6/12/2013

Iain Banks

People have been talking about their memories of Iain Banks over the last couple of days. Like a lot of you, hearing the news first about his cancer and then his sudden passing-away felt like a gut-punch. It's something that brought shock and anger and I know there are a good few people in the world of publishing this week who didn't get much work done the day they heard the news of his passing. Banks' passing leaves a very, very large Banks-shaped hole in both general and science fiction that's going to be exceedingly hard, if not downright impossible, to fill. His contribution was that important.

With that in mind, I've seen people sharing stories, and in the spirit of that ongoing virtual wake, it feels like the right time to share the memories of my own, few and exceedingly brief encounters with Banks.

The first time I met Iain Banks in person was back about 1989 or 1990 when I carried out an interview with him for some tiny, tiny local magazine that probably pretty much nobody bought, ever. I had a notion towards becoming some kind of magazine journalist at the time, which had led me to interview Grant Morrison not long before - not a difficult feat, since both lived fairly locally. I got in touch with Banks' publisher, and a few short weeks later got a train to Edinburgh and found my way to his flat, in the company of a colleague lugging a frankly huge tape recorder. At that time, Banks lived fairly centrally, not far from the city centre.

I still have that interview somewhere, in a back issue hidden in some cupboard or other. It's probably not interesting enough, in all honesty, to dig out and reprint here. It probably doesn't help either that Banks is probably just about the single most interviewed writer on the planet ever, ever. I mean the man gave interviews to just about everyone. You'd be hard put to dig up any kind of sf fanzine, magazine or general culture 'zine printed between 1985 and 2000 with even the most glancing interest in literature or geek culture that didn't feature a few words from the man.

He proved, as anyone who has ever met him knows, to be ebullient and charming and entertaining, all at once. My primary memory is this:

I had noticed a medium-sized dinner plate nailed to a wall in the kitchen where we conducted the interview. Some indeterminate yet roughly circula object clung to the surface of the dinner plate, and I asked what it was. Banks replied that during a particularly good party, either he or someone of his acquaintance had thought it might be a terribly good idea to make a microwave pizza, except instead of setting it for, say, twelve minutes, they set it at something like a hundred and twenty and then promptly forgot about it. By the time the thing eventually pinged, the pizza's dessicated and quite possibly mummified remains were now, apparently, permanently welded to the surface of the plate. I noted at the time that it now resembled nothing so much as the 'flying pancake' monster from an old episode of Star Trek (specifically Operation: Annihilate, Google informs me).

Most people would chuck the whole thing in the bin. But Banks? Nope. He nailed it to the wall as a tribute to one particularly rockin' party. That, then, is my main memory of Banks.

I met him on just two occasions since then that I can remember. The second-last time was at the bar of a convention hotel right here in Glasgow in, I think, 2005. I hadn't realised he was there until he said hello, having apparently recognised me even after all those years. We chatted briefly, he mentioned something about having just gotten divorced (I'd had no idea), and then we went our separate ways. The last time was just last year at a monthly writer's event, again in Glasgow, where he had been invited to say a few words. I made a point of saying hello afterwards, having no idea it was the last time I would ever set eyes on him, although in truth he seemed distracted. Given this was quite some time before the announcement of his illness, I have no idea whatsoever whether he yet had any inkling regarding his condition. I prefer to think he was just a bit hungover.

I am going to miss his books, both with and without the 'M', very much. 

1 comment:

Erasmus SixFiftyFour said...

I know EXACTLY what you mean about the news of his illness and death being severe gut punches.....