with Iain Banks. I was travelling through India when that first period of obsession with his work hit me, so when I think of him it is often with the Indian deserts in the back of my mind, or a ride on an elephant, or hallucinations bought about through severe food poisoning from manky chicken. He was also one of the only writers I could persuade friends and exes to read, so was often the solitary source of literary conversation I had to hand. The tributes that flooded in when he announced his illness prove that I’m far from the only person who felt a real connection with this legendary author, and I’m glad that he got to read the thoughts of his many fans before his sad passing last week.
One of the many upsetting things about his death is that, despite the best efforts of his publishers, Banks will not be about to see the publication of his latest novel in a few days times. He passed on the 9th, the novel will see the light of day on the 22nd. That the book is about disease, about cancer, and about a void that suddenly opens underneath a life, means fans may be set for a harrowing and poignant read. But whenever Banks has been harrowing before, he’s also been funny. When he’s been poignant, he’s been insightful. When menacing, he was always enjoyable. So despite the sadness that will inevitably accompany the reading of The Quarry, I’m expecting to enjoy it all the more because of the news of last Monday.