The first book that I read by Iain (M.) Banks was Consider Phlebas, the first of the Culture series, whilst I was still at college. I can still remember it, on the shelf at the library. Shades of blue, standing out against smaller, less imaginative novels. I was immediately hooked and read it in a fevered rush, consuming it like oxygen.
I then didn’t read another Banks’ novel for a few years. My girlfriend, in her infinite bookish wisdom, handed me a battered copy of The Wasp Factory, telling me that it would change how I looked at fiction. She was right.
So I am, as I type this, truly devastated at Iain’s announcement today that he has terminal cancer, and has been given only “several months” to live. I don’t really know how to begin saying what a blow this is to the world of literature — and judging by the dominance of a single issue on my Twitter feed today, I don’t need to — but I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to acknowledge how Iain’s writing has enriched my life.
I actually met Iain, at a literary event at Middlesex University in 2009. At the time, Ashleigh had settled on it as her first choice of university and he was the guest of honour at their (then-)annual literary festival. Of course we went, and listened to Iain talk about his life, his books, and writing in general.
We even got our photo with him.
So I am, as I said, devastated that the world is going to lose such a gifted writer, the genre is going to lose a visionary, and the world is going to lose an uncommonly kind man. It would be disingenuous to cite Iain Banks as my only or even chief influence, but he is one of an army of writers who inspired me to pick up my pen. And his fiction has taught me a great deal about how to do it well.
So thank you Iain. You have no clue who I am, but you have shaped me a lot. Thank you for all the books and all the entertainment over all the years. I hope that your last months amongst us are everything that you want them to be.
You will be very sorely missed.